Skip

Corporate Media is not the fourth column of good government
January 18, 2007 7:37 AM   Subscribe

The Plantation Mentality
The veteran broadcast journalist Bill Moyers spoke on Friday before 3,500 at the opening of the National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis. He announced his return to the airwaves and outlined his vision of media reform. "As ownership gets more and more concentrated, fewer and fewer independent sources of information have survived in the marketplace; and those few significant alternatives that do survive, such as PBS and NPR, are under growing financial and political pressure to reduce critical news content and to shift their focus in a mainstream direction, which means being more attentive to establishment views than to the bleak realities of powerlessness that shape the lives of ordinary people."
posted by nofundy (48 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have often wondered why, since NPR gets such great ratings, that more for-profit stations don't try to copy their formula.

I have been reduced to tears more than once listening to NPR stories. I can't think of a single time that a commercial radio station has had any emotional effect on me at all.
posted by empath at 7:41 AM on January 18, 2007


I can't believe he opened with an Emo Philips joke.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:03 AM on January 18, 2007


Media reform is simply the biggest and most important issue for Americans today.

If citizens aren't getting the straight goods so they can make informed deisions, their screwed.

Good story nofundy.
posted by dropkick at 8:25 AM on January 18, 2007


I wish Mother Jones wasn't so Marxist.
posted by four panels at 8:28 AM on January 18, 2007


I have been reduced to tears more than once listening to NPR stories.

To be honest, that's part of their schtick. It's not hard to do that sort of thing, but it's not worth the time on commercial radio.

Five years ago, I would have said that blogs (or podcasts, or whatever -- internet-facilitated low-investment bullhorns) would provide that counterweight, and to some extent they do -- evidenced by the Emm Ess Emm backlash against nasty, brutish, incivil bloggers. But they can also create lynch mobs of the Ell Gee Eff ilk. As Rush (and others, including I think Michael Powell) have argued, talk radio allows a multitude of individuals to be heard, but as we all know, something about the format requires that they all talk in the selfsame voice.

So I'm not entirely sure what we must do to nurture a more diverse journalism.
posted by dhartung at 8:36 AM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dhartung - I also think that blogs are an important counterweight unless I disagree with them.
posted by Slap Factory at 8:47 AM on January 18, 2007


diverse journalism? Community radio stations with a modicum of oversight.
NPR is great for many things (although I HATE their newer format of splitting the hour with multiple topics), but if you want diversity in media you have to open it up more. We see it with blogs and there is no reason why ANY market can not have multiple low powered radio stations. The best shows get picked up and refined for national broadcast.
posted by edgeways at 9:01 AM on January 18, 2007


NPR works--yet, for some reason, PBS doesn't. I know dozens of people who listen to "All Things Considered" every evening who can't be bothered to stay focused on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer for more than five minutes at a time (if I haven't had caffiene with dinner, I sometimes am one of them).

It goes beyond just "corporate influence," and reducing the number of independent voices. It's a function of the mediums involved, as well. Newspapers and radio (and, to a lesser extent, the websites of such organizations) are great places to do long, informed journalism. Television doesn't: television needs movement, and conflict--things that you can only get out of a small sample of "news" during the course of a day, and things that distort the stories that are covered. But there's not really room for "independent journalism" on television, because the amount of stories that work on TV are limited. Even if you could do it, no one would watch it.

It would be boring.

What was on Primetime Live last night? The story of a guy who weighed as much as nine people and a small pony. We watched the whole thing. Granted we don't have cable, and I kept trying to change the channel to the PBS thing on China, but . . .
posted by thecaddy at 9:09 AM on January 18, 2007


Thanks nofundy, great post.
posted by ahimsakid at 9:17 AM on January 18, 2007


Personally, I get all my news either from NPR or online sources. I stopped watching TV news years ago and even PBS or Jim Lehrer leave me cold. I have to say, however, that I LOATHE human interest stories on NPR (or anywhere for that matter). I want news, dammit. Unadulterated (as much as possible) news. I'll make my own damn decisions. Pandering to emotional response is why I left television. Every time ME or ATC starts in on their daily "boo hoo" story about some soldier who died in Iraq, I change the channel for a few minutes.

