March 14, 2005
A Western Civ Course in What's Gone Wrong With the Press
For ideas that illuminate the rage out there journalists have to go outside their comfort zones, including the "liberal" zones in press thought. They have to find other sources of insight, and listen to explanations that may at first sound alien. Here are a few from the New Criterion...
“At a public meeting in Jackson, Miss., last week, a listener to NPR programs on Mississippi Public Broadcasting asked me if I had detected a sense of outrage growing in the country,” wrote Jeffrey Dvorkin, ombudsman for NPR (March 8). “If my inbox is anything to go by, I certainly have.”
Not just Dvorkin, but probably every ombudsman (male and female) could give the same report: a rising hostility pours in through the inbox. “The reasons for this cyber-outrage might be worth pondering,” he said.
Yes, the reasons. Who really knows how to explain the kind of rage and discontent—primarily about “bias”—that visits the ombudsman’s inbox anywhere there is such a box in the American news media today? If it’s deserved, how did journalists come to deserve it? If it’s not, how did so many Americans come to believe it?
Dvorkin’s reasons are semi-plausible— and totally familiar: “AM talk radio and cable television slugfests have given many the sense that this is what journalism should be.” Or: “E-mail makes our natural sense of impatience more pronounced.” These I would call factors. They are a long way from an understanding of causes, a long way from any why.
Calling for a more civil dialogue, as Dvorkin does, is perfectly well-intentioned. But it is not a reply to a sense of outrage growing in the country. Complaints about bias have mutated into something far more serious today: a campaign to discredit the liberal media, marginalize the national press, and deny professional journalism any hold on the public interest. I’ve been writing about it— and objecting. So have others. David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times says we’re paranoid.
A whole front in the Culture War is now devoted to these activities of disqualifying the traditional press, and raising substitutes like Jeff Gannon. That is action from the Right, but the Left often feels equally enraged at the failures of Big Journalism, and it is stupified by the success of the “liberal media” charge. What Liberal Media? as Eric Alterman put it (2003). Oh That Liberal Media, as the “reply blog” says back.
How did things get to this point?
For ideas that might illuminate the matter journalists have to go outside their comfort zones, including the “liberal” zones in current press think. They have to find other sources of insight, and listen to explanations that may at first sound alien. Better ideas to explain the rage about bias aren’t going to come from the ombudsman’s inbox because they aren’t revealed in the rage. You can listen forever to that and not know why it’s coming.
In the matter of how did we come to be attacked for being biased? I have an excursion to recommend. It’s not topical. It’s not typical. The tone is in fact classical; the frame of reference is the whole history and literature of the West. Journalism: Power without responsibility is an essay by Kenneth Minogue, who writes in the old school style of the learned man taking in a large subject and tracing things back to their roots. I found it in an obscure corner of the publishing world, Hilton Kramer’s literary and cultural magazine, New Criterion, “a monthly review of the arts and intellectual life.” (UPDATE, March 15: As I explained, “obscure corner” was a dumb way of introducing the magazine. Austin Bay agrees.)
Minogue’s excursion is a challenging read. It will not sound familiar to working journalists, unless they took a great books curriculum in college. He writes in a tradition of culturally conservative criticism (you could also say high-mindedness) that looks with disdain on “sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.” Liberation into appetite is not his idea of social progress. But then progress is not his idea of what to expect from life.
This is not my tradition— at all. But today it has powerful voices speaking for it, and it always has. (The ur-text is Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses in 1930.) For a journalist wondering, “where is this rage coming from?” Minogue offers a unique vantage point. To caricature it, but only slightly: It’s like a Western Civ course in what went wrong in the press.
If we go back as far as we can without losing the thread, where do the roots of today’s bias wars lie? This is the matter Minogue spreads out on the table.
Critics conservative about culture let it be known that they mistrusted the modern media (as they distrusted the modern mass) well before the 1960s. They were reacting in part to the media diet of sensationalism, novelty, news, and scandal, which promised a kind of daily revelation. This was a false claim, they felt. Revelation was the business of religion, of the Church.
The ancient conservative complaint about the media is not liberal bias. It is the rising power of an institution celebrating novelty and change, and promising to reveal the secrets of the world through news reports about it. This conflicts with “the religious assumption that the essential truths of life have been revealed, but that the human world is dark and devious, and the connection between events is obscure.”
Does anyone recall that jingle for Time magazine?
Throughout your world
Throughout your land
Time puts it all
Right in your hand
Read Time and understand!
“We might sometimes imagine that it is merely the stuff we read in the newspapers every day, but actually journalism is a mode in which we think,” Minogue writes. “It indelibly marks our first response to everything.”
But religion was supposed to do that: indelibly mark our first response to everything. Now it’s the news. Now it’s Katie Couric. “A passion to follow the actual events of the world seems to have continually grown,” he writes of the period from 1600s to now. “The steady diffusion of a journalistic interest in what is going on affects our consciousness of the world we live in.”
People sense this about the news, its effect on consciousness just by being all around us. But what language do they have for discussing it with members of the press? None. There is no language and there is no place. There’s only “bias,” and what is by now politicized rage.
Hegel said it: in his time, the newspaper habit was replacing morning prayer. The conservative mind began hating journalism right there. “Journalistic consciousness is imperialistic,” Minogue writes, in echo of this moment. “It invades every sphere of life and takes it over.”
He is trying to explain, to a much finer point than out current debates permit, the disdain that he and others of like mind feel for Big Journalism today, which in his view “has lost such integrity as it ever had and is being used to nudge us towards some version of right thinking.” What’s different is that he never—or almost never—simplifies. And in old school fashion he goes back many times to origins:
Historically, journalism emerged from the specific interests of princes, merchants, and administrators. A prince needed to know something of foreign powers, and his ambassador sent him back reports, just as a merchant needed to know of profitable opportunities and conditions of trade.
This is accurate. Among the first correspondents was “the ambassador writing to his prince.” What’s different today is that the part of prince is played by the national public. Rather than a specific interest, it is thought to have a general stake in news (which is where “the public’s right to know” comes from.) Minogue realizes how modern a generalized demand for news is:
No life can avoid gossip, ritual, and response to overriding events such as war or famine, but most people, especially if they are illiterate, have hitherto been interested in little beyond what affects them directly. Journalism is the cultivation of concern for things that are for the most part remote from us.
And there is a connection between that remoteness and the willingness to rage at the news criers.
Here, however, I have to point out that political business transacted at court or in the capital has always affected people directly and indirectly, regardless of whether they knew much about it. Literate and informed, or illiterate and out of touch, the great mass of people do have an interest—a very legitimate one—in things that are “for the most part remote from us” because they take place within the power structure that runs our world, allegedly on our behalf.
Suppose we believe in “trustee” government. How else can we know if it’s behaving responsibly, if not through news reports from an independent source? There’s an interest in following “remote” events that is inseparable from a modern citizen’s duty to hold elected government accountable. It can’t be “wrong” unless popular sovereignty itself is wrong.
