Friday, May 20, 2005

Effective Tactic

One of the right wings' most effective tactics is repetition, thank you Mr Goebbels. In the media realm one of the constant refrains is the liberal bias of the media. I certainly think that most of the major networks are liberal but this does not mean that they are anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, pro-labor, hostile to conservatives or not patriotic as the right contends. I think they are best described by Bill Moyers who says:

"One reason I’m in hot water is because my colleagues and I at “NOW” didn’t play by the conventional rules of Beltway journalism. Those rules divide the world into democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives and allow journalists to pretend they have done their job if, instead of reporting the truth behind the news, they merely give each side an opportunity to spin the news."

Here's the full transcript of his speech.

I actually don't think that Moyers goes far enough. I think that ALL social systems create processes of hegemony, meaning that you move up in the system if you play by the rules, you don't if you don't. Say you are at the Milwaukee Jenital and you constantly report on the dire state of the job market and how the local ruling class has either moved shop or given up totally on the idea of a community and refused to pander to the racist views of the south and west suburbs that blame all Milwaukee's ills on poor black people. You will very soon became an ex-journalist. Or you will end up on the gardening beat.

Or take sports for example. Let's say your line was constantly that the Milwaukee Brewer management were a bunch of tight fisted sclawags that only used the club for their own entertainment and profit and the team is a perennial loser because Bud Selig is a toadie for the rich owners and could care less about putting on a winning team because he backs the institutional framework that keeps small market teams losers. This is a fact but as a sports "journalist" your job is to be a booster and gettting people to the ball park is part of your job because in many towns the local cable or newspaper owns the team!

Political and business journalism works in a similar fashion. The Business Journal or the New York Times have a constituency that like to hear a certain mantra, capitalism good, labor greedy, France bad, we can have nukes but if anyone else wants them this is a threat to world civilization, I could go on. Most of us actually don't want our basic world view to be too radically challenged, if it is we ridicule or dismiss (I plead partial guilt). We are indoctrinated in our youth and most of us rarely challenge the basic ideologiacl outlook that we are indoctrinated in unless there is a major shock to our livelyhoods.

The media are also active agents in creating that ideological outlook. For the first 100 years of the United States the tariff was seen as a pillar of Americanism and a perfectly reasonable tool of internal development. As soon as the United States became the creator of a majority of the worlds manufatured goods the position of most in ruling circles decided that the tariff was a tool of godless communism and beelzebob. Once China starts making airplanes many in the ruling elite will start demanding a return to the tariff.

Journalists will never stray to far from the farm because in the end they know who pays thier bills. The right wing has it right when they say that media have a point of view but they have it wrong when they say that it's because they all have a crusader mentality, it's more the case that the political culture is basically liberal but the society is now in transition and they want the media to more closely mirror their POV.


IFStone said...

I used to really like that band, Processes of Hegemony, but they totally sold out when they did that Volkswagon commercial.

If you are a writer at the Jounal/Sentinel and your only interest is writing a Marxist interpretation of the local economy, you probably *would* be out of a job. Not because your bosses are in thrall to lassaiz-faire (sp?) capitalism, but because they are journalists, and journalists value truth-seeking over ideology. I know you'll give me both barrels for that statement, but in principle, it's true. In practice, things have gotten messy, and there is plenty of pressure to repeat conventional wisdom and run with the pack. So you continue to be half-right.

By the way, there is a Journal Sentinel sports witer, I believe his name is Cliff Christl, who regularly gets into debates with readers over the role of a sportswriter. Christl covers the Packers but makes a big point of saying he is not a Packer fan. The Packer fan readership generally blows a gasket over this. He keeps saying, "hey, this is my job, and my job is to report on the team, not love them." (or something like that)

So there's an example that contradicts your thesis, and I wonder if there isn't a wider point that can be made. I have noticed that political talk radio is much like sports radio, a bunch of loudmouth second-guessers with assorted crackpot ideas that they can't stop repeating. ("Bench Favre!" "Eliminate the Death Tax!")

And when journalists come along and don't repeat what the "team boosters" want to hear, they get savaged by whatever fans are out there. Although talk radio is mostly conservative, the Web is pretty well represented by all sorts of fans/camps. I can find lots of Bears/Conservative web sites that think Newsweek's editors should be tried for treason. And here we have the Packer/anti-hegemony processes fans who think the New York Times wants to eat the poor.

As long as the average consumer of media wants journalists to reflect whatever individual political view he or she has, the media will always be criticized for being too liberal/conservative/conformist/radical ... which I guess means this will go on forever. I just wish the consumers (cough cough) could admit that it is they, not the poor reporter for the "Jenital," who have an agenda.

