Why Political Coverage is Broken

Aug.
26
My keynote address at New News 2011, part of the Melbourne Writers Festival, co-sponsored by the Public Interest Journalism Foundation at Swinburne University of Technology. (Melbourne, Australia, August 26, 2011.)

This talk had its origins in my appearance about a year ago on the ABC’s Lateline with Leigh Sales. We were discussing election coverage that looks at the campaign as a kind of sporting event. Every day journalists can ask, “who’s ahead” and “what is the strategy for winning?”  A perspective that appeals to political reporters, I said, because it puts them “on the inside, looking at the campaign the way the operatives do.”

I then mentioned the ABC’s Sunday morning program, The Insiders. And I asked Leigh Sales if it was true that the insiders were, on that program, the journalists. She said: “That is right.” I said: “That’s remarkable.” She… well, she changed the subject. And let me add right away that Leigh Sales is one of the most intelligent journalists I have ever had the pleasure to meet.

So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?”  Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…. this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the U.S. and Australia. Here’s how I would summarize it: Things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be.

Part of the problem was identified by Lindsay Tanner in his bookSideshow: Dumbing Down Democracy. He points out how often the Australian press reframes politics as entertainment, seizing on trivial episodes that amuse or titillate and then blowing them up until they start to seem important. I’m not going to dwell on this because Tanner has it well covered. So did my mentor in graduate school, Neil Postman, in his 1985 classic, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

From a TV programmer’s point of view the advantage of politics-as-entertainment is that the main characters, the politicians themselves, work for free! The media doesn’t have to pay them because taxpayers do. The sets are provided by the government, the plots by the party leaders, back benchers and spin doctors. Politics as problem-solving or consensus-building would be more expensive to cover. Politics as entertainment is simply a low cost alternative.

Tanner points out how the term “yarn” is often used by journalists here to describe the sort of stories they love to cover, as in: “it’s a good yarn.” A yarn used to refer to stories that were semi-fictionalized to make them more entertaining. That echo is still there, but Australian journalists don’t seem to realize this when they use the term to describe their work.

Politics presented as entertainment charges the press with a failure to treat the serious stuff seriously. And that is a valid critique. But here’s a trickier problem: even when the press is trying to be serious, to provide, say, “analysis” instead of a good yarn, it increasingly relies on an impoverished notion of politics, a cluster of bad ideas that together form the common sense of the craft in the United States, and in Australia.

I was here during the election campaign last year, and saw enough to see strong similarities between my country’s press and yours on most of the points I will raise. If I get something wrong, if I over-draw the comparison, I’m sure someone will tell me during the question period.

I’m going to concentrate on three impoverished and interrelated ideas that (I say) have too much influence in political coverage.  Then I will present an alternative scheme that might improve the situation.

Three impoverished ideas:

1. Politics as an inside game.

2. The cult of savviness.

3. The production of innocence.

Politics as an inside game.

The first idea we could do without is the one I presented to Leigh Sales. When journalists define politics as a game played by the insiders, their job description becomes: find out what the insiders are doing to “win.” Reveal those tactics to the public because then the public can… well, this is where it gets dodgy. As my friend Todd Gitlin once wrote, news coverage that treats politics as an insiders’ game invites the public to become “cognoscenti of their own bamboozlement,” which is strange. Or it lavishes attention on media performances, because the insiders are supposed to be good at that: manipulating the media.

Here’s a simple example from an article a few days ago in The Australian. There was nothing especially obnoxious about this piece. I picked it because it was typical in presenting politics as an insider’s game. The headline was: Labor looks at conscience vote to defuse same-sex marriage split. It told us how insiders in the Labor Party were afraid that a divisive debate on same-sex marriage would “dominate media coverage” of the party conference, creating an impression that the Greens are dictating the agenda. “The last thing we need is for the big story of our conference being about same-sex marriage,” a senior party source told The Australian. “We need it to be about a mainstream issue – a Labor issue – not an issue that it looks like Bob Brown thrust upon us.”

See what I mean? The insiders are worried about how their conference is going to “play” in the media. They are trying to make the story come out a certain way. Reporters grant them anonymity so these struggles can be publicized. But if today’s media report about politics is about how the media will be reporting a political event tomorrow, there’s obviously something circular in that. And this is how it begins to make sense to call the journalists “insiders.” Everyone is engaged in the production of media narratives. Journalists and politicians are both “inside” the story making machinery.

Now I’m going to teach you a little press critic’s trick: One way to detect the dominant ideas at play in any familiar form of journalism is to ask how that form positions the users. Politics as a game played by the insiders positions us as connoisseurs of our own bamboozlement. Or, alternatively, we can feel like insiders ourselves. Which brings me to a second idea we could do without…

The cult of savviness.

In the United States, most of the people who report on politics aren’t trying to advance an ideology. But I think they have an ideology, a belief system that holds their world together and tells them what to report about. It’s not left, or right, or center, really. It’s trickier than that. The name I’ve given to the ideology of our political press is savviness. And I see it in Australia too. When you watch political journalists on a roundtable program summing up the week and looking ahead, what they are usually performing for us is… their savviness.

So let me explain what I mean by that term.  In politics, our journalists believe, it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere, thoughtful or humane.  Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.)

Savviness is that quality of being shrewd, practical, hyper-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political. And what is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Or knowing who the winners are.

To the people inside it, savviness is not a cult. It is not a professional church or “belief system.” They would probably reject my terms. But they would say that journalists need to be savvy observers because in politics the unsavvy are hapless, clueless, deluded, clownish, or in some cases extreme. The unsavvy get run over: easily. They get disappointed: needlessly. They get angry–fruitlessly–because they don’t know how things really work.

Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passion, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit.  Therefore the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you. They say: I am closer to reality than you. Especially if you are active in politics yourself.

Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sighted, but as mature, practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, child-like and dreamy.  This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog political realism to itself.