Dont get me wrong, I understand everything has its bias, but short of reading nothing but Reuters or the AP, I think NPR does a fairly good job.

Good post.
posted by elendil71 at 9:39 AM on January 18, 2007


PBS Sucks, and yet the BBC is awsome. Why? Maybe because the BBC gets about $6.5 billion a year, while PBS gets $300 million?

More money, better programming, more viewers.
posted by delmoi at 9:59 AM on January 18, 2007



PBS Sucks, and yet the BBC is awsome. Why? Maybe because the BBC gets about $6.5 billion a year, while PBS gets $300 million?

More money, better programming, more viewers.


Why does the BBC have more money? Because every television owner is charged ~$230 for the right to own a television that money goes directly into public service media including BBC and Channel 4. Can you imagine the American public willing to take a tax on the right to own a television?

The other thing is that the BBC makes quality programming that they can sell to other places (The Office, Fawlty Towers, Robin Hood, Dr. Who...). PBS has no products like that nor does it have the money to buy into those content streams to raise its dividends.

Lastly, PBS has no mission. Is it about getting independent communities to speak to power?, Is it about speaking a fourth way in the media? Is it about kid's programming? Is it educational television? It can't give an answer, and neither can Bill Moyers.
posted by parmanparman at 10:08 AM on January 18, 2007


What's interesting to me about all this hand-wringing about 'who controls the media' is just how ubiquitous it's become. All of us now seem to believe that absolute power is in the hands of those who have what we call 'information,' and that having control over its distribution is tantamount to having control over those to whom it is distributed.

I say this because, in a way, this is less true than ever before. USians today will automatically believe not what you tell them but whatever they want to believe, and they will continue to believe those things no matter what they hear or see. This seems true to me across the board, in every sect and creed, from thoughtful, careful evangelicals here in Colorado (where I am) to angry, bitter neocons in Boston (where I lived for a few years) to rank-and-file, working-class democrats to high-speaking, high-thinking intellectual democratic politicians. From people too far to the right to fit into a party to people too far to the left to fit into a party, we've all decided we don't really want to change our minds.

And the real root of it, the real tragic base, isn't, I don't think, a disrespect for this thing we think is magical and all-potent, 'information.' It's not, let it be noted, that we simply won't wake up and 'read this important, well-informed news article,' or 'watch this video, which lays all the problems out.' It has to do with our simple unwillingness to listen to other human beings and think about what they say. This has become most obvious recently when we've all had our attention turned to the Muslim world; the reaction of Americans has invariably been one of these three:

(1) They want to live like we want to (in a free, equal state) but they can't.

(2) They want to live like we want to (in a free, equal state) but they just don't know it yet.

(3) They're just fucking crazy over there.

Now, usually those trimming to the right have been tending toward that second option ("we'll have to go over there and show them just how great democracy is"), and those to the left toward the first ("free the poor, raise up the status of women, but do so while respecting their differing values, and give them a chance to do it on their own"). The trouble is, when those first two options fail to explain the circumstances, as I believe they invariably do, most people just proceed glumly to option three, because it's really beyond our ken how somebody could be so different from us.

What bothers me most is that I see this model used domestically more and more. For example, I continually see articles and pieces in the more left-leaning media wondering just how so-called 'fundamentalist Christians' can possibly believe what they seem to believe. I can assure you that those on the Evangelical side of things are just as confused as to what makes their counterparts tick. And from there on down: neocons would rather not have to listen to their opponents because they believe they're right and can't be refuted; party democrats would rather not have to listen to their opponents because they believe they might be hoodwinked, or that the other party has already been hoodwinked; et cetera.