Go team.

OscarTate said...

Re: ifstone -- To point out that the Milwaukee job market has been poor (if indeed it has) is not Marxist analysis -- it's reporting a fact that affects about a million people's lives. As opposed to the everyday reporting of the stock market, a nearly meaningless journalistic enterprise, even to those few who actually own substantial amounts of stock, reporting on the abandonment of Milwaukee by capital is a matter of great importance. The business pages of any major paper in America are thoroughly in thrall to capitalist(not necessarily lassaiz-faire capitalism) ideology; there probably isn't a single exception. They are so in thrall to it -- so blinded by it -- that while they churn out the most ideological muck, they can tell themselves and everyone else that they value truth-seeking over ideology. You're right, the average consumers of media will complain that the media does not reflect their biases. But I suspect that what you mean by average consumer is someone like you or me. We might be average, but we are not the consumers; in other words, we don't buy the media, and we don't fire it. Advertisers do. They are the consumers of the media product. We "average consumers" are the product. The stuff they feed us is "filler." They fatten us up into a nice pliable packaged audience.


IFStone said...

In thrall. Completely in thrall.

OscarTate said...

I don't get it. The Jenital article proves my point. In thrall.


IFStone said...

I guess I'm the one that doesn't get it. Here's an article that completely contradicts the line that the J/S (and newspapers like it) only report with a pro-business bias, that, as you suggest, they will not write about how big business works against the interest of the working people.
The article, to my eyes, shows some enterprising reporting and reveals that corporations like WalMart are shifting health care costs from workers onto the government. This has implications for both the workers involved and taxpayers in general.
It also speaks directly to Anton's original comment about the business community giving up on the idea of community; in this case, not providing health care benefits to workers. Anton suggests that the J/S will fire any journalist who writes a story like this. As I've done in the past, I provide here a contradictary example to his claim. And I didn't even have to wait a single day to find one. It was the top story at the J/S web site.
So, I'll bite. How does this article prove your point?

anton said...

The industrial economy of the upper midwest and the northeast has collapsed since the 1970's. The local elite of this region packed up their factories and literally moved them south, west and far east. This occurred because of the need for profit that drives our economic system.
Milwaukee has been particularly hard by these events. The local media in no way has resisted these developments by advocating different trade policies, living wages, a strong labor movemnent, political movements, etc.. They have actually done the opposite by favoring free trade, liberal politicians (yes they contribute to the problem), anti-union legislation and corporate practices and sprawl.

This may be Marxist but it also the truth.

Journalists in the US for the most part are boosters, sensationalists and readers.

Sports: do you really think if Bob Uecker consistantly bashed the owners of the Brewers' for being tight fisted plutocrats, which they are, that he would have his job? Do you really think that the sports page of the Jenital is objective and not a booster of the local teams? Maybe your capitalist blinders are on this one?

Just because one journalist is not a fan of the Packers does not prove the thesis that capitalist boosterism is not the norm. I actually think that I get lots of decent information from the mainstream press but that's because I wade through it and glean what I, an ideologically sensitive reader, want. By the way, we all do this, it's called looking for the "truth." Our truths are all contructed through our own ideological make-up. Some truths are more informed than others though. I'm a Packer fan but should I not read the Jenital or listen to WTMJ, owned by the same corp by the way, for info on the Pack? Do I have any other choice?

Call in radio: People tend to listen to what they agree with. Wisconsin Public Radio has a different approach however, it's more in the liberal tradition; present "both" sides of an issue. Sometimes you can let in a radical but don't take this too far particularly on the left. But like the Moyer's quote argues, this is not enough, the world does not necessarily fall into liberal/conservative or good/bad.

More later

IFStone said...

To answer your questions:
Bob Uecker is not a journalist. He is an employee of the Brewers. One of the reasons I sometimes get annoyed with your posts is that you often--not all the time--seem to misunderstand and mischaracterize what a journalist is and what a journalist does. This is but one example.

I don't think anyone really thinks sports pages should be measured in the same way that news sections are measured, but I have given one example of a sportswriter who does not consider himself a booster. How the others feel, I don't know, but it would an interesting discussion.

As a working journalist and a business writer, I understand many of the criticisms that have been expressed above. I think they have value and some "truth" to them. I do object to scapegoating journalists; I object to calling them names, I object to twisting what they say and do.

There's a lot that needs improvement in the media, using it as a convienent straw man is just not constructive, in my opinion.