But the conservative temper trusts little in what the mind loves immediately to know. An appetite for news involves a “lust to see and know things of no concern to us,” says Minogue (who would smile knowingly at a pop term like “news junkie.”) But he also says that the kind of curiosity modern journalism satisfies is “a distant relative of the ‘wonder’ thought to be the source of philosophy and science.” The DNA of the Enlightenment is thus involved.
And he further says that journalism is essential; we feel we can’t live without knowing of distant and nearby events. We depend on news to get our bearings in the world. But this is not incompatible with rage and may even increase it. Thus: “our addiction to journalism is virtually inseparable from our dislike of it.”
Contrary to what most are taught in journalism school, Minogue sees disaster in the “social responsibility” theory of a professionalized press. (A flash point.) He would name that a wrong turn. It was a disaster, he thinks, when it happened in education. “Teachers came to think that, because they were custodians of the minds of the rising generation, they held the key to social progress.”
Something similar happened in journalism, which began to acquire “the affectations of an elite possessed of saving knowledge.”
The Salvationism in this doctrine consisted in the belief that in being skeptical of all universal claims, the journalist as critical thinker was revealing a sophistication superior to that of the average voter. The test of such critical sophistication was that the journalist held opinions liberated from the influence of his or her milieu…
That’s true, I think. But here the argument takes one wrong turn and gets lost in a critique of academic fashion—the “everything’s a construction” school of thought—which is a whole chapter in the Culture Wars, and in the American university’s recent past. And while that chapter is important in the world of the New Criterion (and important generally, I believe) it has little to do with professional training or identity in journalism.
His theory: because journalists became university-educated after World War II, and universities allegedly fell captive to social constructionists and tenured radicals who “took over” the campus, the ideas absorbed in college help explain liberal bias in the press.
Plausible from a distance. The truth is most journalists remained hostile to those ideas, and to reading the books in which they were found. The J-School, throughout the entire post-war period, remained a “boot camp” experience— the opposite of a book club. The professional culture of the press generally despises “academic” ideas about itself, reacts to jargon as if it were an S.T.D., and treats a name like Michel Foucault as a synonym for gobbledygook. Many times in my career I have been asked, by college-educated journalists, what I could possibly know about journalism since I never worked in a newsroom.
If Minogue was more familiar with that creature Newsroom Joe he would be quite impressed with how much overt loathing and intelligent resistance there is for “academic sophistication.” The reason is simple. Journalists like facts. They’re empiricists in the sense that currency, for them, is the verifiable fact not yet publicly known. They don’t want to become social constructionists and lose that.
And so journalists in the United States held on to ideas about objectivity and factuality that were under assault in other disciplines because in those ideas they found refuge from the criticism they knew would come their way. The notorious example is the mechanical “He Said, She Said” formula in newswriting. (See my post about it.) Useless for truthtelling but not bad in serving as refuge.
So Minogue gets it wrong about journalism and “academic sophistication.” The professional model for training young journalists, coupled with their introduction to workaday attitudes in internships and student newspapers, reinforced by the professional culture they immediately find on the job, prevented the “fall” of objectivity and old fashioned ideas like accuracy, verifiability, balance, fairness. At times Minogue seems to realize this.
The crudest way of formulating our dislike would be to say that the picture of the world presented in newspapers and television programs jars with our political opinions. The discontent is greater among those on “the right” than those on “the left” but both share it. And here the discontent must seem odd, because journalists pride themselves on covering, or trying to cover, all points of view.
Here at the “crudest” level, the bias wars rage indefinitely, filling the inboxes.
Minogue tries to explain the anger as a reaction to another cultural “formation” in mainstream journalism. Sometimes called the watchdog press, it’s the image of an adversarial system pitting journalists against officials and authorities. Included are the heroic figure of the investigative reporter, the pride taken in the “crap-detecting” skills that are native to the reporter’s craft, and the battle to reveal secrets that reaches its historic and dramatic high point in Watergate.
All were supposed to be “innocent” methods (and fair) because the skepticism applied to both sides, one’s friends and one’s foes. But this ignores the way skepticism of that type takes sides against authority itself, which always has something to hide— even when legitimate. Not even the most pious man fully practices what he preaches, and so there is always something to “reveal.”
And so the kind of revelation offered in journalism (“…further revelations today in the story of…”) is a degraded form— to some. A cultural conservative might be highly aware of this, while the mainstream journalist remains oblivious.
Minogue slows things down. He tries to pick out the point where suspicion becomes a pose and loses contact with political realities, with the situation of the ambassador writing to his prince. After pointing to some “philosophers of suspicion,” (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud) he says that “in journalism we find suspicion as the constitutive passion of an entire practice.” Journalists will thus fight for their chosen identity as society’s free-range crap-detectors. He says:
The rational basis of modern journalism, its claim to our attention as bringing us knowledge of the world, thus turns out to be the practice of revealing what other people want to hide from us. This is, of course, particularly true of what authority wants to hide.
The First World War was a watershed in the growth of cynicism about authority. People came to think that the official account of almost anything was generally wrong. Here then we find the beginnings of the journalistic posture of indignation as the reporter demands “full disclosure” of whatever the public might be thought to have a right to know.
That posture, he suggests, has hurt the press. And indeed there are journalists (I’ve met them) who define news as “what somebody wants to keep out of the papers.” Minogue traces the mythology of exposure back to the 19th Century realists in literature:
Novelists such as Dickens and Zola were certainly not the first to explore “low life,” but they extended the boundaries of social understanding in order to incorporate the experiences of socially insignificant people into the materials of drama, and also to reveal some of the realities—usually poverty, vice, and oppression—“behind” the facades of the time.
The crucial ideas of this literary movement were those of journalists themselves—indeed both Dickens and Zola had been journalists in their time. The basic idea of literary realism is that life is a theater put on for show, and that reality is what you find when you go behind the scenes. Reality, in other words, is something concealed by those whose interest lies in concealment. The posture of the journalist is thus that of the investigator debunking institutions by exposing secrets.
After Watergate, this became a method for generating authority in journalism. One of its most stylized forms is, of course, the CBS program Sixty Minutes.
Indeed, journalism exposes things that perhaps ought to be exposed, and prevents evils, but by that very token, it becomes a practical player in the world, and thus finds itself in contradiction with its own posture as a critic above the battles of partisans.
True. And that contradiction, left unresolved, has been a big factor in the rage. Now we come closer to where the power of the essay lies. It begins with a strange observation about pleasure and pain, opinion and news:
To hold an opinion is to mortgage a certain amount of pleasure and pain to the turn of events. What confirms one’s opinion gives pleasure, what seems to refute it, pain.
Maybe it explains some of the inbox: Those people are in pain! This idea resembles the explanation most popular with journalists: “your anger is with a world that refuted your hopes, but you’ve directed it at us, the news criers, because we delivered the message.”
