We can’t reform America without a new news media

Summary: Some control of America’s information flow – the news, the stories that shape our imagination – is necessary for any political reform to succeed. Today it is run by liberals, a hindrance for progressives and a foe of populists.

“And that, señorita, is the weakness of our Cause. Communications. Those goons were not important – but crucially important is that it lay with the Warden, not with us, to decide whether the story should be told. To a revolutionist, communications are a sine-qua-none.”
— Professor Bernardo de la Paz (an experienced revolutionary), from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1965).

Information Wars

Mobs confronted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a Mexican restaurant in Washington and blaring speakers outside his homeMobs chanted outside the home of White House advisor Stephen Miller. A mob confronted Senator Ted Cruz in a Washington restaurant. Mobs chased down Senators Rand Paul and David Perdue at Reagan airport (they followed Perdue into the bathroom). An intern for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) doxxed 3 Republican senators. This comes after years of increasing violence at colleges (and elsewhere), as leftists prevent conservatives from speaking.

If conservative mobs were attacking Democrats, the news media would have headlines about “Fascism.” But vice versa is AOK, reported only as isolated incidents. The news media sets the narrative, creating the framework through which Americans see the world.

Caitlin Johnstone, “rogue journalist”, has written about the importance of controlling the narrative.

The news media, in aggregate, are adequately serving the broad middle of the US public: 47% say they are doing “very well” or “somewhat well” at reporting the different positions on political issues fairly, as of Pew Research’s Spring 2017 survey. This allows them to retain their power, so long as they retain the support of the other great power centers in America. Their power makes substantial reform difficult.

Who makes the news?

We can learn about our journalists from The American Journalist in the 21st Century: U.S. News People at the Dawn of a New Millennium, based on a 2002 survey.

Journalists place themselves on the political spectrum …

  • “Pretty far to the left”……09%.
  • “A little to the left”…………31%.
  • “Middle of the roaders”..33%.
  • “A little to the right”………20%.
  • “Pretty far to the right”….05%.
  • No answer……………………….02.%

Journalists share their political party affiliation. “Independent” tells us nothing these days; many are in fact straight party-line voters.

  • Republican……18%
  • Independent..32%.
  • Democrats……36%.
  • Other……………..11%
  • No answer…….03%.

These are aggregate results. They do not show how many of the conservative or Republican journalists work at local or national news media, or how many are cub reporters or senior reporters.

Ken Stern

A life making news in a leftist workplace

In an article at the New York PostKen Stern, long-time executive of NPR and then its CEO, explains how this works in practice.

“When you are liberal, and everyone else around you is as well, it is easy to fall into groupthink on what stories are important, what sources are legitimate and what the narrative of the day will be.

“This may seem like an unusual admission from someone who once ran NPR, but it is borne of recent experience. Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike. …

“It {a story about defensive gun use} is an amazing story, though far from unique, but you simply won’t find many like it in mainstream media (I found it on Reddit). It’s not that media is suppressing stories intentionally. It’s that these stories don’t reflect their interests and beliefs.

“It’s why my new friends in Youngstown, Ohio, and Pikeville, Ky., see media as hopelessly disconnected from their lives, and it is how the media has opened the door to charges of bias.”

See his book: Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right (2017).

Conclusions

Any reform of America’s institutions, by progressives or populists, requires gaining some access to the institutions by which America is run. The news media is high on that list. That means either gaining support of existing media firms or building their own — with sufficient credibility to reach outside their core believers to the large middle (who control America’s destiny).

It won’t be easy or quick. The first step has yet to be taken.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the about ways to reform America’s politicsabout propaganda, about journalism, and especially these…

  1. Describing the problem: Politics in modern America: A users’ guide for journalists and reformers.
  2. American politics is a fun parade of lies, for which we pay dearly.
  3. Ways to deal with those guilty of causing the fake news epidemic.
  4. The secret source of fake news. Its discovery will change America.
  5. A new year’s gift: two tools to help discover truth in the news.
  6. Trump brings the crisis in journalism to a flashpoint.
  7. See how journalists work as a pack to manipulate us.
Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right
Available at Amazon.

A journalists’ journey from left to right

Republican Like Me:
How I Left the Liberal Bubble
and Learned to Love the Right
.
By Ken Stern (2017).

From the publisher …

“In this controversial National Bestseller, the former CEO of NPR sets out for conservative America wondering why these people are so wrong about everything. It turns out, they aren’t.

“Ken Stern watched the increasing polarization of our country with growing concern. As a longtime partisan Democrat himself, he felt forced to acknowledge that his own views were too parochial, too absent of any exposure to the “other side.” In fact, his urban neighborhood is so liberal, he couldn’t find a single Republican–even by asking around.

“So for one year, he crossed the aisle to spend time listening, talking, and praying with Republicans of all stripes. With his mind open and his dial tuned to the right, he went to evangelical churches, shot a hog in Texas, stood in pit row at a NASCAR race, hung out at Tea Party meetings and sat in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. He also read up on conservative wonkery and consulted with the smartest people the right has to offer.