But even more insidious than that is the positioning effect. Remember what I taught you: to understand the ideas in play, ask how a given form of journalism positions us, the users of it. What’s so weird about savviness is that it tries to position us as insiders, invited to speculate along with journalists and other players on how the mass public will react to the latest maneuverings. But the public is us.  We are the public. But we are also the customers for the savviness product. Don’t you see how strange that is?

Take the most generic “savviness question” there is. One journalist asks another: how will this play with the voters? Listening to that, how will this play with the voters, haven’t you ever wanted to shout at your television set, “hey buddy, I’m a voter! Don’t talk about me like I’m not in the room when I’m sitting right here watching you.” This is what’s so odd about savviness as a political style performed for the public. It tries to split the attentive public off from the rest of the electorate, and get us to join up with the insiders. Under its gaze, other people become objects of political technique. In this sense savviness is an attack on our solidarity with strangers who share the same political space.

In campaign coverage, for example, nothing is more common that a good lesson in candidate strategy: how Mitt Romney plans to capture the nomination by skipping the Iowa caucuses. Or: Julia Gillard’s plan for taking Sydney’s western suburbs. That’s what fascinates the pros, the insiders. But think about it for moment: should we give our votes to the candidate with the best strategy for capturing our votes? Something is off there, or as I said earlier: circular. Misaligned.

A third idea we could do without helps explain why the first two–politics as a strategic game, the cult of savviness–are so common in the political press…

The production of innocence. 

This isn’t preached in journalism school or discussed in newsrooms; and it forms no conscious part of the journalist’s self-image. But it is real, a major 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.

Verification in reverse.

I have to read to you this famous passage from American journalist Ron Suskind’s account of the Bush White House in 2004. It was called “Beyond a Doubt” and it told of a retreat from empiricism in the Bush government. You’ll probably recognize parts of it. Here’s Suskind, who had a lot of sources within the Bush government.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

I had a chance to meet Suskind once, to look into his eyes and judge for myself whether this chilling story was something that actually happened, or just a good yarn. I think it actually happened. And we can see the evidence in our politics.

The leading contender for the Republican nomination for president, Rick Perry, is emerging as a climate change denialist. We might call this “verification in reverse.” Verification, which is crucial to journalism, means nailing down assertions with verifiable facts. Verification in reverse is taking established facts and manufacturing doubt about them, which creates political friction, and the friction then becomes an energy source you can tap for campaigning. It’s a political technique. (Hmmm.)

Now: how should political journalists stand toward this technique? As savvy insiders who know how the game is played and need to maintain their innocence? If they do that, and verification in reverse grows and succeeds, it will be the equivalent of running over the press with a truck. Journalism will become superflous. “When we act, we create our own reality” wasn’t so much a boast as a taunt. It was an operative telling a journalist, “you don’t count.” We can create our own reality and you guys can’t stop us.

What is to be done: A thought experiment.

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Jay, but what do we do about all this? Do you have a better idea?

I do. But I have to admit, it’s only an idea. A thousand things stand in its way. The savvy would tell me: this is not practical. So let’s call it a thought experiment. Its purpose is just to loosen up our imaginations, and point the way to something better. Imagine the entirety of the political reporting and commentary produced by the New York Times or the political staff of the ABC and plot it on a grid. On the left side of the page: appearances. On the right side: realities. On the top of the page: arguments. On the bottom: facts. Appearances, realities, arguments and facts. All political news should be divided into these categories, and journalists should organize their daily report into my four quadrants.

Under appearances we find everything that is just that: the attempt to make things appear a certain way. All media stunts. Everything that fits under the management of impressions. Or politics as entertainment. The photo ops. The press releases issued in lieu of doing something. Lindsay Tanner’s book is full of examples from the day to day life of a government minister.

I once visited Townsville for about six hours when I was a shadow minister, but my itinerary consisted entirely of media interviews. I met with no local organizations, visited no local institutions, and inspected no local facilities. In each interview I had to pretend that I was visiting the city for a legitimate reason. Each time I was asked, “why are you in Townsville today?” I had to resist the urge to reply, “To speak to you, actually.”

My suggestion is to report appearances as just that: mere appearances. Which would be a way of jeering at them, labeling them as not quite real. So the appearances section would be heavy on satire and simple quotation. In the U.S., Jon Stewart has become a huge star by satirizing the world of appearances. This would be a way to get in on some of that action. Appearances, then, means downgrading or penalizing politicians who deal in the fake, the trivial, the merely sensational. In other words: “watch out or you’ll wind up in the appearances column.”

Under realities we find everything that is actually about real problems, real solutions, real proposals, consequential plans and of course events that have an integrity beyond their fitness as media provocations.  This is the political news proper, cured of what Tanner calls the sideshow.

But then there’s my other axis. Arguments and facts. Both are important, both are a valid part of politics.

So imagine my four quadrants.

Bottom left: Appearances rendered as fact. Example: the media stunt.

Top left: Phony arguments. Manufactured controversies. Sideshows.

Bottom right: Today’s new realities: get the facts. The actual news of politics.

Top right. Real arguments: Debates, legitimate controversies, important speeches.

Now imagine all of today’s political news and commentary sorted into these four quadrants. This becomes the new portal to political news. Appearances and realities, arguments and facts. To render the political world that way, journalists would have to exercise their judgment about what is real and what is not. And this is exactly what would bring them into proper alignment with our needs as citizens.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links…

I was on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Lateline to discuss many of these themes with host Tony Jones. Watch it here.

On Twitter, the ABC’s Helen Tzarimas gave a bizarre summary of what I said: “In this Lateline interview (from 1.13 to 3.05) the media is blamed for lack of govt policy.” I have no idea how she got there.

Another ABC journalist, Wendy Carlisle, said on Twitter that Rosen is “arguing journalism broke politics. Not that simple.” This is fatuous. And quite wrong. Watch the interview I did with Tony Jones (or read the transcript) and you will hear me describe the situation as an interaction between the two. One example of several:

TONY JONES: … Let me put that to you, though, an alternative theory. It is not coverage that’s broken, rather it is the politicians themselves that are broken and what’s broken in them is their ever-increasing use and reliance on spin.