In short, USians really need to learn to talk to each other openly and freely, with a desire for truth and a willingness to change their minds. More "information" from "the other side" won't do this. Only careful education and thoughtful discussion can bring this about. And I despair when I think of how difficult that would be.
posted by koeselitz at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2007 [11 favorites]


A commercial press isn't necessarily a free press, especially with ownership concentration.

Humans have limited time and a limited capacity to understand all of what's going on around us, which is why careful research, reporting and editing is so important. Commercial broadcasters know this but instead just provide the briefest of overviews of current events, and a huge helping of self-serving infotainment - Hollywood this, starlet divorce that - fluff that is essentially manufactured to titillate, yet is couched as news. Even CNN broadcasts alot of fluff.

[on preview of koeselitz - I think part of the problem you describe is that people have less faith in the media these days, because even unconsciously they understand that they're not getting enough real news; the stream of crap is confusing and they seek refuge in their own belief systems]

People love to hate on'em, but there's no question that the publicly (sp?) funded broadcasters (CBC in Canada, BBC and others in Europe) maintain a higher standard of broadcast journalism. I don't think PBS in its current form and size can compare, though i think they do very well with the resources they have.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:29 AM on January 18, 2007


I change the channel for a few minutes.
For me, it's Frank DeFord with his "sports" commentary too, I'll turn him off every time.
posted by nofundy at 10:38 AM on January 18, 2007


PBS makes some of the best documentaries. Frontline for example, which focuses on newsy events. Why all the PBS hate?

The paradigm of the evening news broadcast was mandated by Federal Law back in the 1950's because airwaves were considered a public property which the private networks leased and therefore they had to spend X numbers of hours/day devoted to public service and news was considered to meet that requirement (along with PSAs). At some point the networks figured they could make it entertaining and then make money from it and so the idea of a public service is no longer part of the discourse.
posted by stbalbach at 10:43 AM on January 18, 2007


Ditto on Frontline, it is one of the best and most insightful newshows on any channel, cable or broadcast. I'd compare it directly with any NPR show.
posted by JJ86 at 10:50 AM on January 18, 2007


The paradigm of the evening news broadcast was mandated by Federal Law back in the 1950's because airwaves were considered a public property which the private networks leased and therefore they had to spend X numbers of hours/day devoted to public service and news was considered to meet that requirement (along with PSAs). At some point the networks figured they could make it entertaining and then make money from it and so the idea of a public service is no longer part of the discourse

WRONG! The government ended the Educational/Informational programming requirement in the 1990s, thus ending any kind of network willingness to be fair to that kind of programming by airing it. Now it puts the E/I tag on things like the Power Rangers.

The other thing is that if commercial broadcasters really wanted to turn PBS into a quality output station 24-hours-a-day they could. They do already, it's called C-SPAN. The other problem is that none of the PBS stations are owned by PBS, but by mostly shitty little independent local non-profits. That's why there are pledge weeks, old eps of Julia Child, those awful "Flyover Italy/Great Britain/California" shows, and a great multitude of programming that a national network would never, ever consider airing.
posted by parmanparman at 10:53 AM on January 18, 2007


The other thing is that the BBC makes quality programming that they can sell to other places (The Office, Fawlty Towers, Robin Hood, Dr. Who...). PBS has no products like that nor does it have the money to buy into those content streams to raise its dividends.

Wouldn't Sesame Street- arguably one of the most successful programs in the history of American television- count?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:06 AM on January 18, 2007


The other thing is that the BBC makes quality programming that they can sell to other places (The Office, Fawlty Towers, Robin Hood, Dr. Who...). PBS has no products like that nor does it have the money to buy into those content streams to raise its dividends.

Wouldn't Sesame Street- arguably one of the most successful programs in the history of American television- count?


