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April 09, 2007

People, I Can Keep Repeating This As Long As It Takes

Brad DeLong writes:

Why wouldn't the American press corps in Washington cover the Bush administration properly for its first five years? I really do not know.

This is where my worldview and that of Professor DeLong (and Bob Somerby, etc.) diverge. The question I'd ask is: why would the American press corps in Washington cover the Bush administration properly for its first five years? Given the institutional forces involved, there are many, powerful reasons they wouldn't, and a few, weak reasons they would. Thus the fact they didn't (and are still generally doing a horrible job) is no surprise to me. On the contrary, I would have been extremely surprised if they had.

Huge media corporations do not exist to cover the Bush administration properly. They exist to make as much profit as possible. Covering the Bush administration properly would have tended to reduce their profit. Hence, they didn't do it, and still won't.

PLEASE LOOK UP THE INDEX ENTRIES FOR: Santa Claus, There Is No and Is, Brian Lamb Tells It Like It

Posted at April 9, 2007 01:41 PM | TrackBack

It's a point of national safety. PROPER coverage of the Bush Administration would cause nation wide riots, the resurgence of the Vigilanty Comittiees, and mobs holding public hangings of our esteemed leadership. It's for their own good that the TRUTH is not reported.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 9, 2007 02:43 PM

Ah, for the good old days of mob rule.

Posted by: Sam Thornton at April 9, 2007 02:51 PM

somebody's comment the other day about nobody voted for the pundits (not here, i don't think) got me thinking like, the point of corporate consolidation, apart from vertical and horizontal integratoin and other systems control, is to empower the otherwise unelectable. no matter what shenanigans were innvolved in birthing the beast, the master of the castle always gets credit for the size of the kingdom, and a lot of undue credit for the work of making its component parts in the past.

much the way the reagan-bush administration gets the bulk of public credit for closing the book on the USSR, when that was an effort of half a dozen presidential administrations here and dozens of countries elsewhere.

buffett, gates, soros, etc at least recognize that what they have is skill, not sanction. but that's a choice they make. there's little out there saying, you're not a god. people will worship anyone who makes the earth tremble when they walk.

i keep thinking the biggest trouble with the press people is they end up being their own host-company's PR representatives. don't say anything, don't do anything that will embarrass the top brass over a state dinner.

Posted by: hibiscus at April 9, 2007 03:53 PM

The question of profitability seems to me to be slightly misleading, because there's at least some possibility that people could "vote with their feet." The appeal is less to the general TV-watching, etc., public than to potential stockholders.

Posted by: Adam Kotsko at April 9, 2007 04:15 PM

both the old articles, with comments, suggest that internal consensus is also a big problem, that the time pressure to get the story multiplies and gives the entire operation the sense that what it's moved from truth-gathering to truth-determining -- that its staff and its regular contacts, because they found truth in the past, are now arbiters of future reality -- that's just screwed up.

that's a trouble with every institution, its the overgrown brush of the organization, the ability of the group to insulate itself and go nuts. i don't really think you can prevent that. the whole idea of, don't do monopolies, don't do no-bid contracts, don't do secrets, those are all part of that process of cutting back the briars of internal politics so they don't take over completely.

Posted by: hibiscus at April 9, 2007 05:42 PM

*sense that it's moved

Posted by: hibiscus at April 9, 2007 05:45 PM

The question of profitability seems to me to be slightly misleading, because there's at least some possibility that people could "vote with their feet." The appeal is less to the general TV-watching, etc., public than to potential stockholders.

If you'll permit me a long and tedious recitation of truisms: Profitability depends on keeping the customer happy and in commercial media systems the customers are not the audience. The customers are the advertisers, and through them the rest of the commercial sector. The audience are the product. The media people tell the advertisers, "We have an audience for you." The advertisers say, "What kind of audience? How big is it, how much money does it have and how does it think?" The media people say, "You tell us what kind of audience you want and we'll get it for you."

Now that process is just as likely to involve pandering as brainwashing*, which is why you don't so much end up with a right-wing media as one in which certain positions deemed hostile to commerce are inexpressible. The Puritan faction of the ultra-Right are correct when they regard parts of the media as liberal (though they might use the doubly inappropriate term "left-wing") in that some media fare is designed to attract a socially "progressive" audience because that's where the money is. (Or are dedicated to sleaze because that's where the money is.) But economically left-wing, anti-imperialist, pro-union or anti-"globalisation"? Not so much.

*Pandering, incidentally, is what FoxNews is about - an entire news network designed to appeal to a narrow political demographic. While it's true that FoxNews fills their viewers' heads with lies, it's unlikely the target audience would have had a significantly different worldview in the absence of Faux. Note also that cable audiences share the position of customer with advertisers because they pay for subscriptions.

Posted by: RobW at April 9, 2007 09:40 PM

"Note also that cable audiences share the position of customer with advertisers because they pay for subscriptions."

Isn't this congruent with the comment about "voting with their feet"? I don't have cable - I hate TV - but I would subscribe in a heartbeat if Robert Parry had a TV news program on cable.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at April 10, 2007 08:06 AM

OK, I looked.

