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Objectivity Killed the News Star
February 2, 2010 10:43 AM   Subscribe

"The symbiotic relationship between the press and the power elite worked for nearly a century. It worked as long as our power elite, no matter how ruthless or insensitive, was competent. But once our power elite became incompetent and morally bankrupt, the press, along with the power elite, lost its final vestige of credibility." "The Creed of Objectivity Killed the News" by Chris Hedges.
posted by AugieAugustus (51 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Chris Floyd:

... look no further than the front page of Tuesday's New York Times, where one David Sanger gives us his penetrating "news analysis" of the Administration's just-announced $3.8 trillion budget. ... What is most interesting here, of course, is not Sanger's noodle-scratching over imaginary numbers projected into an unknowable future, but his total and apparently completely unconscious adoption of the mindset of militarist empire. For as he puzzles and puzzles till his puzzler is sore on how in God's name the United States can possibly find any money at all to spend on bettering the lives of its citizens over the next 10 years, it becomes clear that Sanger -- like the rest of our political and media elite -- literally cannot conceive of an end to empire.

posted by Joe Beese at 10:47 AM on February 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


Ooh, a Hitch-Hedge twofer. I recognize that these are vastly different Chrises, but my mind persists in not being able to remember which is which.
posted by gurple at 10:48 AM on February 2, 2010


The opposite of truth is not lies, but "objectivity."
posted by rusty at 10:48 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah I always get Hitch and Hedge mixed up. The way I remember them is I have Hedges' book "War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning" and I just picture the cover with his name on it.
posted by spicynuts at 10:53 AM on February 2, 2010


How is any of what Hedges is bitching about here going to change by doing away with the creed of objectivity? Let's say everyone stops trying...then what you get is a situation in which whoever has the loudest voice (i.e. - the most money to spend on publicity, distribution and promotion) gets to have a voice and those who don't have the resources to 'shout' have no voice. People already seek out the news/media outlet they feel slants their way, you remove any attempt to avoid bias from the journalistic creed and you get complete balkanization of opinion.
posted by spicynuts at 11:05 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Dear Molly Ivins -- Chris Hedges makes me miss you even more.
posted by blucevalo at 11:09 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


what spicynuts said, only in the metaphorical form of a boot crushing the face of humanity forever. these attacks on the concept of objectivity as a guiding principle and ideal of the press are really ill-advised and short-sighted, IMHO, no matter how well grounded in critical theory.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:12 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't suppose that having 90% of the news media owned by 5 or 6 different companies has anything to do with it. The power elite have always been morally bankrupt and if they have become incompetent they have done so while becoming even more wealthy and powerful.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:18 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah, let's not forget that half of Stalin's job pre-Revolution was moving the printing presses around Georgia for Lenin and writing most of the articles. You think he paid any attention to the creed of objectivity? Nor did the tsar. Are those the choices we want to be limited to? You want an example of the lack of any creed of objectivity, look at blogs and the internet.
posted by spicynuts at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2010


> Yeah I always get Hitch and Hedge mixed up. The way I remember them is I have Hedges' book "War is A Force That Gives Us Meaning"

Of course, these days, I can picture that same title on one of Hitch's books; it would just be presented less ironically.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, spicynuts, Hedges agrees: "The world will not be a better place when these fact-based news organizations die. We will be propelled into a culture where facts and opinions will be interchangeable, where lies will become true, and where fantasy will be peddled as news. I will lament the loss of traditional news. It will unmoor us from reality. The tragedy is that the moral void of the news business contributed as much to its own annihilation as the protofascists who feed on its carcass. "

Now, I'd argue that along with your suggested "partisan" model, and the "objectivity" model that Hedges criticizes, there's an "accuracy" model, where reporters don't simply write down what the two sides say, but note what is true. Hedges seems to have wanted to see a more wide-ranging, crusading journalism that what I'm trying to get at with the "accuracy" ideal.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:22 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


the other half was split equally between robbing banks and siring illegitimate children.
posted by spicynuts at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2010


The creed of objectivity and balance, formulated at the beginning of the 19th century by newspaper owners to generate greater profits from advertisers, disarms and cripples the press.

