The Pathos of Politics (87-2) The Press continued 2


Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe. ~ American president Abraham Lincoln

There are 3 flawed assumptions about Lincoln’s optimism that “the country will be safe” if “people know the facts.” 1st is that people actually want to know the facts, not just validation of what they already believe. The 2nd assumption is that the press delivers the facts, as contrasted to a biased facsimile. The 3rd assumption is most important: that knowing the facts is enough. There is always a context to information.

Take capitalism as exemplary. From its broad corruption to environmental destruction, the deficiencies of capitalism are well known. But if the market system is all that one knows or can imagine, incessant facts about corporate ills only indicate a need for regulation. The suggestion simply never arises that capitalism is a thoroughfare to mass extinction on a global scale, which it clearly has proven itself to be; so, the assumed “safe” path of “facts” is one of self-destruction.

In short, the press is no substitute for education. Without a proper grounding of perspective, facts alone are of dubious value.

The state of the press as an institution illustrates the point. The surfeit of news information sources in the 21st century has done nothing to change political persuasion among the public. Public news media has instead entrenched established mind-set. People consume the news that agrees with them.

Journalists themselves, of their own volition, limit the range of opinion present in the news. ~ Michael Schudson

Reporter range of opinion is self-circumscribed for multiple reasons. 1st is a source dependence. Reporters rely upon and reproduce the views of their primary sources, which tend to be government officials and business leaders. Those reporters who do not play along get shut out.

The 2nd limitation is cultural. Professional norms are themselves a constraint on expression. Within a corporate media organization, journalists echo the opinions found in their environment, which is typically secular, college-educated, and upper middle class, as well as having the appropriate ideological cast. Hence, reporters appear as paragons of conventional wisdom.

There is real danger for democracy here: namely, that journalists and politicians, because they are so closely linked, have their own, narrow, idea of what the media should cover, and ignore the interests of the people. ~ French journalist Thomas Ferenczi

Cultural gravitation means that the press is invariably partisan. Bias may be cast in slight blushes, but it is invariably there. The press upholds the status quo in every arena. Even the skeptical outliers are careful not to offend their readership by questioning bedrock beliefs.

Media decisions about what to publish by and large protect dominant cultural values such as existing power and class arrangements. In general, there is a lack of news that might appear offensive to the values of family, religion, community, patriotism, and business. ~ American journalist Julia Corbett

Environment Reportage

Besides the bias in the mainstream media to the status quo, environmental quality and climate change have proven elusive subjects because their newsworthiness is not always apparent. What makes the news is determined by its immediacy, novelty, and conflict. Nature deteriorating lacks these elements. Species’ extinction is a snooze. Stories airing out pollution stink.

Coverage on the environment commonly call for contextual complexity, both historically and scientifically. People want hard-edged stories, not history lessons with hard-to-suss statistics. Tying specific events, such as storms, to the larger climate picture is problematic. Further, the false code of objectivity often leads journalists to reduced complex situations to 2 sides which are expected to balance each other out, even when there is no equation of equality to be had.

It is impossible to convey urgency about climate change, as its pace is measured in decades; a time frame that only institutions concern themselves with, and institutions are devoid of radical inclinations. Similarly, democracies, with their revolving-door governance and election-cycle perspective, are ill-suited to address the challenge of climate change, as has been amply demonstrated.