For example, one day the new criers might say: “Sorry, Republicans, but a new and credible study doesn’t support your hope that Charter Schools deliver a better education. Turns out the kids in Charter schools aren’t doing any better than kids in other schools, and some are worse off. Now here are the facts…”
And what Republicans then interpret as a contest of opinion (their own vs. the journalist’s) the journalist treats as a conflict between opinion and actual knowledge— reality in the form of a news report based on it. The critics, cast as true believers, cannot accept reality (bad news); that is why they rage at media “bias,” according to this view.
There was a deadly complacency in this attitude, for it gave a warrant to ignore what critics were saying. Minogue remarks on the dangers of what I have called the View From Nowhere, which only seems to be the safe position for a mainstream journalist to hold. It hasn’t turned out that way. (On this see my recent post, The Abyss of Observation Alone.) Minogue:
The journalist, living amidst opinions, knows by instinct the pains of being caught out holding a vulnerable opinion. The first move in his professionalization, as it were, must therefore be to evacuate any position that might be explained by others as arising from his own interest: anything having to do with class, nationality, or civilization: all such inherited baggage must be abandoned by the journalist. The problem is that whoever abandons interests—which have about them a certain discussable reality, where compromise is possible—finds that his stock of opinions consists of abstract ideas. These will usually take an ethical form, and that impels them towards righteousness. Any such package of opinions is likely to irritate patriots and partisans of all kinds. The holder of such a position is usually enormously self-satisfied, because, having arrived there by the process of identifying extremes as things to be challenged and questioned, he fancies himself as having all the rationality of an Aristotelian mean.
“Reality is what you find when you go behind the scenes.” The self-satisfaction in being the skeptic to everyone else’s true believer. The righteousness among society’s free-range crap-detectors. The self-image as balancer while “you and him fight.” The tendency to shout out abstractions when asked, “what are your interests in the matter?” “A sophistication superior to that of the average voter.” The hollowness of the view from nowhere. The arid rationality in trying to be an Aristotelian mean.
These are some of Kenneth Minogue’s suggestions for how things got to where they are between the cultural right and journalism. I don’t buy all of it, but then I am not a cultural conservative in the New Criterion mold. I do recommend reading Journalism: Power without responsibility. In fact, I recommend struggling with it.
And after that, go here to struggle some more.
After Matter: Notes, reactions and links…
David Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning media critic for the Los Angeles Times, takes on the de-certification of the press argument (and my defense of it) in: Is Bush really implementing a full-court press on media? His answer is no. Yet the argument is “one of the most interesting and provocative (and paranoid) of those espoused in recent weeks.”
Chris Satullo’s answer is yes, there is an attempt to discredit, intimidate and marginalize journalism. He’s the editorial page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
My craft is in deep trouble. Our only coin of value, credibility, is plummeting.
These Romulans are smart; they know our weaknesses. And we keep handing them ammunition. So they are pressing their attack on the very idea of an independent press.
An independent press. A lofty abstraction. But if you are a person who would like to pick up a paper, flip on CNN, or surf the Net with reasonable confidence that the information you get is as accurate as possible, and untainted by hidden agenda, you might want to help us resist the assault.
Also see Satullo in the comments on Kenneth Minogue “nailing it.” (Or at least part of it.)
The New Criterion has a weblog, called Armavirumque. See James Panero’s response, The J-don weighs in. (“Well worth reading, both for Rosen’s insights into Minogue’s article as well as for what I detect to be a few moments of genuine surprise as a courtier learns that his Sun King might be fallible after all.”) See also this National Review column about Hilton Kramer and The New Criterion.
AKM Adam, theologian and “Random Thoughts” blogger, e-mails:
AKMA: “Give voice to the truth, and we show ourselves responsible.”
My theological vocation suggests that “revelation” doesn’t stand in opposition to “investigation,” but that our apprehension of the truth always requires of its suitors a humility and reticence alien to both the insatiable curiosity to which Minogue points and the boisterous confidence of many partisans (right, left, and center). The truth, so understood, offers itself to theologian and journalist alike, and unfolds itself to those who attend patiently to the complexities that truth entails.
Responsible journalists (academics, theologians, et al.) address themselves to the truth by eschewing both arrant axe-grinding and heedless novelty-mongering.
Here Minogue’s criticism of the appearance of even-handedness strikes home: justice entails not Aristotle’s mean between extremes, but a comprehensive commitment to that which is just — to the truth, in other words.
Minogue supposes that the disjunction between journalism and truth arises because journalists have assimilated a lukewarm epistemological relativism. It seems more likely to me, though, that journalists’ work has been undone by commercial motivation than by intellectual pretension.
Minogue asks twice, “How much truth can any human activity sustain?” Is he equivocating subtly? Does he mean that we by our activities sustain a truth that might perish without us, or that our activities cannot endure long when saturated with truthfulness? Whatever his intent, I must rejoin it is only to the extent that our activities address and give voice to the truth, that we show ourselves responsible — as journalists, critics, philosophers, or theologians.
PressThink (Jan. 7, 2004), Journalism Is Itself a Religion (Special Essay on Launch of The Revealer.) “The newsroom is a nest of believers if we include believers in journalism itself. There is a religion of the press. There is also a priesthood. And there can be a crisis of faith.”
Tom Matrullo at IMproPRrieTies responds to this post:
These discussions invariably seem to take as given that what we understand as “journalism” is sufficiently uncontested to allow us to fruitfully discuss it.
In other words, the moment in which a piece of journalism, or several pieces, are actually read, is not there. Jay Rosen does spend a lot of time exploring Minogue’s think piece, to very good effect. But where do we see the same attention given to actual works of journalism? That moment is elided, in order to get to the fray of opinion about its place, its role, its trajectory, biases, and failings.
What does this elision possibly foreclose? What purpose does it serve?
Basically, he’s right. That’s the weakness of this style of essay, and blog post.
Scott Rosenberg of Salon in comments: “Minogue may have no interest in rationalizing his critique of journalism with the structure of the contemporary world economy. But for those of us who live and work in it, and try to manage our lives so that we can be comfortable and take care of ourselves and our families, paying attention to the news is not mere fad or cult of novelty or sick pop obsession; it is a survival trait.”
Here’s a first: I am described as a “white blogger” today at Romenesko. Jeff Jarvis, also named as “white blogger,” has a post about it: Blogging White Male. Chris Nolan explains it best. Doc Searls: “Nobody dominates the blogosphere. What makes the ‘sphere is indomitability. Of anyone. By anyone else.” Suffette (Lisa Stone) is doing something about it: A Bloggercon for women. Dave Winer is thinking on it.
Steve Lovelady, the boss over at CJR Daily, in comments:
It was Lord Northcliffe, founder of the London Daily Mail and London Daily Mirror who first propounded, almost 100 years ago exactly, that: “News is anything that someone somewhere wishes to suppress; all the rest is advertising.”
That’s been the operating principle for a century, in newsrooms ranging in size from three employees up to 1,200.
It will be quite interesting if we are indeed now in the process of thrashing out a replacement operating prinicple for the next 100 years — or if we’re only going through the motions.