You wrote back in December 2005, I almost always think Digby is right, on every topic

Do you still hold that opinion? I read her site about once every two weeks or so. Sometimes she has some interesting insight into beltway politics, but I find many of her assumptions and world views lacking. Along with her Santa Claus media, she is also a liberal that frequently refers to the invasion of Iraq as a "mistake" and characterizes it as an incoherent geopolitical blunder. I'd argue that it was not a mistake, but a crime, and a consciously planned one. Secondly, it is probably a 50% success. Aside from some unexpected difficulties pacifying the civilian population, the U.S. has put in place its military bases from which it will maintain control over the flows of Iraqi oil in the next few decades.

But to the main point, I am curious if you still think she is right almost all of the time. (The above was to give some relevant context about why I find her analysis crudely lacking most of the time.)

Posted by: Justin at April 10, 2007 08:37 AM

Isn't this congruent with the comment about "voting with their feet"?

Only partially. Could a cable station appealing to an audience of lefties support itself? A broadcast station probably couldn't - who'd pay to advertise on it? Look at how prohibitively expensive most left-wing mags are - rather putting them out of the reach of anyone other than reasonably well-off progressives. The history of working class newspapers backs this up - when printing costs rose the papers closed down despite their huge readersips, while magazines with tiny readerships (e.g. Fortune - and not counting the loss-making rightwing fanzines paid for with wingnut welfare) can survive because advertisers want to shill to their readers.

Basically, there's unlikely to be a market solution to the problems created by a marketised media system. And given the way public media types too often end up aping the commercial sector (for a whole host of reasons), possibly no solution of any kind.

Posted by: RobW at April 10, 2007 09:06 AM

shorter JBDL: wah wah wah press wont quote me straight wah wah wah.

the dude was in the freakin clinton presidency. you'd think that by now, he would've got it into his head(even given the fact that he is a professional economist) that the press are seeking someone's mouth into whom they will stuff a viewpoint, everything else be damned.

Posted by: almostinfamous at April 10, 2007 11:01 AM

RobW -

Can you elaborate on a couple of points in your post?

I don't know anything about the history of working-class newspapers, but I wonder whether other causes might have contributed to their closing?

Also, which progressive magazines are so expensive? Neither The Progressive magazine ($10) nor Z are notably expensive to my recollection.

However, I grant your point in a general sense. It's easy enough to look at the ads in, say, Mother Jones, and figure out that the average income and education levels of the readership aren't "working class".

I don't see from first principles (as we say) that a radical cable news show couldn't be brought into existence and maintained. In fact, one more or less already exists - it's called Democracy Now.

It seems to me that the (other) radicals now in power faced a similar dilemma regarding the media about 35 years ago. They attacked the problem with gobs of money and "solved" it.

Attacking the problem with gobs of people (organized people vs. organized money) might solve it back. $100 each from the 3 million people on MoveOn's list could run a cable station for a year, couldn't it? In principle? If the market doesn't provide what you and I want, can't we go around it?

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at April 10, 2007 02:42 PM

damn, $300 million for one year of television? think how many radio and print reporters that kind of money would hire and support for a year. what everybody's been talking about is the lack of independent reporters, the increase in canned news, the lack of competition, and how it helps everybody rich stay rich. you could almost buy another AP for that money. or double it.

most people get their news from the radio. produce some stories for local television, sure, but don't start with buying stations.

Posted by: hibiscus at April 10, 2007 05:07 PM

That stuff about the decline of working class papers is something I remember from Chompers, but I doubt I could quote you chapter and verse. And YMMV re the expense of non-profit mags but they are significantly more expensive than commercial product, whcih don't have to rely on cover price to pay for themselves.

As for the cable TV stuff - well, maybe. Perhaps I'm just a pessimist.

Posted by: RobW at April 10, 2007 11:50 PM

Yes! Exactly. I have been talking, generally, about this in terms of television, but it applies to all media almost as well. I find print media is less about sales than it seems to be, but television and radio definitely exist solely to sell us things. They provide entertainment and information only to keep us watching or listening long enough to sell us things. When you make the mistake of thinking that TV news is there for any reason except to make the minimal contribution to the community necessary to retain their licenses, then you fall into their trap. Mind you, I spoke with an NBC exec once who was very defensive about this and jumped right in with "We just did a story that was 37 minutes long about this consumer protection thing and it won an award and we do provide more than the minimum..." blah-blah-blah-cakes. I hadn't eaten any of his station's highly touted shrimp, but I felt rude anyway so I kind of didn't call bullshit on him, but it was. He's just an errand boy for grocery clerks and his job is to keep the FCC from seeing his boss. He gets paid very well for it, but that's what it amounts to.

Posted by: DBK at April 11, 2007 02:52 PM

Fear of anthrax, small plane crashes, friendly fire, single car crashes, suicide, overdoses. That's a few reasons why.

Well you know what I always say

Posted by: Leg Won at April 12, 2007 01:31 AM

"Santa Clause Media" would be a great name for a progressive blog.

Posted by: Adam Kotsko at April 12, 2007 01:06 PM

Wann machma denn die nchste party??? lebe lang und erfolgreich!!! :)

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Posted by: Stern at June 26, 2007 08:25 PM