Sunday, September 09, 2007

I'd Rather Be Informative Than "Positive"

My "From the Editor" column, which appears in the September 2007 issue of California Freedom:

On July 16, I addressed the topic Should Libertarians Build Alliances With the Left? at Los Angeles's Karl Hess Club. Prior to my talk, I was informed that some libertarians had objected to my speaking there. While the KHC's facilitator wouldn't outright tell me the names of those who would ban me, he conceded that I'd guessed right. And on my first attempt!

It wasn't hard. One of them was a "pro-defense" libertarian who's done much public chest-beating over the need for libertarians to be tolerant, so I wasn't surprised by his behind-the-scenes intolerance. Of course, I've met both pro- and antiwar libertarians who would ban the other side. They share the same rationale: that California Freedom is a sales tool for the LPC, so it must present the LPC in a "positive" light.

But isn't California Freedom also a newspaper?

Really, which is it? An organ of public relations or of journalism? Is its purpose to promote the party or to inform the members?

Ideally, it does both. However, PR and journalism have opposing objectives. PR puts a positive spin on events, the truth be damned. Journalism informs people of unpleasant truths, the consequences be damned.

Some libertarians want us to avoid unpleasant news, as it may discourage or "drive off" members in the short term. Yet fake PR is more harmful in the long run, because it breeds cynicism and distrust once the happy facade is impossible to maintain. To judge from some libertarian articles over the years, one might think that all artists, musicians, young people, immigrants, entrepreneurs, tech workers, hell, everyone on the planet, is already a libertarian; they just don't know it yet. Let's ignore that many people within those groups also demand statist entitlements and protections. Please don't mention that. It isn't "positive."

I recall LP fundraising pieces in the 1990s predicting a Libertarian majority House and Senate by 2010. I wonder how many new members had their hopes raised by such "positive" stories, which were at best self-delusional, at worse deceitful. I wonder how many newcomers later quit the LP, disheartened and disgusted and cynical.

Journalism can irritate people, yet in the longterm it's a better sales tool than PR spin. People trust journalists over advertisers, which is why the latter try to mimic the former through infomercials and advertorials. Likewise, LP members will more likely stick around if they believe they're getting "the real scoop" from LP news sources.

In this issue of California Freedom we broach the divisive issue of platform reform (see "Letters to the Editor"). A member once told me that CF shouldn't cover political or procedural debates; those should be left for the conventions. Unfortunately, the clock always expires before we can vote on, much less debate, every convention proposal. Clearly, members must prepare for the conventions by discussing and debating issues in advance. And if CF isn't the proper forum to debate those issues, what is?

Reporting on divisive issues may not be "positive," but I didn't invent these party rifts; they're already there. It's just that some members are unaware of them, and thus might arrive at the conventions unprepared--or not show up at all. (Of course, keeping opponents in the dark may be a goal of the better-organized factions.)

Tim Crowley's letter, and my reply, won't adequately explain the issues that divided Portland in '06, and will likely repeat in Denver in '08, but they'll give you a heads up. Use them as a starting point, then conduct your own investigations. Inform yourself. Decide for yourself.

Two brief, final notes. Former CF editor Elizabeth C. Brierly now works as Media Coordinator for The Independent Institute, from which she submits "U.S. Role in Islamist Terrorism." Thanks Elizabeth, and congrats on the new job!

And much thanks to Angela Keaton for her past service as Executive Director. I'm sorry she's left the building. She's a principled woman, with a sharp mind and a pen to match. "A young Ayn Rand," as they say in Hollywood. Although Angela's no longer obligated to produce a monthly column, I hope she'll submit pieces in the future. Please keep up with her at

I hope you'll find this issue of California Freedom positive and informative. But if I had to pick one, I choose the latter.

No comments: