The Pathos of Politics (87-4) The Press continued 3


The average American doesn’t know how the system works or the problems of other countries in the world. He’s been fed a pap which has been a combination of the capitalist, imperialist mouthings in the newspapers and comic books which he prefers to read, so he’s ignorant. ~ American psychologist William Major in 1956

Everything that flows to the public from corporate media is filtered through the cultural worldview of the organization that produces it. This affects both what is considered newsworthy and the slant of its coverage.

The New York Times has a subdued liberal bias, meriting its nickname: The Gray Lady. In stark contrast, Fox News is a flaming right-wing organ of the 1st degree.

Upon discovering in 2016 that $70 million dollars of fraud had been found in the food stamps program, Fox News hosted a discussion whether the program should be terminated because of piddling chicanery.

The $70 million represented 0.09% of the $70.8 billion spent to feed the needy. Small potatoes indeed compared to the $125 billion in 5 years that the Pentagon might have saved had it not deep-sixed saving recommendations; a revelation that the defense department had tried to hide.

Fox News held no discussion as to whether national defense ought to be abandoned in light of rampant waste, hoodwinking, and mismanagement.

The Economist has a somewhat socially liberal stance ensconced within economic conservatism. The Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is practically reactionary in harkening back with favor toward the 19th-century era of robber-barons. Fringe differences aside, both are blatant advocates of status-quo capitalism.

The Guardian is England’s liberal-leaning mainstream outlet; a counter to The Times, a punchless conservative paper owned by Murdoch. The Guardian offers a smattering of news with a generous filling of opinionated trivia, typically sassily written. The insightful commentary which occasionally appears in The Guardian is especially refreshing given its scarcity.

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Whatever smugness the media might otherwise wrap themselves in, the messy meanness of the world lends them an honest façade.

Because shit happens, journalists gain some freedom from official opinion, professional routines, and conventional wisdom. Journalism is an event-centered discourse, more responsive to accidents and explosions in the external world than to fashions in ideas among cultural elites. ~ Michael Schudson

To survive, newspapers and magazines must cater to readers’ tastes. The trend of media coverage from hard news to soft illustrates how the Collective have stupefied themselves in recent decades.

U.S. News & World Report is exemplary. For a quarter century after World War 2, the magazine provided decent reportage on events worldwide. Subscriptions peaked in the early 1970s, whereupon the magazine increasingly turned toward human-interest stories, rendering news reportage a secondary endeavor. The self-absorption that infected white Americans of the era swept aside hard news coverage and analysis.

The 21st-century tendency in the American and British media to prattle at the expense of serious coverage of world events has been apparent even in publications historically respected for hard news, such as The New York Times and The Guardian.

The dearth of in-depth coverage stems from both reader interest and the economics of the press. The American situation has been sliding downhill for quite some time. A 2006 poll found that nearly 75% of adult Americans could name the 3 Stooges, but fewer than half could name the 3 branches of the federal government.

As the 20th century wore down, large US newspapers suffered declines in subscription. Focus on the bottom line meant layoffs and less investigative reporting. From 2008 to 2017, the American newspaper industry shed 45% of its employees. Total news employment dropped 23% in this period.

Building the relationships and trust that uncovers corruption requires a news organization’s patient support. The cost of patience is high.

A single skilled investigative reporter can cost over $250,000 a year in salary and expenses for a handful of stories at most. A single project can take months or even years.

In 2005, the Los Angeles Times published a report which exposed local predation of the elderly by legally appointed guardians. The exposé took 3 journalists 3 years to produce, with 1 on the project full time. The report rocked Los Angeles, resulting in the tightening of laws regarding guardianships.

Without such investigations, the world is worse for wear. Cost-cutting at news-gathering organizations has meant there is much less of it than before.

This kind of reporting often means incurring legal risks and igniting the wrath of powerful interests, which is one reason there is so little of it on the Web. ~ American news media maven Alex Jones

However dismal the situation may seem to a newshound, it is nothing new. The burden upon the 4th estate has long been overwhelming. (Edmund Burke used the term 4th estate to refer to the news media during parliamentary debates in 1787. The estates are institutions which influence or determine polity. Historically, the other 3 estates were the monarchy, legislature, and church. In modern democracies, the executive, legislature, and judiciary are considered the 3 estates. Players change but the paradigm remains.)

In 1920, American journalist Walter Lippmann was discomforted at the state of news media. He believed journalism lacked the intellectual resources to accurately portray the world. Nor did he think it would be of much good if they could. For the most part, beyond prurient curiosity, people were not very interested in the world beyond their doorstep.

Newspapers were in decline before the Internet put media online, as the economic structure that sustained news gathering has been deteriorating since the late 19th century. The Web only accelerated the degeneracy into short-attention-span theater.

All is not gloom. While corporate media has become more conglomerate, the Internet has democratized news: giving a technologically unique voice to civil society.

Bloggers cover, often poignantly, what media outlets overlook or do not care about. This broadening of coverage, though sometimes problematic in terms of accuracy, offers promise that unsavory facts about polity and business practice may continue to be known. Anecdotal but accumulative evidence of corruption paints a picture of it being rampant everywhere, most notably the United States, which has a much better reputation in this regard than it deserves.

Outsiders are always troublemakers. The news media are supposed to be institutionalized outsiders even though they have become institutionalized insiders. ~ Michael Schudson