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Media and Meme

For an interesting insight into how the statist meme became so dominant, check out these comments by an Instapundit reader:

Perhaps the most pervasive way in which journalists are different from normal people is that journalists live in a world dominated by government, and they reflexively see government action as the default way to approach any problem.

. . . .

It’s no accident that for the most part, the news is dominated by people whose value is largely driven by how much publicity they receive: politicians, athletes and entertainers. The people who actually make the world work – people in private industry, rank-and-file government employees and conscientious parents – are largely invisible in the news, except when they’re unlucky enough to make one of the rare mistakes that reporters manage to find out about.

My reading of this is that the mainstream/elite media and the state sort of bootstrapped each other to the top of the pile, in classic one-hand-washes-the-other fashion.

The media propagated the statist meme because it was both easy and it elevated them to the degree that centralized media is parasitic (or perhaps symbiotic) with a centralized state.

The comments come just as yet another survey is released demonstrating that the denizens of American newsrooms are significantly more “liberal” (in the newfangled sense of the term, the one where the jackboot is made by Birkenstock) than the general public. Perhaps the best illustration of the whole dynamic is that a survey showing the media is significantly more hostile to President Bush than the general public went out under the title Press Going Too Easy on Bush.

You can’t make this stuff up. Now, I certainly have my beefs with the current President, but the self-appointed Fourth Estate has really gotten up my nose lately. They could play an important role in society, as a necessary feedback mechanism, but they have largely abrogated that role, in my view. Thank goodness that a new, distributed feedback mechanism is emerging in the form of the blogosphere.

18 comments to Media and Meme

  • David Gillies

    “Thank goodness that a new, distributed feedback mechanism is emerging in the form of the blogosphere.”

    Surely this is just another example of the old saw, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”

  • D Anghelone

    Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money is. Government is where the news is. Not surprising if the news media attracts people favorable to government.

  • Scott

    Was that from the thread where Reynolds made his “you have a nice business here – I’d hate to see something bad happen to it” threat to the media if they don’t toe the War Party line about Bush’s Iraqi disaster? Nice to see a ‘libertarian’ blog being so chummy with those who threaten others for saying the wrong things.

    Sorry, here it is:

    ANOTHER UPDATE: And here’s a question: Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn’t exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority — or even a large and angry minority — of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic. How far are we from that point?

  • Scatt,

    Please don’t stretch petty interpretations of libertarianism to attack an excellent blogger like Instapundit.

    - Clearly he is saying that the Big Media will just cause their own downfall unless they change course, and not making a threat.

    - I can’t believe you don’t find it obvious, but are you implying that because libertarians don’t think people should be attacked far saying the “wrong” things, that we need to attack Instapundit for saying the “wrong” things? Huh?

    - Take off your blinders. Instapundit has attacked good things and praised bad things about this war, as has this site. Here, he is in part complaining about the Media’s one sided approach and defeat-mongering. Put another way, he doesn’t have an agenda (and doesn’t claim to be objective either way), but the media and apparently you both have agendas.

    The internet is an instantiation of the free exchange of ideas in an unlimited marketplace. The limitations placed on traditional methods of journalism sort of made their downfall inevitable. I am certain that we will see more of his type of reporting, and less of what a centralized, biased news room has to offer, and the page-view-count on his site

    I’ve seen you attack this site for some minor infraction after another because you trivialize the philosophical basis in a most idiotarian manner.

    Do you have anything to offer, besides doom-and-gloom conspiracy theories and opinions about the intelligence level of a sitting president at a time of war?

  • Scott,

    how do we know you aren’t a Mossad or CIA or Halliburton plant, trying to draw out the people who sympathize with your crazy positions, so they can be eliminated and made into Soylent Matzo, or Lorenzo’s Oil, or an Abu Ghraib prison inmate?

    I’d keep the doors locked if I were you, pally; you can never overestimate the power of those right wing bloggers – heck, I bet Glenn Reynolds is on your tail even as we speak.

