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"New" media has been the topic of some interesting analyses lately. I'll get to that in a minute, but first, I'd like to correct a misinterpretation about the commissioners' intention to create a committee on local policing.

What is proposed is not another study, but the appointment of a professional task force to create the plan for the eventual implementation of a civilian police force.

We've had studies; what is needed now are details. This gives the public more time to explore the issue, and since the current board of commissioners is prohibited from making a decision, it leaves it to those running in the next county wide election to indicate whether they favor a police force or a more powerful sheriff.

Then, after public discussion, the next board can take action on the proposed Ordinance 50 to create a force -- or not.

Now, about new media.

On Aug. 8, the PBS "News Hour" with Jim Lehrer spent a third of the program discussing the effects of the Internet and malicious misinformation on governing, and the negative effect it has on democracy.

At the Maryland Association of Counties summer workshops in Ocean City, several sessions dealt with Internet-based media, which allows anyone to say anything about anybody or any issue without being encumbered by facts.

The negative effects of politically-motivated chicanery are exacerbated by a free-wheeling access to the Internet and print media's sometimes desperate efforts to compete with it.

I found striking applications to current affairs in Carroll County. Every aspect of concern about Internet bloggers and absolutists on the Right and Left has been used to the disadvantage of most residents of Carroll County.

Now I get into trouble. People don't like to hear elected officials tell them they can be fooled or manipulated, and no media person wants to admit they might be used. But shady people are working hard to mislead and misrepresent for their own ambitions.

On the PBS news show, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Mark Shields agreed that efforts of dedicated zealots are changing the culture in Washington, and not for the better.

It's polarizing leaders and making them less effective. There is a lack of leadership to stand up and fight the dark forces of naked politics and factional power plays.

Sessions at MACo addressed the interest, or concern, with seemingly unbridled new media -- online blogs, letters, chat rooms and "viral," fast-spreading information which, when applied with malice, is potentially dangerous to a democracy. The public gets hurt, while political operatives benefit.

The PBS piece interviewed Rep. Deborah Price of Ohio, who is retiring from Congress after 16 years. She said the thoughtful middle is being "run out of town" by extremists on the Right, such as the Club for Growth and, on the Left, those such as Move On.org.

Something like 18 U.S. Congressmen are retiring this year, rather than engage in another vicious primary back home.

It was the ultra-right Club For Growth (an innocuous sounding name) that defeated respected incumbent congressman Wayne Gilchrest of the Eastern Shore. He wasn't Republican enough.

Zealots eat their young, and reasonable incumbents in their own party. That's what goes on in front of the public. What goes on behind the scenes is uglier.

Shields said the primary tool, after disinformation and discrediting anyone who does not support them, is redistricting. Sound familiar? Shields and Brooks explained how partisans use trickery to redistrict voting areas to their advantage.

Does the public care? I wonder. Recall that Carroll County's commissioners appointed a bi-partisan commission to create districts for the advent of five commissioners in the next election. The plan that was preferred and endorsed by the non-partisans did not survive the hijacking of Republican zealots, who demanded and got a stealth plan on referendum because they were afraid the South Carroll dividing line gave an opportunity for a Democrat to win a seat at the table.

They didn't say that publicly; the public position was something about communities being better represented. It was a lie, but it worked. They got what they wanted -- a plan that favors certain GOP insiders.

All of these issues were mulled by experts in workshops in Ocean City's summer MACo meetings, but no print media people were on the panel. In the end, it probably doesn't matter. Today's print media's editorial effort seems more committed to mimicking chaos of the Internet, emphasizing discordance rather than sticking to real facts.

Differentiating a misstatement of fact -- deliberate or not -- from opinion is now too much trouble. Fairness is defined as equal opportunity complaining; the expression of opinion is valued more than getting facts right in the first place.

The new media consensus, in the panel's response to the obvious question from the Ocean City audience was, yes, this can be and is abused, but, golly, it should all work itself out, and if you don't think so, well, then you just don't get it. That's a far cry from the goals of the old media of my youth, which were to seek out the facts, and perhaps even the truth, and then tell it.

Dispel ignorance; don't glorify political wannabes with a headline and "guest columns" on the editorial page. And bar the greedy and opportunistic power brokers at the gate. That was the old media's job, an essential role in preserving good government processes and opposing venality.

Now, you're on your own.

Dean Minnich is vice president of the Board of County Commissioners. Each month in The Sunday Carroll Eagle, one of the commissioners will have the opportunity to discuss events or any issue of interest in this space.


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