This piece by Brian Beutler gives me so much hope for the future.
Whenever the media analyses itself, you can always feel the competition between an earnest desire to understand the world and outcome based reasoning. The outcome they need to arrive at follows from their view that democracy depends not just on a free press, but on the very peculiar kind of free press that developed in the decades after World War II. Even as my favorites--Jay Rosen, Jon Chait, and Margaret Sullivan--offer thoughtful, clever, and practical insights about the media, you always know how the story ends. Somehow there needs to be only one news for all audiences. Partisans can offer interpretation, but the news is the news. It's a foregone conclusion:
"There has to be an agreed upon set of facts and it has to come from The New York Times."
Here's an example from Chait just the other day:
Here's an example of Jay Rosen seeming a bit despondent that he can't figure out how to get us back to "the NYT is the facts":
David S. Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix (an occasional critic of mine) who recently sent this plea out over Twitter:
Dear media critics: OK, entire news media called Romney’s welfare attack a lie. Campaign still pushing it. Now what?
I don’t know the answer. I do know that it’s troubling to other journalists sifting through the 2012 campaign.
Here's Margaret Sullivan hitting it so on the nose ("More Facts, Fewer Pundits") it would be self-parody if she weren't so smart:
Trust in journalism may never get back to the post-Watergate level. But by holding government accountable, emphasizing accuracy and standing firm for factual reality, we can regain some of what’s lost.
And, just maybe, help save democracy.
A Better Deal For America ;)
In "Mainstream Media, Embrace Your Liberalism" Beutler has a history of the media bias wars that matches that of Rosen, Chait, and Sullivan. But instead of turning toward a scheme to get back to an agreement on the paper of record, he sees instead that we never will:
Conservatives have used this same basic method for decades now, treating liberal bias in the mainstream media as a fact, and a conspiracy in and of itself. For just as long, mainstream media institutions have gone to great lengths to refute the right’s liberal-bias accusations, and make good faith efforts to appease their critics...
The conciliatory approach has never worked, and because the accusations themselves are deployed in bad faith, it, importantly, can not work.
One of the many, many things I love about this piece is that Brian Beutler never once uses the left-right spectrum metaphor. In fact, he outright rejects it and replaces it with a DARWINIAN METAPHOR!!!! I am so happy!
It is increasingly clear that asymmetric polarization is the wrong metaphor for what has happened in American politics. To say the parties are asymmetrical is to imply that they’re fundamentally similar, but that one has become distorted in some way—that while Democrats and Republicans are still committed to basic Founding values, Republicans are rapidly adopting more extreme policy prescriptions. They’ve changed, but they can change back.
Whether or not that was ever true, it clearly no longer is. The parties aren’t two different animals of the same species. They have speciated.
And, I'm forever going to smile when I look back and think I may have had something to do with it...
Back to Beutler (and read the whole thing):
The job of the mainstream media isn’t to cast judgment on people with different value systems, but journalists can’t do their jobs well if they aren’t aware that the value systems of mainstream journalism and American conservatism are different and in conflict. It should be perfectly possible to apply the neutral rules of modern journalism to both American political parties while accepting that Democrats (and journalists and scientists) descend from the enlightenment tradition, while Republicans (and their allies in conservative media) descend from a different, illiberal tradition—and that this makes the parties behave in different ways.