(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘media

“To ask whether the mainstream media has a conservative or liberal bias is like asking whether al-Qaida uses too much oil in their hummus.”*…

What we talk about when we talk about “the mainstream media”…

Everyone is constantly yelling about the mainstream media, and rarely are we referring to the same thing. Just take the recent whirlwind of news about Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York: A guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show said that the mainstream media, too busy hating on Trump, gave Cuomo a pass on his leadership during the pandemic. The Washington Post’s Max Boot wrote that Cuomo’s various scandals show how the mainstream media is tougher on Democrats than on Republicans. David Sirota, founder of the Daily Posterargued that the “media machine” was too busy celebrating Cuomo to cover him adequately. The Poynter Institute weighed in: “It might be time to dispel the thinking that the so-called ‘mainstream media’ is protecting” Cuomo. Brian Flood, a media reporter for Fox News, contended that the mainstream media went easy on Cuomo while he botched the early vaccine rollout. Meantime, Cuomo’s camp apparently believed that his bad press was manufactured by “a mainstream media desperate for clicks.”

There are many ways to think about what constitutes the mainstream media, if such a thing exists at all. It can refer, simply, to any newspaper or to your local daytime talk show; at its most pernicious, the “mainstream media” represents a conspiracy of gatekeepers. “The elite media set a framework within which others operate,” Noam Chomsky wrote. “That framework works pretty well, and it is understandable that it is just a reflection of obvious power structures.” A popular academic argument describes the mainstream media as actors who wield “power over discourse,” which conjures a certain image: wealthy, white, male. As independent local news withers, and media companies become increasingly corporatized—under the control of large conglomerates and hedge funds—that critique rings all the more true. To Sheryl Kennedy Haydel, a scholar of historically Black college and university newspapers at Louisiana State, the term “mainstream media” remains useful as long as journalism has an equity problem. “The people who are the decision-makers, or even the reporters, don’t look like the nation you and I live in,” she told me…

To some, “mainstream” can be synonymous with “popular”; yet Fox News, consistently ranked the most-watched cable network, is perhaps the loudest megaphone ranting against the mainstream media’s “corrupt cabal.” In May, the Pew Research Center released a report finding “wide agreement” among Americans surveyed that a certain set of outlets are in the mainstream media: ABC News, CNN, the New York Times, MSNBC, the Wall Street Journal; 73 percent said that Fox News belongs to the mainstream. Yet The Sean Hannity Show did not make the mainstream ranks. And among respondents who rely on Fox for political news, as well as those who tune in to NPR, majorities said they believe their preferred source to be mainstream yet different from most other outlets. HuffPost might be the mainstream media, the poll said, but BuzzFeed probably isn’t. The more one looks at the results, the more contradictory they appear.

What is clear is that those of us who use the phrase “mainstream media” have only a loosely shared understanding of reality, at best. And yet we continue to use the same term, one weighted with history, to describe a phenomenon that sounds assured and entrenched but is actually amorphous and dynamic. Perhaps the ambiguity of “the mainstream media” reveals something profound about the messy information ecosystem we’re in…

The history and the current state of a concept– “mainstream media”– that obscures more than it clarifies: “Inside the Lines,” from Savannah Jacobson (@srjacobson1) in @CJR.

* Al Franken

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As we honor honest inquiry, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that police raided The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village, resulting in three days of demonstrations by members of the gay community that launched the gay rights movement.

A framed newspaper clipping covering the police raid hangs inside The Stonewall Inn (source)

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June 28, 2021 at 7:18 am

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”*…

A reporter at work covering the Eichmann trial, 1961 [source]

The [New York] Times is becoming a newsy entertainment outlet, à la Jon Oliver, with a business model more like Netflix or Hulu than catchphrases like All The News That’s Fit to Print might suggest. The Times says so itself, announcing a slew of movie and TV deals with Netflix and Amazon, the Hollywood writing room replaced by the New York newsroom. To quote [the Times‘ media columnist, Ben] Smith in a recent piece slamming one of his colleagues: “The paper is in the midst of an evolution from the stodgy paper of record into a juicy collection of great narratives, on the web and streaming services.”

The customer always gets what they want: In the case of an ads-driven business model where the advertiser is the true customer, that’s balanced political news alongside frivolous lifestyle stories as a canvas for ads. In the case of subscribers, it’s being flattered by having their own worldviews echoed back at themselves in more articulate form. Nobody actually pays for news, unless your livelihood depends on it, which is why outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg will still flourish, but nothing vaguely resembling news will otherwise remain in a subscription-driven world…

Ideology is like body odor: someone else’s absolutely reeks if strong enough, but you can’t even notice your own. If you remain convinced, in the year 2020 AD, that this or that national outlet remains the megaphone of disinterested chroniclers and selfless truth-seekers, then the BO in question is surely your own. But don’t expect everyone else to put up with the stink.