Gee and here I thought it was the non-objective, un-balanced, "advocacy" journalism of Fox News and MSNBC that disarms and cripples the press.
posted by three blind mice at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The trouble with objectivity is neither that it is a myth nor impossible -- it is, but it's a beautiful impossible myth, worth pursuing -- it's that people have such a shallow understanding of objectivity. If one guy is telling the truth, finding another guy to tell a lie is not being objective. If one guy is producing nothing but partisan spin, you don't track down his mirror opposite and give him equal airtime to be objective.

Objective means you try to root out the truth even when it runs counter to your own prejudices. Conservatives have spent years making great hay about fairness, even though the truth is they don't actually care if something is fair or not. But by playing on the incomplete understanding of objectivity many in the media feel, and their own guilt about their liberalis, conservatives have managed to guarantee that when a liberal tells the truth, they will get the chance to answer with a lie, all for the sake of fairness.

This is a travesty, and a product of laziness. Because the search for truth is long and hard. But if you have to slap a story together in one day, the easiest thing to do is call one self-declared expert for a quote, and then call someone who disagrees with him for another quote, and call it objectivity. That's how creationists and anti-vaccers get airtime. It's how global warming deniers maintain a mask of credibility. And it does a huge disservice to the public, and makes a mockery of the profession of journalism, where the only real fealty should be to reporting the truth.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:33 AM on February 2, 2010 [27 favorites]


Of course, Molly Ivans said a lot of what I just said, and more too. She was a national treasure, and Christ do I miss her.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2010


It's hard to get more morally bankrupt than slavery and genocidal imperialism. As for "incompetent", the "power elite" seem to be doing pretty well: there's no real political threat to them, and it's just about impossible to imagine one arising any time soon. Other than the pointless moralising and pining for the great technocratic elites of yore (who so competently administered segregation and the Vietnam war), this article seems to be a louder, more confused, shorter restatement of the argument made by Chomsky and Herman in "Manufacturing Consent", which is still unanswered and unsurpassed.
posted by stammer at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find this article and many of the comments above hard to read because they don't distinguish "objectivity", the goal of impartial coverage and truthseeking from "objectivity", the doctrine of presenting both sides in a debate as though equally valid. The second one needs to be given a different name, something catchy, so I can figure out what people are decrying.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:53 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, spicynuts, Hedges agrees: "The world will not be a better place when these fact-based news organizations die. We will be propelled into a culture where facts and opinions will be interchangeable

I would accept that hedge (pun intended) if he hadn't spent an entire paragraph at the beginning advocating the argument that there is no such thing as objectivity. If there is no such thing as objectivity, then the answer is it's up to the consumer to be mature enough to entertain all opinions and make up their own mind. Which, in fact, is where most of the burden should lie anyway. The 'truth' about all of this is probably more about human nature than about any death of an ideal.
posted by spicynuts at 11:54 AM on February 2, 2010


People already seek out the news/media outlet they feel slants their way, you remove any attempt to avoid bias from the journalistic creed and you get complete balkanization of opinion.

To a certain extent, though, bias is inevitable. If at the end of the day the news business is about selling newspapers, then the content is going to be biased toward attracting advertisers, getting more readers, and continuing to get access to more content. Thanks to the way capitalism works, the for-profit news organizations that ignore those values in favor of integrity will be eliminated from the market by their competitors.

At any rate I think the idea that the destruction of traditional news media will lead to a situation where nobody can differentiate between fact and opinion is at best overestimating the value of the current system. Having any small group of people, regardless of their intentions or integrity, in charge of the apparatus that gathers and publishes the news seems like an inherently bad idea. When publishing information was difficult and expensive, it was a necessary evil, and with the Internet and other technolog the process of gathering, publishing, and interpreting current events has become much more democratic. It's more of an obviously positive change in places like Iran and China where the traditional press is little more than an oppressive mouthpiece of those in charge, but making it impossible for any news organization to have a monopoly on the truth is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"The bloodless and soulless journalism of the traditional media has bolstered the popularity of partisan outlets that present a view of the world that often has no relation to the real, but responds very effectively to the emotional needs of viewers."

