Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Mandating News Standards?

Would it be possible for the federal government to formulate a set of standards -- like the ones which protect consumers from fraudulent "organic" produce or phony "non-fat" foods -- which should be met for a media program to identify itself as "news," as opposed to entertainment or editorial?

Given the tendency to safe stenography, the preference for photogenic spokesmodels over journalists, the anxious coddling of inside "sources," the fetish for "balance" among claims rather than fact checking, the greater profitability of drama over sense, the inherent sensationalism of the leading question, the splashy headline, the scrolling reductive text, and the straightjacketing of conversation into sound-bites it is probable that even the imposition of real standards could still be easily circumvented by those who sought to peddle or re-package a particular political perspective.

And it pays to remember that for years now among the best informed members of our public have been viewers of news-parody programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, which take up the worst of the hyperbolic and mis-informational tropes and forms on offer and yet manage (at their best) to turn them into occasions for education, provocation, and critical thinking.

I suspect that the distinction between description and prescription, between information and mis-information is always sufficiently fraught that any effort forcefully to demarcate them will threaten the collaborative and contestatory substance of the public scene in which the clash of published opinions and presented evidences yields description, information, facts, accounts as such.

Still, the levels of ignorance and flabbergasting falsehood in evidence among so many self-identified Republicans clearly needs to be addressed. I am less confident than I once was that the widespread linking norms typical in online commentary -- discussed very cogently by Yochai Benkler, among others -- are providing a critical check on mass-mediated and p2p-networked subcultural canalizations of rhetoric that cash out in uncritical self-deceptions, widely held conspiracies, destructive bubbles and panics, vulnerabilities to charlatans and cults and marketing frauds, and politics held in the grip of paranoid fever dreams.

Maybe all of this is little more than the legacy of the multi-generational assault of right-wing politics on our public education system. But it is also true that the pace at which good government works differs from the pace at which the sweeps and surges of imagination and passion suffuse media -- and we have to devise ways to insulate legislation and regulation and administration responding to the vicissitudes of these passions rather than to best outcomes defined by the warranted consensus facts of the matter and by the value of equity-in-diversity.


jimf said...

> . . .politics held in the grip of paranoid fever dreams. . .

Speaking of paranoia:
"All three tycoons [Rupert Murdoch, and brothers David and
Charles Koch, 'the sugar daddies who are bankrolling the
Tea Party'] are the latest incarnation of what the historian
Kim Phillips-Fein labeled 'Invisible Hands' in her prescient 2009
book of that title: those corporate players who have financed
the far right ever since the du Pont brothers spawned the
American Liberty League in 1934 to bring down F.D.R. You can draw
a straight line from the Liberty League’s crusade against the
New Deal 'socialism' of Social Security, the Securities and
Exchange Commission and child labor laws to the John Birch
Society-Barry Goldwater assault on J.F.K. and Medicare to
the Koch-Murdoch-backed juggernaut against our 'socialist'

Dale Carrico said...

I highly recommend Invisible Hands -- when I was preparing my course last spring on market ideology in post-New Deal USA (Altars and Alters to the Market) that book was enormously helpful to me, as was Harvey's Brief History of Neoliberalism, Perlstein's Nixonland, and Solomon's Made Love, Got War, none of which were assigned in the course, but provided a banister for the overall navigation of the course for me.