The Times will triumph financially, dramatically so, and utterly fail as an intellectual institution, at least by its former standards. Sure, the Times staff, like fourth-century Roman emperors intoning the half-remembered tropes of the Roman republic, will speak of ‘objectivity’ and ‘the first draft of history’. But only they and their subscribers will actually believe it. The editorial branding will be august pronouncements about ‘the paper of record’, but the business model is pure Netflix: All The News Fit To Binge.

Advertising-funded journalism is not, as some journalists persist in believing, some ineluctable law of the universe. It’s an entirely contingent artifact of a weird confluence of factors: industrialization and the mass consumer economy, urbanization and burgeoning immigration, plus the secular decline of 19th-century Jacksonian political machines.

As I’ve written before, in century-ago-seeming 2019, and which is doubly correct now, American media is in the process of regressing to 19th (or perhaps even 18th) century models of journalism. Ben Franklin posted under two-dozen different pseudonyms including such bangers as Silence Dogood and Alice Addertongue, and displayed as much nastiness or wit as such modern-day lights like @neontaster or @ComfortablySmug.

Gonzo journalism? Samuel Adams helped organize the Boston Tea Party, and then reported about it after the fact, a level of ‘gonzo’ that even Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson never quite reached. Through almost the end of the 19th-century, the revenue model for most newspapers was subscriptions from party loyalists when a paper like The Press Democrat meant just that: the Democratic paper in that town giving that faction’s version of events (with some anodyne wire-service news mixed in).

We assume that this idiosyncratic late-20th-century form of American journalism is an essential ingredient to liberal democracy, the sine qua non juju that makes civil liberties and accountable government possible. And yet, our Western European peer nations, which one side of the American political spectrum loves to draw comparisons with when they’re not threatening to move there, have an utterly different journalistic culture…

Antonio Garcia-Martinez (@antoniogm) muses on his interview with Martin Gurri (author of The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium)… Into the morbid interregnum? “Twilight of the Media Elites.”

Garcia-Martinez’s full piece is eminently worth reading in full– and best understood in tandem with his conversation with Gurri: “The Prophet of the Revolt.” (For a variation on this diagnosis, see also: “Why Facts Are Overrated.”)

For an argument that yes, the full range of facts and the journalism that reports them do matter, but no, we’re not necessarily doomed to a cacophonous interregnum– that journalistic institutions, while troubled, can be saved– see “The First Amendment in the age of disinformation” by Emily Bazelon (in the New York Times…).

And for a set of painful reminders that this conversation is taking place against an active set of campaigns to widen social and cultural divisions via disinformation, see “The Media Manipulation Casebook.”

* Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

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As we sieve signal from noise, we might recall that it was on this date in 1924, four days before a British General Election, that the [London] Daily Mail published the “Zinoviev letter.” Purportedly a directive from Grigory Zinoviev, the head of the Communist International (Comintern) in Moscow, to the Communist Party of Great Britain, ordering it to engage in seditious activities, it “predicted” that the resumption of British-Soviet diplomatic relations (by a Labour government) would hasten the radicalization of the British working class. Offensive to many British voters and frightening to others, the letter– now widely-viewed by scholars as a forgery– aided a Conservative landslide.

But historian A. J. P. Taylor argued that the more important impact was on the psychology of Labourites, who in his estimation for years afterwards blamed foul play for their defeat. Though that was accurate, it distracted them from grappling with the broad political forces at work in Britain and postponed what (Taylor argued were) necessary reforms in the Labour Party.

Zinoviev, who never had to lift a finger…

source

“Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose”*…

 

existentialism

Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre in Paris, June 1977

 

Existentialism has a reputation for being angst-ridden and gloomy mostly because of its emphasis on pondering the meaninglessness of existence, but two of the best-known existentialists knew how to have fun in the face of absurdity. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre spent a lot of time partying: talking, drinking, dancing, laughing, loving and listening to music with friends, and this was an aspect of their philosophical stance on life. They weren’t just philosophers who happened to enjoy parties, either – the parties were an expression of their philosophy of seizing life, and for them there were authentic and inauthentic ways to do this…

Skye C. Cleary celebrates “Being and drunkenness: how to party like an existentialist.”

