Kids, Trust No One. My Work Is Done Here.
Oh, wouldn't you know I'd wind up agreeing with my opponent? You know what's wrong with me? I am just too damn much of a sweetheart, that's my problem. Too nice, too smart, too good-lookin'. I've got to drop at least one just to make things fair.
So this morning I met on the field of battle with the J.L. Turner Legal Association, the nation's largest association of African-American and minority lawyers and judges, to debate the John Wiley Price FBI investigation. You may or may not remember that the Turner Association came out against "any speculation" in the Price matter shortly after I penned a little diatribe on Unfair Park called "John Wiley Price Investigation: Sure, We're Speculating Here, But It's Informed Speculation."
Not long after those two stories appeared, Leslie Bender Jutzi arranged for me to debate a representative of the Turner Association in front of a special assembly of top students at Grand Prairie High School. Jutzi, now director of educational programs at GPISD, used to be a lawyer for The Allen Group, the company at the center of the inland port real estate development in southern Dallas. The FBI is looking into the way The Allen Group was treated by Price as county commissioner.
But this morning when our debate got under way she was strictly neutral. Coulda been a judge. I went up against a lawyer, Debo O. Adesina from Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld. Adesina whispered to me before the debate that he's a securities lawyer and really doesn't have anything to do with media or criminal law or First Amendment issues or any of the things we were about to talk about. Suhweet!
Then he opens with an off-the-cuff five-minute dissertation on the constitutional guarantee of free speech that leaves me sort of nodding yes, like, "Yup, that about sums 'er up." I figure this is the same guy who says, "Gee, I've never played this game you call pool before."
But here's what's interesting. Especially when the students asked questions, he and I wound up talking less about the Price matter and more about media in general. The kids were asking us -- not in so many words -- "Who do we trust?"
Adesina gave them a quick little talk about the accelerating rate at which the media industry is consolidating into fewer and fewer hands. He used the example of the News Corp. story and the British hacking scandal. I don't want to put words in Mr. Adesina's mouth, and I wasn't taking notes so I can't quote him, but what I drew from it was this: The bigger and more monopolistic the media become, the more it's up to you, the consumer, to question what they tell you.
What could I do but agree? I talked to the students about my own area of expertise in this very important area of law -- the Nancy Grace Show. I said if all you knew was Nancy Grace, you would assume that every single person who is ever accused of a crime is a worthless scum-toad pedophile whose limbs should be pulled apart slowly by sled-dogs. I asked them to think about the exoneree stories in Dallas, and many of them seemed to know what I was talking about!
I think these bright students were asking what may well be the most important question of their time. In this age -- their time -- the flow of information is passing into fewer and fewer hands at the top. We see from the Rupert Murdoch example that this increase in power does not improve the moral character of the people who attain it. Seems to work other way around.
I wound up giving them the best advice I can think of for young people today. Trust no one. Adesina modified that a bit. He told them to think for themselves.
So he and I agreed, right? That's what I thought. Yeah, I coulda gone to UV Law School, too, but I was too busy trying to figure out what Bob Dylan meant.
The exciting thing happening in the lives of those students is the countervailing influence of the Internet, social media and universal instant connectivity. We have to hope that those forces form a tide of free information that will wash away big corporate media like so many sand castles.
But Adesina also talked to them about the other key factor in today's media environment -- the lazy audience. People will passively consume the Fox News fantasy version of truth (my words, not his) because it requires zero effort and makes them feel good. Real truth, on the other hand, you have to work for, and then sometimes your reward for all that effort is that truth, when you do find it, makes you feel bad.
How many people want to go scour the Internet for what's really happening? How many want to pop a cold one and let Rush Limbaugh tell them about his inner fantasy life instead? There's an election whose results I fear.
It was good to be back in high school.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.