Oh, sure it counts. But PBS does not own any of the rights to the brand. They are owned by the Children's Television Workshop.
posted by parmanparman at 11:16 AM on January 18, 2007


"It has to do with our simple unwillingness to listen to other human beings and think about what they say."

Koeselitz makes most sense to me in all this. The age of our all sitting down to hear Uncle Walter's idea of "the news" is over, and that's good, but with the, also good, proliferation of news sources, we can expect more and more "niche news." Everybody has his/her trusted boutique designers in the global information marketplace.

So is Bill Moyers ready (or able) to report across these divisions? Even if he is, would neocons turn on his program?

As for BBC, how does it deal with this splintering of public consciousness? Or does it just roll on, thanks to its hefty subsidy?
posted by Julie at 11:40 AM on January 18, 2007


...they seek refuge in their own belief systems.

It's not the better-informed us vs. the poorly-informed them. We all seek refuge in our own belief systems, and naturally ingest whatever media — radio, tv, newspapers, blogs, etc. — that's most palatable. Much media is mostly marketing.

NPR and PBS have been around for some 35 years, long enough to become firmly established as non-establishment media. The critical thing is to examine whatever media we're absorbing, and to be willing to look beyond it to obtain additional information. Like us, the other guys may be right and wrong, and perhaps both at the same time.
posted by cenoxo at 11:41 AM on January 18, 2007


The solution is almost certainly a fully state-funded journalistic organization. This isn't perfect but it's likely the best-of-the-worst solution for providing citizens with thorough, in-depth, bipartisan news.

This will never, ever, ever happen in America.

People need to learn to enjoy Fox News. It's just the tip of the iceberg. The race to the bottom has only just begun.
posted by nixerman at 11:53 AM on January 18, 2007


There are a few important points to note when discussing the quality of programming on PBS and NPR. First, PBS does not produce programming--they were set up to be a station interconnection service. They purchase programming from independent producers (like Ken Burns, or the Children's Television Workshop) or stations (like WGBH), brand the programming and distribute it (for hefty fees) back to local stations in the network. NPR, on the other hand, was conceived as a network that both produced programming and served as an interconnection service. There is, however, a lot of "public radio" programming that is produced by local stations and distributed by NPR, some of which is branded by NPR and some which is just available on the satellite system.

Second, as far as funding and independence, both organizations were essentially set up to fail from the beginning. The original Carnegie Commission report on Educational Television (1967) recommended a financing model similar to the BBC's--a manufacturer's excise tax. It was one of the first items to be removed from what became the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. Subsequent wrangling from Presidents and Congress has basically forced PBS and NPR to target a fairly narrow, elite segment of the market in order to survive. For the more academically minded, Tom McCourt's book gives a very insightful account of the way NPR was organized and funded over the years.

If you don't like fundraising, or if you want better content, talk to Congress, not the stations. Most of them do the best they can with very strained resources.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:32 PM on January 18, 2007


koeselitz: we've all decided we don't really want to change our minds

I agree with much of your comment, but I am curious -- to what do you attribute this intransigence? Is it really that we don't want to change our minds, or that we've been told all our lives we don't have to? These are, after all, ostensibly questions about our dearest values. We are made to understand that such questions cannot be subjected to rigorous examination with a view to determining an objective "right answer." Values are inherently subjective (preciouslittlesnowflakes), and only the most egregiously self-contradictory expressions of them are fair game for public dismissal. This being the case, what could possibly count as valid evidence that would compel someone to change their mind in a public debate?
posted by Urban Hermit at 12:52 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Speaking of good programming on PBS.

God I miss Fred Rogers.
He'd explain all of this is a calm, soothing voice, suitable for discussing the death of a parent with a 5 year old.

And if you gave him any lip he'd kick your ass so fast you'd think you saw god.

The infamous Mr. Rogers Goes To Washington clip.