The State of the News Media 2005. Major report from the Project on Excellence in Journalism. The final lines of the Conclusion are exquisitely apt: “Somehow journalism needs to prove that it is acting on behalf of the public, if it is to save itself.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at March 14, 2005 12:59 AM
Jay, allow me a suggestion: the reason people think the main stream media is full of liberal bias is because the MSM is full of liberal bias. And the reason they are so angry is because the MSM is keeps denying the obvious.
An example: when Mary Mapes received the forged Killian memos, her method of deciding they were genuine was that they "meshed" with what she believed she already knew. By that criterion, I could sit down and forge anything I pleased on some historical subject, and have it judged genuine because it fit in with what is already believed (e.g., if you think Roosevelt knew an attack was coming at Pearl Harbor, I'll forge some memos that shows he knew, basing it on the contents of books that argue the case, and it will "mesh" with what is already "known" about Roosevelt's "betrayal.")
News organizations spent years trying to prove Bush lied about his TANG service. Meanwhile, those same news organizations blindly accepted John Kerry's claim to have taken his Swift Boat into Cambodia. Kerry claimed for years that he'd done this on Christmas Eve, 1968, and nobody checked his assertions. When the SwiftVets challenged the claim, Kerry shut up about it, while his campaign claimed that he had been in Cambodia, but not over Christmas.
THAT story was quickly dropped by the MSM, even though every member of Kerry's boat crew interviewed said they were never in Cambodia, and his superiors said they never ordered anyone into Cambodia.
To any disinterested observer, that's a case of deliberate MSM bias, ignoring damaging information about Kerry while searching endlessly for something with which to hurt Bush. The MSM's response is to look innocent, shrug, and say 'Well, we asked Kerry to sign form 180, releasing all his records, but he refuses, so what are we to do? Bush, though, we'll pursue endlessly.'
Another enraging thing is editorializing disguised as reporting. Yesterday, I read this article on health care from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. It's by Roger Lowenstein, and concerns the ideas of David Cutler, of the Clinton Health Care Task Force.
At one point, Lowenstein writes, "Health care ''lefties,'' as Cutler refers to some of his colleagues, favor a European system -- universal insurance financed by a single payer (the government) and some sort of rationing to hold down the screaming increase in high-tech procedures." Fine, no problem with that. But later Lowenstein gives us "Right-wingers go for a market approach." Note, not 'The people Cutler refers to as "right-wingers." ' Does Cutler refer to people as "right-wingers?" I don't know, and Lowenstein doesn't tell us. Maybe that's Lowenstein's characterization.
If Cutler does call some people "right-wingers", why is Cutler's opinion that some people are "lefties" so qualified, while his opinion that some are "right-wingers" is presented as bald fact?
Lowenstein continues "it's not the technology they object to, but people's cheap access to it. If people paid for their own angioplasties, so the theory goes, they would have fewer of them." And whose theory is this, exactly? No names are given, or sources. I've never seen any such suggestion by any 'right-winger' discussing health care reform. Instead, they argue that there's too much defensive medicine, too many lawsuits, too little attention paid to preventing waste.
It's a fundamental axiom of law that you aren't fit to be judge in your own case. If you want to figure out whether you are biased, try getting some people who disagree with you politically, then have them review your stories before publication. Then try to rewrite them to give the same facts while removing the perceived bias. I think you'd get an eye-opener.
Thanks for pointing out Minogue's article, Jay. As someone who did take her undergrad degree in perhaps the best known and most mature Great Books program currently active, I do find his form and style of argument familiar. So forgive me if, in typical Johnnie style, I go back to his actual text to critique your interpretation.
Minogue notes that the ubiquity of "the vast publishing industry of ... popularized understanding" presents two different problems, which function at very different levels. His argument will be distorted if those levels are confused.
The deeper level is that journalism has become and feeds a distortion of our civilization at its roots. Here Minogue is correct, I think, to say that journalism is both the surface symptom and the carrier of the disease of reactivity to the daily that makes attention to the lasting so difficult in our society. My own childhood in the Eastern Orthodox church makes the contrast vivid for me: when entering the liturgy, I entered a space and time outside of the Brownian motion of daily events which demand our attention from all directions. The language, chant and icons of the liturgy change only very slowly, not because they are themselves idolized, but in order to provide a context within which to reflect on meaning and value. The liturgy shapes those who participate in it, in deep ways that can be hard to discern at any particular point in time.
The Divine Liturgy (from the classical Greek lais and ergos, i.e. 'work of the people') of the Orthodox church, and other religious traditions as well, are rooted in a concern for meaning. They form the context within which to judge the value of events, choices, options from a framework that critiques all that is transient.
But as Minogue notes, journalism has its roots in the search for economic and political power - a different matter entirely. Whether the reports that Renaissance princes needed of foreign powers, or the business reports that underlay the rise of trade networks and capitalism (described in rich detail by the great French historian Fernand Braudel in his majesterial 3 volume Civilisation, économie et capitalisme, XV e XVIII siècle - a work whose English translations are very accessible) or Burke's description of the Fourth Estate, journalism inherently is tied to ongoing events in which there are winners and losers, in which power of various sorts is nearly always at stake.
It is perhaps inevitable, therefore, that (as Minogue writes about the second level of problem with journalism):
the perfectly respectable and certainly necessary trade of informing us about the world has lost its integrity and become, in some degree, a parody of truth -- in a word, pathological ... Journalistic consciousness is imperialistic. It invades every sphere of life and takes it over.
There is a paradox here, which Minogue notes. To some degree, the journalistic mindset flows out of the great achievements of 16th through 20th century Western thought - the Cartesian attempt to distance ourselves from phenomena, the Newtonian focus on mathematical prediction of outcomes which both empowers science and technology and also shifts our attention away from meaning. It is also informed, perhaps to a greater degree than you might acknowledge, Jay, by a fairly shallow reading of the post-Newtonian, post-Cartesian thought of the late 19th and 20th century: the schools of comparative literature, depth psychology, non-Euclidean mathematics; the paradoxes of quantum mechanics and relativity.
If that were the only soil from which contemporary journalism sprang, then I might buy the idea that rage against journalism is simply displaced rage in response to the sense that we no longer have a fixed place in the world, a dogma to comfort us in the face of stark truth.
But as Minogue notes, and you acknowledge, the seed and soil for journalism is first and foremost currect events as they affect power. And that is where the hubris of the press, especially around and since the 1970s embrace of a superficial reading of literary and cultural criticism, has proven deadly. For the (cultural) Marxist apologia for placing political considerations at the center of all action and speech has led, in a fairly straight line in the course of one generation, to "fake but true" justification for (in the case of Dan Rather) a highly political action in the form of an attempted damanging story in the runup to a presidential election.
The last third of Minogue's article argues that journalism taken as a something that claims value in its own right (as opposed to an activity incident to other disciplines), is built on self-contradictory terms. A journalism which pretends not to be build on concerns of power inevitably descended into partisanship precisely because it attempted to displace the role that religion more rightly claims: namely to convey meaning and to judge the value of human events, choices and options.
