Saturday, October 22, 2011

Repost -- The Over Reliance on Mainstream Media

[The other day a proposal was made to form a team to shadow, harass and disrupt some of the television news crews who have been over to Cesar Chavez Plaza because their coverage has not been very fair or friendly at all. Coverage has diminished considerably since hizzoner took the trouble to treat with the rabble in the Plaza, the question may be moot. **Personally, I would not recommend that course of action in any case, for the blowback is unpredictable. If you don't like the coverage, ignore the outlet, do not grant them interviews, do not feed them. On the other hand, calling them out can be surprisingly successful. Harassment and disruption, though, will never work the way you want it to.

I was reminded though, of some of the thoughts I have had on the blogospheric overreliance on the MSM, and the demand or expectation that they perform as we think they should. I wrote this piece in January of 2010:]

Periodically, the blogosphere gets its collective panties in a wad because of some awful thing Teh Media does or doesn't do, says or doesn't say, publishes or doesn't publish, presents or doesn't present, and for weeks on end, the keening and rending of garments, the gnashing of teeth and the covering with ashes doesn't stop.

It doesn't matter whether it's the Right or the Left Blogistan in eruption, Teh Media is the perpetual target and the fundamental culprit. Betrayal! And that's just one of the nicer epithets.

Let's be clear though. The issue is the Major Mass Media, the so-called MSM (MainStream Media), which has a somewhat elastic definition among its endless numbers of Blogospheric critics. All the major papers and all the cable teevee "news" and all the network teevee "news" and all the mass circulation magazines generally fall into the category of MSM, except for FOX News all the time and MSNBC sometimes, and the New York Times sometimes, depending on who wrote the story, and then there are certain exceptions for certain things that appear in other publications like Time or Newsweek, sometimes.... it all depends on what is being said and who is saying it, at what point in the News Cycle.

"MSM", though, is generally used as an epithet for every major news outlet you don't agree with. Depending. Sometimes you do agree with it. So then it's "Not MSM." Until it becomes "MSM" again.

Some book by some DC gossips has just been put in pre- release and all the demons of Anti-MSM Hell have hatched out of their swamps yet again. The book is (apparently) quintessential "MSM", because it consists (apparently) of nothing but unsourced gossip and vicious backbiting. Gee. And this then becomes a Major Story in all the press and media for days on end, the authors feted and celebrated and put on all the shows, given endless reams of free publicity, and criticized (along with their MSM enablers) endlessly.

The cycle repeats and repeats and repeats.

Usually based on a series of erroneous premises: 1) that the MSM is the only source of information Americans have; 2) the MSM has an obligation to report thoroughly and accurately; 3) investigative reporting is the principal function of news media; 4) it was Better Before.

All of these premises are demonstrably false.

  • 1) Americans have access to a very wide range of information resources, many of them more easily accessible now than ever before, without let or hindrance of any kind (at least on the Internet), and the notion that these resources are not available -- while fundamental to the theories of media criticism that are commonplace in the Blogosphere -- is simply wrong. The Major Mass Media, of course, has a much stronger influence (most of the time) on the information and perceptions utilized by most people, but that does not mean that there aren't alternatives available.

    A more cogent problem is the information overload that many Americans experience with hundreds of teevee channels, thousands of publications, and millions of Inernet sites providing information, some significant portion of it bogus. Add to the overload the consistent lack of critical thinking skills (deliberately driven out of public education during the last 30 years) among so many Americans, and you have a recipe for mass confusion. People believe what they believe based on what their friends, relations, community, and whoever they consider to be in Authority tell them is True and False. Individuals can't afford to do -- and don't have the skills to do -- their own investigative research and reporting, and they don't (for the most part) have the critical thinking skills to sort through a bunch of competing claims made by the crews of hucksters and flim-flam artists that constitute so much of the information overload the public experiences. So, they rely on "what they know." And that leads to deteriorating levels of curiosity, knowledge and understanding.

    This occurs independently of the perfidy of the MSM, though the MSM is delighted to play along and take advantage of the general level of frustrated ignorance.

  • 2) The MSM is under no obligation whatever to report accurately and thoroughly, and according to the Law Lords, it's not even obligated to report honestly. News Media in the United States is a business, or it is outright propaganda, and its primary obligation is to produce profits for its owners, or if not profits, then to spread an ideological/political message as far and wide as possible. This should be no mystery. It has always been so. The whole point of a "free press" is to make money for its owners and/or spread propaganda, preferably both simultaneously.

    Some outlets, in this free-for-all media environment, will inevitably do the kind of journalism that critics of the MSM say they want the MSM to do (but sadly it doesn't, except sometimes when it does.) There simply is no obligation that the popular mass media must perform to a particular standard of journalism, or else. What they must perform to is a standard of profitability and/or propaganda. Or else.

  • 3) Investigative reporting is not the principal function of the news media, never has been, never will be. It is a function of a somewhat specialized segment of the news media. Looking into mis- and malfeasance on the part of government and corporate actors and interests will be done by specialized sectors of the news media and by specialized reporters. It's never been any different. Sometimes the popular media does it -- especially if it will sell or will provide opportunities for spreading preferred propaganda -- but just as often if not more often it will be done by more specialized production and publication interests. And if investigations threaten the stability of the government or the primary corporate interests behind the government, most likely investigative reporting will not be done by the mass media, and efforts to do it in specialized niches will be interfered with or suppressed. Now and then, there will be exceptions (viz: Watergate), but they will be exceptions that prove the rule.

  • 4) It was not Better Before. It simply wasn't. Go back in the archives. Pore through the musty shelves of ancient (or just dusty) periodicals and newspapers. Watch television news from the Golden Age. Listen to radio news broadcasts. Learn about the way journalism was typically practiced back then. Page through the "news" and witness the sensationalism, the racism, the sexism, the fluff and the nonsense that regularly appeared in the papers and in mass media magazines like Time and Life and the Saturday Evening Post. Listen to Father Coughlin and so many of the other wingnuts of the era whose radio broadcasts infested the airwaves. Bad as popular mass media was in those days, there were alternatives then as there are now. They were just much harder to get access to.

    So no. It wasn't Better. And in some sense, the popular mass media can't be more to the liking of certain of its critics without losing the very popularity and mass appeal that characterizes it. It would no longer be the popular mass media, the despised and reviled MSM.

    And yet, if the story isn't "plastered all over the MSM" -- as I often see claims that some outrage or other should be -- it's absence from the MSM seems to imply the story didn't happen or it's not important. The fact that the story may have been carried in alternative outlets that need to be featured rarely occurs to critics of the MSM. The only Important Media is Popular Mass Media.

    How many times have I run into complaints that a story isn't being "covered" when it's repeatedly been featured on, say, "Democracy Now!" or in "The Nation" magazine, but there is no mention, by the critics, of either alternative outlet. It happens so often, it's routine. The failure of critics to mention or feature the alternative outlets where the stories can be found is not as bad as it once was, but it is still a remarkable failing on the "Left." The Right, on the other hand, while criticizing the Mass Media as much as the Left does, also provides constant reinforcement, mention, and interlinkages to their own alternative media. That's how, for example, FOX got to be where it is. How the "Weekly Standard" is taken seriously.

    Too many "Progressives" are still locked in the notion that the only news worth their time is in the MSM, and they somehow have to "take it back" from the Conservatives who stole it from them.

    The problem is those who call themselves "Progressives" these days never had the MSM in the first place; it's always been Conservative, business oriented, money-making/propaganda outlet, primarily serving the interests of wealth and power.


    And then you have Chris Matthews.

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