Wut? I like Chris Hedges, but this is basically incoherent. The pomo left deconstructed the implicitly ethnocentric Enlightenment values of objectivity and rationality and give "the people" a real voice. They succeeded, and today we call their success Fox News.

Objectivity was redefined by the pomo left, Bill O'Reilly just exploits it - it doesn't mean the Truth, it means a neutral container in which all views have equal chance to articulate themselves. If the press were to express outrage for today's exploitations, they would be instantly excoriated by conservatives for bias; effectively, for telling the objective truth. And they would be absolutely right. The facts have a well-known liberal bias, and that is why we should insist on them.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:01 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I really feel that he doesn't understand what objectivity means for the press.

Objectivity is not the same thing as this mystical 'balanced' reporting we keep hearing about, which is absolute crap even if, admittedly, most news outlets forget this. Good reporting is not finding two wackos on either end of a spectrum of opinion and being done with it (from my experience, wackos give the best soundbites but the least accuracy). Objectivity means giving a feeling for what's happening, giving all parties involved a chance to let their opinion be heard. It's the reporter not talking about what is important to him or her, but what's important to the story.

It has nothing to do with metaphysical truth (a bugbear if you ask me. Fuck you Kant and your noumenal world that diminishes and cheapens our world), it's simply as true as can be, as true as possible given restraints and biases that we can't do away with.
posted by litleozy at 12:19 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The pomo left deconstructed the implicitly ethnocentric Enlightenment values of objectivity and rationality and give "the people" a real voice. They succeeded, and today we call their success Fox News.

The pomo left controlled a few literary departments for a few years; the "don't report facts that hurt my feelings" approach now has a grip on Fox News and the entire GOP from top to bottom. It is wildly absurd to link the latter to the former. The simple fact that Fox is like a wild caricature of what conservatives said about Teh Left in 1993 doesn't mean that they consciously borrowed their ideas. It's human nature not to see what you don't want to see.
posted by ibmcginty at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


doctor_negative: " The power elite have always been morally bankrupt and if they have become incompetent they have done so while becoming even more wealthy and powerful."

It's easy to become more wealthy and powerful if you own a government that will give you its citizens' money after you run your business into the ground.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:30 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This article has a slightly mythical view of the past, as far as American journalism goes. Pick your supposed golden age when the press supposedly upheld the public interest and you'll find for every George Sarton and I.F. Stone, a horde of hacks feeding on handouts.

Back when I was a freelance investigative journalist (an extinct species), any target I was investigating usually demanded "objectivity" -- which meant they wanted me to print their self-serving mendacity unchallenged. But they were mostly pretty accustomed to getting the scribes to take the handout and the run the balancing quote.

It's a relative thing, but the media has lost both credibility and honor over the last two decades. For example (PDF)
posted by warbaby at 12:41 PM on February 2, 2010


I really feel that he doesn't understand what objectivity means for the press. . . .Objectivity means giving a feeling for what's happening, giving all parties involved a chance to let their opinion be heard. It's the reporter not talking about what is important to him or her, but what's important to the story.

Just so we're clear, Chris Hedges spent fifteen years or so as a New York Times correspondent - including seven as the Middle East bureau chief and a couple each as a front-line war correspondent in El Salvador and Bosnia - so I think he understands better than most what objectivity means for the contemporary mainstream American press.

What he's trying to do here is explain how objectivity as a journalistic principle has become a tool in the service almost exclusively of the status quo. The "balance" thing is bad enough - anyone who'd like an object lesson in how easy it is to game even the most august of mainstream media outlets with patent falsehood under the cover of "balance" should read the history of the climate change "debate" and the media's role in perpetuating it. (You could start with Ross Gelbspan's pair of excellent exposes, The Heat is On and Boiling Point.)

But the deeper institutional problems with objectivity are at least as insidious. If you are obliged under the guise of objectivity (by your editors on the night desk back home, say) to cite official sources over unofficial ones, or to always run an official quote in response to one you got from a refugee or activist or "enemy combatant" in the field, and if all of those official sources are liars and/or the power imbalance between elites and their opponents is extremely wide, then you will rarely get to the truth in the place where you are. Particularly if it's a place like Iraq or Afghanistan or Palestine - Hedges mentions this last one specifically, probably because he himself reported from there for many years - where often there are virtually no sources outside the power elite recognized as "official" or even credible.

