It's not a new thought but it's worth saying - and repeating so we aren't taken by surprise - that while Barack Obama's election is (hopefully) going to mean major changes (like undoing the Bush Regression to the Robber Baron Era of the late 19th century) in a lot of areas, the major media doesn't have much intention of doing likewise. Glenn Greenwald pointed out this week that despite all the mea culpas over the lousy job they did covering the Bush Regime, NBC (owned by General Electric) has just replaced Tim "Government Stenographers R Us" Russert with David "Government Stenographers R Us" Gregory.
Several months before he was named as moderator of Meet the Press, David Gregory went on MSNBC to categorically reject Scott McClellan's accusations that the American media failed to scrutinize the Bush administration's pre-war claims. Gregory vigorously praised the job which he and his "journalistic" colleagues did in the run-up to the Iraq War -- the period which Salon's Gary Kamiya called "one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media." Proclaimed Gregory, with a straight face: "Questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the President. Not only those of us in the White House Press Corps did that, but others in the media landscape did that." Most revealingly of all, Gregory said:
I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role.
Indeed. Perish the thought that a reporter should point out when government officials are making "bogus" claims and are lying a country into a war.
(emphasis in the original)
The pendulum is swinging (has swung) back and investigative journalism is, sort of, in fashion once again but the Beltway pundits have signaled very clearly that the press had better not go too far with it because they, the self-appointed arbiters of what America thinks despite the glaringly obvious fact that they never listen to Anericans who don't live in Georgetown, have decreed that we're "tired of scandals" and don't want to know about any more of them. Unless, of course, they're Democratic scandals, in which case they deserve round-the-clock coverage and acres of speculation and innuendo based on ultraconservative wishful thinking and paranoia.
(1) Katie Couric's interview of Sarah Palin (CBS)
(2) McCain can't say how many homes he owns (Politico)
(3) Obama's "bitter" comment (Huffington Post)
(4) Sarah Palin's shopping spree (Politico)
- while ignoring little things like Cheney bragging about breaking electronic eavesropping laws, devising legal rationalizations to give Bush the (unConstitutional) powers of an absolute monarch (the "unitary president theory"), and, of course, being the first to make torture an American sport. These kinds of stories don't float their Babwa Wawa-inspired infotainment boat. You can't make bad jokes about how much fun it is to torture people and write cute headlines about govt corruption of the telecom industry, so they're just going to skip all that.
Or so the general feeling on the Left goes, and there's some truth in it. But what needs to be remembered and almost never is, is that there's less incompetence and LCD-sucking-up here than there is deliberate, conspiratorial intent. It simply isn't true that financial pressures forced the media to play more and more for the Lowest Common Denominator lunkhead. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the reason newspapers are doing so badly has less to do with the competition from other media than it does with the fact that aiming a product toward lunkheads that lunkheads don't want isn't a very smart business strategy.
Even in liberal metropolitan areas, newspapers have made editorial decisions to follow the Washington press corps' lead toward the right, despite the fact that their readership is really not on that page at all. The newspapers simply aren't aimed at ordinary readers, today, unless you count the coupons in the food section. Papers rarely acknowledge that the stability of jobs is at least as important as how well some rich guy's stock portfolio is doing, they treat all unions (even the teachers!) like a bunch of gangsters, and they don't even defend freedom of the press (unless it's Judy Miller) anymore. They're aimed at a constituency that is only a tiny part of the population, and people can get that free-to-air on AM radio all day long.
The reason for what I can only call "reverse niche marketing", that is, identifying your core market and then aiming your product away from it rather than toward it, which is what Avedon is talking about, is NOT incompetence or stupidity. It is the result of a plan developed at AEI and HF in the 70's, put into practice in the 80's - successfully - and perfected during the Clinton and Bush terms. It was a very deliberate, pragmatic assault on the whole concept of a "free press" with the intention of turning the nation's media into little more than a right-wing echo chamber (the Mighty Wurlitzer, I think Atrios called it) that existed to spit out conservative propaganda and fill the culture with circuses and distractions that kept us looking in the wrong direction while the country was being looted.
It wasn't even a complicated plan (Newt Gingrich came up with sizable portions of it and Newt isn't exactly a genius). Its two great virtues were simplicity and the identification of a potentially powerful and - more important - compliant target group: media owners.
Screw the editors, said Newt. They're all liberals anyway. Convince the owners that their papers aren't "balanced". Demand that reliable conservatives (most of whom, just by pure coincidence of course, were already employed by either HF or AEI) be given posts, columns, reportorial jobs in the name of "balance". Inundate the target media outlets with co-ordinated letter campaigns from so-called "citizens" who were actually members or for other reasons on AEI's and HF's extensive and exclusively conservative mailing lists, letters that - also by pure coincidence, I'm sure - also demanded "balance" and complained about the lack of conservative voices in the "liberal media".
These orchestrated campaigns were how the likes of Billy Kristol and Katheryn Jean Lopez et al suddenly found themselves on Op-Ed pages all over the country. This is how editors were, subtly and not-so-subtly, given to understand that the owners were unhappy with their papers' "balance" and that some more conservative views should be represented, which in turn is why editors slowly began the process of hiring more and more reporters who were happy to jot down whatever AEI or HF sources told them and write it up as if it were "news".
Of course it's more complicated than that and I don't have the time or space to go through it all here (one of these days I'm going to spend some time finishing "Why the News Media Sucks" and put the whole sorry saga down in detail), but the point we need to remember is that nothing about the way the Bushies and their Orwellian lies have been oh so softly treated by what was once a proud profession is accidental. It was done on purpose and to a plan and it isn't going to get turned around any time soon because all the attitudes and beliefs that brought the corporate press into existence as part of the Righ-Wing Noise Machine still rule the publisher's suites in most cities, certainly those of the national media, paper and electronic.
Obama or no Obama, nothing much is going to change until a countervailing Liberal pressure is exerted in such a way that owners feel they have no choice but to go with the flow. That can happen, but we need to do it and they need to feel the pinch before more than token moves to shut us up will take place.
Until then, expect more of the same crap and you won't be disappointed. Or wrong.