Finally, Jay, I agree with you that most journalists don't evidence an academic mindset that is really steeped in the intellectual millieu of our day in any fundamental way. Whatever superficial acquaintance most reporters and commentators have with critical theory or other 20th century schools of thought, they clearly have not absorbed the lessons of Shroedinger or Godel. The paradoxes of quantum mechanics include the fact that to measure the state of a particle is in fact to affect it. And Godel showed that we bring assumptions about meaning to even the most formal the attempt to adopt an analytic, axiomatic approach to mathematics. Insofar as journalists have sought to report objectively, they inevitably come up against their embeddedness in the events they cover and the fact that their reports are inevitably filtered through a whole lot of (often unexamined) personal beliefs and assumptions.
That that is true is simply to say they're human. But that they did not acknowledge that limitation has proven fatal. One of the *practical* values of most religious traditions is that they attempt to foster humility. Those who lack that virtue are in danger of provoking rage in return.
Minogue raises the issue of the status of spirituality in consumer culture in an unusually evocative way. Nevertheless, by the end of the article he veers lamely to the right in two respects: 1) the distinction he draws between religiosity and social engagement and, 2) the equation he makes between the secular (the "journalistic") and nihilism. There are deeply spiritual people engaged in social reform. There are deeply moral people who do not practice religion. Minogue's position refuses to imagine that either possibility is even conceivable.
Steve Lovelady: "The complaint of Minogue, the conservative classicist, is that (unlike himself) journalists too often proceed in a value-free manner, which causes him considerable distress and also causes him to see journalism itself as a destroyer of values, traditions and first principles, like some sort of blind bulldozer operator run amok in the city of Socrates, Aristotle and Plato.
Whereas the complaint of the more here-and-now-rooted conservatives. who want turn every discussion on this site into a right-left dispute, is the exact opposite of Minogue's complaint: They see a world of Trotksy-ite editors and reporters fixated by wrongheaded and dangerous values and trying to impose them everywhere.
Somewhere along the way, the argument of the restrained classicist gets not just bastardized and bowdlerized by the rabble (that's us, guys), but actually turned inside out !
I hope, for his own sake, that the poor old gentleman (Minogue) doesn't read this thread; he might choke to death on his own tea and crumpets."
I think the complaints of Kenneth Minogue and of here and now conservatives are ultimately one and the same. Minogue himself is a here and now conservative of an anti-social sort. Leo Strauss never suggested that secularists needed to appreciate that they are bulldozing over non-religious values to effectively do so. On the contrary, for Strauss and Minogue, their minds have been colonized. Secularists/Journalists advance the agenda as zombies of modernity.
"Universities depend on finding themselves in a dark and obscure corner of social life largely free from social pressures. Were they to be forced to explain themselves partially or prematurely, they would sound foolish and pretentious, and scholarship would be diverted into righteousness. The ceaseless glare of light from journalism illuminates the dark places in our civilization—and sterilizes many of them. No doubt a significant part of this illumination may prevent evils and expose things that ought to be exposed, but it also takes some immemorial human activities to the brink of extinction."
When Minogue says journalism, he means secular culture. In effect, he aligns academia and the monastery in opposition to "business" and "politics" and the "entertainment industry."
The difference between Minogue and the bogeymen of the right wing bias wars Lovelady refers to is Minogue's refusal to recognize secular humanists as having any values at all. Literary naturalism and secularism are synonyms for nihilism. In other words, he claims that "journalism", that is "secular humanism," is the erasure of all values.
This is where Friederich Nietzsche, Leo Strauss, and Kenneth Minogue meet for an amiable lunch together. Given Nietzsche's sensitivity to caffeine, probably not with tea.
The point is that they go together.
If we agree with Minogue that taking one's social responsibility seriously is a rejection of Christianity for the sake of false religions such as Progress or Marxism, than it is our duty to reject socially concerned journalism. Christianity, according to Minogue, would have us focus more on other-worldly, "immemorial" things.
If you think, like I do, that it is a right-wing canard to opppose religion to social responsibility, than it is a category mistake for Minogue to claim that journalism's concern for social welfare is immoral or nihilist. Unless you completely reject the Enlightenment as an alien subversion of Western civilization, it is nothing of the kind.
I would offer Chris Hedges as a living refutation of Minogue's straw man (the author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning). Hedges is a man of faith who does journalism and it is precisely his faith and values that DEMAND he take up journalism with a sense of social responsibility. He wants to improve the lot of god's children on earth and reduce the odds of more evil being done in the future. Chris Hedges is a logical impossibility in Kenneth Minogue's world because for him socially responsible journalism is by definition the rejection of supramundane values. Minogue's ideas ABOUT JOURNALISM are narrow and mistaken here as a direct consequence of his crippled definition of RELIGION as quietism.
The four of us (Minogue, Yourself, Hedges, and myself) agree on this point: the pretense of writing from nowhere is disingenuous, incoherent, and ultimately delegitimating or decertifying.
Where we disagree is on the consequences of this observation. Minogue insists that the answer is to reject false gods such as the Enlightenment in favor of an anti-social right-wing Christianity. We should teach journalists to report in such a way that affairs of this world aren't presented as of greater importance than those of the next.
Hedges claims it is his faith that requires him to embrace journalism in its connection to social responsibility. God calls him to judge the very POLITICAL matters Minogue demands we ignore because they are EVIL in the eyes of god and a sincere Christian must try to support good and obstruct evil. For Hedges, journalism must become MORE seriously socially reponsible and that will be the test of the sincerity of its faith.
Like Ben Franklin, I praise the good works of Christianity by men such as Chris Hedges, and oppose the work of Christians I see as obstructing good, such as Minogue's call for quietism as good religion and mutually exclusive of the practice of journalism.
Insofar as the ability to question class, nationality, and civilization (a very traditional Enlightenment act) is consistently related to recognizing evil in the world, I am all for this ability. I support the Enlightenment. Minogue laments it.
I refuse to let Minogue get away with the claim that right-wing Christian critique of the contemporary world is the heart of liberal education, but gaining reflective distance from one's class, nation, and civilization (by emulating Enlightenment figures such as Voltaire or Jefferson, for example) is a form of arrogance and an insidious danger. I insist that emulating Voltaire and Jefferson are at the heart of liberal education. In effect, Minogue thinks the Enlightenment is an insidious danger. I think that's a bad idea for journalism and a bad idea for the future of Western and World civilization.
GREAT comments by Robin, thanks so much.
Yet I think you have cause and effect reversed when you say: "A journalism which pretends not to be build on concerns of power inevitably descended into partisanship precisely because it attempted to displace the role that religion more rightly claims: namely to convey meaning and to judge the value of human events, choices and options."
The Secular Humanism that Mark A. is talking about so cogently (yes, I'm surprised), seems to me to have become the dominant neo-religion of journalists before they descended into anti-Christian partisanship.