    But seriously though, Frank J. at IMAO – it was all a joke. He didn’t mean that stuff he said about Reynolds controlling the known universe. It was a joke, Scott, a joke. You weren’t supposed to believe it because it was all made up. So take it easy. Somehow, I don’t think the 500 or so U.S. newspapers are going to get crushed by Insty, no matter how much bold faced type he uses.

    Of course the fact that I’m denying the existence of an Insty-led conspiracy only goes to prove it exists, right? Because we all know that denying a conspiracy is consistent behavior for a person who is a member of a conspiracy. Ergo there must be a huge Insty-led conspiracy to wipe out the mass media… and down into the rabbit hole we go…

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    “Soylent Matzo”? I haven’t had such a good laugh in a long time, Al.

  • Scott

    Clearly he is saying that the Big Media will just cause their own downfall unless they change course, and not making a threat.

    He referred to “freedom of the press”, not just current media companies.

  • Guy Herbert

    Actually we all live in a world dominated by government, and getting more so. What government does is therefore news. The question really is, why so positive?

    The dominance of pro-government stories in all media in the free world is not necessarily a deliberate media-imposed bias. It is more likely a particularly pernicious pork-barrel effect. (The pro-Government stories in NewsCorp media, on the other hand, are a matter of deliberate commercial strategy, and a direct example of subtle pork-barrelling. If you conspicuously don’t offend those who appoint the regulators, their hand may be lighter on you than otherwise.)

    If you are a PR for a pressure group, a charity (and many charities in Britain at least are now no more than pressure groups, having divested their original functions), a trades union, or a firm wanting to tap the public purse, if you are a politician or a civil service communications officer, it is your job and your client’s interest to feed the media stories that promote the government doing something about your particular projects. The media needs stories; a large part of the stories on offer are created by people trying to get some government favour; the media publishes a lot of stories demanding more government. Elective affinities are ever so much more powerful than conspiracies.

  • I think what he pushing at is if a news organisation is found to have deliberatly made up a story e.g. prisoner abuse, wedding bombings , should it suffer any sanction?

    If the victim were an individual the sanction would be libel, if a group, incitment. If its own country then – what treason? Unfortunately the treason sanctions appear to be a bit harsh so, what then?

  • mishu

    I think Glen’s point is that the threat comes from the invisible hand. If the press continues to be shrill and continues to run stories readers/viewers are no longer interested in, people will stop buying newspapers, watching TV news, etc. and get their information from other sources. Subsequently, reporters who favor big government will soon seek the goverment service of unemployment compensation. If reporters continue to serve themselves instead of the public, they deserve their fate.

  • llamas

    I think, from my own observation, that there’s a simple reason for the meme described. In most cases, government is required (by law or by custom) to give out information about what it’s doing to anyone that asks.

    In many cases of stories which might be ‘news’, many of the players are doing their damndest to keep what they’re doing a secret.

    This leads to two results. One is the natural tendency to take the easy way. A journalist may only find out about something secret by accident or by dint of extensive investigation, which may or may not bear fruit. On the other hand, the state will provide a steady stream of ‘news’, free for the asking. Journalism is just a job, like any other, and most workers will take the easy way to get the job done, if offered.

    The second result is that journalists eventually look to the state as the first, last and only source for news and reaction, and their constant use of the same source lends it a legitimacy which it does not deserve.

    I have seen this tendency many times in police-beat reporters. Like sheep, they eat up press releases, press conferences and tasty photo-ops with bulky men in pretty uniforms. It’s an easy, cheap and blameless way to fill column-inches or airtime. By the nature of the subject, the arena is filled with people who are trying desperately to keep the whole story a secret. Rare indeed is the reporter who goes out looking for it.

    We’re seeing a similar meme in Iraq. Reporting from there seems to consist of accepting press releases from the coalition command (which may well have things to hide), accepting such input from the opposition as it chooses to bring (and they may well have things to hide also) and then beaming the whole lot back home with a thin layer of moral equivalence painted on top. We got a lot better idea of what was going on in Iraq during the ground combat phase, where reporters were embedded with the troops and saw a whole lot more of what was really going on.

    llater,

    llamas

  • R C Dean

    Government is where the news is.