One last example of what I think Hedges is driving at: as far as I know, there is not a single Business section of any major newspaper in North America that reports on structural opposition to the existing economic or financial system. At all. Not even on occasion. And they virtually never report on organized, credible opposition even to a single business or particular practices it is engaged in, except as a business problem to be overcome or as a cause of a stock-price or profit fluctuation. Many of them do the bulk of their reporting by participating in conference calls run by the businesses themselves. And yet there's not a single business reporter I know of who views their reporting as biased in any particular way.
posted by gompa at 12:50 PM on February 2, 2010 [20 favorites]


Astro Zombie: But if you have to slap a story together in one day, the easiest thing to do is call one self-declared expert for a quote, and then call someone who disagrees with him for another quote, and call it objectivity. That's how creationists and anti-vaccers get airtime. It's how global warming deniers maintain a mask of credibility.

Further, it also imparts to our national mindset a huge resistance to change. If every issue is presented as being split halfway between for and against, we'll never be able to work up the community will to make important, necessary changes to our culture, like passing meaningful public health care. And an unchanging society reinforces the status quo, meaning the oligarchs are perfectly happy with the news media the way it is.
posted by JHarris at 1:03 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Ted Kennedy, quoted in the new book "Politician" by Andrew Young:

"It used to be civilized. The media was on our side. We'd get our work done by one o'clock and by two we were at the White House chasing women. We got the job done, and the reporters focused on the issues. . . . It was civilized."
posted by Faze at 1:11 PM on February 2, 2010


“Record the fury of a Palestinian whose land has been taken from him by Israeli settlers—but always refer to Israel’s ‘security needs’ and its ‘war on terror,’ ” Robert Fisk writes. “If Americans are accused of ‘torture’, call it ‘abuse’. If Israel assassinates a Palestinian, call it a ‘targeted killing’. If Armenians lament their Holocaust of 1,500,000 souls in 1915, remind readers that Turkey denies this all too real and fully documented genocide. If Iraq has become a hell on earth for its people, recall how awful Saddam was. If a dictator is on our side, call him a ‘strongman’. If he’s our enemy, call him a tyrant, or part of the ‘axis of evil’. And above all else, use the word ‘terrorist.’ Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Seven days a week."---But this is the sort of thing that many years ago we saw in George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," 1946 --only then it was govt and its bureaucrats who distorted reality by its use of language.
Does Fisk really think there is no such thing as a terrorist? a suicide bomber?
posted by Postroad at 1:26 PM on February 2, 2010


You had me for a while, but then...

as far as I know, there is not a single Business section of any major newspaper in North America that reports on structural opposition to the existing economic or financial system.
And no "National" section of any newspapers report on the failings of capitalism or republican democracy, because that's not news. That what books are for.

And they virtually never report on organized, credible opposition even to a single business or particular practices it is engaged in
Of course, national newspapers do this all the time.

except as a business problem to be overcome or as a cause of a stock-price or profit fluctuation.
To a business, what is opposition to a practice other than a problem to overcome? That's a third of the story. The other thirds are: How that problem might be overcome, and why opposition exists.

Perhaps an example might clarify your point.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:41 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


if all of those official sources are liars and/or the power imbalance between elites and their opponents is extremely wide, then you will rarely get to the truth in the place where you are.

If the official sources are liars, shouldn't we insist on the truth? Instead, the response is "Objectivity is a myth, 'truth' is an illusion that masks power" which is exactly what the right says about the media, scientists, liberal university professors, etc.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:46 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find this article and many of the comments above hard to read because they don't distinguish "objectivity", the goal of impartial coverage and truthseeking from "objectivity", the doctrine of presenting both sides in a debate as though equally valid. The second one needs to be given a different name, something catchy, so I can figure out what people are decrying.