Oh, and Bob Ross. PBS brought us Bob Ross. The best sleep aid you could ever ask for, or the most entertaining show for those who use psychotropic substances.
posted by daq at 12:54 PM on January 18, 2007


koeselitz.
In short, USians really need to learn to talk to each other openly and freely, with a desire for truth and a willingness to change their minds.

I think this is exactly wrong. What USians really need to do is shut up and listen to someone who knows more about the subject than they do for once. A sincere attempt to understand where, say, David Brooks is coming from is a waste of time. I know why he thinks what he thinks - it's his job. He's the physical embodiment of a particular viewpoint. Hell, NPR openly admits it, when they pit him and E.J. Dionne against each other. They both have opinions on what we should do in Iraq. What they don't have is a working knowledge of Arabic. Or any more knowledge of Iraqi society than I do. But that's what we get. That's *all* we get.

More "information" from "the other side" won't do this.

"The other side" doesn't have information. They just have positions. I get to hear *lots* of positions, but it's pretty rare that I get to encounter anyone who actually knows what they're talking about. "Crossfire" (and "The McLaughlin Group" - PBS is just as bad) has taken over the airwaves. It's all call-in shows now. If the other side wins me over (or vice versa), it's most likely a rhetorical trick.

It's amazing how rarely I see or hear anyone who is an actual expert on the subject being discussed on radio or TV. It's one of the things I love about metafilter (and politicaltheory.info, and many blogs, and just the internet in general) - it's where I'm exposed to interesting ideas espoused by people who have good reasons for holding them.

If the Iraq debate had been help by people who know something about Iraq (and not Op-Ed writers from the Washington Post, or wherever), it would have become clear pretty soon that the "invading Iraq is a really good idea" position was being espoused exclusively by Bernard Lewis. Without the constant noise of the various braying jackasses who infest our nation's newsrooms and sunday morning shows, I think America would have reached the right decision.
posted by bonecrusher at 1:12 PM on January 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


Let's not start applauding NPR just yet. NPR is partially responsible for the continued strangulation of low-power FM stations, due to their insistence that LPFMs maintain a .6 MHz distance away from their frequency, rather than what the engineers okay, which is .4 MHz. I'm near a college radio station that, whenever it lobbies to get past its 10W limit, the local NPR affiliate protests.

NPR isn't indie media, it's the hipster kid who doesn't listen to the local mulletrock or hiphop stations, but still insists his taste is better than everyone else's. He's got Death Cab for Cutie but no Mercury Rev, you know? "Whoo, dig my outsider status!"
posted by adipocere at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2007


Bring back the Fairness Doctrine. Reagan and his fascist corporate cronies eliminated it and brought in to era of biased media. The airwaves are OURS. They are owned by US, not Disney or Viacom or General Electric. It about time we alerted our elected officials to that fact and tell them that we have the power to vote them out of office no matter how much corporate money is gets stuck in their hole come election time.
posted by any major dude at 1:43 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


What was on Primetime Live last night? The story of a guy who weighed as much as nine people and a small pony. We watched the whole thing.

Ow My Balls
posted by psmealey at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2007


Urban Hermit: "I agree with much of your comment, but I am curious -- to what do you attribute this intransigence? Is it really that we don't want to change our minds, or that we've been told all our lives we don't have to? These are, after all, ostensibly questions about our dearest values. We are made to understand that such questions cannot be subjected to rigorous examination with a view to determining an objective "right answer." Values are inherently subjective (preciouslittlesnowflakes), and only the most egregiously self-contradictory expressions of them are fair game for public dismissal. This being the case, what could possibly count as valid evidence that would compel someone to change their mind in a public debate?'

