Freedom of Information Day, Now and Forever

Today marks the 267th birthday of James Madison, the Founding Father who wrote the Bill of Rights, including provisions for free speech, assembly and press. And Madison included these democratic essentials because he knew the free flow of information was integral to the nascent nation’s success. “The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty,” said Madison. And it’s for that reason that Madison’s birthday’s celebrated coast-to-coast as Freedom of Information Day.

Not incidentally, yesterday was the 105th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson holding the first press conference at the White House, on March 15, 1913. It wasn’t meant to be a press conference: Wilson invited the press over so he could meet them individually, but more reporters showed up than he anticipated, so the president ended up giving general remarks.

“I want an opportunity  to open part of my mind to you,” Wilson said that day. But this and future meetings were about more than Wilson sharing his perspective. He wanted the nation’s input, too: as he said a few days later, “Please do not tell the country what Washington’s thinking, for that does not make any difference. Tell Washington what the country’s thinking.”

Though the relationship between Wilson and journalists wasn’t always so chummy, especially after the Great War began, the president knew then what Madison knew so many years before: the flow of information between people and leaders, and vice versa, was the bedrock for a more perfect union. The exchange of ideas and experiences is what keeps a nation, and its leadership, fresh and responsive.

Now, in these Trumpian times, with a chief executive who smears the press as enemies of the people, who slams “fake news” and whose communications team obfuscates, obscures and outright lies to the media, all to keep information flowing one way, if at all, let’s hold Wilson and Madison close to our collective hearts, reminding ourselves both of what makes a great leader, one who respects our national institutions and people in general, and of the need to edit out any pernicious elements that hinder such exchanges.

Only 962 days until we get our chance.

Paul Revere, Art Thief

Revere stole this image from Pelham.

Most of us know Paul Revere as the midnight rider who warned that the British were coming, but before that he was an artist who used his output to sway public opinion toward independence. Of his works, the most famous is of course the above depiction of the Boston Massacre, which went down 248 years ago; it’s this gruesome, blood-soaked image that helped turn the 1770 event into a turning point toward the Revolution. The thing is, though, Revere didn’t actually draw it: It was done by Henry Pelham; Revere stole Pelham’s visual, gave it some sensational flare and sold it as his own, a decision that had fateful consequences not just for the U.S., but the world.

Continue reading

‘Hypocrisy’ is Acting Badly

Now that we’re nearly one year into the Trump presidency, you’ve probably seen a few hundred Tweets, Facebooks, Instagrams, Snapchats, or Whatchamacallits noting how hypocritical it is for Donald Trump to decry “fake news.” After all, this is the man who concocts self-aggrandizing Time magazine covers, the charlatan who claimed for years that Barack Obama was from Kenya, and the ego-maniac who decries chimerical voter fraud to justify losing the popular vote.

But what is hypocrisy? Of course most of us know it roughly means “doing or saying some thing you criticize others for doing or saying,” but the true definition is, as always, more nuanced.

Hypocrisy” as we know it comes from the Latin word of the same spelling, meaning “an imitation of a person’s speech and gestures” and derived from from the ancient Greek word “hypokrisis,” “acting on stage.” You see, hypocrisy was originally a drama term, one initially and specifically relegated to the stage, but which eventually evolved to the more general, pedestrian “pretense.”

This latter lexeme trickled through languages over the centuries, landing in French as the h-less word “ypocrisie,” and then seeping into Middle English around the year 1200 as “ipocrisie,” a term defined in clearly moralistic terms: “the sin of pretending virtue or goodness.” I’ll leave judgement of sin to more qualified entities, but that “pretending virtue” bit is pretty spot-on to what we’re seeing out of the Oval Office.

For more Fun with Words, click HERE.

CNN Ribs Trump in New ‘Facts First’ Ad: VIDEO

Donald Trump applies the phrase “fake news” to any story or outlet with which he disagrees, but he’s particularly fond of using “fake news” to slam his least favorite cable news source, CNN.

Now CNN’s using these attacks as the lynchpin in its new “facts first” ad campaign. Their approach is far more subtle than Trump’s – that man has never been subtle – but hopefully more effective.

Check it out, AFTER THE JUMP.

Continue reading