Jay Rosen offers a cogent rethinking of the ageless debate regarding the ideology of the press. The left says its beholden to corporate interests while the right says its influenced heavily by the supermajority of liberals who practice journalism. Rosen makes some great points in arguing that the problem with the press transcends these two camps.
Rosen points to The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank as an epitome of the undefinable press ideology. Milbank recently boasted that leftists and rightists disdain him equally — a trait that I’ve heard many journalists tout as evidence that they’re practicing “objective” journalism.
The man is simply compelled to tell the truth no matter who’s offended by it, so he is popular with neither side— and of course there are always and only two. But in order to keep up this image (for that’s exactly what it is, an image, similar to John McCain’s brand as a “maverick”) Milbank must continually locate “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,” as that bouncy song from the 70s put it.
What this means ideologically is that the people with political sense in press treatment will usually be the moderates, mavericks and “pragmatists,” a word that in political journalism has almost no content beyond, “opposite of true believer… ideologically flexible… not a purist.”
That certainly appears to be the case. Right now, for instance, the press narrative seems to be “look at how all the moderates are getting pushed out of politics.” Perhaps this is reality — or maybe something else is happening. Maybe a return to the partisan press would help alleviate the journalistic desire to view everything from the middle.
Rosen then goes on to define five terms that paint a picture of the ideology of today’s journalist. He calls the first “The Church of the Savvy”:
Prohibited from joining in political struggles, dedicated to observing what is, regardless of whether it ought to be, the savvy believe that these disciplines afford them a special view of the arena, cured of excess sentiment, useless passon, ideological certitude and other defects of vision that players in the system routinely exhibit. As I wrote on Twitter the other day, “the savvy don’t say: I have a better argument than you… They say: I am closer to reality than you. And more mature.”
Now in order for this belief system to operate effectively, it has to continually position the journalist and his or her observations not as right where others are wrong, or virtuous where others are corrupt, or visionary where others are short-sighted, but as practical, hardheaded, unsentimental, and shrewd where others are didactic, ideological, and dreamy. This is part of what’s so insidious about press savviness: it tries to hog realism to itself.
Yes. I’ve seen this as well. I’d call it smarm.
Read this rest — he makes some other on-target criticisms. I buy all of it. But that doesn’t mean journalists aren’t, at times, beholden to corporate interests or influenced by the liberal ideology of their membership.