“What happens when a liberal sets out to look at issues from a conservative perspective? Some of his dearly cherished assumptions about the right slipped away. Republican Like Me reveals what lead him to change his mind, and his view of an increasingly polarized America.”

16 thoughts on “We can’t reform America without a new news media

  1. I’m glad that you led with “a hindrance to progressives.” Speaking as what I suppose would be termed a liberal, I don’t like it either, not least because it casts the one specific slice of “the middle” – the very one Ken Stern was visiting – as both “the only segment of the middle that exists” and, implicitly (and this one really gets my goat) the “real” America. Having lived in Texas for an extended period of time, I know there’s certainly a Texas demographic that corresponds to what Stern was hanging out with… but while they share aspects, they aren’t the same.

    There are multitudes in America but in practice it seems sometimes like if you aren’t in three to five surprisingly narrow slices, you might as well not exist.

    1. SF,

      “if you aren’t in three to five surprisingly narrow slices, you might as well not exist.”

      It’s important to understand the causes of this. I believe the primary one is the development of the super-rich 0.1%. They are a national ruling class, superseding the regional elites that ran American for the first two centuries. Power flows to the places they live — LA and NYC — and to their imperial city, Washington DC.

      This centralization affects everything. Certainly, as you note, the news and entertainment media. I saw it in Boy Scouts. The local (city, county) elites that ran it no longer have sufficient power or wealth, so the 0.1% run it. The local councils still exists, as puppet leaders.

      This has occured in other nations. London is Britain’s city. France is Paris.

    2. Yes, most of the slices I perceived were based in NYC or DC or somewhere in between – and I would explicitly note that this includes right-wing figures in the media, too. They may have kept or cultivated their accents but when you live the majority of your adult life somewhere, I think that means you’re “from” there.

      I don’t know what goes on in France, but I know that in Britain, the BBC (warts and all) includes material and information from other regions of the country. Here, if it’s not in the embryo of William Gibson’s Sprawl, or else either Los Angeles or a strip of deindustrialized terrain in the midwest, it might as well not exist if it didn’t get hit by a hurricane.

  2. “The first step has yet to be taken.”

    I disagree with this conclusion. I would state it as “The first step for synthesis has yet to be taken.”

    My opinion is based on several trends:

    The aging of America where newspapers as paper are becoming a thing of the past held in most areas by the wishes of the aging population, while younger generations are going to the net.

    TV and traditional Hollywood are being challenged by electronic media; Blogs such as this one and others; The rise of conversationalists such as Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson; The conflict of the antifas and groups like Proud Boys being podcast by each party for their own betterment; The rise of Fox and the pursuit of niche markets in TV; The accessibility of the net itself.

    My opinion is that the capital inertia of the older mediums of TV, Movies, and print is being bypassed by the net. The proof is the loss of revenues by the traditional media, and the money starting to go to entrepreneurs. It is based on the belief that one or two of these items would present a challenge to the traditional news stranglehold of the narrative. However, all these items show the direction it can head, and, most importantly work together to the new media’s advantage to the detriment of the traditional news’ ability to hold those strangle points.

    The loss of revenues is the telling feature: He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing. – Paul Atreides Dune by Frank Herbert

    This comment is my opinion: Opinions are like underwear, they should be changed often and washed thoroughly. (I always thought this was from Heinlein)

    1. John,

      I understand your points, but disagree on all points.

      (1) “The aging of America where newspapers as paper are becoming a thing of the past”

      That’s a negative, since local newspapers has much more ideological diversity than do the national media. Cities used to have two or more papers, with a range of political opinions. Now they have one paper and TV news, with pretty much one voice. They’re often owned by the same corp.

      (2) “Hollywood are being challenged by electronic media;”

      That’s missing the primary point of the article. Those are narrowcasting – each side speaking to their flock. None of those substantially reach, let alone influence, the large decisive middle.

      (3) “The accessibility of the net itself.”

      That was considered a hope in 1999. It’s more difficult to take seriously today. My guess is that the net has made us stupid.

      Consider the FM website. I thought it would be a place to discuss values, events on the fringe of our perceptions, and visions of the future. Most of the comments are about things that should be decided by 30 seconds with the Britannica or Wikipedia.

      (4) “The loss of revenues is the telling feature: He who can destroy a thing, controls a thing.”

      That’s the wrong quote. As the the artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman said in 1973, if you don’t pay for something you are not the customer – you are the product. Americans are unwilling to pay for what it costs to produce good news, so we get what large corporations want (they’re the ones that pay for it). The folks who pay for the news media control the media.

      That’s false on another level. Most Americans are happy with the new they consume, either the big middle news or the narrowcasts for the Left and Right. This fragmentation, keepping everyone in their ideological boxes, eliminates the big danger to our rulers: that Americans might discover their common interests.

    2. “That’s the wrong quote. As the the artists Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman said in 1973, if you don’t pay for something you are not the customer – you are the product. Americans are unwilling to pay for what it costs to produce good news, so we get what large corporations want (they’re the ones that pay for it). The folks who pay for the news media control the media.”

      Great quote to remember. That alone is enough to make me question my opinion.

      Still I am trying to look into the future and know that it is how the trends go and come together that will determine where it ends up. It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. Danish proverb.

