Monday, June 21, 2010

Of course Infotainment News "journalists" have an ideological bias: Long live the status quo -- with a cushy place in it for me!


by Ken

Tomorrow morning Howie is going to have more to say about the sordid doings of the so-called deficit commission -- about which I was fulminating last night -- and then I'll probably have more to say tomorrow night. But one issue that comes up in connection with it reminds me that we have a piece of unfinished business, regarding the ideological bias of what pass in our sorry media for "journalists."

Here's where this question of journalists' ideology intersects with our ponderings of the commission. In a post today of Jane Hamsher's to which I expect to be returning tomorrow, she tracks the fallout, hopeful and otherwise, from the recent confrontation I mentioned last night between Social Security specialist Alex Lawson and committee co-chair Alan Simpson, notable for Simpson's pompous bullying and, more important, his astounding ignorance or dishonesty on the subject of Social Security. Jane links to a post by Holly Yeager on the Columbia Journalism Review blog:
I’m not usually a big fan of ambush journalism. But I’m making an exception for Alex Lawson of Social Security Works—who’s been standing outside the weekly closed-door meetings of the president’s debt commission, asking members questions when he can—and Firedoglake, which has been running a live stream of his video.

Lawson is polite, he knows his stuff, and, most importantly, he’s been virtually alone in trying to cover the commission’s proceedings.

Now I disagree that this is "ambush journalism," for the very reasons Yeager sets out: that Alex "has been standing outside the weekly closed-door meetings of the president’s debt commission, asking members questions when he can." When commission members emerge from their secret sessions (a) they know that Alex will be there waiting, (b) they know who he is, and (c) they know that he will be trying to get information from them about what's being done behind those closed doors. Settiing that aside, though, the line I want to call attention to is:

"he’s been virtually alone in trying to cover the commission’s proceedings."

Here we have a commission that is presumably designing a new era of American economic austerity, answerable at present to no one, in all likelihood planning the first step in the dismantling of Social Security as a first step toward getting rid of that whole damned social "safety net" that that Bolshie FDR imported from Mother Russia, and our so-called journalists couldn't care less.

Given the makeup of the commission, stuffed full of grinding status-quo-devoted hacks, including an alarming number who are signed on to Pete Peterson's anti-Social Security jihad, it's looking increasingly as if the best we can hope when it serves up its collected wisdom is that Congress has the intestinal fortitude to pay it no mind. On the hopeful side, doing nothing is surely what Congress does best. Meanwhile our working press pays no attention. Oh, the hacks will show up at the press conference where a smiling Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson proudly launch their commission report. But that's about it.

As I mentioned in the post in which the subject of journalists' ideology came up, Glenn Greenwald had linked, while making clear that he didn't agree with all of it, to an interesting post by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen: "Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press." I wrote then:
Professor Rosen thinks he's mostly alone in finding the ideology of journalists "complicated," while most everyone else thinks it's simple, despite the fact that we in the "simple" camp disagree comically on what that simple ideology is. I would argue that it's, er, complicatedly simple, by which I mean that it's all about What's In It for Me, but that's an argument for another day.

I encourage you to read the professor's musings, which aren't easily summarized, and which contain all sorts of interesting observations on the habits and lifestyles of the journalistic community. But that's what it seems to me he's mostly concerned with, as when he notes how preponderantly our media folk are "cosmopolitans."

On one point I think we can surely all agree. Professor Rosen cites this 1988 formulation by the late David Shaw, media beat reporter for the Los Angeles Times:
The one thing a journalist prizes above all else in his professional life is a good, juicy story, and most good stories offer bad news -scandal, war, disaster, murder. Most journalists I know would rather write an expose than a flattering profile, regardless of whether their subject is liberal or conservative. That may reveal something unhealthy about journalists’ psyches, but it doesn’t say anything about their partisanship.

Not partisanship in the usual sense, but partisanship in the truest sense: a ferocious devotion to the party of me. Same deal with this seemingly inexplicable-by-ideology point:
Take for instance the way professional journalists try to generate authority and respect among peers, or, to state it negatively, the way they flee opprobrium. Here it is important for them to demonstrate that they are not on anyone’s “team,” or cheerleading for a known position. This puts a premium on stories that embarrass, disrupt, annoy or counter the preferred narrative—the talking points, the party line—of one or both of the sides engaged in political battle.

