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August 10, 2007


After reading Michael Ignatieff's why-I-was-wrong-on-Iraq essay in the NY Times, Hilzoy of Obsidian Wings wonders this about the US media:

I think we really have to ask: why are people who are, by their own account, not just mistaken but completely clueless among the people who are given platforms to express their opinions?

I hate sounding snide about this, but for an adult to be asking this is really like an adult asking "why hasn't Santa Claus come to my house with presents for me?"


Posted at August 10, 2007 08:21 PM | TrackBack

Shit, but you're right. I wish more people would start to have that attitude. It would make life a lot better here.

Posted by: atheist at August 10, 2007 08:54 PM

over the past few months a theory of sorts has been coalescing in my noggin: that BushCo meant to wreck Iraq from the get-go, and felt sure given the eager sycophancy of the US press, that they'd get away with it.

They only "erred" in their excess confidence that they could spin the wreck of Iraq as an actual triumph.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at August 10, 2007 11:03 PM

The system is so broken - I wish it were easier to smash the parts that need smashing.

Posted by: krinn at August 10, 2007 11:42 PM

Hilzoy is a superb writer and one of the handful of bloggers I will keep on my "have to read" list. But she's a mainstream liberal--the very best of that breed, but she seems to believe in the good faith of people in power until as individuals they've given her good reason to believe otherwise. (Though she won't take a politician seriously if he is a flake in her eyes, like Kucinich.) She'll admit the US has committed the crimes that we Chomskyites accuse the US of committing in the past (not just under Bush), but they don't seem to hold center stage in her worldview. I think she sees them as more of an aberration, not something that seems intrinsic to how our government and press operates. And as you've noticed, she seems to think the mainstream press really is there to fulfill a watchdog role.

Or that's how I read her. I think about this from time to time, because I'm a fan, and yet sometimes she says things that set my teeth on edge.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2007 12:13 AM

I think that way of putting it is about making an argument about the nature of media rather than forming an opinion and seeing what matches that prejudice. One thing the new Libs have dead right is that repeating an argument is more effective in influencing opinion than taking a conclusion for granted and making arguments based on it. Simply repeating assertions works too, sadly.

There are still a lot of people who don't think the media is significantly influenced by who owns it. Unless you look closely, it's not even apparent that the reporting is misleading. That it is is widely accepted now, but the awareness has been subverted. e.g. because much reporting is in a Liberal style (akin to chocolate flavor) and many news staff describe themselves as Liberal which notionally counter-balances the influence of ownership.

It's not effective to pretend such views don't exist. Dems actually get their people elected. They can't ignore what people think, even if it's clearly wrong. I think that's why the softly-softly language was used.

Posted by: me at August 11, 2007 03:19 AM

Donald Johnson, I hope you're joking when you call yourself a "Chomskyite"

"Marxism, in my view, belongs in the history of organized religion. In fact, as a rule of thumb, any concept with a person's name on it belongs to religion, not rational discourse. There aren't any physicists who call themselves Einsteinians. And the same would be true of anybody crazy enough to call themselves Chomskian. In the real world you have individuals who were in the right place at the right time, or maybe they got a good brain wave or something, and they did something interesting. But I never heard of anyone who didn't make mistakes and whose work wasn't quickly improved on by others. That means if you identify yourself as a Marxist of a Freudian or anything else, you're worshipping at someone's shrine."

Take note, Kossacks.

And I include this bit because it's interesting:

"But as I understand Marx, he constructed a somewhat interesting theory of a rather abstract model of nineteenth-century capitalism. He did good journalism. And he had intersting ideas about history. He probably had about five sentences in his entire body of work about what a postcapitalist society is supposed to look like."
Rolling Stone, May 28, 1992, p47

Posted by: me at August 11, 2007 03:29 AM

A slight amendment. There is no Santa Claus, but there is a concerted effort by people who control the media to make you believe that there is one.

Were BushCo so stupid that they didn't know the probability of destroying Iraq or was that their purpose from the start?

By the way, Chomsky's linguistics studies were funded by the DOD.

Posted by: Bob In Pacifica at August 11, 2007 09:47 AM

Yes, me, as any good Chomskyite I've read enough of the Glorious One (all honor to his name) to have seen the passage you cite. Of course you understand there must be exceptions to such rules. While I can understand the need to recognize imperfection in those we see as heroes, it's clear that Noam-worship can and should be held exempt from such strictures.