Further, it is only AFTER some 90% of the reporters became humanist activists that their "social responsibility" became a wrong turn. (Answer of Jay's Q to Mark.) This is because the secularists supported their abstract ideal theory over facts on the ground.
On education, for instance, I remember Teacher Unions calling for more money to improve teaching. In 1968. And in 72; in 76; in 80. They often struck, they almost always got more cash -- but test scores went down. Vouchers? Charters? Homes? Something Else? NO -- more cash to gov't schools, the only way: in 84, 88, 92, 96, 2000. And Leftist Teachers got more cash, and test scores went down (STOP the testing! Like Don Quioxite!) [I notice, Jay, you didn't link to the bad news on Charter Schools.]
Mark A is totally wrong to ignore Michael Novak, who is certainly one of the more Christian neoconservatives; and, I'd argue, more influential than Strauss. I don't know Hedges, but if he's among the 10% believers rather than the 90% unbelievers who do reporting, I'd be surprised if he wasn't interested in social responsibility.
Funny how Mark seems against what he admires in Hedges, that a "sincere Christian must try to support good and obstruct evil." When it comes to Irq, Mark's prior posts seemed to oppose the obstruction of Saddam's evil.
"The facts are Liberal." Ha ha ha! Like the fact that Kerry has not signed the not-to-be-named form?
The fact that Sudan's government was given a UN global test -- and they passed? (no genocide, no global action.)
The fact that total mortality studies of women seem to show that having an abortion increases the risk of death (by all causes, including suicide) in the following 5 years? Or that abortion is a risk factor for breast cancer?
The fact that children from nuclear families, husband and wife committed in marriage, do better in school, and in life?
The facts that unemployment is so low, AND inflation is low, AND interest rates are low -- economic times are fine!
I think the Leftist rage is partly that when the secular theories are translated into policy, the results of the policy are usually worse than the Christian oriented policy. The facts, like the election in Iraq, are not co-operating with the anti-Bush (anti-Christian) PC line.
I just read a European Voice article on WHO and Prevention of AIDs. Two full columns. Lots of mention of sex education, and promotion of condoms. It did include a mention of Uganda, as being successful in dropping their rate, thru education. No mention of the Ugandan ABC policy:
Abstinence, Being faithful, Condoms. Two of three strongly Christian success factors -- ignored by the pro-sex press.
When, and only when, the MSM press can report the facts that show their own abstract secular theories to be wrong, they can retun to respectability. Unfortunately, the PC thought nazi attack on Larry Summers shows that much of Academia is following (if not leading) the "PC theory INSTEAD of facts" standard.
I'll try to turn my Rep rage against the media into laughter. So I'll laugh at you Jay, when you wonder where the respect for facts went but never wonder why the press doesn't hound the Dems for the facts about Kerry, or Hillary.
And "news" is certainly not only, or even mostly, what those in power want to hide. It's mostly speculation about the future: will Hillary run in 2008? What will her position on X issue be? And every one of her words becomes "news" insofar as it might affect whether she runs, and whether she wins. Infotainment fortune telling.
Some of Minogue's points overlap with a view that journalism is not primarily a mode of discovering knowledge (the Enlightenment model), but rather a mode of persuasion (the Classical Age model).
The fact that most reporters don't realize they are basically rhetors (to use the ancient Greek word), using classical formulas to get reader buy-in to the stories they tell, only shows they are doing so unconsciously, according to this view.
My friend Andy Cline at Rhetorica.net is doing fascinating work in this area. He says journalists who ply their trade without knowing how their language functions as rhetoric are "playing with dynamite."
Andy's view, however, as I understand it, is subtly different from the one summarized above, namely that journalists are persuaders as opposed to truth-seekers whether they are conscious of it or not.
He says that a better way to understand rhetoric is not as simply as persuasion, but rather as a complex social means of producing new knowledge. He says rhetoric creates new knowledge through conversation.
"Knowledge is more than simply 'out there' to be found," Andy wrote in extended comments to my interview with him at Local
Man. "We have a complex relationship with reality. We sense it and think about and talk about it. It is in the talking about it that we create the complex understandings we call knowledge because it takes two to tango (the social part). That’s a process of persuasion."
This is a long way from the "revealed" knowledge that Minogue discusses. Or, if knowledge can be revealed through conversation, it is a rhetorical form that traditional journalism has been manifestly unskilled at for some time.
Maybe this, generating knowledge through conversation, is the human hunger that blogging and other forms of Internet journalism is tapping into.
"It takes two to tango," Andy says. But the American press is losing its old dancing partners. They are moving away to find new partners to dance a new knowledge with.
I'm genuinely curious, when you tell your reporters about persuasive requirements #1 and #2, do you then go on to explain the range of strategies they might adopt to achieve these goals, as well as the upsides and downsides of each strategy from a civic perspective?
Let's take what you say is the most important of the two persuasion requirements, #2: "They must write so well, or so compellingly, that their prose captures the reader, who is always looking for an excuse to stop reading, and pulls him through the piece."
In the interest of being compelling, you say to yourself as a reporter, "I'm here to explain or tell people something important, but unless I get their attention, I'll lose them. So I'll throw in just a pinch of good ol' tabloid prose right at the start to grab 'em -- a fancy eye-catching word, a shocking statement (that I'll later subtly retract once I've got their attenion), a reference to a figure presently in the news, a reference to a figure of awesome authority (even God), or a shot of blood, sex, rock'n'roll.
In other words, you're gonna grab 'em by the balls. Fine. We do it all the time.
But what is the civic consequence of grabbing 'em by the balls all the time? Of using that particular rhetorical strategy so much of the time?
Of succumbing so fully to the imperative to get the reader's attention, that we basically stoop to tabloid tactics even for the space of one short lead? After all, it is the lead we are talking about. These are the few short lines that set the tone and frame the entire story. If we give the lead to Gennifer Flowers, how are we different really from the Star? From Geraldo? From the hated Hannity?
I like sex as much as the next guy, and I'm not saying we should ban it anywhere in society, much less the leads of all news stories. But I am saying, I see a serious issue to bat around a bit here. The MSM for years now has become more tabloid in tone, content, and every other way. It happens story by story, lead by lead.
"We didn't break the story, we are only reporting what started in the National Enquirer but now is an indisputable page one national story." We rue it as we say it, but as reporters we also secretly thank the newspaper gods that we'll get our story on page one that day, without breaking a sweat.
Maybe rhetoric is a useful intellectual framework from which to analyze and critique the problems of today's press.
Any of the writing strategies mentioned above (using a $10 word, citing a figure in the news, inflaming passions with loaded language), are rhetorical strategies of ancient pedigree. Aside from the consequences of pushing the "erotema" button all the time, maybe it would be helpful for us Newsroom Joes to know exactly what we are doing when we borrow just enough tabloid language to "get attention" to our "important" content.
My hunch is that many of the press breakdowns of recent years, especially of the trust between journalism and citizens, relates to people basically know they are having their buttons pushed all the time. They resent it, and oddly, the people who are doing it, namely us, are surprised at their resentment.
