What's wrong with our media?
Jay Rosen has written an important piece synthesizing his various observations about our broken political press. It comes from a presentation he gave in Australia, where the situation is apparently just as bad:
So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?” Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…. this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the U.S. and Australia. Here’s how I would summarize it: Things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be.
I think it's even worse. My personal belief is that most high level Washington political reporters and editors are not only incestuous "insiders", they also carry the absurd conceit that they are nonetheless the personification of the average Real American. So they insist that the concerns of the top 1%, which many of them are in (or anticipate being in) must, therefore, be the concerns of the average American. Talk about being out of alignment.
Rosen identifies three specific areas of concern:
1. Politics as an inside game.
2. The cult of savviness.
3. The production of innocence.
As to number one, I'll let Rosen speak for himself. But I would add that the "politics as an inside game" infects the political press in another way as well. Their inside view of the process leads them to believe that politics itself is only a matter of insider maneuvering, as if it all happens in a vacuum with the consent of the governed not even an afterthought. The people are an abstraction and the process is what's real. It leads to fatalism and lack of imagination, as if politics is just a static set of numbers that are accounted for in advance without any possibility that the citizenry or the politicians themselves are human beings with agency.
Number two, I'm sure you're all aware of. I think about it every day --- and battle the temptation to join that cult (or the "reformed" version of it in the blogosphere.)
Number three is a formulation of the he said/she said critique that's very enlightening:
By the production of innocence I mean ways of reporting the news that try to advertise or “prove” to us that the press is neutral in its descriptions, a non-partisan presenter of facts, a non-factor and non-actor in events. Innocence means reporters are mere recorders, without stake or interest in the matter at hand. They aren’t responsible for what happens, only for telling you about it. When you hear, “don’t shoot the messenger” you are hearing a journalist declare his or innocence.
This basic message—we’re innocent because we’re uninvolved—isn’t something to be stated once, in a professional code of conduct or an “about” page. It has to be said many times a day in the course of writing and reporting the news. The genre known as He said, she said journalism is perhaps the most familiar example. But so is horse race journalism, in which the master narrative for covering an election is: who’s ahead? Journalists will tend to favor descriptions of political life that are a.) true, in that verifiable facts support the story; and b.) convenient for the continuous production of their own innocence.
That explains a lot. The vapidity is a result of timidity --- the fear of being biased. I would say that this one is the result of years of hardcore right wing public relations. They spent decades relentlessly attacking the media for being liberally biased and the result has been an aversion to any kind of reporting that might betray a point of view. Liberals have failed to properly combat this and the press is now so thoroughly indoctrinated that it might not work anyway.But this one is, in my view, the consequence of a concerted propaganda effort. Lessons learned.
I urge you to read the whole thing. Rosen's thesis is very well developed and an important tool with which to evaluate the political press --- and, by extension, the proper operation of our democracy. At this moment, it's not looking good.