The professor thinks this proves that the issue of journalists' ideology is "complicated." But again, is it, really? All this tells me is how faithfully our "journalists" hew to the ideology of me.

And although Professor Rosen pooh-poohs what he considers the too-simple indictment of the media from the left ("The political press ultimately serves the interests of the people who own it -- the corporate capitalists, the ones with money and power and “access” to politicians, the people who run things and always have"), is there really any question about this? However "independent" these folks may occasionally feel the need to show themselves, independent is the last thing they are. As the professor himself concludes his summary of the leftist critique: "Those who are unwilling to make peace with this fact don’t make it very far in political journalism."

And no, they don't. What I see, as I said earlier, is a passionate commitment to the status quo, with the single proviso that the status quo will include a nice cushy niche for theirs truly. Yes, once in a blue moon there's an Izzy Stone or a Sy Hersh, but even apart from the obvious fact of how badly the two of them fit into the order of things (thank goodness!), they're singular above all for their singularity. When Judy Miller was doing whatever the hell it was she thought she was doing while making a hash of the New York Times's coverage of national security, she probably thought of herself as a one-woman journalistic crusade. What she really was was a broken-down whore of the Village psychopath, Dick Cheney.

In the famous Bill Moyers inquiry into the journalistic breakdown over the Bush regime's railroading of the country into its planned invasion of Iraq, where fairly consistently the journalists who tried to do their job were ignored and the ones who toed the party line, disastrously for the country, wound up being rewarded, the Washington Post's great reporter Walter Pincus recalled that the Washington press corps attempted to perform some minimal fact-checking of the early press conferences of that legendary presidential fabulist Ronald Reagan, but they discovered that the country didn't seem to like it.

Sure, Reagan was lying through his teeth pretty much every time he opened his mouth, but the media moguls' perception, probably correct, was that lots of Americans didn't want to see their cuddly president hassled, and just didn't give a gosh darn about (yuck!) facts. And, Pincus noted, the media got the message and stopped trying to flag the discrepancies between presidential utterances and reality. (As an ironic footnote, Pincus's stubborn belief in actual journalism caused his star to fall out of the careerist heavens. But while he's no longer a "star" at the Post, he has kept right on doing good old-fashioned reporting, albeit on officially second-tier stories. When you see his byline in the paper, though, it has a credibility hardly anyone else's there does.)

Now that didn't extend to Bill Clinton, of course, because Americans only like to see right-wing sociopaths coddled by the press. Ironically, Bill and Hillary, having survived their White House years as outsiders to the famous Village, seem to have earned their stripes and become full-fledged Villagers.

Of course our avowed right-wing media, from Fox Noise on, are obviously and unapologetically ideological, and partisan, and everyone knows it, but nobody likes to say it. I exempt them from this discussion on the ground that no sentient person could possibly imagine them as "journalists," even with quotation marks.

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At 6:27 PM, Blogger Niceguy Eddie said...

One thing I kept thinking as I read this was, "Another word 'pro-status quo' would be 'conservative.'" Kind of make the idea that there's ANY 'liberal bias' compeletly insane.

(I no loner consdier the Right to be 'conservtaive.' They don't want to conserve ANYTHING. They're REACTIONARY.)

Also... It's kind fo amusing actually how self-defeating tehir business model is. By letting themselves become slaves to the market, ratehr than a resource with inherent value, despite what the market "wanted," the market is largely abandoning them, many have figured out that the traditional press is pretty much useless.

I won't say that bloggers are inherently better - because they're some pretty lousy, brainwashed idealogues out there - but many GOOD bloggers beat the crap out of the traditional news media on a daily basis.

Wonderful write up.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I think you've nailed this, Eddie. I actually deleted a reference to our esteemed Village people as "centrists," because they aren't, really. As you suggest, they've become the real textbook conservatives -- while the official Right, as you say, has rocketed off into unknown reaches of the political galaxy.



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