The Influencing Machine
May 19, 2011 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Slate magazine has posted an excerpt from Brooke Gladstone's "The Influencing Machine." It's a reflection on the media done in quasi-comic book form and illustrated by Josh Neufeld. The fairly beefy excerpt is an interesting discussion on the concept, and the history of the concept, of Objectivity.
posted by Trochanter (7 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
"but of course one man's news in another man's blah-blah-blah"
Nailed the mefi snark about "why should I care about this?" viz "is this something I need a TV to understand?". See also: meta, "your favorite band sucks."
posted by k5.user at 11:01 AM on May 19, 2011

I like Gladstone's work on On the Media a lot sometimes, but am sometimes troubled by a discomfitingly sunny and complacent element in its tone — and that coziness with the journalistic status quo is in full force here. (It does OTM no favors to compare it to real media criticism, like FAIR's show CounterSpin, of which OTM often seems like a de-politicized "fun" weekend-talk-show version.) Comic-book Gladstone, even if she's trying to take a sociological approach ("journalism" is what journalists did, no matter how wrong, she seems to want to say half the time), seems all too comfortable with journalism's role in enforcing the status quo and marginalizing the dispossessed, all too ready to write off the perspective of the Pullman porter in the 1909 story.

Taking a real lesson from 1909's massive failure of fairness in reporting seems incompatible with the complacent "don't rejoice, don't panic" attitude; in fact, it seems more like an excellent reason to "panic" (i.e. become far more critical) about the media's role in producing a better-understood and more just world. This attitude is especially troubling combined with the turn to someone as legendarily biased as Times Israel reporter Ethan Bronner for a punch-line endorsement of "open-mindedness"!
posted by RogerB at 11:40 AM on May 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is this something I'd have to have a Fairness Doctrine to understand?

No, seriously, it's a great and interesting look at the problem, and has nothing at all to do with Ayn Rand, which I thought it did at first based on the FPP.

Also interesting is the second piece, which examines "The Cinderella Number" -- why is it that there are 50,000 child predators, 50,000 satanic ritual murders, 50,000 people who die from not buckling their seat belts...

I've long liked Brooke Gladstone's contributions to NPR. It looks like she's equally admirable in this explanatory comic medium. Kind of the Larry Gonick of journalism. Bravo. I might even need to add this book to my library.
posted by hippybear at 11:41 AM on May 19, 2011

RogerB, did you actually click through and read? That very incident with the Pullman porter is covered early on, and I would have said the text was not at all comfortable with journalism's role in enforcing the status quo and marginalizing the dispossessed, or ready to write off the perspective of the Pullman porter.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:35 PM on May 19, 2011

Well, someone's definitely failed to read something here.
posted by RogerB at 12:30 PM on May 20, 2011

One thing I thought about this is that, in the article, and in the world, there's the sense that objectivity is unattainable because of some sort of spillover from postmodernist thinking in the arts.

I worry that because of that the media (lazy rich people that they are) will just throw up their hands and accept that 'balanced' is all we can hope for. So the formula for every news story becomes: "What does one side say, what does the other side say, and where's my cheque." As though reporting is just transcribing various advocacies.

I think it's really important to keep striving for objectivity, like the grail, even though it may be unreachable. As with leading a good life, the struggle is important. You've got to aspire, correct errors where you find them, and aspire some more.

I just wonder if in this piece, there isn't a subtle presentation of objectivity as some quaint thing we used to try to do in the old days. Isn't it cute that we used to think we could ever be objective. I find that dicey.
posted by Trochanter at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2011

I don't know if anyone is following this, but I want to add this Laura Miller Salon article that also discusses the book. I'm anxious to read Ms. Gladwell's book and I'm interested to track down some of her Media Matters stuff, as well.
posted by Trochanter at 5:08 PM on May 22, 2011

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