Saturday, June 11, 2005

When I'm Reporting, I'm a Citizen of K Street: Response to Jay Rosen, "When I Report, I'm a Citizen of the World"

I found this little tour through Franken's press think mildly fascinating (especially the "citizen of the world" part) and also timely for things I am trying to discern at PressThink. In my last post on Watergate as "newsroom religion," I described part of it:

In the daily religion of the news tribe, ordinary believers do not call themselves believers. (In fact, "true believer" is a casting out term in journalism, an insult.) The Skeptics. That's who journalists say they are. Of course, they know they believe things in common with their fellow skeptics on the press bus. It's important to keep this complication in mind: Not that journalists are so skeptical as a rule, but that they will try to stand in relation to you as The Skeptic does.

Bob Franken is saying, "I stand in relation to the U.S. military as skeptic does to unproven claim." Attempts to question him about the exclusivity of this stance, other possible stances, or situations where "skeptic" doesn't apply will raise fundamental problems of belief and professional identity that are, in fact, untreatable within newsroom religion or CNN's professional code.

Thus, a perfectly valid line of inquiry, "how does a citizen-of-the-world philosophy interpret the case of Danny Pearl?" (along with "You are American, Bob") brings out in Franken a mild form of hysteria: "I think your employers at the New York Times would be horrified, horrified! to hear you say a thing like that."

My Response:

Where might we find professional journalists actually practicing this religion? Shouldn't that question be at the forefront of thinking through this critique of the press religion: We know journalists CLAIM they practice this relgion, but is this a religion that actually informs their PRACTICE of journalism? Can a reporter practice this religion and even keep a job anymore? Most of the journalism I read is White house pimping or distraction with human interest trivia. Is the "view from nowhere" why they and especially their editors make White House pimping and distraction job #1?

Challenging the view from nowhere strikes me as an attack on the Christian's belief system after they've been thrown into the Forum and the lions have been set loose. Nobody roots for the Christians anymore, that's why watching them get eaten by lions is a regularly scheduled spectator sport (Fox news, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.). This post effectively says, "And it's time you get over that crazy Christianity stuff, too!" as the lion licks its chops and gulps them down.

American news media is unquestionably one of the most parochial, narrow-minded news media systems on earth (They certainly fall short of Britain, France, Germany, and Japan in range of widely disseminated opinion). The idea that the most serious problem facing it is detachment from the US boggles the mind. We might have something here if we could explain how the view from nowhere could be the ideology of covering kidnapped white women, Michael Jackson, and the daily White House lie without qualification or discomfort. If they we eliminate the view from nowhere, will any of that stuff diminish? Is the view from nowhere really problem number one for the most parochial press corps on earth?

How about CNN's recent experiment running CNN international for an hour a day in the US? For my money, that addressed 80% of what's wrong with the pablum that passes for news in the US. Columbia Journalism Review recently ran a very shrewd piece on the shock of seeing actual international news on CNN. If international news is such a shock to the US viewer's system, what does that say for your "view from nowhere is the dogma that is dragging down contemporary US journalism" thesis? Are they compatible? If so, how?

For whatever reason, the broadcasts shockingly included just the kind of facts about the international news that CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN, and FOX routinely screen out of "news" coverage. They reported international events, names, dates, occurences, places, competing factions, etc. Did those shows reflect the view from nowhere? If not, why not? If they did, SIGN ME UP!

I would like to occasionally hear some real news broadcast or written from the USA outside of Democracy Now! One of the reasons Bush's ludicrous lies about Iraq went on unchallenged for so long is that Americans didn't know enough simple social studies facts about the Middle East to realize half of what he was saying was logically impossible (Zarqawi was being supported by Saddam when Ansar al Islam was located in the no-fly zone controlled by the US and Britain. Patently false Bush/Limbaugh disinformation given a minimal news literacy of the region.) Is the "view from nowhere" why most Americans don't even know the names of the leaders and major religions of the countries we bomb or get in 'realpolitik' bed with?

What bias would I promote?
The media would have to start reporting actual news before bias in the news can even come up for discussion. In a hypothetical world where that happened, I would call for a bias close to what Democracy Now! regularly uses. The US government and the White House have no trouble getting their views expressed. Even the pretense of democracy requires context, history, and news literacy that unembarassedly calls out geographically impossible disinformation in the first news cycle for what it is.

Current US news practice is the media equivalent of Sensenbrenner's gavel to stop congressional testimony if it suggests there might be problems with the Patriot Act. Is it the "view from nowhere" that brings down the gavel on opposing viewpoints in US newsrooms and network nearly everyday? Is the "view from nowhere" what puts the Downing Street Memo on p.A18, while Judith Miller's lies were consistently pg.1 and the retractions p.A18?

Question #1: Is there any treatment for "the view from nowhere" that doesn't make the world's most parochial news media EVEN MORE parochial?

Question #2: If I were to name a religion the press suffered from in terms of what they actually do, rather than what they SAY they do, it would be the "view from K Street." On this view, my editors and I will report stories that don't cause problems for investors and business ("controversy") or interfere with pro-media legislation we have pending. It is this sort of logic that leads CBS to turn down advertising from open-minded Christians but accept it from gay-bashing right-wing Christians. How might we begin to imagine a cure for "When I Report, I'm a Citizen of K Street"?

While it is difficult for me to connect the view from nowhere to journalism as it is practiced, it is extremely easy for me to connect Jay Rosen's contention that the "view from nowhere" is a religion to the contemporary political landscape: The founding premise of Leo Strauss, deacon of neo-conservatism and Powerline's beloved Claremont Institute, is that the Enlightenment is simply another religion in secular humanist clothing. In fact, while Strauss defends the necessity of orthodox religious practice as necessary to the fabric of a healthy society, he condemns the Enlightenment as everything the Enlightenment says traditional religion is: dogmatic, close-minded, uncritical, rigid, authoritarian, tyrannical, and worst of all hypocritical. After all, it claims to be releasing us from dogma and here it is a dogma. Better we should stick to dogmas that speak in their name. Sound familiar?

"Strauss's reconstruction of the dialectic of Enlightenment suggests that the attempt to give a rational foundation of ethics is itself irrational, is based on an act of faith in human self-assertion. Strauss's conclusion is that the Enlightenment, understood as the project to give a rational foundation to ethics, is from the start set against itself, set against the project of opposing reason to faith, science to prejudice: the Enlightenment is always already a Counter-Enlightenment. Conversely, there is more authentic enlightenment in the Counter-Enlightenment opponents of the Enlightenment project than in its defenders."
Miguel Vatter, "Strauss and Schmitt as Readers of Hobbes and Spinoza," p.180

Strauss and Rosen also disagree: Strauss thinks all ethics must be grounded in natural law and therefore be universal or nihilistic. Rosen seems to think particularized association with your country of citizenship is a prerequisite for a meaningful discussion of ethics and morality.

As Garth Brooks says, "I'm Looking for love in all the wrong places..."