The Public’s Right to Think

Jon Stewart has become the leading advocate for the ‘public’s right to think’ with his interview on The Daily Show last night of Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money. Like he did on CNN’s Crossfire in 2004, Stewart effectively articulated the disappointment and anger of many people as he made the case for more journalistic accountability and less entertainment-based excuses. Why is it that our most effective voice on 21st century journalism is a comedian? I think it’s time to talk more in a deliberative way about the role of the media in public discourse, and it would probably be best if the journalists just listen to the public this time. Or is that even possible? They’d probably feel obliged to have an expert panel tell us what we said after we conclude our forums.

The showdown between Stewart and Cramer was hyped for sure…helping both shows gain in viewership. On another level, however, the conversation wasn’t as much about the sins of omission or commission by CNBC as it was about the responsibility of ‘news’ shows on all media outlets to provide the unbiased, accurate and timely information the public needs to make decisions in the real world. No one is saying this is easy…not Stewart, and not me. That’s why it’s a critical profession. Cramer says he’s trying, but agreed that he and others at CNBC should have done better, concerning the financial bubble and meltdown. I think we need to have some serious conversations about the information we need, who provides it, and how we restore trust in profession that delivers the raw materials for critical thinking to millions of people on a daily basis.

Do we have a public right to think? If we do, we’d better consider our raw materials supply. Anyone knows that inferior raw materials can’t produce high-quality products. Applied critical thinking is needed now, more than ever, as our decisions become more intricately woven together to create a global fabric. Most of us want to make the best possible decisions we can for some selfish reasons…we want the benefits of those good decisions. In addition, however, many of us want to make good decisions as our contribution to the well-being of our family, our friends, our neighbors, our nation, our environment, and all of humanity. I think we need to talk about our ‘right to think’ as citizens, and I think this means we should talk about the media’s role in producing reliable and timely raw materials for our daily, critical thinking needs.

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