UPDATE: Joshua Holland responds to critique

Posted by JOHN STARK on October 2, 2013 

UPDATE:  Joshua Holland has favored us with an extended response to my blog post yesterday, and several others have jumped into the fray. Scroll down to the comments and have at it.

Also: I neglected to put my byline on this yesterday. Operator error. I don't do anonymous posts on purpose. :-)

This essay from Joshua Holland, on Bill Moyers' website, has been getting rave reviews from many of my Facebook friends in the last couple of days.

Key excerpt:

"Beltway reporters who see their professed neutrality as a higher ground bear an enormous amount of responsibility for encouraging this perversion of democratic governance. With a few notable exceptions, the media have framed what Jonathan Chait called “a kind of quasi-impeachment” in typical he said-she said fashion, obscuring the fact that the basic norms that govern Congress have been thrown out the window by a small cabal of tea party-endorsed legislators from overwhelmingly Republican districts. The media treat unprecedented legislative extortion as typical partisan negotiations, and in doing so they normalize it."

This is what I call the "If only the press would tell the truth, everything would be better" fallacy.

Who would deny that reporters could do a better job? Who would deny that our performance as of 2013 has been degraded by the thinning of our ranks? Who would deny that  our performance has a real impact on public opinion and the effectiveness of government?

But how great is that impact? 

Random observations:

--"The press" is more diverse now than at any time in human history. People can and do find information sources that reflect their biases. (Conservatives aren't the only ones who do this, BTW)

--Even when sources of news were far less diverse than today, there was a strong right-wing conservative faction in this country that persisted in its worldview despite lack of reinforcement in the local newspaper or CBS News. One example: In 1964, George Wallace got about one-third of the vote in the Wisconsin DEMOCRATIC primary, and almost that much in Indiana, despite (because of?) unflattering mainstream press emphasis on his segregationist credentials. Wallace carried five southern states as a third-party candidate in 1968. Here's Wikipedia on Wallace. 

--People confronted with facts and  arguments that contradict their beliefs are going to discount those facts and arguments. To me this is obvious, but if you need to see some research that pretty much proves it, here ya go, via alternet. 

--Progressives like Holland or Bill Moyers see the mainstream press as too passive in the face of the current right-wing uprising in the House. Extreme conservatives are equally convinced that everyone in America would demand Obama's impeachment if the mainstream media told the truth about Obamacare, Benghazi, you name it. As they see it, Obama is the one conducting an "unprecedented" assault on everything they cherish.

--That "small cabal" of legislators from "overwhelmingly-Republican districts" are keeping the promises they made to their constituents on the 2012 campaign trail.

--This is hardly the first time in American history that a minority of legislators has managed to thwart the majority. In the past, this was more likely to occur in the Senate, which was deliberately designed to give disproportionate influence to smaller states. For a good 20th Century example, read Robert Caro's spellbinding "Master of the Senate,"  which is the third volume of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson.

--The "professed neutrality" of mainstream reporters (like yours truly) is not "higher ground." It's a business plan. A daily newspaper or a network newscast is trying to appeal to as many potential customers as possible. That means we try to treat widely varying political viewpoints with respect, while still reporting facts that may be inconvenient to some political faction.

A person gets his or her worldview from life experiences, not from anything read in a newspaper or a website. Your belief that we in the news media are to blame for the state of public opinion is touching but wrong, although I doubt I can convince you to change your mind.

Please share your own thoughts--as always.

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