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Environment

The Media and Conventional Wisdom

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The Nation has published an excellent article on the U.S. government's vendetta against James Risen, a New York Times investigative journalist. The campaign is part of a larger effort by the Obama Administrations to punish government whistleblowers and "intimidate other investigative reporters,” as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told The Nation.This week Risen gave a talk at Colby College in Maine that cautioned against groupthink in the media. He cited the early days of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s, before it had become "a significant political force," during a time when slavery was still a "bedrock political assumption of the United States." This period, when abolition writers were outside the mainstream, should be studied, Risen said, for

what it’s really like to challenge the cement-like certainty of the conventional wisdom of the day, especially when it is constantly being reinforced by a mainstream press.

He went on to say:

It is difficult to recognize the limits a society places on accepted thought at the time it is doing it. When everyone accepts basic assumptions, they don’t seem to be constraints on ideas. That truth often only reveals itself in hindsight.

Risen is talking specifically about the rise of the national security state since 9/11, and how anyone who challenges its underlying assumption--the need for a global war on terror--"is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor." Are there parallel examples in the science and society realm, where certain assumptions are difficult to challenge because they are reinforced by mainstream media?

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