JAY ROSEN: Well, that’s true, they are doing that, and it is not just spin, it’s focus groups, it’s consultants, the notion of the permanent campaign, as I said before – but I think we’re mature enough to recognise that political actors and the producers of news are interdependent at this point.

Emphasis added.

David Bernstein, a political reporter for the Boston Phoenix, said on Twitter. “If anyone cares, I’ve read Jay Rosen’s big politijourno speech and I think it’s idiotic crap.” I asked him to explain what he meant and he produced this post: Jay Squawking. His main point is that I’m not really talking about journalism at all. I just don’t like the way politics is done, and I am displacing my dissatisfaction onto the press. So that’s why this speech is crap and I’m an idiot for writing it.

One of Rosen’s big problems is the “impoverished idea” that “politics is an inside game.” Again, I think that Rosen’s disgust is with politics, not the coverage; politics is largely an inside game. You might not like the insidery things that affect the selection of our next President, or the writing of the health care reform bill, or (to give an example I just posted today) which congressman Massachusetts will lose through redistricting. But your distaste is all the more reason to report them.

Definitely worth reading to get a glimpse inside the mind of the political press. Bernstein also pointed me to this earlier piece making a similar point: Basically, academics get it all wrong because they don’t know how things really work, though here and there they make some valid points. (Update: Bernstein objects to that summary.)

At my Tumblr I redrew the chart showing my four quadrants. I also added more description to it. I flipped the sides so that “Today’s new realities: The actual news of politics” is in the upper left, which is where the eye scanning a news page typically begins. I think this version is better.

The video of my speech is now available.

If you watch that clip, you will see that in introducing this talk I said that part of what “writers have to do is take things that are very, very familiar to us and make them seem strange.” That’s what I try to do here. So if your natural reaction is, “this is nothing new, really,” please understand: I agree with that.

To see how Australians reacted to this speech, go to this comment thread at the Drum.

A journalism student, Kristen Ream, sent me this example of a front page story that illustrates many of the themes in my talk. See: Observers debate Williams’ chances.

Not clear on what I mean by “horse race journalism?” This.

For a good example of what I mean by “today’s new realities… the actual news of politics,” see this terrific post by Greg Jericho, focusing on a major development in Australian politics that was virtually ignored.

Good example of the kind of news that would appear under “appearances.” An alternative title for it might be “fluff.”

As a critic of political journalism I work at various distances from the text: sometimes I zoom in on a single article. Sometimes I fix on a genre in journalism, a middle distance. And sometimes I pull back, as in this speech, to write about tendencies I see in political coverage as a whole. When I do that, the examples are really supplied by the readers, via their own familiarity with political news and commentary. What I am saying either resonates with the many instances they have seen themselves… or it doesn’t.  It it does, the post succeeds. It it doesn’t, the post fails.

James Joyner at Outside the Beltway has a review of this post. His opinion is mixed. About the part where I say that savvy analysis of how the voters will react splits the attentive public off from the rest of the electorate, he says:

This may just be a function of my personality type but I’ve been an avid consumer of this stuff for three decades and never had that reaction. From the standpoint of a college student in Alabama, the talking heads on the Fox News or This Week roundtable actually are “insiders” with a unique perspective. I always felt like I was getting a glimpse behind the curtain. And, indeed, I was.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic reminds me of this amazing op ed by Mark Halperin of Time magazine, a cardinal in the Church of the Savvy.

Voters are bombarded with information about which contender has “what it takes” to be the best candidate. Who can deliver the most stirring rhetoric? Who can build the most attractive facade? Who can mount the wiliest counterattack? Whose life makes for the neatest story? Our political and media culture reflects and drives an obsession with who is going to win, rather than who should win.

Halperin says he regrets focusing so much on what it takes to win. But of course four years later he hasn’t changed his approach. Why is that? Halperin hasn’t changed his approach because the three bad ideas I described here are constitutive of his identity as a journalist.

I also did this radio interview with the ABC’s Phillip Adams on his program Late Night Live. He is one of the most relaxed, and conversational interviewers I’ve had the pleasure to engage with.

Turns out the culture war conservatives in Australia work the same way as culture war conservatives in America. (Scroll down a bit.)

It seems that Jay Rosen is in Melbourne for the taxpayer subsidised Melbourne Writers’ Festival.  He is part of that literary festival tradition in Australia where a group of leftie-luvvies get a bucket load of taxpayers’ money and invite a group of left-luvvies to come along and talk about themselves and advocate left-wing causes, in a leftie luvvie kind of way – and get lotsa interviews by leftie-luvvie presenters on the ABC.

My 2008 essay: Why Campaign Coverage Sucks. This piece is a kind of successor to that one from ’08.

Greg Marx at Columbia Journalism Review has a critique of one part of this post… “Absolutely, let’s have less journalism that’s nothing more than prognostication or armchair strategizing. But let’s have more reporting that explores the process by which our political leaders are selected, and makes it intelligible to ordinary people. That’s coverage of the ‘horse race’—and it’s valuable, democracy-sustaining work.”

Jeff Sparrow, an Australian writer and editor, posted an interesting response. He said my analysis was accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.  “Yes, the political media is dysfunctional and, yes, it seems to be getting worse. But what’s behind that degeneration?” He then links to an earlier post of his that is well worth your time. The gist of it is that people used to experience politics through intermediate associations that helped them identify their interests and know whom to trust. (Unions and the churches are classic examples.)

But Australians have “seen a remarkable collapse in the array of identities through which we once filtered politics,” Sparrow writes. Now it’s just individuals in the marketplace of democracy. The media has to assemble audiences and politicians have to pull together a winning coalition from these atomized bits. That’s how we get politics as entertainment and some of the other distortions I mentioned.

Digby, one of the ablest bloggers on the American left, says that the production of innocence  is “the result of years of hardcore right wing public relations.”

They spent decades relentlessly attacking the media for being liberally biased and the result has been an aversion to any kind of reporting that might betray a point of view. Liberals have failed to properly combat this and the press is now so thoroughly indoctrinated that it might not work anyway.But this one is, in my view, the consequence of a concerted propaganda effort. Lessons learned.