I agree completely with the direction you're going in, so much so that I have a hard time coming up with a response; this way of thinking that you describe, I think, is one of the primary things that's made us cowardly and unwilling to discuss difficult things in these times. I'll only note two things: first, the word "values" in its common usage can be traced back to Nietzsche, who certainly had an interesting use in mind for it, and probably foresaw that it would take the meaning it does now. Second, even if our times are more frightened of facing the difficult possibilities that a search for truth opens up, it is common for human beings to flee from truth; it's quite often psychically painful, because humans naturally hold those things which we now call "values" very dearly. It's not likely that any society will ever be totally willing to be open to the truth, but the degree to which a society makes a place for such openness is generally a metric of its health.

bonecrusher: "I think this is exactly wrong. What USians really need to do is shut up and listen to someone who knows more about the subject than they do for once."

Part of my point in calling into question the word "information" and the way we use it was to point out that, unfortunately, there is no such thing as an expert on politics, at least not in the sense that you want there to be. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, and most obviously, it's difficult to find an expert about anything at all precisely because the question of "who decides who's an expert?" never really goes away. I can tell you, for example, that, as someone who's read a bit about Islam, who loves it and who thinks it's extremely interesting, that I feel as though Bernard Lewis has a small-minded, simplistic, and, yes, foolish view of what he calls 'the Muslim world.' But which one of us is the expert? Both of us can misrepresent our expertise, both of us can lie; and if a person doesn't know more about Islamic politics than either of us, then that person has no grounds to accept either of us as an 'expert.' Unfortunately, expertise isn't an equally-traded currency. As a wise man once pointed out, it would be wonderful if we could assemble a panel of experts on every known subject to tell us the truth and thereby be all-knowning; but knowing doesn't work that way, unfortunately.

Second, politics itself is probably the one subject (perhaps leaving aside religion, although they may be the same thing) that is least conducive to expertise. At least with something like physics, or genetics, or musicology, one can be an 'expert' in the sense of 'acquainted with certain apparently static laws that govern the field.' With politics, however, there are no such laws. 'Political science,' as a field, is an abject failure; where genetics has advanced us to cloning, and physics has given us all manner of conveniences, political science has given us ZERO peace treaties, ZERO stretches of international tranquility, and ZERO advances of any kind. That is, I believe, because politics, the interrelations of human beings, are not governed by rules, but by the soul.

That is: the trouble with assembling a panel of experts to make our decisions for us or to explain things to us is that, although it might work in the short term, it would be ultimately foolish. When we talk about politics, when we talk about our relationship with Iran or about the possibility of bombing Iraq or about trade with China, we're talking about people, and about people's souls. An expert can't really tell us better than the people themselves; we just have to be able to listen to them correctly.
posted by koeselitz at 2:19 PM on January 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


I've been intrigued by Drew Curtis's (!) book, where he talks about the media and how shallow some of their stories are. You can read the first chapter here
posted by wheelieman at 2:40 PM on January 18, 2007


I couldn't disagree more, koeselitz. Of course there are difficulties determining who is an expert on something (and clearly "the experts" can't be the only voice we hear). But I can tell the difference between David Brooks and Bernard Lewis, and I'm sure that you can as well. I think Lewis is wrong as well, but he's worth listening to. What's the point of listening to Brooks?

It's not that hard to tell the difference between serious thought and P.R. That we can never get it perfect isn't an excuse to give up and turn over our political debate to the party flacks and "our next caller" (who's views, unsurprisingly, exactly mirror one of the party flacks).
posted by bonecrusher at 2:50 PM on January 18, 2007


Great link, wheelieman!
posted by bonecrusher at 3:09 PM on January 18, 2007


bonecrusher: I'm not suggesting we 'give up.' On the contrary, I'm suggesting that there are no 'experts' that can be consulted on what's best in the world, what's right for everyone, et cetera. Or, to put it differently: the only way to really be 'informed' is to become the expert. Otherwise, we won't know who to listen to.

