Saturday, October 02, 2010

Are the gatekeepers really so objective?

Andrew Keen doesn't like the new, internet based media. So much so that he has written a book with the title, The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture. Keen want the media to remain under the control of experts:

Keen quotes social philosopher Jurgen Habermas about the internet and related technologies: "The price we pay for the growth in egalitarianism offered by the Internet is the decentralized access to unedited stories. In this medium, contributions by intellectuals lose their power to create a focus." Keen states that most of modern social culture has existed with specific gatekeepers analyzing and regulating information as it reaches the masses. He views this expert-based filtering process as beneficial, improving the quality of popular discourse, and argues that it is being circumvented.

Keen has been answered, very well I think, by Edwin Dyga (it's well worth reading the entire essay here and here). Keen wants us to believe that the mainstream media is objective and engaged in a "careful aggregation of truth". But it's clear, even to insiders, that the mainstream media is biased not only toward liberalism, but more particularly toward left-liberalism. Dyga writes:

In his exposé Bias (2002), former CBS senior executive Bernard Goldberg catalogues a litany of examples of how truth has become a casualty to the political sensitivities of the editorial boards in both print and television media. He writes that “the liberal media elites are not an alien species. They’re part of the bigger liberal community.” In Colouring the News (2002) William McGowan writes that reporters “have all attended the same universities and all been exposed to the same politically correct pieties”. Likewise, former sixties radical Harry Stein confirms that “a great many of us who similarly emerged from the campus culture of the sixties did our bit—and then some. For as we came to populate and then dominate the nation’s newsrooms, we remade the news media in our image” (City Journal, Spring 2008).

What Keen describes as the “craft of news gathering’, its “careful aggregation of truth” has become no more than a shallow pretence to objectivity. In the words of McGowan, “without counterbalancing influences, the worldview and prejudices of the liberal-left leaning newsroom majority manufacture what become philosophical ‘givens’”. This means that one of the most important pillars of good journalism, an inquisitive but strongly sceptical outlook, is exercised selectively, social controversy is analysed through an ideological prism, blind eyes are turned to the indiscretions of the in-group and outsiders are pursued with extraordinary zeal. 

It is this lack of objectivity, argues Dyga, that has helped to fuel support for alternative media:

How the politicisation of the media leads to its ultimate demise should be self-evident to an individual of any political disposition. Claims to objectivity are hollow when journalists become advocates for a cause. A chronic lack of ideological diversity among the commentariat leads to fading public trust in “news”. This naturally leads to the gradual evaporation of the media’s authority as well as a popular reaction against the “philosophical givens” of the editorial board, or as McGowan puts it:

The increasing liberalism of the newsroom combined with more parochialism amplifies a disconnect from the rest of mainstream society ... By siding so openly with the cultural left ... the press has compounded the estrangement and anger of much of the electorate, unintentionally feeding the cultural and political backlash against that agenda.

...As the levels of trust for the traditional media dwindle, it should be no surprise that the public will take matters into its own hands and seek refuge in a far less restrictive medium.

There's much more to Edwin Dyga's excellent essay; I'll return to some of its other themes in future posts.

16 comments:

  1. The federals in America understand this very well, and they are taking steps to seize control of the new medium. Some say that their success will provide a casus belli.

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  2. People are just striving for autonomy in news gathering! What liberal could object to that?

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  3. In the UK broadcast media is entirely left-liberal, rabidly so in the case of the BBC and Channel 4, but there are several major newspapers which present as right-liberal (The Times, Telegraph and various tabloids); with the proviso that apparently many of their journalists are actually left-liberal but towing an editorial line. I remember that the Telegraph used to even have a Catholic-traditionalist element sneaking in the back pages; that may have gone now.

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  4. Simon,

    In Australia the Fairfax press tends to be left-liberal on social issues but right-liberal on economics (The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald). These papers were traditionally read by the middle-class, so they encompassed the views of both the right liberal commercial classes and the left liberal chattering classes.

    Papers like the Herald Sun, which were once working-class papers (but are now read more widely), were a bit more populist, particularly in what they allowed to be published in the letters sections.

    The Murdoch press has become more right-liberal over time. The Herald Sun has columnists like Andrew Bolt and the Australian runs a lot of right-liberal political commentary.

    Commentary in the press here has opened up a bit (compared to the 1980s) but we don't have anything like a Daily Mail.

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  5. Van Wijk, that will be an interesting battle line.

    Anon, excellent!

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  6. Objectivity is one of the basis of the rational professional society. But the journalists also want to express their individuality, which is left, so they pitch left. We've moved beyond actually thinking they're objective though and they have a lot of egg on their face at the moment.

