Friday, April 18, 2008

American "journalism": it's worse than you think

It's not uncommon for people of all political stripes to complain about general media bias (ie, that it's not biased far enough their way) or complain that the media doesn't cover the issues that are really important (ie, the issues that they want to see covered). But I still think something is badly wrong when an American opinion columnist named David Brooks baldly declares that:
The journalist’s job is to make politicians uncomfortable, to explore evasions, contradictions and vulnerabilities.

And here was I thinking that the journalist's job was to report the truth about issues of importance to the public. That's the role that the Fourth Estate plays in a free society, isn't it? But no, the American mediocracy have just openly stated that they see their job as nothing more than creating cheap and tawdry political theatre for the sake of...actually, the why of it isn't even explained. "Making politicians uncomfortable" has become an end in itself.

To their credit, many of the commenters on Brooks' self-serving defence of the undeserved position of privilege occupied by himself and his drinking buddies (buddies who include Presidential candidate John McCain, incidentally) have recognised the severe problem with Brooks' self-perception of what it is he is supposed to do. Most of them aren't quite as alarmed about it as I am, though.

A free media is a vital institution for a liberal democracy. The media needs to hold the government of the day accountable, by all means. Is it only just in the past few years that people are asking whose been holding the media accountable?

It seems so, and the answer seems fairly clear: nobody has. Brooks' redefinition of the journalist's job into one that has no actual point - ribbing politicians just for the sake of ribbing politicians - is proof of that. I'm sorry, but isn't that territory already covered by the Daily Show? On a comedy channel? Why do we need journalists wasting their time doing the same thing, only in a way that's not funny?

From the outside looking in, it seems to me that the American media has become a power unto itself, with no loyalty to the people whose interests they supposedly represent. That is a dangerous situation. I would even go so far as to say it is a threat to freedom. Hyperbole? Maybe. But I think it's important to see the American mediocracy subjected to the same accountability that we would expect to be applied to anyone in a free society who is granted the responsibility of power over others. And in the Information Age, the people who control what is and isn't "newsworthy" and "important to viewers" have a LOT of power over others, so their requirements for accountability should be especially high.

I just wish I knew how to go about implementing that accountability in a meaningful way.


janna said...

I found your blog from the post you left on mtsiparents. Interesting post and very interesting blog - your comments are worthy (more than worthy! spot on!) of syndication in our papers!

Am curious as to how you found the mtsiparents blog...

Z said...

Hey, janna, thanks for the compliment. :)

I found the mtsiparents blog from a google search looking for Reverend Ken Hutcherson. I think it was just after the incident at the school assembly. Some of the issues I follow are fairly prominent at mt Si High - homosexuality, Day of Silence, free speech - so I've decided to follow the mtsiparents blog, despite being located half way around the world. Hope I'm not intruding.