I mostly agree with that. And it prepared the ground for what I have called “verification in reverse

In this essay for The Conversation, an Australian journal that gets academics to comment on public matters, John Keene says a great many sensible things about politicians and journalists. He also says I am too timid, or perhaps unsophisticated, in calling for a reality-based journalism:

Correspondence theories of truth and “reality” were long ago discredited philosophically; any thinking person knows that “truth” has many faces, as Kafka said.

Look: Sports stories written by a computer program. I think the same thing could be done with horse race coverage during political campaigns. Don’t you?

 

 

 

Good lord. Being put on the campaign bus these days sounds like a ticket to prison.

66 Comments

  1. Glen Fuller says:

    Interesting argument, I like the point about the production of innonence as a kind of professional ideology-purifying mechanism as it provides an explanation why very smart and very talented journalists play this game.

    Regarding the point about insiders and savviness. It reminds me of Adorno’s discusion of the socialisation of curiosity in his piece “The Schema of Mass Culture”. The way you have described the ‘insiders’ is similar to the way Adorno describes the relation between those ‘informed’ and those who are not, and the informed subject’s aporia experienced as nihilism:

    “The curiosity for information cannot be separated from the opinionated mentality of those who know it all. [...] Today the curious individual becomes a nihilist. Anything that cannot be recognized, subsumed and verified he rejects as idiocy or ideology, as subjective in the derogatory sense. But what he already knows and can identify becomes valueless in the process, mere repetition, so much wasted time and money. [...] [This process] reduces its victims to its own kind of praxis, namely a blunted perseverance.”

  2. I would add the “hidden arena” aspect. Few parts of the governance process are under public media scrutiny, other parts of the process are under professional scrunity, other parts are under hierachical control, other parts are under no scrutiny at all and governed by inherited belief systems.

  3. Michael Caputo (MPR) says:

    Truth is that the “horserace” narrative is an easy one to pull off. It doesn’t need interpretive reporting or digging about for facts. You simply need people who have a “magic touch” to speak with the insider types. The ones with the magic touch become minor celebs. And they dance around the manufactured stars.

    Much, much easier to pull off with reduced news staffs and the yawning gape of the beast that is the 24-hour cycle.

  4. Ted McEnroe says:

    The quadrants are interesting – and you could actually put scales of effort on them from left to right and top to bottom. Appearances rendered as fact are easy to cover. I got a press release. I show up. I report. Phony arguments are even easier, because they generate their own manufactured heat. I got a press release. I show up. I “report” that say, Mitt Romney is outraged that President Obama has taken a vacation. Not only do I have a story – I have a controversy. There is anger – and anger moves it to the top of broadcast or page 1.

    But those on the right are harder, with “the real stories” being hardest of all. They take journalism, not just reporting. In the 24-hour news game, I’d say those real stories are being covered, but they’re hard to find in a sea of horserace/quick soundbite stories.

  5. Richard Ray Harris says:

    Charlie Cook was on a few days ago describing how Rick Perry’s statements “probably weren’t true” but that he would “do very well with voters,” or words to that effect. That for me describes the breakdown in simpler terms than this lengthy article does. It is a two fold matter: the appearance of objectivity (savviness) while leaving a gaping empty space where the factually true information would collide with campaign statements. When the balance of reporting gets tilted toward the real info, you have less time for the horse race analysis.

    • Alphonse says:

      The tepid acknowledgement that a politician’s words might be factually suspect coupled with the not so tepid opinion that those words will be politically effective is not just a misprioritization. When it becomes a habit, as it is with so much of our media, it transforms politics from rational debate into the theatrical pissing contest with which we’re all too familiar.

  6. Wes Rolley says:

    As a consumer, rather than a paid producer of media, I get so aggravated that all of the savvy insiders are never called to task for being wrong. No matter what they say or how the subject is covered, the professional pundits will be right back to pontificate more.

    It might be a close race to determine who has been wrong more often will no effect, but I am sure that Gingrich is in the running for that honor.

  7. ben says:

    Minor quibble: I would like to see news go in the direction of your quadrants but it seems that the most important stories are in the bottom right as suggested here. That is the last section an English reader is likely to examine! I hope your stewing/adjusting of the idea will give consideration to how to encourage readers to pay the most attention to the most valuable journalism.

  8. True … the MSM does it *and so do top bloggers.* Kos and Talking Points Memo, for example, regularly do this and other bad political coverage things, just like the MSM.

    Kos has repeatedly talked about winning races mattering more than any ideology. And, along with the sins mentioned, Josh Marshall has used anonymous sources inside the White House just as much at times as the MSM.

    Just saying.

  9. Hans says:

    So Jay, why don’t you do that? Start your own news site, like the Huffington post, use your quadrant layout so that people get an idea of what type of their news they are getting ahead of time. You could also make tags for the articles so that if people are searching for articles about an event or politician, the Real Facts and the Apparent Arguments.

    • Jeff says:

      I would subscribe.

      • Excellent idea it would also be interesting if some political websites started taging their stories on these quadrants. You would probably want a scale -2 to +2 in each dimension. And then as you say you could provide navigation based on that – and measure the level of interest in the different kinds of news.

        This could make quite an interesting startup idea. Crowd sourcing the tagging of political news stories on this basis and then enabling navigation to the real political news.

    • hugely says:

      i had same thought – an aggregator a la google news that assigns stories to respective quadrants – almost like USDA notes on food

      over time media outlets and reporters would have a ranking as well

      • Kenneth Fair says:

        This would be fairly easy to do. You could take the aggregate of the rankings for that particular reporter or news outlet and show either their mean ranking, or show how often they produced stories in each of the four quadrants.

  10. Tom says:

    I’m surprised you did not reference the concept of “pseudo events” in your description of appearances.

  11. Jay Rosen says:

    David Bernstein, says on Twitter. “If anyone cares, I’ve read Jay Rosen’s big politijourno speech and I think it’s idiotic crap.” He’s a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix, covering local, state, & national politics. I’ll try to get him to comment here.