Maybe we wouldn't be surprised if we knew more about what it is, really, that we are doing, when we attempt to convey a reality in words.
You're right, I think, Steve, that it isn't always explictly about sex, blood, gore, and rock'n'roll. A lot of times -- maybe most of the time if it's The New York Times, the Atlantic, and your other fine examples -- it is just about picking the $10 word that gets the blood flowing, instead of the solid $1 word that describes the basic facts.
In other words, meretricious writing. (And as Gore Vidal once said, "Meretricious and a Happy New Year!")
The Times piece about Wolfowitz today says his choice was greeted with "quiet anguish" in Europe. Wow! The new World Bank chief candidate is throwing European diplomats into fits of existential angst! Must be a very important story, not only about diplomacy and bureaucracy but about deep human drama and emotion.
Mountain from molehill? Well, mountains are made from molehills, and we don't spend enough time on the molehills, the actual single words and phrases we use, in journalism, IMHO.
The tendency to quickly dismiss this line of thinking as petty and ridiculous, is just the problem that I'm talking about. A truly deep look at language and its workings is deeply challenging to journalism. A sex word and the word "anguish" are in fact closely related. I know that would elicit snickers in the newsroom where I spent ten years. Part of me snickers at the idea myself. Nevertheless, it's true, at least based on the lessons of my own sex life.
You asked at the beginning of your post, "Whoaaa! How did this conversation turn to tabloid prose, shocking statements, etc." We got there because my argument is that what you call "persuasion," I call "waving ones arms and yelling loudly just to attract attention. Or, using elegant but meretricious writing to get attention."
I just don't see all of that "compelling logic" and "connecting dots no one connected before," that you claim to see in the best of the press.
I see a lot more simple goosing going on of readers and of viewers, including on the front page of The New York Times and the rest of the elite press, than you do.
Did anyone say "Pre-war WMD coverage by The New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC, NBC, not to mention Fox, MSNBC, etc etc." On the biggest story by far in our day, where in our elite media was "holding an object up to a new light, compelling logic, connecting dots, etc."?
One answer is, all those ideals were absent because our elite journalists were too interested in 1) getting on page one, 2) going to Iraq so they could get "courageous foreign correspondent" added to their resume, 3) making sure they captured the once-in-a-lifetime "drama" and "epic sweep" of imminent war in their writing, 4) proving their patriotism (plenty of $10 words there, right?), and 5) being careful not to upset President Bush & Co. in print, because to do so would mean losing access to power.
We aren't getting the big things right in journalism today, because we aren't getting the small things right, is my argument. And the small things are words. Simple and single words. Single phrases. How they work. Why they work. How we might use them more responsibly.
Thanks for your really helpful and interesting comments.
Very interesting dialogue.
Daniel: Thank you especially for putting those pieces together, and your comments generally. I love your phrase, "a vague proxy for a deeper set of responses to the world." And yes, add bias to the list of cultural proxies. My sense is these things are all related, but I have to admit I don't know exactly how.
In this respect, I thought it was significant that David Shaw--a liberal journalist--called de-certifying the press a paranoid line of thought.
Equally interesting to me (maybe only me...) is that the LATimes.com once again--it's happened before--was unable, unwilling, uninterested in having a simple link to Pressthink when Shaw, a columnist, is writing for the purpose of arguing with a PressThink post. I find that a fascinating statement about where that newspaper is in its evolution (which seems to be a decision not to evolve.)
Doug: I think what you are saying is there are ethical choices journalists do make that elude entirely the territory officially marked off and labeled "ethics." These choices do not appear either in the average journalist's informal sense of the ethics of the business.
A good example is any "you have to get them into the tent..." device. We may think of it this way: We know there are costs when you have to compete for attention (eyeballs.) But there are also costs when you win. Each time you grab me, you bid up by a tiny amount the "price" to grab me again like that. You make me mistrust you a little too-- after all, you had to grab me to get me. If these costs are rendered invisible, because the "ethics" system does not define them as real, and if no one thinks about it, because they have attention to grab, then it becomes a hidden factor waiting to play a part in your demise.
I believe that mainstream American journalism rendered too much of itself invisible to itself in just this way. Instead of trying to find those lost nuances of practice and turn on the lights, the profession is listening in fear and awe to the dark roar of the bias rage. That will never illuminate anything.
While it's certainly interesting to discuss what journalism "should" be, it's safe to say that blogging is not destroying journalism -- it's expanding journalism.
Every blogger abroad is an acting (or potential) foreign correspondent. Every person with a phone-camera or camcorder is a potential on-the-spot live-coverage roving reporter.
Blogging is, first and foremost, a new and ubiquitous technology. Let's not stare ourselves blind at the supposed "philosophy" of the press. The ruling principle of "the press" is its technology: the printing press and distribution system. From this technology, the attitudes and working methods of newspaper journalism were shaped.
Both the printing press and the newspaper distribution system are obsolete and doomed.
And when an obsolete technology defines how you think about your job, you're in trouble. Just the word: "the press"! It's like talking about music and saying "the LP". Even the term "journalist" is outmoded; "reporter" is better.
Here's a suggestion to worried newspapermen: stop thinking doom and gloom. See the opportunity that new technology offers you. There is an enormous hunger for exclusive information in the world, for news that you can't find anywhere else, and an ever-growing source of potential "freelance reporters". A market for actual news exists, and a new, dirt-cheap distribution system. Use them.
But first, newspapers must cast off the shackles of old technology, and discard their printing presses. Yes, I said discard. In 20 years or less, those printing presses will have to be sold as scrap metal anyway.
Somewhere, Marshall McLuhan is smiling...
Yngyve is more correct -- it *IS* technology, but he left out the clincher...
at a very low price.
Books existed before Gutenberg, but were too expensive.
"We" went to the moon 35 years ago, but space travel is still too expensive.
We know how to generate electricity by solar power -- but it's too expensive.
The tech revolutions come with new tech AND low enough cost to make it a mass market.
On trust, great example of non-news anti-Bush bias in the NYT. Why should I trust them?
Stiglitz just wrote a mildly anti-Wolfie screed, too, including calling for the anti-Iraq war to oppose:
"They were right to be sceptical about US claims of imminent danger from weapons of mass destruction."
Of course, Bush clearly said he was not going to wait for it to be an imminent danger, though perhaps others said it already was, yet Bush led and Bush's words were NOT imminent.
Stiglitz's is basically repeating an anti-Bush "lie", in a deniable form.
But I see journalists as having evolved:
1) in favor of the poor; pointing out the injustices by the rich & powerful (capitalists and gov't)
2) supporting active programs to reduce the problems,
3) personally supporting the Democratic Party because they promise to reduce the problems,
4) actively promoting the Dems, whether the Dem party "solutions" work, or not,
5) choosing stories, and slants on stories, to promote the Dems.