* Jean-Paul Sartre

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As we raise a glass, we might send provocative birthday greetings to Jean Baudrillard; he was born on this date in 1929.  A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, he is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Roland, Barthes, Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist philosophical school… which offered a response to nihilism complementary to that offered by the existentialists.

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July 29, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life”*…

 

Portrait of Edmund Burke– who figures formatively in this tale– by the studio of Joshua Reynolds

While the 18th century is commonly perceived as the quintessential age of rationalist modernity, it was also the cradle of a second and strikingly different movement. In fact, at the very moment when rationalist thought seemed to have reached its peak, a comprehensive revolt against the Enlightenment’s fundamental views erupted in European intellectual life. From the second half of the 18th century to the age of the Cold War and today, the confrontation between these two modernities has formed one of the most prominent and enduring features of our world.

The Enlightenment wished to liberate the individual from the constraints of history, from the yoke of traditional unproven beliefs. This was the motivation of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Kant’s Reply to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?, and Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality: three extraordinary pamphlets that proclaimed the liberation of man. It was against the liberation of the individual by reason that this new “Anti-Enlightenment” movement launched its attack, and its campaign was infinitely more sophisticated and subtle than that of the classical, undisguisedly authoritarian enemies of the Enlightenment. This anti-Enlightenment movement constituted not a counterrevolution but a different revolution. It revolted against rationalism, the autonomy of the individual, and all that unites people: their condition as rational beings with natural rights…

The anti-democratic political tradition that opposed Enlightenment thinking advanced the catastrophic campaigns of Nazi Germany and haunts us still: “The Origins of Anti-Intellectualism.”

* Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge‘”*…   – Isaac Asimov

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As we opine on opinion, we might send understanding birthday greetings to Herbert Marshall McLuhan; he was born on this date in 1911.  A professor, philosopher, and public intellectual, he was a foundational thinker in media theory, coining the expression “the medium is the message” and the term “global village,” and predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented.

McLuhan was a– arguably, the– central figure at the center of the discussion of media in the 1960s and 70s; his views were controversial and his influence began to wane in the 1980s.  But with the advent of the web, there has been a resurgence of interest in his thinking.

“Only puny secrets need protection. Big secrets are protected by public incredulity…”

– Marshall Mcluhan

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 21, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards”*…

 

45 years ago, four eminences took the stage at the University of Toronto: Irish actor Jack MacGowran, best known for his interpretations of Samuel Beckett; English poet and dramatist W.H. Auden; American architect and theorist of humanity’s way of life Buckminster Fuller; and Canadian literary scholar turned media technology oracle Marshall McLuhan. Now only did all four men come from different countries, they came from very different points on the intellectual and cultural map. The CBC recorded them for broadcast on its long-running series Ideas, prefacing it with an announcement that “the ostensible subject of their discussion is theatre and the visual arts.”

Key word: ostensible. “That topic is soon forgotten as two modes of perception clash,” says the announcer, “that of Professor McLuhan, who is one of the most famous interpreters of contemporary 20th-century cultural trends, and that of W.H. Auden, who cheerfully admits to being ‘a 19th-century man’ and sees no reason to change.” And so, though Fuller and MacGowan do occasionally provide their perspective, the panel turns into a rollicking debate between McLuhan and Auden, more or less from the point where the former — making one of his characteristically compelling proclamations — declares that modern media brings us to a world in which “there is no audience. There are only actors.” But the latter objects: “I profoundly disapprove of audience participation.”…

The conversation is above; for more of the backstory: “Marshall McLuhan, W.H. Auden & Buckminster Fuller Debate the Virtues of Modern Technology & Media (1971).

* Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means

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As we mind the message that is the medium, we might send tasty birthday wishes to John Montagu, Fourth Earl of Sandwich; he was born on this date in 1718.  Lore suggests that the Earl, an enthusiastic gambler, instructed his servants to skip the distraction of a served meal, asking instead for “meat between two pieces of bread” to be consumed as he remained at the gaming table.  While there’s no real historical support for the tale, the comestible is nonetheless still known as a “sandwich.”

Montagu also had a nautical edge, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty from 1771-1782.  He was sufficiently regarded that Captain Cook named the Sandwich Islands in his honor.  On the other hand, he was widely blamed for the sorry state of readiness displayed by the British Navy during the “Unpleasantness with the Colonies.”  (Indeed, it may in gratitude for Montagu’s help– however inadvertent– that American’s have adopted the sandwich as our national dish…)

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November 3, 2016 at 1:01 am

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