  12. Nice speech, and an entertaining read. But aren’t you using the three journalists flaws you’ve identified to make your case?

    You talk about journalism as insider’s game, use savviness to explain what is wrong with it, and claim to be agenda-less by putting up a “thought experiment” rather than real reforms as a solution.

    I too, like your reporting axis but it misses one fundamental point – which quadrant are the consumers of journalism more willing to pay for?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I’m sorry, I don’t understand this…”You talk about journalism as insider’s game, use savviness to explain what is wrong with it, and claim to be agenda-less by putting up a ‘thought experiment’ rather than real reforms as a solution.”

      How does that make the case for hypocrisy, which is what you are saying? What I think I’m doing is criticizing insider journalism from the perspective of citizens and viewers of that coverage. The mark of the savvy is to take everything that “is” in stride, regardless of what should be. Is that what I am doing in this speech? I didn’t claim to be agenda-less anywhere. I said a lot of practical difficulties stand in the way of my solution, and I used the term “thought experiment” in hopes that journalists who can’t see how they could adopt it tomorrow could still learn from it. Cheers.

      • Well thank you for putting words in my mouth, but I was not accusing you of hypocrisy – more that you may have unwittingly fallen into using the same narrative tools that you criticise to make your own points.

        I’ll illustrate my point by swapping the word media for politics in a quote from your speech. You gave us an outsider’s view of the games played inside the media and effectively made us “connoisseurs of our own bamboozlement”.

        On the point of savviness, you also say in the speech:

        “Therefore the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you. They say: I am closer to reality than you. Especially if you are active in politics yourself.” Replace the word politics with media and this is in fact what you were doing in the speech.

        My point is that it is hard to criticise the “insider” and “savviness” motifs without using them to illustrate your own points.

  13. Pete Moran says:

    Crikey (good Aussie term), I wish our media would take note of what you say.

    What is most depressing is the cowardice of the ABC, allowing itself to be bullied into more and more false “balance” nonsense.

    My theory is that “Controversy is the media’s PRODUCT” which is the legacy of the Murdochian era.

  14. [Crossposted from my blog]
    I am writing to explain why I find NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen’s big speech on the state of political journalism to be, as I called it on Twitter, “idiotic crap.” I’ll try to be brief.

    –Rosen states as his overall theme a disgust with political journalists becoming “insiders.” Of course they do; all journalists try to get further inside than their audience can, whether they’re covering Mitt Romney or the town fire department. Rosen seems to be blurring a distinction between doing that, and “identifying with the wrong people” and losing sight of the journalistic goal. Instead of criticizing those who go on the wrong side of that line, he seems to be saying that the one inherently leads to the other. I don’t see that. To be honest, I’ve seen more journalists getting too cozy in coverage of school or police beats — let alone business, sports, and entertainment — than I have with politics. Frankly (and this I think is a running theme) I suspect the real reason Rosen feels dirtier about journalists who tread that line with politicians, is because Rosen (understandably) feels dirtier about the politicians. But, you know, somebody’s got to cover them.

    –One of Rosen’s big problems is the “impoverished idea” that “politics is an inside game.” Again, I think that Rosen’s disgust is with politics, not the coverage; politics is largely an inside game. You might not like the insidery things that affect the selection of our next President, or the writing of the health care reform bill, or (to give an example I just posted today) which congressman Massachusetts will lose through redistricting. But your distaste is all the more reason to report them. In Rosen’s example of the reporting of Labour’s real, crass reasons for endorsing or opposing same-sex marriage, I honestly don’t know why he doesn’t think that story is A) interesting of itself, and B) important for those who care how Labour may behave on the issue later, once the crass motivation has passed. Getting that “insider,” “savvy” view seems like terrific journalism to me. Isn’t being “connoisseurs of our own bamboozlement” a large step up from being ignorant of our own bamboozlement?

    –Rosen gripes about excessive horse-race coverage, positing that journalists like to write about “Who will win?” to demonstrate their ideological neutrality; actually I tend to think that it’s pretty majorly freakin’ newsworthy who will win. Sure, of course there’s way way too much nonsense written and yammered about every poll and campaign twitch — that’s what happens when you pretty much devote a whole network or publication or web site to constant discussion of politics. But there’s also a tremendous amount of, you know, actual political journalism going on.

    –Rosen’s “verifivation in reverse” complaint is, again, really a complaint about politics — specifically, the movement-conservative marketplace about which I have written extensively. Rick Perry is a climate-change denier because a dominant portion of Republican primary voters have become convinced that they must entirely ignore all forms of media that treat climate change as legitimate. Or that waterboarding is torture, or that tax cuts don’t increase revenue. The NYTimes and CBS News could work “climate change is a proven fact” into every story every day, it wouldn’t change a thing, because, to those Republican voters, the NYTimes and CBS News would obviously be a bunch of liberal liars. There is nothing that any journalist can do about this. The circularity is within the conservative movement. Take it up with them.

    –Finally, in his prescription to go forward, Rosen suggests that political journalists should separate out real news from phony news; manufactured controversies from legitimate ones. Well, what makes them real? When the climate-change bill failed in the Senate last year, I tried, as best I could, to report the ‘reality’ behind Scott Brown’s decision to oppose it — but what does that mean? Do I not report his own explanation if I personally think it’s BS? Do I not report other people’s suggestion of his real motives, if they are only speculating? Do I not work my “insider” sources? Should I or should I not apply my “savvy”? I don’t think it’s a yes/no, grid-plotted thing.

    It’s journalism. There are terrific journos and terrible ones; local ones and national; general-audience and niche; beat and assignment and column and opinion. When you just throw it all together and say you’re all doing it wrong, do it this way… well, yeah, I think that’s idiotic crap.

    Read more: http://thephoenix.com/Blogs/talkingpolitics/archive/2011/08/26/jay-squawking.aspx#ixzz1WCOA7WHL

    • Grant Vance says:

      “I tend to think that it’s pretty majorly freakin’ newsworthy who will win.”