The second one does indeed have a catchy name, it's called agonism and it's a longstanding and insidious belief in the basic ARGUMENT IS WAR metaphor that debate is battle wherein superior ideas will somehow emerge victorious (see the language?). Even insofar as journalism or legislature or even conversation can actually be said to be a competitive enterprise, or confrontational, to figure the matter in terms of a fight or an athletic competition still imposes unnecessary and excessive conceptual framing. There are many ways this figuration restricts our capacity to see things in collaborative or different terms, but the biggest imposition is that it invokes the notion of a sort of gentleman's contest, that there are only two parties engaging in a framework of rules and respect. We've internalized the belief that "there are two sides to every story", not three, or four, or really just one good one. Hence the cult of "balance", where every issue no matter how preposterous the opposition requires its supposed polar opposite. How we got ourselves into such a poverty of dimensions, where literally every possible human position can be perfectly placed on a two dimensional axis (and what is this supposed center?) I don't know, but there you go.
posted by kaspen at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


The problem is the people. There are good news sources available, and the people choose FOX and CNN. If the people preferred NPR and CSPAN, lo, there would be more NPR and
CSPAN. Unfortunately, there is a feedback effect. The dumber you get, the more you turn to dumb sources of information.

Trying to change the media is going after the symptoms. What we need to do is change the people. Many people of course were always this way -- the FOXes and CNNs of the world exploit the human brain's innate biases (DANGER! FLASHY! SCANDALOUS! SEXY!) to make money. But some of it is also a concerted effort over many decades by the right to spread the message that the media are "liberal", that scientists are morons who couldn't tell you if it's raining after sticking their head out of a window, and that intellectualism is for fags. And a lot of it is just that there are so many pleasant alternatives to becoming genuinely educated, and so little peer pressure to not be a moron.

It's not Orwell who was prescient (although he was an exceptional observer of political language and propaganda) but Huxley.
posted by callmejay at 2:34 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


And no "National" section of any newspapers report on the failings of capitalism or republican democracy

They don't cover election fraud? Social decay? Unemployment?

To a business, what is opposition to a practice other than a problem to overcome?

You're right, that's how a business views opposition. A reader, however, might have any number of less sympathetic viewpoints. A reader might even in fact be wholly sympathetic to the opposition point of view, might even view that business or practice as an unprosecuted crime.

Perhaps an example might clarify your point.

Business sections of newspapers report on corporate stock prices and quarterly statements as a matter of course. They basically never report on routine violations of environmental or labour laws as a matter of course - only if these are large enough or unique enough to warrant special mention, and even then usually in terms of the relative health or competitiveness of the penalized business. And in fact environmental and labour concerns about business activities are generally relegated to the back pages of the front section (the "human interest" ghetto) if they are covered at all.

When a study about the environmental and health costs of burning coal is released, it is covered in the "human interest" pages of the front (or in a special, intrinsically less consequential) section, if at all. Unless a measurable impact on the coal industry's bottom line is discernable, it is not considered a business story, even though the study and story are concerned with nothing but the business activities of the industry - which is a tacit endorsement of the industry's own point of view.

If Walmart announces the opening of a bunch of new supercentres, this will be contextualized in the business section exclusively w/r/t its potential impact on the company's profitability, its impact on the job market, and/or in terms of its corporate strategy and the strategies of its competition in the marketplace. It will rarely if ever include even passing mention of (for example) the strident opposition to Walmart supercentres in many municipalities or its track record of labour law abuses. If anyone is asked for comment in the business section, it'll be an analyst, a local official or a business school prof - never a labour leader or anti-sprawl activist.

When GDP is reported in any section of the paper, it is treated as synonymous with the overall health of the economy without question.

What I mean here is that the Business section of the newspaper is an example of thoroughgoing and mostly unwavering institutional bias in favour of the economic order as currently conceived. It covers business, industry and finance almost exclusively on its own terms. If there were a whole other news section entitled "Labour" or "Civil Society" or something, you'd have something resembling balance, maybe, but as it stands the Business section is - heh - a form of categorical support for business as usual.
posted by gompa at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Just so we're clear, Chris Hedges spent fifteen years or so as a New York Times correspondent - including seven as the Middle East bureau chief and a couple each as a front-line war correspondent in El Salvador and Bosnia - so I think he understands better than most what objectivity means for the contemporary mainstream American press.

