Tuesday, May 30, 2006

J Schooled

The author of After the Future wants to blame the media because he (she? I honestly don't know) cast one of those dreaded, much-rued liberal votes for Nader in 2000:

I wasn't paying as much attention six years ago as I am now, and I'm not promoting Gore as flawless, but I have to admit I was taken in then by the way the MSM made fun of him, and I couldn't bring myself to vote for him and voted Green instead.

I almost fell into that trap, too, and I feel for the people who did. They want that bote back so bad they can taste it. It's like watching someone groping down a storm drain for those car keys that slipped out of his hand. Forget it, man, it's gone.

The AtF site is down the Chomsky arm of the galaxy, with talk of "the GOP and its media," a phrase evidently meant to include the New York Times. And like Chomsky, it gets about half of what it sees correct, but then fits it into the wrong Big Picture.

What After the Future sees is how the media "play the normal/weird card." To AtF, however, this is a function of the "corporate media" and its "agenda" to "make sure that issues they don't want discussed are either ignored or ridiculed."

What's right in that is the groupthink mentality. A newsroom is not that much different from a second grade classroom. Things are either "cool" or "dumb;" people are either the ones you want to sit with at lunch, or the ones you laugh at and run away from.

The essential agreement on these things is reinforced by office chatter. And you check yourself against the other newsrooms by reading their products. But that's not an important source of correction, because journalism by now is a cultural ghetto of people from similar backgrounds, similar educational levels -- naturally they see (and don't see) the same things. It's not necessary to presume a corporate-level conspiracy to understand why the front-pages of a hundred newspapers and the top five items of nightly newscasts of a half dozen networks are essentially identical on a given day.

Since the 1970s, "journalism" has become not just a trade practiced by random people who couldn't hold down real jobs, but a profession, one for which you train since high school. Such schooling has the tendency to streamline herds into phalanxes. It weeds out misfits. It ensures the editors and reporters who do make it through have a common background that focuses the range of their world-views.

[This tends toward the Chomskyite corporate conspiracy theory, but it in fact is as different from it as Darwinian evolution is from Intelligent Design.]

A morning newspaper or an evening newscast consists of decisions made by dozens of men and women. Yet it strives to appear to be a seamless presentation of the world. And in fact newspapers and newscasts do appear to be the work of one mind. This can only work if the people making the decisions have, essentially, the same range of views about things.

The people who hire reporters and editors tend to embrace people who think like they do. Managing editors (the ones who do the hiring) are products of the newsroom culture. They moved up through the ranks (in part by not making trouble for the herd mentality) till they got to the point where they can replenish the gene pool. And they'll choose people who resemble themselves.

The mass media is part of the public definition of the wall between "mainstream" and "fringe." In the minds of the people who accept it and consume it, the mainstream mass media both defines and inhabits "the center," the core, the range of acceptable views of the world we live in.

In many, perhaps most, newsrooms there's not a deliberate political decision about who's lagitimate and who's kooky. Just like the second grade doesn't really think about that new kid; they just latch onto some oddity in the way he speaks or dresses. The reporters and headline writers don't subtlely dis Al Gore or Hillary because they are playing a coldly calculated game to favor some other candidate to the right (or left) of him or her. It's just social reflex. You're not one of us.

Some other thoughts about it here and here.