You say that "it's not that hard to tell the difference between serious thought and P.R." First of all, if it's not hard, how do you do it? Second of all, I have a feeling that there are more things in the spectrum of thought than "serious thought and P.R." Having read a few of David Brooks' columns and seen him speak once (one of the hazards of doing graduate work in political science) I have a feeling, just based on what I've seen, that he doesn't, as you said earlier, simply believe things because that's his job. I think he has a long, complex set of reasons for what he believes; like many conservatives, he probably had a comfortable childhood; he probably had some experience that caused him to relate whatever good things he knows to some memory of comfort or pleasure in the past. It's probably far deeper than that, but that's a beginning.

I think it's a lot harder to understand people than you seem to be implying.
posted by koeselitz at 3:10 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think a key distinction has not been sufficiently emphasized here: subject-matter expertise is not the same as distinctly political expertise. Knowing everything relevant about Islam and all the myriad Middle East political actors, in itself a monumental and perhaps impossible task, is not the same as knowing what to do about them. For this, a certain amount of subject-matter expertise is necessary but not sufficient. Political judgement is also required -- about what is in the national interest, about what is diplomatically and militarily feasible, and about what courses of action public opinion will bear. I think it is this latter kind of 'expertise' about which koeselitz is skeptical.

However, I'm not sure I would agree that distinctly political expertise does not exist at all. There are (or at least have been) good statesmen, and their 'expertise' is a kind of art -- perhaps not based on static laws, but involving some combination of character, intelligence, and prudent judgment. It can certainly not be taught in the manner of purely mechanical skills, but there is little doubt that it can, at least in part, be learned -- through some combination of experience, historical and philosophical study, and perhaps most importantly, observation of human nature.

The average citizen's difficulty in recognizing such expertise is indeed a problem for contemporary democratic politics, but for two reasons it is perhaps not a fatal one. First, it may be impossible for the layman to judge the finer gradations of political judgement, but surely the broad differences do not elude our collective wisdom. (While I am neither sculptor nor art critic, I can still confidently decide between a clay bowl that will hold water and one that will not, as well as between one that is merely utilitarian and one that is beautiful. Of course, it does not say much of democratic decision-making if this is in fact an appropriate analogy.)

Second, and more importantly: contrary to popular belief, the liberal republic that is the United States does not depend for its survival on the existence of an informed, active citizen body. Precisely because they recognized the inherent unreliability of even the best body politic, the founders bet the health of their republic not on the ability of citizens to recognize and act in the public interest, but on the balancing of relatively predictable, selfish interests both within and without the government.
posted by Urban Hermit at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2007 [2 favorites]


koeselitz et al, adding to this excellent side discussion--I like what John Gatto has to say on the subject:
Old-fashioned dumbness used to be simple ignorance: you didn't know something, but there were ways to find out if you wanted to. [...]

Now dumb people aren't just ignorant; they're the victims of the non-thought of secondhand ideas. Dumb people are now well-informed about the opinions of Time magazine and CBS, The New York Times and the President; their job is to choose which pre-thought thoughts, which received opinions, they like best. The élite in this new empire of ignorance are those who know the most pre-thought thoughts.
I think that Moyers is right in holding the current state of media at least partly accountable for our inability to listen to one another mindfully--he's making a moral call of responsibility. When the media follows market forces only (which they have a right to do--and, as was argued in the cancer drug thread, they have a duty to some to do), what results is a terribly mush-headed, interpersonally deaf society, because the business of the media affects how we all think and what we think about.

Their business is significantly different than making and selling refrigerators (for instance), because of what their business is about and how it's incorporated into our lives. Thus, there just might be a moral responsibility incumbent upon them, to which very few are attempting to hold them accountable. (Indeed, the very idea that a news source could be biased is still a novel one to many people--the abiding credulity of human beings never ceases to amaze me.)

Media companies do have some responsibility and culpability in this--whether we like it or not, our public discourse will occur through actual, physical media, and most of those pathways are dominated by for-profit enterprises, who act neither for the public good nor ill; they simply act for profit. Yes, each individual is responsible for his or her own thoughts (and words and actions), and we all do need to learn to listen to one another more. But to deny the massive impact our media have on shaping all of that, of influencing how we think and what we think about, is facile.