      Please unpack that a bit. Why is winningitude newsworthy in and of itself before an election? Is the implication that readers/voters are supposed to listen to the moments’ winners more and ignore what the losers have to say? What if you get it wrong? (c.f. the press’ repeated fumbling in the ’08 Democratic primaries).

    • Terri Shea says:

      I think you’re missing the point, possibly because it hits close to home. Jay’s point is that political journalists *become political operatives* when they make the mistakes of playing the inside game, leaning in savviness instead of honesty, and absolve themselves of any responsibility by claiming to be mere messengers.

      Yes, that is a political problem, and yes, Jay seems to hate that, but he hates it because the journalists who are supposed to catch these things are the very ones doing them.

      And that is, in fact, a media problem. Just who do you work for: the public or the powers that be?

    • Tom says:

      I can’t let you off the hook with respect to your passive-aggressive innocence on the “verification in reverse.” You blame the conservative movement, but in my opinion, it works for them because of the complicity of the press. You are saying that you can’t do anything about it because some conservatives wouldn’t believe you if you called it BS and reported the facts.

      You state that you are afraid that if the NYT reported that “climate change is a proven fact” (not that they would report it that way) that “to those Republican voters, the NYTimes and CBS News would obviously be a bunch of liberal liars.” So what? You can’t report that something is a BS lie because some people won’t believe it? What kind of cr@p excuse is that?

      So you contend that it doesn’t “do any good” to report (in Rosen’s grid) facts and reality because you are afraid to be called a “liberal liar”?

      For Rosen, I think that is QED.

      • Pete Moran says:

        Thank you Tom. Spot on.

        (They don’t get it).

      • I may have given the wrong impression: I certainly don’t think that the Times et al should avoid calling BS on climate-change deniers. Not at all. Just making the point that, in my opinion, it wouldn’t have (and hasn’t had) an effect on what the deniers believe.

        • Tom says:

          But what is important (to the competent reporter) is not what the climate deniers believe, but whether the reporter’s readers are informed. It’s not your job to change the mind of an intentionally obtuse climate denier, but it *is* your job to 1) report to your audience accurately on the science, to best of your ability and 2) to inform your readers that they are getting bamboozled by the climate deniers.

      • Jay Rosen says:

        So, David, how come in savvy election analysis all the focus is on the “independents who will decide the election,” but here it’s on changing the minds of climate change deniers? As if anyone thought that likely. As if anyone even mentioned that. As if we’re deluded enough to think that news coverage could accomplish such. Obviously you thought we were deluded in that way, or you would not have put such a stress on that point.

        • I was responding to your Rick Perry example of ‘verification in reverse.’ What I am saying is that a climate-denier is able to do well in the GOP primary because the bulk of the electorate is already thoroughly convinced that climate change is a hoax — and that happened because of a vast conservative marketplace that they listen to exclusively. You posit, if I understand you correctly, that journalist cannot maintain innocence in this, that they must stand against it in some way, or else the press will be run over with a truck, and “Journalism will become superfluous.” What I am saying is that when it comes to what the majority of the Republican electorate believes, journalism IS superfluous. It has been for a number of years. Not because journalists let it, but because of the power of the conservative marketplace to circumvent journalism. You may judge that a cop-out for my profession. (Incidentally, in my May post on academics, I used the same run-over-by-a-truck metaphor to describe the massive imbalance between the political class and the media, to draw attention to the help and guidance my profession desperately needs.)

          • Matt says:

            That needs to be the story, David. Where are the press stories about the FOX Network and its gang of mendacious players? THAT’S news.

        • Jay Rosen says:

          I don’t disagree with that analysis.

          I would put more emphasis on “he said, she said” journalism, and intimidation by the chorus shouting about liberal bias within the cluster of factors that made this possible. But the causes are not fundamentally journalistic; they are political. They have to do with the drift of Republican party politics since Goldwater, since Agnew, since W. Bush, since Palin and now with Perry.

          I do wish, however, than in the standard journalist roundtable it was acknowledged that when it comes to what the majority of the Republican electorate believes, journalism is simply superfluous and has been for a number of years. Good on you for stating that clearly here. I think a majority of political reporters think it but dare not say it.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Rosen’s “verification in reverse” complaint is, again, really a complaint about politics

      I’m calling foul on that one. Bernstein doesn’t get to inform me that this complaint is about politics. For that is how I describe it in my speech. It’s a point I make about a worrisome trend in politics. It is not included in my list of three bad ideas that have made political journalism less useful than it should be because, again, it is an observation about politics.

      But then I ask this question: “How should political journalists stand toward this technique? As savvy insiders who know how the game is played and need to maintain their innocence?”

      • That’s a fair point. And believe me, I am in full agreement that journalism that plays ‘innocent’ on something like climate change should be called out on it. I guess A) I’m not convinced that this is really a widespread problem — the examples I and others notice drive me crazy, but are they really the norm? and B) I am arguing that this journalism failing, however widespread it is, has little to do with the political problem, which stems almost entirely from the Republican electorate consciously allowing the conservative marketplace (including candidates) to go around the news media.

  15. gregorylent says:

    journalists need to be smart enough to ignore politics and politicians, then only will there be change.

  16. Kathleen says:

    As a “non-insider” member of the great unwashed in flyover country who votes, I totally agree with Jay’s analysis. I stopped watching so called “news” programming for the reasons he cited.

  17. smintheus says:

    Don’t know when the term ‘journalist’ became so prevalent, but what is really needed are more (and better) political ‘reporters’ who will tell us what politicians are doing and saying. That would ground all their work, including their analysis, more firmly in reality. Saying something false or doing something fake purely for show is the reality that needs to be ‘reported’ (it can’t be ‘journalized’).

    The journalist as insider reaches its nadir I think when journalists offer advice to campaigns about what they need to do to win. For reporters to focus on the future rather than the present/past is pretty absurd in general.

  18. John Emerson says:

    The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    Sorry, the advantage is with the Republican here. He was actually trying to do Democrats a favor. This is the same as Marx’s “The point is not to understand the world, but to change it”. The judicious study of discernible reality gives you a partial and approximate of what reality was like at a given time in the past. It doesn’t tell you which way it’s going, or what can be done with it, or what its stabilities and instabilities are.

