Sunday’s Meet the Press devoted a long segment to a discussion by a panel of invited talking headaches of the operating myth of the Washington press corps, which is that those wacky, goofy, stubborn partisans on each side of the aisle are laming up the government with their incessant fighting. For goodness sakes, can’t these sillies just get along? The best thing I got out of this appointment television was the rich string of scatological pearls rolling off my tongue as I watched the thing.
I know now when I tune the television into the Sunday morning news shows I am inviting having the usual stake of banality driven into my eyes. I do it anyhow, at least for as long as I can watch, simply out of long habit. With the same purveyors of a patented brand of unimaginative and thought and substance-constricted Washington cocktail party conventional wisdom, offering up their usual cliché-bedeviled conventional yap, so much noxious hot air is being emitted they should regulate these people under cap and trade.
But with the nation all but burning around us now, the tiresomely false narrative that two equally obstinate or unruly or belligerent or ideologically motivated sides are responsible for all of this, has become practically Nero-like in its profound obliviousness to the obvious, much too obvious truth.
Naturally, the conventional staples of Very Serious News these programs tend to be will result in the more overtly career-preoccupied being attracted to working there. But the careerist laziness responsible for not only allowing, but perpetuating these stale and misleading “narratives” for whatever entertainment or economic interest they are perceived to guarantee, no longer is merely galling, but indefensibly irresponsible.
Not simply simultaneously smug and deeply cynical, these obliging hosts and their posse of mediocrities present a charade that is more than fundamentally dishonest, but damnably so.
I say it until my face is the color of a severe bruise, but mainstream media organizations’ facile and meretricious commitment to an “appearance of balance” is a fool’s errand, a knowing turning of their back on the pursuit of objective truth in favor of a crass pursuit of performance goals. It is a disservice to genuine inquiry, and it is an abrogation of the obligation to inform the public as fully and truthfully as humanly possible.
While Viacom, Disney and General Electric (NBC’s next owner is to be Comcast) moved news from a public service responsibility insulated from network business pressures to a network profit center decades ago, it feels as though the complete corporatizing of news has fully saturated the industry now. Rather than serve as an arbiter and clarifier in the Internet era, most shows produced on these networks now shrug and say, “We have no idea who is telling the truth, but we think you’ll enjoy this story line we have to offer, cozy, narrow window through which to view the world that it is. It’s certainly easy enough for us to produce without breaking any kind of sweat, and it satisfies the bottom line.”
It’s true that all facets of the nation’s conservative infrastructure have devoted themselves to a monumental and long-term campaign to harass the media with the “liberal media” mantra, and that this decades-long campaign has worked beyond their wildest dreams. Entire generations of conservatives pass along and cherish this conviction as god’s truth, even as the newspaper and television wings of the national media relentlessly savaged the Clinton administration, or now, when every preposterous bromide coming out of a conservative mouth is treated as just the other point of view, nothing more, nothing less, no matter the objective, material truth or lack of such. The unspoken and unacknowledged reality everyone is aware of anyhow is that media ownership and media management are utterly terrified of the American right, and its proven willingness to relentlessly attack them. Perhaps they should be terrified. There certainly is no corresponding pressure of any real force coming from the other side.
You’d think, taking these mainstream news shows at face value, that a revolutionary cabal comprised of the second coming of Students for a Democratic Society, Abbie Hoffman, Huey Long and Chairman Mao were pitted against America’s radicalized ultra-right dominating the Republican Party now, rather than mild-mannered, desperate to compromise Barack Obama, and a generally cowed and pacific, and perpetually back-on-its-heels Democratic Party.
God knows what David Gregory would make of Hubert Humphrey or George McGovern: hardly radical, and considered garden variety New Deal liberals, should they be around today. They certainly are not remotely ideological counterparts to the Eric Cantors and John birch conservatives dominating the Republican party now.
You just want to tie down the entire alphabet soup of networks and bore it deep into their collective skull: objective journalism is the pursuit and presentation of objective truth and objective fact, and is entirely distinct materially and qualitatively from “the appearance of balance.” Some things are true and some are not: tell us which is which to the best of your ability; identify the factually and historically accurate, find and present the objective truth, and let the political chips and appearances fall where they may.
If our currently salient media discussion were to be a substantive, honestly refereed, factually demanding one about social and economic progress versus social and economic retreat, about cultural and economic modernity versus economic and cultural fundamentalism, about the modern welfare state vs. a vision of 19th century government in the 21st century, then by all means, let us have it.
What we are getting now is nothing less than journalistic fraud.