In his book, "The War for Civilisation" Robert Fisk (who has a no less impressive resume than Hedges) says that the job of the journalist is to find and tell the truth.

Much harder said than done apparently.
posted by three blind mice at 2:35 PM on February 2, 2010


If at the end of the day the news business is about selling newspapers

It's not. It's about selling audiences to advertisers.
posted by Rykey at 2:53 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I find this article and many of the comments above hard to read because they don't distinguish "objectivity", the goal of impartial coverage and truthseeking from "objectivity", the doctrine of presenting both sides in a debate as though equally valid. The second one needs to be given a different name, something catchy, so I can figure out what people are decrying

Pseubjectivity.
posted by Decimask at 3:10 PM on February 2, 2010


"Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be so corrupt for so long. You can't be objective about Nixon."

Hunter S. Thompson
posted by Relay at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


This is a travesty, and a product of laziness.

This kind of analysis, which is also in the main article, isn't helpful. You can't make any meaningful social insight out of a moral comparison of different generations (power elites were virtuous at the time of the American Revolution, journalists got lazy after the 1960s, etc). At worst, it is equivalent to the right-wing superstition that unemployment is caused by laziness, which results in a theory of history whereby the whole world was lazy during the 1930s, suddenly snapped out of it after Pearl Harbour, got a bit lazy again during the 1970s, and so on. At best, it just pushes the question back one step further: why are journalists lazy now? Changes in their diet?

Nick Davies has shown that journalism, as an industry built on firms competing in the marketplace, suffers the same pressures of competition as any other such industry and resorts to the same countermeasures to keep profits going: automation, deskilling and casualisation of labour. In the case of generating news, this means that harried journalists are reliant on other organisations to provide them with facts, images, and often storylines. The forces best placed to do this are the government and the PR industry, with academia in distant third, having to modify their descriptions of the research, and even their research patterns themselves, to become "newsworthy".
posted by stammer at 3:39 PM on February 2, 2010


That's not objectivity, that's false balance.
posted by WPW at 4:35 PM on February 2, 2010


hmm. any argument that starts out with "back then, [x] was good, but now…" raises several red flags for me. I'm not immediately convinced that the ruling elite were so much more competent back in the 19th century, for example. Especially hard to say when we have all lived through the Age of Karl Rove.
posted by LMGM at 4:41 PM on February 2, 2010


Wow, a lot of people can't read or don't take the trouble to analyze what they read. "Who's this guy? He's attacking objectivity! Stalin attacked objectivity! CRUSH HIM with the might of your snark!" Like gompa said, Hedges is a long-time traditional reporter who knows more about the business and its principles and practices, not to mention what's going on out there in the world, than the lot of you. If you don't want to think about what he has to say, fine, go play your video games, but don't pretend you're refuting him.
posted by languagehat at 4:44 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Great article. I think the central point, for me, is the shed light on the fact that incompetence is the name of the game. It will take decades for people to understand just how incompetent this generation of leaders has been.
posted by cell divide at 4:50 PM on February 2, 2010


It's not that good journalism doesn't get written occasionally. It just that it rarely makes it past the news editor and the copy desk.

Try writing a story about how real estate is over-valued and get it printed in a major paper. A friend of mine more or less ended her career that way. She had the facts; she thought it was newsworthy.

Most papers are enslaved to grocery stores, car dealers and real estate agents - and the political creatures bought by these folks. Count the ad space: it's what buys the news hole.
posted by warbaby at 4:52 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm with LMGM; I'm not sure I buy that the elites are so incompetent. I'm not making a multidimensional-chess-cabal argument either, but I don't think there's any real sign that they've dropped the ball. If they look a little listless these days, perhaps it's because they've beaten the game.

What evidence is there that the elites have screwed up? They seem to be doing fine from here, making lots of money. They made money after 9/11, they made money on Iraq, they made a killing during the Bubble and many of them even made money during the Collapse; many of them are going to make out like bandits during the ongoing Reconstruction.

