Saturday, September 20, 2008
All Bark, No Bite
The NY Observer ran an important piece earlier this week that didn't seem to get much of an echo on the political sites I follow. Not surprising, since the piece discusses the way in which political print journalism and political journalism in general has lost its ability to resonate:
In-boxes crammed with New York Times articles and Huffington Post hyperlinks do not advertise their relative value or importance. Everything is equal, everything is a tie and nothing, it seems, is important anymore.
Nobody has felt this more acutely than the Newspapers and Magazines of Record in the United States. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time: all over the world of “quality” journalism, there is a feeling of decline.
The internet is an echo chamber and, of course, one of the effects of an echo chamber is that all you hear is the echo and not the original message. Add to that the "noise machine" that drowns out news with spin and deflection and it's easy to see how the power of the press has been diluted.
But the impact of technology overlaps with a concerted effort by the Bush administration over at least the past four years to endrun the national press of record. This went beyond repeating the longstanding conservative mantra of "liberal media bias" to become an official communication strategy of "taking the message to the American people" that consisted of using "town hall meetings" and local press outlets to broadcast the administration's talking points. This strategy has reached its apogee in the McCain campaign's handling of Sarah Palin, whose inability to credibly address policy on a national level is being camouflaged by an attempt to challenge the very role of the press in scrutinizing candidates.
Now, there's nothing unconstitutional about this, because contrary to the Congressional oversight that the Bush administration has treated with contempt, the Constitution only guarantees the press its liberty, not its access. But the result, when combined with the evolution in communication technology, has been a fundamental shift in the extra-Constitutional system of checks and balances as it had been established over the course of the previous thirty to forty years. We're witnessing the end of the press as "watchdog of democracy," not because the press isn't barking, but because no one's listening.
One of the consequences is the ease with which McCain can get away with a campaign based on lies; the old saw that everyone's entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts seems to no longer apply. Anyone familiar with human nature knows how stubbornly people can hold onto their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. That has become even more acute now that the authority of the press, formerly the arbiter of what qualified as evidence, has been so thoroughly undermined.