Monday, May 30, 2005

The Neo-Mainstream Media Agenda

Wake up. Early this morning, bleary eyed and cotton mouthed, I heard an interesting report on CBC radio. ‘The public is losing confidence in politicians and public officials in general…’ I was unsurprised. Should such a platitude be so unobvious to the media? For the media the public had even lower regard.

One in three people polled said they had little or no confidence in the media – unchanged from a year earlier. Only 11 per cent had a great deal of confidence in what the media had to say.

I was flummoxed to hear that 'bloggers' may have higher repute with the public than the Mainstream Media (MSM). This is supremely silly; I say: enough already with the blogger triumphalism. If you want your political slant steeper, you’re substance the consistency of a watery broth, the scope and focus negligible, read a political blog. At least this is the case for amateurish political blogs, present company included. Political journalists who maintain blogs are a staple for me; so are fledgling public intellectuals qua writers—for no other reason than ideas shape the world. Political Journalists are backed by incredible news gathering organizations that pay them. Anyone else with a political opinion and the requisite leisure time can register there inaudible gripe.

Why should I find the argument that the public is skeptical of the media misconceived, or merely miss-framed? One reason: if the public has grown skeptical of politicians because of the rise of personally invasive journalism, it should follow that they also appraise this invasive journalism as scurrilous on the media’s part, therefore lowering the opinion they hold for reporters and journalists.

Terry Eastland, in a piece from Wilson Quarterly, speaks to this point.

The negativity in the news may have resulted from the more personalized or interpretative journalism that began appearing in the 1960s. It represented a break from the old norm of objectivity by which reporters were obliged to keep their own views out of articles, and it was thought to help in uncovering the “real story” beyond any official statements and scheduled events. Perhaps the urgent need to compete for smaller pools of viewers and readers also played a role in the rise of negative news. But to judge by opinion polls, the public wasn’t impressed. The negativity, not to mention the arrogance with which it was often served up, caused many to tune out.

So whether the chicken or the egg came first -- if I can construct this awkward analogy -- is difficult to assess and will remain an open question for now. I'll be back to this in a moment.

The good days. Eastland offers up a historical sketch of the idyllic past of the MSM.

The media establishment emerged at a time when Americans generally respected those in authority. But when, beginning in the 1960s, authority took a severe beating, the media establishment was the one authority that actually gained in strength. Crusading reporters and editors became cultural heroes—the rebels and nonconformists who refused to kowtow to anybody. The Watergate scandal in particular confirmed in the media the sense they had of themselves as independent guardians of the public good and the very conscience of the nation in times of crisis. Over the years, judicial decisions also went their way, securing greater protection for the exercise of media power. For the establishment media, life was very good

An improper, slovenly analyzed, postulate: Doesn’t public cynicism greater reflect the electorate’s discernment and sober thought, aided and abetted by journalism’s aim at demystify conventional political fictions? Another query—if the electorate is so malleable, then why is it so disillusioned and jaded? So, is it that the media has been doing it's job overzealously? Maybe.

(Notwithstanding the ideological pall cast by an unintelligible, self-manifesting, disparately unknowing and self-perpetuating, shiftless mass that is the Neoliberal agenda.)

And now back to the politicians. This passage from the CBC report irked me.

The Conservatives came in at 22 per cent – the same level as last year. The NDP, however, was picked by 23 per cent – up four points from last year. But 23 per cent of those polled said none of the parties is best able to run a government with honesty and integrity. That's an increase of five percentage points from last year.

Does it really matter what the respondents to this poll think? Really--that 23 per cent of them believe none of the political parties can govern with honesty and integrity is irrelevance bordering on…. I don’t know, ridiculously, trite irrelevance. Voters already have their own built-in prejudices, either as a result of economics or social experience, so accessing which party can govern with relative probity is patent self selection: you’ll define honesty and integrity on the metric that suits you’re political allegiances—you’ll elide any inconsistencies that don’t agree with these definitions.

(I do this all the time.)

The eternal cynics don’t vote, regardless of the poking and prodding, yet still complain about government. They’re hemming and hawing is of no consequence. (Electoral reform is another issue entirely. And if you are to believe that our current political system is acrimonious, the experiences of PR electoral systems, though definitely fairer as regards plurality, appear far more bizarre and surpassingly acrimonious--'minority governments anyone'?.)

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