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February 01, 2009

The Explanation

Steve Benen is irritated that the Washington Post has recently run four op-eds by Amity Shlaes. (Shlaes is employed by the Council on Foreign Relations to lie about economic policy, the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt, etc.) Steve says:

...if only someone would explain to me why the Post's op-ed editors feel compelled to publish the same misguided piece from Shlaes, making the same misguided argument every month or so, I'd appreciate it.

Here's the explanation:

The Washington Post is a corporation, required by law to make as much money as possible. In order to make as much money as possible, businesses cater to their customers. The main customers of the Washington Post are their advertisers, who are mostly other big corporations. Big corporations, for obvious reasons, like it when people are misled about economic policy, the Great Depression, FDR, etc.

That's really all there is to it. (Well, almost all.) What Steve really should be wondering about is why people like him—and me—ever fooled ourselves into believing the Washington Post has some sort of commitment to describing reality.

(Dean Baker, who clearly committed some horrible crime in a past life, takes out the Shlaes garbage here.)

P.S. It should go without saying that Shlaes graduated from Stutts University.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at February 1, 2009 12:28 PM

The fact that the Post saw fit to publish "Bob Levey's Washington" for so many centuries is alone reason to discredit the paper as a source of anything except mad drivel.

This Amity character sounds pretty awful however.

Posted by: Seth at February 1, 2009 12:50 PM

Please do us all a favor and post this into the comments every time Brad DeLong asks "Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps?"

Posted by: hedgehog at February 1, 2009 01:20 PM

The WaPost has gone downhill since Jason Robards ran it.

Posted by: Dennis Perrin at February 1, 2009 01:37 PM

Admittedly Amity Shlaes has the name and the look of a girl I'd like to marry.

Posted by: Mark at February 1, 2009 02:02 PM

This is all well and good, but unfortunately leaves out a key part of the equation that critics of this analysis always bring up: the audience.

They say, but surely the need to attract an audience in the first place to sell to the advertisers at least brings some balance into it? Some deference to the concerns of the reader/viewer/listener?

And indeed it might... if all audiences were equal. But advertisers don't just want an audience, they want particular audiences: the kind with money to spend. An audience that spends big and spends frequently. In brief, the upper class. That's their target audience and therefore the media's target audience.

This is something to keep in mind also when people make criticisms of the media for being commercial and profit-driven to pander to the lowest common denominator to attract as big an audience as possible and make money. Maybe there's some of that going on, but it rather misses a major reality of what's going on - that to a large extent media and news is debased not because they are pandering to us unwashed slobs to make money, but because they are pandering to corporate sponsors and the rich generally.

Posted by: g at February 1, 2009 02:02 PM

Actually, g, jon has got it right, as he mostly does.
Murkins are misled in their schooling to misunderstand the nature of the fundamental transaction of media/advertizer/consumer relation.
The advertizers are the audience, and the consumers are the commodity that the media 'sell.' The WaPo's major customers ARE indeed other huge corporations who have interlocking memberships on all the boards of directors. WaPo doesn't care a fig for you or me, as long as Boeing is still on board.

Posted by: woody at February 1, 2009 02:36 PM

The corporate propaganda model is fine as far as it goes, but it is entirely incomplete when it comes to explaining Donna Britt's continuing appeal.

Posted by: Seth at February 1, 2009 02:41 PM

Jonathan, far be it from me to tell you how to spend your time, but I always wish you would write more posts like this explaining the institutional bias of the corporate media. Not only are you really good at explaining it, but you also have a really light touch, making you a perfect propagandist for the propaganda model of understanding the media to the liberal hordes out there in blogland who are still clueless as to why the media behaves as it does, attributing all the biases to anything but institutional ones.

Posted by: updike's ghost at February 1, 2009 03:20 PM

It occurred to me that we're hearing a lot these days about the hard times that have befallen the print media, including the behemoths of the Hudson and the Potomac. People don't get their news from these great, beautiful, "objective" sources any more. So it seems that they aren't doing such a good job of pandering to us lowest-common-denominator unwashed masses after all. They do seem to keep selling the ads, but maybe not well enough. So it becomes necessary to cut the reporting staff. Good reporters cost money, and the papers can fill their pages more cheaply with fluff, "human-interest" stories, public-relations releases from corporations to be run as if they were news, government public-relations releases to be run as if they were news. Despite all these precautions, bits of news keep finding their way into print/broadcast/cable. Cut the staff some more!

And then they wonder why they keep losing market share to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. Maybe most Americans don't really care about the news. But those who do, evidently don't want what the corporate media are selling under that name.

Posted by: Duncan at February 1, 2009 03:37 PM

Are the Stutts University sports teams called the Bearcats?

Posted by: BillCinSD at February 1, 2009 10:22 PM

I am the lowest common denomenator. Amity Shlaes has a funny last name.

What else is there to know?

Posted by: bobbyp at February 2, 2009 12:02 AM

besides, everyone knows that there is actually something better for economic recovery than tax cuts: the reagan dime. the roosevelt dime forces people into an impoverished line of thinking. no one would ask a brother to spare a reagan dime. they would ask to borrow it at a fair rate of interest, for a profitable purpose, over a fixed and appropriate period of time.

Posted by: hapa at February 2, 2009 01:29 AM

The news isn’t about information it is entertainment. That’s all it ever was.

Posted by: Rob Payne at February 2, 2009 04:40 AM

Oh, I'm not convinced "everyone knows that there is actually something better for economic recovery than tax cuts." I came across a link to 1962 that reminded me, tax cuts is a venerable institution in both Republican and Democratic Party politicking.

"Our true choice is not between tax reduction, on the one hand, and the avoidance of large Federal deficits on the other. It is increasingly clear that, no matter what party is in power, so long as our national security needs keep rising, an economy hampered by restrictive tax rates will never produce enough revenue to balance the budget - just as it will never produce enough jobs or enough profits.

"In short, it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low - and the soundest way to raise revenues in the long run is to cut rates now.

Posted by: Mary at February 2, 2009 09:55 AM

A recurring problem in the liberal blogosphere is the mismatch of their expectations and perceptions to reality. Reality is what it is, don't care about what you think it should be.

This problem manifests itself in the ongoing concern about media "misbehavior", a longing for days gone by or a return to our nation's principles, and supporting policy like the Iraq war because they think it will do some good.

Jon often writes about the misery, angst and irrationality we all fall into when our beliefs are challenged, this recurring disappointment found between reality and the model of reality we all carry in our heads is very much the same.

Posted by: Justin at February 2, 2009 03:32 PM

I don't think reality is what it is at all. It's something else entirely, and that misconception has caused untold amounts of grief.

Posted by: Tiffa at February 2, 2009 10:56 PM

I find it suspicious that someone with a bachelors' degree in English, 25 years ago, no matter how prestigious the institution (Yale), and no subsequent academic training or degrees, would be thought sufficiently 'expert' to be a 'senior' anything at the CFR, much less an 'economics' analyst...

Posted by: woody at February 3, 2009 02:41 PM