    Democrats take the results of Science, describing the past, and expect that it will describe the future fairly accurately. Republicans do experiments in the present in order to find out what the future can be made to be.

    You’d think that Democrats could take a break from all their bragging about being “reality-based” in order to notice that they’ve been losing and retreating for 43 years now.

    • David says:

      Sorry, we all live in our own delusion that should overlap in some portion a common public delusion.

      This overlap is where we harness together as a group to march forth to a common future that hopefully is good for the Common Good.

      We call this common agreement -reality.

      Today there is no overlap. I do not want my delusion to touch the public delusion created by our politicians and presented to us filtered and edited by the media.

      History written by even the best playwrights of psychodrama will not be able to present a coherent view that does not call the times we live in “the period of sedition”.

      create our own delusional delusion not just a delusion.

  19. Mumphrey says:

    This country is done (I’m an American) if we don’t find a way to dump our press and build a new one somehow. I recall that at one of the Republican debates back in 2008, somebody asked the Republicans running for the nomination whether they “believed” in evolution. As I recall, there were about 10 guys up there and only 3 raised their hands. I can’t understand why this wasn’t the biggest story of the month, but it wasn’t. I never heard about it again after about a day, other than on a few blogs.

    I know it might seem like a trivial thing, but seven out of ten Republicans running for president just flat out didn’t believe in a proven (as far as any scientific theory can ever be proven) theory. It’s like saying you don’t “believe” in gravity. When 70% or Republican presidential contenders don’t “believe” in reality, there’s a huge problem. When the press can’t or won’t make a big deal about this, that’s a big problem.

    • T Heller says:

      Why would a candidate’s view re: evolution have ANY bearing on ANYTHING?

      I mean, once in office, will they likely abolish evolution, criminalize its teaching, remove it from textbooks or ask for a Constitutional amendment? Get real….

      If that’s your greatest fear, then no one can help you (nor should they).

      • Speakerofobvious says:

        It matters because it shows the sort of thinking that person engages in. Ideology trumps scientific evidence. A person who denies evolution is someone who will probably deny anything he or she doesn’t want to believe.

  20. T Heller says:

    Arguments don’t lie on the opposite end of the ‘Facts’ axis. Hypotheses do. (Like ‘knowns’ and ‘unknowns’.)

    Arguments often encompass all four elements (facts, hypotheses, appearances and reality). After all, the game of persuasion so often crosses what is known with what is not known.

    And, as I think on it, reality=facts, so you may not really have two axes and four quadrants. But your thinking is nonetheless interesting.

    • T Heller says:

      …further…

      An axis that’s missing: Relevance.

      And Relevance is ‘located’ along its axis for a) an individual; b) a group; and c) a mega-group

      • Jay Rosen says:

        There are reality-based reports (what happened) and reality based arguments (what people are saying about it.) This is the distinction I am mapping with facts vs. arguments. I don’t think it can be dispensed with.

        Relevance enters in via editing at a given news organization. Each news organization knows its users, its market and edits my quadrants accordingly.

  21. Excellent piece, Jay. I especially like your use of the word “savvy” to describe people who believe they are “practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd”. The only point I’d add is that “savvy” should be used with scare-quotes hereafter, as most so-called “savvy” people are so incompetent that they couldn’t run a piss-up in a brewery. “Savvy” journos suck up to “insiders” rather than doing the hard yards of reading the legislation coming down the pipe. “Savvy” reporters are why newspapers are going against the wall in the US and are declining in Australia. “Savvy” anchorpeople make unwatchable TV commentary, as they repeat talking points ad-nauseum to each other. “Savvy” sucks.

  22. Jinny Graf says:

    I started tagging my political website http://itsouraustralia.wordpress.com/ with some of the tags Jay Rosen suggested. So here is a little look at it in practice. 1 found some were a combination of the two, where opinion writers used evidence & fact(realities) to buttress tehir views on an issue (real arguments) so they were tagged with both. Some were tagged in a new category, Campaign, because they were the one opinion writer talking on the one topic, using fact to back up their case. So yea, have a look & give me feedback & develop the concept further.

  23. I have to object to your characterization of my May post as “Basically, academics get it all wrong because they don’t know how things really work, though here and there they make some valid points.” I don’t argue that at all. In fact, I specifically posit in that piece that “there is a basic truth behind the argument that political journalism would be improved by more understanding and incorporation of academic research.” My argument was primarily that the political-science academics fail to understand the extent to which most mainstream political journalism (myself, I hope, humbly excluded) is NOT INTERESTED in being improved in that way; the market incentives are at odds with that goal.

    What I was ultimately asking in that post, in my long-winded and slashing way, was for those polisci academics to stop wasting their criticisms on the 90% of what I termed “jackassery” in political journalism, and try to understand the real challenges and real ways they might influence those (myself, I hope, humbly included) trying to do good work.

    • Tom says:

      But why should jackassery, as you put it, get a pass from criticism just because the jackasses aren’t interested in improving?

      And why aren’t the reporters such as yourself who are trying to do good work — and I agree that you are, Mr. Bernstein — themselves criticizing the jackasses among you?

      Instead, you circle the wagons with the jackasses and call Rosen’s work “idiotic crap.” I agree that it is a bit off-base for reasons that you (and others) outline, but why not be respectful of the attempt, and try to understand the viewpoint? You haven’t really explained why you think the model grid he presented was inadequate. I think it is quite on point. Do you think it lacks a dimension, or what is your disagreement with it? Just calling something “idiotic crap” isn’t very informative, and doesn’t reflect well on your temperament.

  24. Great piece. Would love to hear how it went after it’s all over. Your reactions and such.

    Steve

  25. M Ryutin says:

    It would have been good to listen to the question/answer session after the speech.

    However, due to modern technology and its new uses, I am interested in the opinion of a journalism academic (and journalists, sctually) of the creation and operation of the JournOlist group and whether this is a worrying creation or does it just take the ‘insider’ to a new level of reach for their influence on the political narrative?

