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The Emerging Mediocracy?

Thursday, April 17, 2008
One of the most consistent themes on the internet is the liberal critique of the national press corps (the "MSM"). Supported with the works of people like Eric Alterman, liberals argue that the political press at best superficial and at worst the willing dupes (active supporters?) of Rovian hitjobs on Democratic candidates. Glenn Greenwald and Digby have spoken with particular force on this issue, but they by no means are alone. Last night's travesty of a presidential debate is probably the best example of what liberals are so upset about. It's becoming increasingly clear that either the entire political discussion is debased, or there is a systematic bias against Democratic candidates, or both. Probably both.

But having accepted our unfortunate situation - that the mainstream media has become fundamentally corrupted, that it is not only not doing its job but doing the opposite of its job - it remains unclear what we are supposed to do to rectify the situation.

The first option might be to launch a concerted effort to criticize the press, in much the same way that conservatives did starting in the 1960's. This has begun to happen to an extent, although not in any well-funded, systematic way. I suppose that over the long term this might bear some fruit, but I must confess I'm somewhat skeptical that elite journalists would pay sufficient attention to what bloggers say to make any difference. It's not like they care what we think anyway.

The second option is that Democratic political leaders could begin shaming the media and freezing out journalists that displease them. This approach holds promise (because as far as I can tell it's how the Republicans do it), but it would be very risky in the short term. Democratic politicians rely on media exposure. They could boycott a particular journalist or news outlet, but since the problem is system-wide, the task becomes far more difficult. They would effectively absenting the entire party from the public discussion. Furthermore, there would be enormous incentives for each officeholder to "defect" in what looks like a classic prisoner's dilemma.

Of course there is the third option, which is to work for institutional reforms in how news content is disseminated and how political journalists are trained, but that is a very long term strategy that would likely to decades to yield benefits - if ever.

I'm not trying to minimize the problem. The political press has grown enormously in power over the last few decades, and what is worse, they know it. Their malpractice is at least partly responsible for the Iraq War and the election of George Bush. They have enabled Bush's abuses while in office, since Bush and his cronies would never have been able to get away with what they have done for so long and with so little price if the press had been doing their job. The media hated Gore, Dean, and Edwards and played no small role in blocking their candidacies. And the media's bizarre love affair with John McCain probably helped him win the Republican nomination and could very well help him reach the White House.

In effect, it is beginning to appear that the national press corps is the one choosing who will serve in public office and what policies they can pursue - not the voters; that we're becoming not a Democracy, but a Mediocracy. And to honest, I'm not entirely sure what can be done about it.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:40 AM
  • The purpose of mediocratic ideology is the same as that of Marxist ideology: to make life impossible for genuine intellectuals, i.e. those who might generate real cultural progress.

    Kitchen Benchtops

    By Blogger Joseph, at 7:59 AM  
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