Friday, February 20, 2009

The War Of Ideas

I ran across an interesting article from Robert Parry that offers a general history of the rise of the right-wing media infrastructure.

It certainly explains why those of us on the left say the media is not liberal, and hasn’t been for a long time. And he closes with a warning:
In the next year, there could be a surge of shuttered newspapers and others teetering on bankruptcy, including such important regional papers as the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News. Even the strongest papers are likely to survive only in a much reduced form, with fewer reporters and bureaus.

Some critics may feel that the MSM brought this fate down on itself by betraying its responsibility to inform the American people as fully and fairly as possible. There may even be a sense of schadenfreude, the German word for deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.

But there also should be alarm bells going off among American progressives and liberals. As the MSM declines, the right-wing media is likely to grow even more powerful.

The media is certainly changing and with the economy in the toilet, ad revenue is going to plummet even further. Newspapers depend on big advertisers like car dealerships and department store chains like Macy’s, neither of which are doing well in this climate.

But I’m not sure I agree with Parry’s conclusion that right-wing media will fill the void. For one thing, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is bleeding money right along with the rest of them; his overseas holdings like Sky Network are also hurting financially. The Moonie-owned Washington Times has never been profitable. Bad times have hit all sectors of the media, regardless of political ideology.

Furthermore, I still think people are tired of the partisan sniping. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think the average American really has the stomach for more Bill O’Reilly/Rush Limbaugh-style bloviating. Certainly there will always be a segment of the population that enjoys that stuff, but I think it will always be a minority.

As daily newspapers decline and the internet grows in influence, we’ve seen the appearance of a new model, an internet-newspaper hybrid embodied by Politico. Politico, like Drudge, thrives on Washington gossip and tawdry “gotcha” items that ricochet, rapid-fire, around the blogs and cable news: Sarah Palin’s six-figure wardrobe, Obama’s “association” with a 60s radical, and the like.

This is “politics-light,” not policy. It focuses on the cult of celebrity that surrounds certain political figures but seldom addresses any topics of real substance. These stories rarely affect the daily lives of most Americans, but it’s a lot more interesting to cover non-stories like the phony battle between Obama and Rush or an entirely media-generated controversy over a political cartoon than look at the differing approaches to solving our economic crisis.

I’ve long said that a focus on tabloid-style gossip is the real reason for Fox News’ success. Right-wing ideology is just the icing on the cake at Fox; if you’ve ever watched Fox News you’d know that the majority of their broadcasts focus on silly celebrity tales and "man bites dog" stories pulled from the Enquirer. Sure people would rather focus on performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball than wonder why a secular dictator in Iraq who had collaborated with the United States named Saddam Hussein would ever fall in with an anti-American religious fundamentalist like Osama bin Laden. They just know we were attacked by some Muslims from that part of the world “over there”, and hey, Iraq or Saudi Arabia, what’s the difference? Isn’t it all the same? And oh look, shiny-sparkly Brangelina thingie over there.

The stupid still rules over at cable news. What's interesting is that the mainstream media’s focus on the trivial at the expense of the substantive seems to be guiding even new media models like Politico. To me this is the real threat. We can fight the right-wing media machine. It’s far more difficult to fight the stupid and the lazy.

(h/t, ThresherK in comments)