Access to information hasn’t made us less angry
By Charlie Mitchell
Don’t trust the media? Most people (according to media reports) don’t. And that’s fine because we all live in a new day. Anyone with internet access can go on endless fact-finding missions all by themselves. News is bountiful.
Wonder how much campaign money Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has on hand? It’s on the Mississippi Secretary of State website, under the elections tab. And not just his donations and expenses are online, so are those for hundreds of other state and county office-seekers. Who gave how much to any candidacy? A few clicks lead to the answer.
Remember Luke Woodham? Almost 19 years ago when he was only 16, he was charged with killing his mother, then going to Pearl High School and killing two more people. It was one of the first school shootings of the modern era. Woodham was sentenced to three life terms.
How’s he doing? The Mississippi Department of Corrections “inmate lookup” website shows he’s grown — 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds — and has been in Unit 29 since being relocated there in 2014. The site includes a photo and, when applicable, a tentative release date. (Woodham has no tentative release date.)
What are the population trends in your community? The federal site census.gov has details that, if printed, would fill several libraries. For instance, 85.5 percent of the adults in Meridian completed high school and 20 percent have college degrees. Over in Greenville, the figures are slightly higher for college degrees and sharply lower for high school diplomas.
The mother of all Mississippi state and county financial treasure troves is www.seethespending.org. Several years ago, the Jackson Free Press reported on the efforts of former House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, to pass legislation that might impinge on the practice of state leaders allocating millions of advertising dollars to political allies in the media. McCoy’s efforts fell flat. Rewarding friends with public dollars raises eyebrows, or should. The figures lag a couple of years, but seethespending.org shows who gets how much of a very large advertising pie.
The same site, operated by the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, is a beta-testing display of trends in education. Months could be spent digesting reams of facts. For 20 years, the average ACT score in the Vicksburg Warren School district has been between 18 and 19. Just down U.S. 61 in Claiborne County, the average has been lower, about 3 points. Natchez students have tracked in the middle. It may mean something. It may mean nothing. Either way, citizens and officials are no longer forced to rely on media to interpret.
The full text of every piece of legislation considered during the 2017 term (and previous terms) is on the Legislature’s website, along with information on how each fared. The full text of every Supreme Court decision is also available 24/7.
The Open Secrets site, operated by the Center for Responsive Politics, shows that U.S. Rep. Bennie C. Thompson, D-Miss., is the top recipient of campaign donations from OSI Systems, which mostly donates to Republicans. OSI makes security screening equipment. Thompson is ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee. One of the Republicans in the U.S. House from Mississippi, Gregg Harper, serves on Energy and Commerce. His top donors are utilities and banks.
The public’s biggest — and well-justified — complaint about the mass media is the prevalence of bias. The recently fired Bill O’Reilly was the master of spin. Indeed, his biggest spin was spinning that he didn’t spin while he was spinning.
In 2017, given the volume of information just a click away, some might be so bold (me) as to think journalists should be thanked for wading in and trying to pull out relevant facts, even if their bias shows. That’s not going to happen, given that we have been declared “enemies of the American people.”
Here’s the nut, though. Like no time in history, people have direct access to facts. Yes, there’s a lot of nonsense in cyberspace, but in the history of humanity no generation has ever had anywhere near the level of actual truths available instantaneously.
It would seem that if we all have the same information, it would be more likely that we could find common ground — spend time on solutions.
Instead, we splinter into smaller and smaller factions and yell facts and counter-facts at each other.
In a way, the lie has been put to the notion that the more people know, or at least have available, the better decisions they will make.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at email@example.com.