    Actually we all live in a world dominated by government, and getting more so. What government does is therefore news.

    This, of course, depends on how you define “news” and how big and pervasive the government is.

    My point is that the simultaneous re-defining what government does as the bulk of the “news” and the growth of government into a dominant sector of society may not be coincidental. There are reasons for why centralized media and centralized government seem to fit so well, hand in glove, and this good fit may have something to do with why the meme of statism has taken off so strongly in the last century.

  • toolkien

    Perhaps paths of least resistance and or merely going with the flow explain part of the interrelationship between the media and the government, but I think underlying the whole ‘meme’ is a similar desire to Better the world by individuals in both arenas (and so journalists don’t necessarily look to government automatically, it is when it serves them and their desired ends). It is natural that a symbiotic relationship develops between the two main bodies that take it upon themselves the role of leader and enlightener to the masses. Allowing people to be free, legally and intellectually, is anethma to such people. They both have a self appointed role to gather the misguided flock and guide them to paradise.

    Sometimes they agree and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes there is a united front and sometimes there are attacks between the two. As they work it is interesting to see the interworkings of the institutions, one that has to rely on persuasion (media) and the other who relies on Force (with a dash of propaganda – the State) embracing each other sometimes and grudgingly working together other times, and sometimes being at total odds. The State needs the media to soften the masses to accept the next fisting session, and the media, and the prime movers who make it up, want to drive public sentiment to alter the State’s use of Force. In the end, there is a love/hate relationship involved as they have similar, yet cross, purposes.

    But as far as the media and government goes, we can’t forget the interaction between the media and the consumer. If the media is placing the statist meme within the masses, the masses must still desire it or they would reject it. Most individuals seem to want someone offering security. For centuries it was the church, and the church by and large was the State. Today, the god has been scrubbed away leaving a (purportedly) secular cousin operating the exact same way. The masses hunger to be led. The hunger to hear the things they want to hear that bolsters their illusions. This demand is gravy for those types described above, whether a journalist or a pol. There are those who desire to lead and there are those who seem to want to follow. There seems to a huge defecit in those who don’t want to do either, at least in terms of a Body Politic.

  • D Anghelone

    R C,

    Your point is well made and so are those of the other commenters. But I think it’s true that government is where the news is. That is true even where libertarians comment on the news. In fact, if you knew nothing about libertarianism then you’d have to believe there is nothing to it other than criticising whatever is done by government.

    That, I think, is the reality we must deal with. Other than Dale Amon, does anyone here write consistently of non-governmental doings?

  • R C Dean

    if you knew nothing about libertarianism then you’d have to believe there is nothing to it other than criticising whatever is done by government.

    Ouch! Pot, meet kettle, eh?

  • D Anghelone

    Ouch! Pot, meet kettle, eh?

    Well, we’ve all been riding that same range so…

  • toolkien

    That is true even where libertarians comment on the news. In fact, if you knew nothing about libertarianism then you’d have to believe there is nothing to it other than criticising whatever is done by government.

    Can’t speak for any other era or country, but it’s hard not to comment about the US federal + state governments in this day and age. It confiscates 30-50% of the average person’s income, regulates a whole lot more – which acts as a quasi-tax, and is indebting us on top of that. And of course it still isn’t apparently enough. I can’t be blamed about discussing the government as it has nosed itself majorly into my business. IT is the uninvited guest in my life, eating me out of house and home. I think I have the right to point and chat about the fatty in my kitchen who doesn’t seem to want to leave. That is decidedly different than those who bolster and support statism.

  • D Anghelone

    toolkien,

    Wouldn’t argue with any of that. But it might help to project a different image if that is feasible.

    Can we (well, not me) write of things in the greater world of non-government without putting people to sleep?