My loyal readers are you, Ricochet. You are the people who have shown that you value my work, and the work all my colleagues do here, in the only way that matters in a free market: by paying for it. Had it not been for my mother, who has helped me through the recession, City Journal, and Ricochet--that means you, every one of you who thought, "Should I pay for this?" and made the decision, "Yes, this is worth it," I would have gone under long ago.
My mother is a university professor. It pains, degrades and humiliates me to take her money, because it isn't mine. I didn't earn it. I don't think it is wrong for her to spend the money helping her daughter if that's the way she chooses to do it; I am not taking it from her by force. But it is ultimately as corrupting to me to live on charity as it is to anyone. It deprives me of the pride of saying, "I earned this money by providing something someone else wanted enough to pay for it."
Members of Ricochet may have noticed that I've been quiet lately, and that the tone of my posts has been increasingly bitter. I feel that I owe everyone here--because you have been supporting me in a way that has given me the honest satisfaction of doing an honest job--an honest account of my state of mind, rather than a ruminative silence.
The truth, to the extent that I understand it myself, is that I'm looking at the world with deep cynicism these days. So are many journalists I know. I don't live in Greece, so I cannot say firsthand whether everything in this report is true. But intuitively, I suspect that it is. Please, read it through. And consider this sentence:
The problem of media freedom in Greece is like the issue of the country’s debt – everyone knows about it but nobody talks about it,” a leading Greek columnist told us, asking not to be named. “We’re all guilty, including journalists. Our society is based on a tacit agreement to keep quiet about things. It’s a bit like the mafia vow of silence. It’s in everyone’s interest and in this way we avoid trouble. We’re going to pay dearly for our silence." His view was shared by everyone we talked to.
The problem of media freedom, like many others in Turkey, is one that everyone knows about but no one talks about. Everyone in Turkey is afraid that if he or she speaks too loudly against the government, he'll be locked up. It may not be true. It is probably also true, as apologists for the AKP say, that the situation is better for journalists than it has been in the past, that more journalists were locked up or killed during military governments than have been locked up lately. This misses the point: You only have to lock up a few to silence the others, especially when the memory of those times has scarred a generation.
The United States has no such problem: No one, but no one in the United States is seriously worried that he or she will go to jail for saying something and no one born in the United States can really imagine what it's like to be told, by your parents, "Don't say anything, because I won't be able to protect you if you do. Just stay out of that stuff." Americans worry about social censure, or losing a job, or being called a nut or a fascist for saying something politically controversial. That's almost certainly the worst that will happen to you.
No one in Turkey can really understand how true this is, except the ones who have been to America. I reserve a special contempt for Turks who have been to America and know that this is true and who come back and refuse to take a vigorous stand on behalf of their fellow Turkish citizens' right to speak without fear or intimidation. I am much more forgiving of Turks who think, "This is the way it is everywhere" because they have no way of knowing otherwise.
I reserve a special contempt, too, for the wealthy Turkish elites who know that if it gets too bad, they can always escape to America, leaving behind the people who can't to deal with the consequences of their cowardice.
But I feel contempt, too, for Americans who have this exquisite freedom, but insufficient curiosity about the rest of the world to support a robust, thriving profession of real foreign correspondence. Why have American news bureaus the world around shut down in the past ten years? Why has foreign news coverage dropped off the networks? Why is Al Jazeera, not CNN, the only major network that tries seriously to cover this region? It is not just the recession: Americans are still willing to pay for sports coverage. They are still willing to pay to be entertained by some of the most miserable, degraded pop culture icons produced in the history of human endeavor. America is still by far the wealthiest country in the world. Americans are willing to pay for what they think is "news"--but it happens chiefly to be entertainment, not news.
Blogs and the Internet have not filled the void of foreign news coverage. They can't. In the end, most Americans' view of the world beyond them is shaped by only a few news sources: television, and a handful of influential newspapers.
There is a big "but." I do happen to believe in freedom--economic freedom, as well as freedom of speech. I do believe that if there's no market for something, it is because no one wants it, and much as I think the wonderfulness of Claire Berlinski's prose and insight should be cherished and remunerated, my bank balance says, quite clearly, that the world does not agree.
So, yes, I am sitting here and asking myself: Should I be listening to this market signal? Is the market right? I certainly don't want the government to fund what I do--although I must say, for the kind of news gathering I respect, the government employees who wrote the Wikileaks cables have my full admiration. The world's lack of interest in what they wrote, however, is remarkably telling.
If I can't make a living by writing novels and books about politics and articles about Turkey, should I conclude that I've been told by the facts of life--which I still believe to be conservative--that what I'm doing is not of as much value as I would like to think?
That's what I'm asking myself, and that's why I'm quiet these days. I'm having a deep think about whether my sense that something is wrong here is prompted by something being wrong here, or just by wounded narcissism and a sense of undue entitlement. Often, I've noticed, people who spend their lives complaining bitterly that their talent has not been sufficiently recognized are confused: They're generally just not that talented.