While I agree we all need to think better and listen more, I also think that those corporations who are allowed to use our public space act a little more for the common good, and acknowledge the centrality of their role in our society, and take some responsibility for it.
posted by LooseFilter at 3:41 PM on January 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


"...it is common for human beings to flee from truth; it's quite often psychically painful, because humans naturally hold those things which we now call "values" very dearly."

What evidence is there that values are "natural" rather than inculcated/coerced/etc.?
posted by Julie at 3:53 PM on January 18, 2007


"...it is common for human beings to flee from truth; it's quite often psychically painful, because humans naturally hold those things which we now call "values" very dearly."

What evidence is there that values are "natural" rather than inculcated/coerced/etc.?


I read the quoted sentence not as being about values, as such, but rather as being about human psychology. There is a psychological concept called cognitive dissonance, which basically says that as humans we all carry around in our heads some kind of "worldview" that tells us what is right & wrong, true & false, etc. When confronted with information that contradicts our worldview, we experience dissonance, a very uncomfortable feeling, and thus we seek to make the dissonance go away. We can make the dissonance go away by rejecting the contradictory information and retaining our worldview, by seeking a trusted source to advise us on how to handle this new information, or by evaluating the information and incorporating it into our now revised vision of the world. The last one is the hardest obviously, especially when we are talking about our very fundamental ideas of right & wrong (i.e. values).
posted by DiscourseMarker at 4:10 PM on January 18, 2007


"Values," one's own beliefs about right and wrong, aren't natural. The dearness they have to us, and our dislike of changing them, are.
posted by koeselitz at 4:26 PM on January 18, 2007


I have to say, however, that I LOATHE human interest stories on NPR (or anywhere for that matter).

For me, it's the weekend hosts on Morning Edition. One can only hope that Scott Simon's passionate love affair with Scott Simon soon ends in a murder suicide.

I don't know how it is where you live but here in Seattle on KUOW, we get the BBC World Service from 1 AM to 5 AM. After one, the quality follows the arc of the missile launch at the end of Koyaanaqatsi -- it blasts off and soars stratospheric, only to explode and fall like a rock at five. I fall asleep listening to real news, incredibly broad coverage and real in depth discussions studded with actually informed opinions. I wake up to the same old same old stenographic recitals of government talking points and punditry on loan from Fox News plus cutesy pie tear jerking fluff. It's pathetic, awful and barely listenable--and then only in comparison to the rest of the crap available on American airwaves. It is shameful how bad the news is here.
posted by y2karl at 8:48 PM on January 18, 2007


excellent post.
posted by brandz at 9:54 PM on January 18, 2007


Yeah, this was a good one. Thanks, nofundy.
posted by koeselitz at 11:31 PM on January 18, 2007


What about the source for this link? I mean, Amy Goodman can be a little sensationalist, but her show is amazing. I just am grateful someone is covering these things with such passion.
posted by wheelieman at 5:39 AM on January 19, 2007


Very well put LooseFilter!

For me, it's the weekend hosts on Morning Edition. One can only hope that Scott Simon's passionate love affair with Scott Simon soon ends in a murder suicide.

Haha!! I second that emotion!
posted by nofundy at 6:15 AM on January 19, 2007


Ah, yes, well, upon reflection I would not wish death on anyone and would settle for merely struck dumb until the last ding dong of eternity. Right now, Saturday morning is not unlike a bus ride to the end of the line with two teens sucking face in the seat in front of you for the whole ride.
posted by y2karl at 9:09 PM on January 19, 2007




And then there is NPR Check:
Notes and analyses monitoring right wing, pro-government and corporate bias on National Public Radio News
Heh. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel.
posted by y2karl at 3:53 PM on January 22, 2007


« Older DJ Drama - artists' friend, RIAA foe   |   How much is that Water Buffalo in the window? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post