Reviews | Obama is wrong about the media
Yet Obama is operating from a mistaken assumption – that if only the media were more uniform and we had “a common set of facts,” our politics wouldn’t be so divided.
This sets him back. What we have in our politics is a disagreement on values and philosophical premises, from which factual disputes arise, rather than a consensus on first principles that is marred by disputes on niggling factual issues.
If only we could agree on what constitutes a fetal heartbeat, this abortion issue could be settled once and for all. is something that no rational person has ever thought or said.
Venomous arguments over the basis of contentious issues – or, as Obama puts it, “divided conversation” – are not something new in American history. We disagreed about what was happening in Bleeding Kansas, or in the early years of the Soviet Union (New York Times journalist Walter Duranty infamously won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting downplaying Stalin’s brutality), or during the Vietnam War.
To take up a controversy from the latter, was the Tet offensive a victory or a defeat for the Viet Cong? This is a pretty basic question on which people have differed since the beginning. CBS News put the thumbs up with anchor Walter Cronkite saying in the aftermath: “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of American leaders, both in Vietnam and in Washington, to have confidence in the stunt doubles any longer. silver they find in the darkest clouds. His view was that “we are mired in an impasse that can only be resolved through negotiation, not victory”.
Whether he was right or not, he wasn’t just relaying facts.
So yes, the media environment was a source of cohesion, at least compared to today, but at the cost of giving inordinate power to three people who turned out to be the lottery of life and became anchors network, and their support staff of writers, producers and journalists. Newscasters were known as the “voices of God” for their ability to read from a teleprompter fluently and convincingly, not a quality that should have conferred such authority.
By the way, the amount of cohesion they actually brought shouldn’t be overstated.
Although the network triopoly is still in full swing, the 1960s and 1970s were the most intense period of political and social turmoil we have seen in the United States in recent memory. Burned cities. Political figures have been assassinated. Mass protests filled the streets. Domestic terrorists regularly detonate bombs.
Harry Reasoner couldn’t stem the tide.
Not that Obama is proposing that, but it’s worth thinking about what it would mean to go back to something like the old media environment. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram would disappear. No more YouTube or Substack. Forget the middle. Cable news? Gone. Countless new media organizations on the Internet, with varying interests, ideologies, and business models, would disappear. Podcasts would bite the dust.
No, it would be back to three entities with the overwhelming power to report and define the news, and – if we are truly to replicate the post-WWII era – basically the same worldview.
Who could want that? I disagree with Rachel Maddow. I think she cycled ridiculous conspiracy theories during the Trump-Russia investigation and is a venomous partisan. Yet it would never occur to me that the existence of such a spectacle, as such, is bad for America; different opinions, especially when expressed sincerely and intelligently, GOOD for America.
To apply this point to newspapers, we have five big ones in the United States: the the wall street journalTHE New York TimesTHE Washington Post, USA today and the Los Angeles Times. Would it be better for our cohesion if we only had one?
However, there is an advantage to having fewer sources of information if they reflect your point of view. Even if Obama doesn’t explicitly or consciously think in those terms, that’s really what he means.
He uses gun control as an example of an issue where we, if we had a similar factual framework, we could have a better debate. He cites higher levels of gun violence in the United States than in other countries as a predicate that we should all accept, but that fact is not really disputed.
His use of firearms as an example of the lack of common information is telling, but not in the way he envisions. It gives no indication of any awareness of how gun control proponents often believe gun myths and propagate them, in fact they often have no idea what they are talking about on basic issues.
They tend to believe AR-15s are more powerful than other rifles when the opposite is true, and believe they fire faster than handguns when they don’t. These advocates show no awareness that guns of all types represent only a tiny proportion of gun violence. They rail against the “gun show loophole,” when people who buy guns at gun shows have to pass background checks. They regret that people can buy guns on the internet without background checks, when that is not the case either. And so on.
If all the media in the country stuck to what gun control activists believe to be the truth, and there were no conservative media and gun publications, accounts Twitter and sub-piles to push back, the public would be extremely underserved. As it stands, most mainstream media either share these misconceptions or don’t push them away.
If groupthink is still a problem today, imagine how bad it was and how powerful it would be if we had less media rather than more. This brings us to the heart of the matter.
We need to realize that a relatively small group of people will inevitably not have the knowledge and judgment to answer all or even most of the big questions, and it’s all best to be argued and debated in a chaotic media ecosystem. and permeable with all sorts of different formats and voices.
There can be many legitimate reasons for insomnia in contemporary America – that we are no longer so limited in our sources of information and constrained in our media choices should not be one of them.