Hey Tom Steyer: Give Me Money And I'll Fix The Press!

Over at Lawyers, Guns, & Money, Steven Attewell was hyping the New York City primary election that happened on Tuesday saying (mild paraphrase), "Hey progressives, Bill De Blasio is doing lots of good things and instead of carping and carrying on, you need to go out there and vote for his ass." 

Rewarding Progressive Governance:

But accountability flows both ways: while voters must absolutely punish elected officials who fail to support their agenda (especially if they have promised to and renege), it’s also true that they have to reward elected officials who deliver so that there is an incentive to pursue their agenda in the future. And while progressives have been broadly successful at shifting the Democratic Party on certain issues, we continue to face challenges in demonstrating that supporting our stances leads to election and re-election. Mostly, what we’ve done is come impressively close in races we shouldn’t have won, which has garnered notice.

Well, in De Blasio we have a rare example of an elected official who won by running to the left, and who has governed (not always succcessfull) from the left. Despite the Democratic voter registration advantage in New York City, we’ve actually had relatively few liberal mayors in recent decades: before De Blasio, we had Bloomberg’s three terms, Guiliani’s two terms. The last liberal mayor before De Blasio was David Dinkins, who only managed one term, and before him we had conservative Democrats like Ed Koch and Abe Beam who were elected on the back of the 70s backlash against the long string of liberal mayors stretching back from Lindsay to LaGuardia. (And I haven’t even mentioned the whole IDC phenomenon of recent years…)

In the comments I reply to kaydenpat and WeWantPie who raise the point of "Why doesn't everyone know DeBlasio is doing these good things?": 

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It's the unintended consequence of "objective journalism." The model of objective for-profit ad platforms is frankly bizarre in the history of mass media. Among other reasons, it's boring. Objectivity is soooooo boring.

That's why the media jumps to meta-stories about who is up and who is down: it's a story. It's not boring. But it's still "objective" because they don't take sides about whether what is "up" is better or worse than what is "down." FN1

The partisan press reigned for more than a century and witnessed Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, The New Deal and zero unwinnable wars. On the flip side, it also witnessed (and did nothing to stop) Jim Crow. 

Nobody seems to be able to make money with local news. My idea: forget profits, bring back the partisan press. Democratic funded and branded local news on the web featuring youth soccer videos, church bake sale updates, and Democratic leaning coverage of state and local politics.

Tom Steyer! Hey! Buddy! Fund my local news idea! 

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1. From one of my favorite blog posts, Jay Rosen: Why Political Coverage Is Broken:

The production of innocence.

This isn’t preached in journalism school or discussed in newsrooms; it forms no conscious part of the journalist’s self-image. But it is real, a factor in the news we get about politics.

By the production of innocence I mean ways of reporting the news that try to advertise or “prove” to us that the press is neutral in its descriptions, a non-partisan presenter of facts, a non-factor and non-actor in events. Innocence means reporters are mere recorders, without stake or interest in the matter at hand. They aren’t responsible for what happens, only for telling you about it. When you hear, “don’t shoot the messenger” you are hearing a journalist declare his or her innocence.

This basic message—we’re innocent because we’re uninvolved—isn’t something to be stated once, in a professional code of conduct or an “about” page. It has to be said many times a day in the course of writing and reporting the news. The genre known as He said, she said journalism is perhaps the most familiar example. But so is horse race journalism, in which the master narrative for covering an election is: who’s ahead?  Journalists will tend to favor descriptions of political life that are a.) true, in that verifiable facts support the story; and b.) convenient for the continuous production of their own innocence.

One of the great attractions to horse-race journalism is that it permits reporters and pundits to play up their detachment. Focusing on the race advertises the political innocence of the press because “who’s gonna win?” is not an ideological question. By asking it you reaffirm that yours is not an ideological profession. This is experienced as pleasure by a lot of mainstream journalists. Innocence is bliss.

The quest for innocence in political reporting means the desire to be manifestly agenda-less and thus “prove” in the way you describe things that journalism is not an ideological trade. Which can get in the way of describing things.  He said, she said doesn’t tell us who’s distorting the picture more. It is neutral on where the reality is, but reality is not something journalists can afford to be neutral about!

Political journalism should help us get our bearings in a world of confusing claims and counter-claims. But instead we have savviness, the dialect of insiders bringing us into their games. Nothing is more characteristic of the savvy style than statements like “in politics, perception is reality.” Doesn’t that statement make you mad? Whenever I hear it, I want to interrupt and say, “No, no, no. You have it wrong. In politics, perception isn’t reality. Reality is reality!”

But then I stop myself. Because I realize I sound like a lunatic.