Sunday, March 13, 2005

Fixing the Media: One Reader's "Reality-based Community" is Another Reader's "Fence"

Liberality is not giving much, but giving wisely.--Poor Richard

Jay Rosen's discussion of how Bush is self-consciously "de-certifying the press" resonates strongly with Hunter's (at dKos) superb diary on "fencing," the Republican practice of discrediting candidates and media sources so a debate on issues can't even take place. Frames on issues don't even matter when opponents have their minds made up and aren't even interested in debating the issues (The treatment of Farenheit 9/11 is a good example. Rather than refuting it, perhaps a majority of Repubs simply refused to see it on principle.)

It's easy to say "read the bills, dig into the background, and tell us what they're not saying." Many bloggers already do this daily. The response from the other side is that they are "creating news." The response is the "fencing" maneuver that these unreliably Republican sources must be excluded from the acceptable stream of discussion (this is the Hugh Hewitt, Powerline, Thune-blog job description in a nutshell as a more media target-specific second layer beyond Rush Limbaugh).

In other words, for a large swathe of any readership, "simply reporting" as Jay and Scott call for is the definition of hostile liberal press activism. For this group, anything beyond Bush administration propaganda is defined as "making" rather than "reporting" news. The constant inability to communicate on the comments section to this great blog is a testament to how deeply held these mutually exclusive world views are.

Anyone have a clue about how to actually get broad public exposure to facts discovered from "read[ing] bills, dig[ging] into the background, and tel[ling] us what they're not saying"?

It happens routinely already (at dKos, Informed Comment, Talking Points Memo, Atrios, Indy-weblogs, and many other sites) and is just as routinely dismissed as partisan hackery, misrepresentation, or hatred. How do we get past the filter in the reading public for whom one reader's "reality-based community" is another reader's "fence" of decertification? At this point, the ideological aspect of decertification and legitimizing the social function of reporting cannot be separated from one another.

What would rebuilding trust in the press look like? Hugh Hewitt and Amy Goodman's views on how to reestablish trust would't agree on much. What would reestablish trust for Hewitt would even further degrade it in my eyes. Moving in the direction of Goodman would degrade it for all who are closer to Hewitt. For this very reason, we are in the process of instituting competing media universes. Is that the only solution?

Jay is trying to ask what might make the current system work better. He observes that Bush has made a move here toward decertification. Understanding this strategy does involve the realization that White House reporting has effectively stopped, but it also involves realizing that it has been effectively delegitimized in the eyes of many. Reviving the practice of actually reporting on the White House would add something we don't have under the current system, but it doesn't begin to address the consequences of a strategy that seeks to delegitimize the very act of posing questions to the Commander in Chief that stray from the party line. That defines reality with the party line.

How is it that the Bush Republicans continue to SIMULTANEOUSLY believe that Bush is not doing anything new AND that the press is getting what they deserve because they decertified themselves years ago? Does this refusal to think mean that rational discussion is simply impossible from here on out? What are the alternatives?