    • M Ryutin says:

      I should have added this: If you don’t know enough about JournOlist, ask “my friend Todd Gitlin” seeing he was a member of it.

      How is that for an “insider’?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I was not on Journolist but in my opinion its significance is minor. Journalists talking to each other behind the scenes is far better than journalists reporting for each other in the public media. I don’t think Journolist was a scandal, or very important. Email lists among people interested in the same things are one of the most common ways people use the Internet.

  26. D Mortimer says:

    I might have missed the point a bit here because it’s not really my field, but I didn’t get this bit about the quadrant approach:

    “To render the political world that way, journalists would have to exercise their judgment about what is real and what is not. And this is exactly what would bring them into proper alignment with our needs as citizens”

    Why would we want journalists to exercise their judgement about the reality of a situation and then feed it back to us? I don’t see how that would be any different to politicians interpreting reality the way they see it, coloured by their own agendas and then spewing it at us as some kind of truth? It sounds like you were saying journalists shouldn’t be impartial. If that’s the case, what’s the point of having them?

    Apologies if I’ve taken this out of context and am rambling like an imbecile.

  27. Hi Jay,

    I belive that your commentary was right, amazing article.

    Y pese a que muchos les duela tienes toda la razón.

    It is also quite amazing the graph, revealing my mind.

    I am your namesake. Nice to know about u.

  28. Interesting find, definitely not what I expected to see.

  29. Warren Ross says:

    This was a terrific piece of writing. I am now downloading the video of Jay’s speech. Often on a Sunday morning I have yelled at the TV screen during “Insiders” as guests performed the roles Jay has described so perfectly. Insiders, savviness and innocence. Certainly, our journalists behaviour is not value-free and their so-called innocence allows them to be ridculously pompous and lamentably ineffective.

  30. Derek says:

    Hello Jay,

    I was very impressed by this piece and agree with the analysis with one exception: “insiders” make the viewer be NOT one of the sheeple and hence there is no cognitive dissonance via the insider/outsider dichotomy. The thing most are unwilling to admit is that stupid people drive election outcomes and stupid people are easily swayed. Democracy is flawed because a “birther” has the same vote as a PhD. All of our problems as a society originate with universal suffrage. Here’s a test: ask the non-political people you know whether the Fed is part of the USG and ask the political people you know the same question.

    Best regards and keep up the posts as I am an avid fan.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Democracy is flawed because a “birther” has the same vote as a PhD.

      Speaking as a PhD, I have to say I could not agree less with this part of your comment.

      But thanks for commenting and for being a fan of my writing. I appreciate that part.

      • Derek says:

        Hi Jay,

        I know this comes across as less than kind, but can a person objectively deemed “mentally incompetent” make a sound decision? Legally, no. As long as a plurality of uninformed, misinformed, or willfully untethered to reality {NOTW} individuals get to decide my fate, then there’s a problem. Is this system better than the alternative? Resoundingly yes, but it doesn’t make the core issue disappear just because it’s impolite to note the deficiencies of others. I’m a big believer in the progressive ethos of education and intellectual freedom, but that is grounded in the correct supposition that people are ignorant. Smarter people than me have labored over this situation and I offer no solutions; only the observation that the mass media is by definition a tool to find the LCD of the audience and hence places like your blog is where smart stuff is published. The Internet is both focused and mass simultaneously.

    • @Derek –

      Is the Federal Reserve System part of the United States Government?

      That is a trick question, I suppose. Wikipedia cannot answer that question one way or another, and neither could I: “The Federal Reserve System has both private and public components, and was designed to serve the interests of both the general public and private bankers.”

      • Derek says:

        @ANDREW

        It’s a private corporation. The shareholders are secret. It is an unconstitutional entity brought into existence through chicanery, deceit and a corrupt political process not unlike the POTUS’s newfound ability to wage war without a declaration from Congress. Lawrence Lessig’s bete noir is in full bloom viz. the Fed, War Powers act, and many others too numerous to list. We live in a corporate fascist state where media conglomerates in tandem with financial entities manipulate the content, the viewers and the media through which the interact. Until such time as the ticks are removed from the apparatus of the body politic we will get a lot more of the same.

  31. Malcolm Mummery says:

    I like the argument that the media can change quickest. It was intersting how hard that opinion was for the ABC to hear.

    In Australia a governement could (unlikely, but constitutionally possible) establish a body that informed voters at election time, on the ballot, about how to vote in a way that best serves their interests. Leave aside the complex problem of making that advice accurate, and dwell on the effect it would likely have on the media.

    Some proportion of voters would likely take the advice. These voters would probably not be party loyal, they would be the people elections are actually fought over. If this proportion was say half or more of these non-aligned voters then it would be a game-changer for campaing strategists because winning the contest in the media would no longer deliver victory.

    If this “accurate voting advice” was incorruptible, or at least as hard to corrupt as say a Supreme court ruling, then the way to win for an incumbent and challengers alike would be to do whatever would make the advice a vote for them. Lets assume that is sound long term planning in the national interest.

    As it happens, the ABC that interviewed you is a government funded body and arguably founded as a reliable voter information service. It has grown to more or less mimic the commercial media with hype and presentation style replacing the sober more fact based reporting it did a few decades ago, but there was a notion of the right of a voter to get reliable information about in the early years of Australia’s federation, and it manifested itself in the ABC in a dull colourless, but reliable sort of way, for several decades.

    The notion that uninformed choice is no choice at all is logically a fundamental of democracy, but we somehow got diverted into believing that liberty provides a right to misinform, in the interests of selling stuff mostly. In the closely interdependent dance that politics and the media play, the consequences for either partner dancing to a different tune will be highly likely to be career limiting; except that is if you happen to work for a government owned media organisation like the ABC that has legislated to provide you that independence.

    Come down-under more often Mr Rosen, we like you.

  32. [...] text of the keynote a gave earlier tonight in Melbourne: Why Political Coverage is Broken. Read it: http://jr.ly/bq3k 26 [...]