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"Conventional Wisdom"

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There is no question that the news media in this country have gone astray. Some of the problem is that we are living in one epoch after another of rapid, disorienting change, and we need help figuring out how to land on our feet both personally and as a nation. We turn to people who make a business of reporting news for their opinions. Then we turn to people who make a livelihood issuing opinions when we believe that they are in close contact with news makers. Last night on Bill Moyers Journal something happened that frosted me considerably. In an interview with "mass communications expert" Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Bill asked her for what her take is on the "conventional wisdom" in the media about the presidential campaigns so far. What does this question really represent? Is there such a thing as "wisdom" based on following one or two candidates around and then watching the results of one caucus in one fairly abnormal state like Iowa? Hasn't our urge to learn the future, to feel out the expectations of the "learned," gone too far? The answer to Bill's question of Kathleen was interesting. She said that something pernicious was happening, the media were taking votes to be "rejections" of other candidates, rather than "preferences" for one. So we get back finally to the meaning of voting in this country and even old hands like Moyers find themselves reeling from the revelation that choice is discriminatory! In the program last night, both Bill and Kathleen managed to get through fifteen minutes of chat about the Democratic and Republican campaigns without once mentioning John Edwards, who, BTW, managed to get more caucus votes than did the presumptive national front-runner, Hillary Clinton. Were I not a Edwards fan I might not have noticed, but I am, and I was amazed at this little lesson in how the media (even the "trusted media") can control the political dialogue in this country. Now we are reading about the probable results of the New Hampshire primary vote next week. The opinion makers are telling us that if so-and-so wins big the campaign is essentially over and that so-and-so will prevail in the big states. What!??? My folks are from NH and I know something about the state. It is small, white, economically marginal, and decidedly unlike California, New York, Florida, Texas and in fact the other remaining 48 states in regional temperament. How can this piddling vote possibly describe the fortunes of candidates? The fact is that pundits are full of hubris caused by our constant appeal to them to prognosticate. And, they aren't very good at prognostication, but pretty good at disguising that fact! Then, with a century at least of this tradition, the media believe they have to prognosticate whether there is evidence for their thoughts or not. After all they are in competition with the guys over at the other network. "Analysis" becomes the game, the national pasttime, with carefully defined benchmarks for success and for failure to guess correctly. At the top of this pile of crap are the super-columnists, like Dowd, who can turn a phrase and sink a ship. Corporate media have an ax to grind. Insurance companies are scared to death of health-care reform. Pharmaceutical corporations are as well. The entire military-industrial complex is worried about sustaining war-level profits. The media are in bed with all of them, sometimes within their own family of companies. We would call it incest if it were obvious that Disney's connections with insurance companies set up the rejection of Kucinich on the forthcoming ABC "debate." So far Keith Olbermann has been able to keep his end of the bargain up. General Electric has a heavy hand, though, and I fully expect Keith to succumb to corporate pressure. He says no, but listen to the reportage on Obama, a man who has just hit a homerun in the top of the first. Keith knows that that run counts but is truly meaningless until five innings have been played. The lesson is that if there is "conventional wisdom" it is that you cannot trust the media. JB
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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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