The Pasadena/Foothills Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California ACLU-SC honored longtime Los Angeles Times journalist, editor and commentator Tim Rutten at its 12th Annual Garden Party on October 2 at the Western Justice Center in Pasadena. Rutten, who had been let go this past summer after nearly 40 years at the Times, spoke to the more than 100 attendees of the threat to civil liberties by the demise of the press in the country and concentration into fewer and fewer corporate hands. He talked about a wide range of topics concerning knowledge, ignorance, and the consequences of media conglomeration.
“The coming concentration of the media is probably a bigger threat to your civil liberties than anything the government’s doing right now,” he said.
“Knowledge isn’t just power, it’s self-protection. Most of the newspapers in this country today are hollow shells of what they were 10 years ago and sadly diminished from what they were five years ago,” Rutten continued. “This simple diminution of the flow of information would be bad enough; it is dangerous, it is unhealthy, but something else is going to occur here that on the surface doesn’t look really alarming but ought to really concern people.”
“And that is because the other major newspapers have essentially abandoned their ambitions to be full service national newspapers. When this recession ends, and it will end, you are going to see two true full service national newspapers left standing, and they’re going to be divided ideologically, Rutten said, referring to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“What they are already doing and will increase their efforts on is that their national editions that are sent to subscribers will have three or four pages of local news for whatever city you’re in. It’s news generated by these new nonprofit news collectives,” Rutten said.
“And what that will do is basically gut the rationale for subscribing to the local paper. It’s a terrible risk, and it’s mostly happening for reasons of greed. To have only two papers that have the ambition and are willing to do the heavy lifting that provide the stories and the narratives that the rest of the media follows, for a country of 300 million people the reality is that a tremendous amount of information is going to fall through the cracks,” he said.
Going forward, a great silence will descend, and in that silence it’s likely that awful things will happen, according to Rutten.
“And we won’t know until it’s time to count the bodies or until we hear the cries from a prison full of people who have been sent there without due process, wrongly convicted, or until we start tallying up all the wrongful executions. Ignorance is the great enemy of freedom.”
Rutten also spoke about the increasing erosion of public discourse, where people perceive their opinions as facts, especially when it comes to religion and the US constitution.
“The issue of tolerance versus intolerance comes up all the time, but it’s coming up particularly now in a way that I think would concern an organization like the ACLU because of the claims that the Tea Party and a lot of people on the religious right make about the constitution,” he said.
“The most outrageous things are asserted. When it comes to commentary we have for some time lived in a culture of assertion, where there’s no need for evidence, there’s no need for facts, so you just assert things,” he continued. “People assert that the founding fathers were all religious or that they meant for this to be a Christian nation, but of course we know they weren’t and they didn’t.”
“There are lots of people on the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party who believe in a history of the 1st Amendment that asserts it was intended to apply only to Christians, that Christians should have free exercise of religion but no one else,” Rutten concluded. “Creationism is not an intellectually respectable position. I know lots of people hold it in good faith, but it’s not intellectually respectable because it’s subject to disproval by evidence. You can hold a view in the face of all evidence if you choose to, but the rest of us don’t have to treat you as if you’re serious. And to pretend that it’s serious is faux tolerance.”
ACLU Pasadena/Foothills Chapter