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Progressives and the Media: Still Together after 100 Years


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American Thinker:

Every relationship has its consummate moment; for some, it is a Garden of Eden moment, when a partnership is forever perverted by consuming the forbidden fruit. A century ago, a segment of the American media abandoned their role as facilitator of public discourse and became active participants in making politically achievable the transformative change being offered by the newly formed progressive movement. The marriage was undeclared, yet under the cover of darkness they conceived a leviathan child which fashioned a mammoth government beyond even the imagination of Hobbes.

The silent marriage of progressives and the media was unnoticed by history, which as a general rule catalogues change as a dramatic event -- rulers deposing one another, invading neighboring countries and seizing power by sword and spear. It is the nature of a Republic, by contrast, for change to be much more subtle. The genesis of revolutionary change often is found in insignificant events, unnoticed by the citizenry, unremarked upon by historians. These unremarkable events are often not detected until the autopsy of a once-great nation, their full impact revealed only in the rubble of once-great cities. Just as Gibbon and Lord Byron were able to gaze into the rubble of ancient Rome to ascertain the cultural changes that begat the ruins, we can today look into the swamp of Washington and see the fundamental transformation that began in the alliance between progressives and willing media outlets more than a century ago. Our rubble is the Senate Building; our clue is a long-forgotten magazine cover.

The cover story in Cosmopolitan, March 1906, featured the first of a multi-part exposé by David Graham Phillips entitled "The Treason of the Senate." Published by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the article exposed the corrupt nature of the Senate, the ability of big business to purchase votes, the contentious nature of appointing senators, the nature of the Senate being a roadblock of popular legislation, and the overall detachment of the senators from the people they were to represent. The series of articles was the public culmination of several decades' worth of attempts to amend the Constitution in such a way as to replace the appointment of senators by direct elections. The article proved to be a watershed event, turning the tide of public opinion in favor of the direct elections crowd. The 17th Amendment was passed and ratified in 1913. This was an example of the citizenry going through the proper steps to amend the constitution, and was a reflection of the strong democratic urge amongst the people. This was also the first big political victory for the infantile progressive party, and it would become the blueprint for a progressive-media alliance that is today a markedly powerful driver of our politics.snip
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