Caring > Activism > Ideology > Partisanship (bias)
Adding pro-life Christians to the newsroom seems the most likely step to reduce the journalist rot. Editors insisting that bad results of Dem policies be publicized, like Clinton's "no genocide in Rwanda" results, would also help.
My favorite valid argument in favor of the "liberal media bias" proposition undergirds Tom Gray's "Caring > Activism > Ideology > Partisanship (bias)" progression: That too many journalists fail to grasp the indirect functionality of conservative thought. This has been true at times, and at times still is.
To be able to understand the case conservatives make for their policies, one must understand certain classical ideas about economics/human nature, etc. Without that understanding, then the conservative position always seems callous and uncaring -- when in fact many sincere conservatives are merely hoping for the same result as activist liberals, but with a different understand of government's role. Classic liberalism tends to see direct government action as the answer, and that's easier to grasp; Classic conservatism may have similar goals, but its mechanisms run deeper and are more subtle.
Now, having grasped and applied that understanding to my thinking long ago, may I please move on to the next level of analysis? Not every claim to classical conservative validation is sincere or rational. Instead, I would say that most of the problems afoot in the country today are the result of policies that claim the mantle of conservatism but are in fact wildly anti-conservative (in the sense that they do not conserve and preserve the founding ideas of our republic). To think critically about faux-conservatism is not liberal bias.
I think Gray's solution (adding "pro-life Christians" to the newsroom as remedy for "journalistic rot") cuts straight to the heart of the cultural disconnect Jay describes in this post: If Gray had suggested "free-market economists," that recommendation would have followed rationally from his earlier statement. Instead, he recommends adding a particular flavor of religion to the mix.
Journalists are accused of not understanding conservative thought and therefore failing to frame our stories in a non-biased way. Yet the deeper issue appears to be one of cultural affiliation. We try (and yes, I acknowledge that we often fail) not to pick a side so that we may serve the same function to all sides. But our cultural critics tend to come from a religious tradition that teaches one may not serve more than one master (and that by rejecting God, one serves his enemy).
Hence, I borrow Gray's model to make a new one -- One possible construction of the religious view of "liberal media bias":
"Intellectual hubris > cultural arrogance > Ideology > Partisanship (Satanism)"
Clearly this is not the view of all conservatives or all Christians, but one only has to listen to those pulpit messages linking journalists to the godless cultural elites to see this rhetorical chain reaction at work. "Not like us = evil."
You probably don't want to go here, but Daniel's remarks suggest to me a further parallel between your thesis of a conscious policy to decertify the press as a means of changing the political battlefield, and the self-conscious PNAC neo-con agenda of delegitimizing the United Nations.
Both positions insist that control over the will of a political community must not be ceded to institutions invested in legalistic control: one at the level of the domestic state, the other at the level of the Wilsonian United Nations. They reject heretofore hegemonic legal definitions of the welfare state and international law as illegitimate usurpers of communal sovereignty.
To the degree that reporters as representatives of the Enlightenment stand on the side of reason as opposed to group self-interest defined in communal terms, they effectively sustain the legitimacy of the previously hegemonic system. Reporters who are not actively challenging the legitimacy of the welfare state and international law are thus instruments of the enemy, obstacles to the anti-liberal Republican revolution.
One layer of astonishing incoherence steps in when Bush Republicans take up the mantle of anti-fascist justice in the name of the challenge to liberal legalism that DEFINED fascism and its Asian allies. They effectively say, "We must reject the legitimacy of international law by starting an unprovoked war of aggression in order to bring to justice those who are or will be guilty of crimes against humanity such as starting a war of aggression in the manner of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan." Liberal legalism is categorically rejected as inadequate to the task of saving itself. It must be overthrown it must be overthrown for the sake of its own salvation.
Under international law, Bush has undertaken exactly what Nuremburg and Tokyo War Crimes tribunals found Nazi Germany and Militarist Japan of: Instigating unprovoked wars of aggression and therefore crimes against humanity.
The self-righteousness of the cloak of the Second World War Bush wants to take into battle against "Terror" (and not coincidentally ideologically strip from the Keynesian welfare state types who actually organized and fought it), is grounded in the very principles of international liberal legalism that the neo-con PNAC imperial project rejects as illegitimate. Bush waves the mantle of the very liberal legal system he rejects both natinally and internationally (Ads with Roosevelt against Social Security are another perfect analogy). Rejection is salvation, delegitimization is constructive reform.
Reporters who have a coherent enough personal identity to acknowledge facts of more than a few hours ago are by definition obstructionist wrenches in this system of blatant "up-is-downism." They are framed as New Class hegemons who obstruct the anti-liberal revolution insofar as they continue to imagine democracy involves checks and balances, debate rather than marching orders and obedience. From this point of view, if they are covering enemies legal concerns are category mistakes and aid and comfort to the enemy. The very subject of international law is thus anathema, and counter-revolutionary from the radical Bushite perspective.
A further key element of confusion is that prominent cheerleader allies of Bushite strategy at home and abroad, such as Joseph Lieberman and Thomas Friedman, make the case for these very same anti-liberal offensives IN LIBERAL DEMOCRATIC TERMS. Challenging the welfare state is necessary for economic freedom, military expansion is liberation.
The strategies are rationalized on the grounds of communitarian particularism AND universal humanism AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME.
The fact that the latter enable an anti-liberal, anti-humanist revolution of de-certification is a strategic side-effect that both Lieberman and Friedman seem to be completely oblivious to. In other words, Lieberman and Friedman are cheerleading the de-legitimization of liberal humanism in the name of liberal humanism.
Daniel: The trouble is I am writing a book, but it's not about de-certification.
Waking up in the middle of the night, thinking "is there a legitimizing principle I overlooked in..." That's something I have done. I don't think it's necessarily normal behavior.
Thanks for your reflections on de-certification of the press. (Which I think is happening, whatever you choose to call it.) It's not like I know exactly how it's working. I don't. I am trying to figure out a pattern and the tools for its description at the same time.
Journalists (all exceptions admitted) rely too much on a crude definition of history as a series of firsts. Therefore if I say the Bush Team is making history, it gets auto-read as a series of claims about "firsts." To check if the claim is true, (or are Boehlert and Rosen exaggerating?) you "go back," and see if you can find earlier firsts to burst the bubble on my attempted firsts, and usually you can find some good poppers that way, and from there the column writes itself, "The Bush Adminstration is hardly the first to..."
This is not likely to produce any real historical understanding.
As I wrote several comment threads back: The Bush invention is simply in the coherence and totality of the overall approach, not in "things that have never been done before."
De-certify and marginalize the press is an innovation that has theory. (No fourth estate, no check and balance, press is a special interest.) It has practice (don't answer their questions, it just encourages them). It has leaders (Bush, Cheney, Card, Ashcroft, Limbaugh, Hewett.) It has followers, and chumps (HHS hiring Karen Ryan, Education Department buying Armstrong Williams, Ketchum corrupting itself). It has culture. It has politics. It has rhythm. It's some of the easiest radio ever made.