    3. John,

      “That alone is enough to make me question my opinion.”

      Of course it isn’t. Which is my point.

      Of the 55,000+ comments here, many part of extended discussions, I’ve found only a few dozen people for whom facts make them re-consider their opinion. And fewer, perhaps none, who change their opinions.

      Note: I do so. Unfortunately, quite often (i.e., when I’m wrong). Some of these exchanges were so important I posted them on the “Fails and Smackdowns” page. The worst was when Oldskeptic corrected me, showing that social mobility in the US was low and falling.

    4. LK: ” “That alone is enough to make me question my opinion.”

      Of course it isn’t. Which is my point.”

      Larry good point.

      However, it is enough for me to question my opinion is because I was always taught to follow the money. And in my comment I was following the money, but not correctly. The quote Richard Serra and Carlota Fay Schoolman shows the trends do not necessarily connect with the argument I made.

      It may prove that these reasons I listed may prevail, but they are insufficient, IMO, as expressed.

  3. Until he had enough money, Jeff Bezos was unwilling to pay for the kind of media he wanted. If only we were all Jeff Bezos (but better looking), then we could afford to pay for the kind of media each of us wants.

    As for myself, I do a lot of reading from writers across the millenia, including some contemporaries. My conceptual view of the world is like no one else’s. For “news” I scan the web (including mainstream media representations on the web) from multiple parts of the world. Usually my best source of news comes from ancient philosophers or poets, who understood the contradictory nature of humans better than any modern progressive, populist, or regressive I have ever known.

    1. Longtrail,

      Yes, but journalists are neither robots nor slaves. They have broad (but not unlimited) discretion in what news they report, and how they do so.

  4. For the average Middle Class journalists, I would image life like this, my house price keeps going up, my take-away is more ethnically diverse and cheaper, the gardener is cheaper than ten years ago (guy was originally from deeper down South than my previous Mexican guy) and why can’t the poor whites just, like go back to school and do another degree. At work he has a demographic that buys the Newspaper and an editor that pressures him to write what sells.

    Journalist are paid by the word in most cases.

    1. Just a guy,

      The median personal income of a full time worker in the US is about $40 thousand. The average pay of a journalist is that, or a little less.

      “the gardener is cheaper than ten years ago”

      I doubt the average journalist can afford one. But I agree, that probably nicely expresses the view of a big-league journalist or editor.

      “and an editor that pressures him to write what sells.”

      That’s an important fact, usually ignored in discussions of the news: it’s a business. They write what pleases their advertisers and gets an audience. It’s a business, not an ideological propaganda bureau (that’s a secondary function).

      “Journalist are paid by the word in most cases.”

      I don’t believe that’s true.

  5. Yes the average journalist is a casual on low money, but a staffer is a good solid income often, Average Middle Class journalist was referring to these guys on the $75,000 +, I did not make that clear.

    I know a couple of journalists who are paid as casual writers, if they are showing off they are self-employed journalists and if they are truthful they are casual writers. Both are paid by the word for small articles and if it is on line they get a little for visits. These are Australia based, so could be totally different to US, I should have said that.

    My ex Father in Law was one such journalists and he got 50 +/- cents a word, for published stories, often in the 150 – 300 word range, as paper fillers. The newspaper a Murdoch local, had a far few casual writers who were given the task of going out to the small agricultural show or similar and doing a plus or minus 200 word story, the fee per word varied depending where it was put in the paper. I think I recall right hand side pages were read more than left and paid differently, not a great deal say 40 cents a word against 60 cents.

    Journalists are not always free agents in the Press now (if they ever were) and all media spend real money on understanding its demographic to better maximise marketing revenue. Therefore stories are written for a specific demographic. My ex Father in Law was a real leftie, but all his stories for the local right of centre newspaper took on a pro market stance, he used to call them his “prostitute stories”, he never agree with a word he wrote for that paper. He reveled in the fact he had a small loyal older pro-market following, who he said “his dry, nearly dead upper crust” punch line was then – “and it takes a lot of beer to deal with a dry crust!”.

  6. FM: Sorry I’ve been away with some fairly severe health issues over the last couple of months. Finally getting back into the swing of things.

    I’ve got to say, this and the next few columns are the best you’ve done in at least the last several years. WELL DONE!! Please keep up the GREAT work! Unfortunately I’m in somewhat dire financial circumstances currently due to my illness otherwise I’d donate at least $100, perhaps up to $1,000.

    “Of the 55,000+ comments here, many part of extended discussions, I’ve found only a few dozen people for whom facts make them re-consider their opinion. And fewer, perhaps none, who change their opinions.

    Note: I do so. Unfortunately, quite often (i.e., when I’m wrong). Some of these exchanges were so important I posted them on the “Fails and Smackdowns” page. The worst was when Oldskeptic corrected me, showing that social mobility in the US was low and falling.”

    FM, I just want to let you know that you have had a profound and extremely positive impact on my opinions. I’ve had to change quite a few since finding your site and am a better person for it.

    1. Pluto,

      I am glad to see you back in the comments! You have been missed.

      Thank you for your feedback, both positive and negative, over the years. Best wishes for a continued recovery!

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