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  7. Jesse_7
    Objectivity is one of the basis of the rational professional society.

    More accurately it was one of the bases of the rational, professional society. However, "fairness" has overtaken objectivity in various arenas for some time, now. Just look at what journalists would call a "fair" piece of writing; so long as it included even a smidgeon of text from an opposing view, it is deemed to be "fair".

    In the US this can readily be seen in any number of debates; for example, in any article about abortion, there will always be a lot of text about "choice", and there will be some token bit of text, usually from a churchman, as watered down as possible. This is "balance" or "fairness".

    Another game played is to have moderate sounding words on one side, and find a rabid zealot to contrast, thereby making one position seem reasonable and the other extreme.

    Meanwhile, of course, entire points of view, entire issues, entire stacks of facts receive no attention at all, because the gatekeepers don't like them. News that undermines liberal dogma is simply not reported at all, thereby using the power of the "spike" to keep entire offending facts/opinions out of circulation.

    And this is why I have paid less and less attention to the mainstream media for over 15 years.

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  8. ''And this is why I have paid less and less attention to the mainstream media for over 15 years.''

    That's what I'm starting to do as well. I'm paying less and less attention to the mainstream media and if I do pay any attention it's usually by confirming what I am going to see or read at newspapers, books and magazines or see at the television by having a previous commentary or brief view of it at the internet (an idea of what it entails). If the idea is tolerable or agreeable (say free-markets) then I see it and if I disagree with it (say gender is a social construct or minorities deserve special treatment through affirmative action and victim mentalities or stereotyping Christians as rabid extremist creationists whom want to put creation in public schools, etc) then I don't see it at all. Hopefully the state won't monitor the internet and ban websites such as these. I get political commentary, news, etc from the internet first and then magazines, newspapers, television and books secondly.

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  9. ''The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture'' by Andrew Keen has gotten 2.5 starts at Amazon.com. I've checked the comments and while some of them are conservative (''goodbye mainstream left liberal media'') others exalt 'the cult of the amateur' because of the changing times. All of them agree though that maybe the cult of the amateur isn't so bad after all.

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  10. The Daily Mail's populism allows for an element of traditionalism, in accordance with the inchoate views of the readership.

    However even a Daily Mail writer like Peter Hitchens has views that are essentially Liberal in many matters, eg he is right-liberal on immigration, believing that there is no inherent barrier to immigrants becoming fully 'British', no matter how many they are or how alien their national origin.

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  11. Sorry I meant ''The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet Is Killing Our Culture'' by Andrew Keen has gotten 2.5 stars at Amazon.com.

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  12. Simon,

    What I've noticed about the Daily Mail is that the problem will often be stated clearly enough but not the solution.

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  13. It's true that the professional media is biased, there's no denying that. But I can't believe any conservative would be in support of the absolute anarchy that is the "Cult of the Amateur."

    Mr Richardson's blog is well-researched, well-informed and well-written. This description fits only a very small minority of amateur blogs. Most of them are lazy, ill-informed and written in the style of someone's personal diary.

    The problem with a media controlled by the masses is that there is no quality control. Professional media may be corrupt, but at least there is some degree of quality assured. I feel that what we need is to reform the existing system, not replace it with this online free-for-all.

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  14. Anon. @ 11:30:00:

    "The problem with a media controlled by the masses is that there is no quality control."

    I submit that this is the problem with media in general. I have grown increasingly distressed and disgusted by the sickly offerings of the MSM. Pick any one of them and you will find daily examples of poor story structure, incomplete reporting and delivery of facts, and general incoherence. Often a story will not make sense until one gets several paragraphs into it. Clarity and concision are simply not standards in their world. Syntax, grammar and editing are also notably poor as a rule.

    I read from these sources only occasionally yet my disappointment is routine. I don't know the news sources you have in mind but "quality" is running downhill in nearly all popular venues.

    The generic outlets provide only a surface notion of what is on the mind of the population at large, so there is a social value for you. To provide writing that is competent, let alone informative, requires a healthy disregard for fear of bias, and this is where the online purveyors can excel. They are not "controlled by the masses" but rather they are of the masses. I am keen to see what will emerge from the primordial Internet soup in time.

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  15. "In Australia the Fairfax press tends to be left-liberal on social issues but right-liberal on economics (The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald). These papers were traditionally read by the middle-class, so they encompassed the views of both the right liberal commercial classes and the left liberal chattering classes".

    The situation is very much the same in New Zealand, partly because most of our papers are owned by Fairfax as well.

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  16. Thanks for the comment Anonymous Protestant.

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