Posted by: Donald Johnson at August 11, 2007 11:45 AM

all this, and "you get what you pay for."

Posted by: hapa at August 11, 2007 11:47 AM

This is so wrong. There absolutely is a Santa Claus. If he is not stopping at your house Jonathan, it is because you lack the requisite number of chimneys.

Posted by: new day at August 11, 2007 02:40 PM

This is so wrong, Jonathan; there absolutely is a Santa Claus. If he is not stopping at your house it is because you lack the requisite number of chimneys. Six, I believe it is. This is not as unreasonable as it may at first seem; they are allowed to be spread out between compounds and summer homes and such.

Posted by: new day at August 11, 2007 02:45 PM

Hey, look at that...two people with the same name and remarkably similar ideas.

Posted by: new day at August 11, 2007 02:49 PM

As I seem to remember, my parents did their damnedest to keep me believing in Santa Claus because it was so darned cute. Maybe there's room for that in the analogy too... although my parents weren't actually evil, per se.

I calmly explained to them that I knew that Santa Claus was simply a smokescreen set up by the parental-gift complex to keep me an obedient consumer and that when the Revolution came, Santa would be the first one up against the wall.

Posted by: StO at August 11, 2007 07:06 PM

Yes, you do sound snide, because in fact you are being snide. Indeed, as a rule, I find that the moment someone says "I hate to sound snide," I know two things: first, that they're about to be snide, and second, that at the moment, in fact, they really love to be snide. Just as "I hate to break it to you" almost invariably signals that the speaker is, in fact, thoroughly enjoying conveying the message that they're about to convey.

Contrary to what you're implying about her, Hilzoy is neither an idiot or a naif, nor does she need to be loftily informed that there's no Santa Claus, tooth fairy, or free lunch. When she couches her point as a measured question, it's not because she doesn't know the answer; it's because she's pitching her rhetoric, as she generally does, to an audience that's composed of more than merely those who already agree with her. The world needs people who argue her way as much as it needs people who argue your way.

What you're indulging in here is one of the oldest and least appealing habits of political radicals, the "I'm more hard-nosed and tough-minded than you" superiority dance. For examples, check out the comment sections of any number of lefty or libertarian weblogs, including this very thread. I've done it myself more times than I'm happy to think about. It's unpleasant and counterproductive even when it has some basis in reality. Directed at a person as smart and sober as Hilzoy, and festooned with the whole extra-nasty bit about what "adults" do (clearly meant to imply that there's something defective about Hilzoy's adulthood), it's worse than unpleasant; it's ugly. More to the point, it's way beneath your usual standard.

Posted by: Patrick Nielsen Hayden at August 12, 2007 07:05 AM

please, when somebody reads me the do-unto-others riot act: use 25 words or less. i'd rather the ambiguity.

also, i disagree that hilzoy's question points the crowd toward an independent, not-for-profit media.

Posted by: hapa at August 12, 2007 04:17 PM

"who are given platforms" is the issue, isn't it.

Posted by: hapa at August 12, 2007 04:31 PM

"By the way, Chomsky's linguistics studies were funded by the DOD."
And are therefore evil, like ARPA-net/teh intarwebs.

Posted by: me at August 13, 2007 05:53 AM

Re the Santa Claus post (since it was so long ago):

"One thing I repeat is that the mainstream media does a FANTASTIC job. Day in and day out, they turn in an extraordinary performance—at what they exist to do. And that is to make as much money as possible... The mainstream media is made up of gigantic corporations. Like all corporations, they manufacture a product, which is their audience."

If they're so "fantastic" at this job, then why has their product -- the audience -- been shrinking for decades? Why are their revenues per viewer down? Why are their gross revenues down?

Honestly... I know this is the Econ 101 version of why corporations exist, and how "fantastic" they are at making money.

The problem is, the rest of the curriculum after Econ 102 (and the entire history of The Market writ large) shows how terrible corporations are at making money.

Yes, one can paraphrase Churchill and admit their incompetence, except when compared to all the alternatives... But that doesn't negate the fact that the prime metaphor for Amurrican business is that money falls from the sky, and sometimes these idjits remember it might be a good idea to hold out buckets.

If this is the best argument you have, it's thin gruel indeed.

Posted by: Hal O'Brien at August 14, 2007 08:49 PM