On one hand, it's paranoia to believe that there's some secret cabal running the world, or that any monolithic "elite" woke up one morning and decided to cause the recent economic collapse. They didn't. But it's not really some failing of the same mythical elites that it happened, because many of the really entrenched -- which is to say, deviously clever -- elites make money on the downswing almost as easily as on the up. They milked the bull market for as long as it lasted, when it finally gave out they're riding the bear one and getting bailed out all the way down.

But the idea that the elite is less competent at manipulating the public now seems false. If anything, they've gotten more people to buy into their system, and marginalized the opposition more thoroughly, than at any time in recent history.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:09 PM on February 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


This. And the creed of objectivity becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits. This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists. This vaunted lack of bias, enforced by bloodless hierarchies of bureaucrats, is the disease of American journalism.

Thank you, that is the best analyis of the current state of our media I have read. The only place where I don't quite agree with the article, but do agree with some of the comments, is that it is not that the establisment/elite have become incompetent but merely that they are more contemptuous, clever, and powerful. I am surprised at all the rather dismissive comments that focus mainly on splitting hairs over the meaning of objectivity rather than the larger picture of what a travesty our "news" has become.
posted by blue shadows at 8:17 PM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem is the people. There are good news sources available, and the people choose FOX and CNN. If the people preferred NPR and CSPAN, lo, there would be more NPR and
CSPAN.


Not true; both NPR and CSPAN are non-profit, so their prevalence is not directly tied to their popularity. Were they extremely popular they'd probably be more likely to have their funding cut.
posted by JHarris at 1:06 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


What evidence is there that the elites have screwed up?

Look at the state of the world.

Hedges is referring to the incompetence of the elites in serving interests other than their own. You know, civil rights and all the rest. I don't particularly care if a politician cheats on his or her partner, or skims a little money out of the public purse, or treats himself or herself at the public expense. It's better if they don't, but they're only human. What I can't forgive, however, is a politician who is so pitifully ignorant and chicken-hearted that they can't even determine where the public interest, the 'common good', lies, much less stand up for it. Such people would be hanged in a better world.
posted by Ritchie at 3:11 AM on February 3, 2010


Not true; both NPR and CSPAN are non-profit, so their prevalence is not directly tied to their popularity. Were they extremely popular they'd probably be more likely to have their funding cut.

My point is that the commercial ventures would resemble them if that's what the audience wanted.
posted by callmejay at 6:13 AM on February 3, 2010


This notion that here are major media reporters, there are the "elite," is bizarrely wrong. Major media reporters are the elite. The TV talking heads and best-selling authors are themselves individually wealthy, and everyone else is (rounding error aside) is so closely intertwined by blood, marriage and/or friendship to the corporate, financial and policy executive corps that they cannot help but be part of that worldview -- and that is to say nothing of the many reporters who aspire directly to those roles for themselves.

Let the New York Times start hiring reporters out of Kansas State rather than Yale, and maybe you might start to see a difference...
posted by MattD at 7:41 AM on February 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let the New York Times start hiring reporters out of Kansas State rather than Yale, and maybe you might start to see a difference...

Gotta disagree, MattD. It's not just where folks are from-- it's the social clique they aspire to be part of. The career of Tim Russert establishes this pretty well:
When Bill Moyers asked Russert whether he relied too much on the word of Bush administration officials during the run-up to the Iraq War, Russert replied, "Look, I'm a blue-collar guy from Buffalo. I know who my sources are. I work 'em very hard. It's the mid-level people that tell you the truth." Any questions about his being too close to the establishment are met with "Blue-collar! Buffalo!", brandished like a cross before the vampire of accountability. Russert may be the only journalist in America who considers all his conversations with government officials off the record unless they request otherwise -- an extraordinary gift to the powerful and an inversion of ordinary journalistic practice -- but that doesn't make him an insider. Because he's from Buffalo.
See also.

The idea that reporters and elected officials should be part of the same clique seems obviously wrong to me, but it is deeply felt in certain circles in DC.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:24 AM on February 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I love how the outcry against the Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations to contribute to campaigns (openly that is) came from two corporations, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
posted by JohnBerry at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2010


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