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Friday, May 11, 2007

More meta: The first draft of history

Atrios weighs in on the meta-discussion that has been bouncing around the internet tubes, mostly as a result of Jonathan Chait's behind-a-subscription-wall opus at TNR. The following is something of a long excerpt for Eschaton, which tends towards brevity, but as usual Atrios boils things down to their essence in a post called "Bloggity Blog Part The First - The Media:"
The media system has long included players other than The Journalist. Political hacks get their time on CNN and are (often anonymous) sources for print journalists. Rush Limbaugh does election night analysis for NBC and goes on Katie Couric's show to do commentary. Journalists regularly mix it up with hacks and ideologues (usually conservatives) on the various roundtable programs.

Think tank "experts" with overt agendas fill the hours on NPR. Mark Halperin gets down on his needs to beg for Hugh Hewitt's approval. Pat Buchanan is on MSNBC constantly. And, of course, Matt Drudge Rules Their World. All of these players in tandem provide legitimacy to each other, and reinforce the notion to casual consumers that they are in effect all the same beast.

All of this was true before blogs, as was the existence 35 year conservative attack on mainstream media institutions. Still, there's something about blogs which really bothers them. There are various somewhat unrelated reasons for this I think.

One is general anxiety about their profession and a tendency to blame the Internet and blogs for those anxieties. Two is that it's perhaps easier to not listen to Rush Limbaugh than it is to ignore easily digested bits of text.

Three is that their existence degrades the value of punditry and the elite station of tenured pundits, which has long been the gold watch awarded at the end of a long career doing harder journalism.

Four is that they were used to hearing and internalizing the conservative critique of what they do, and they don't know how to react to a sustained critique from the left. Five is that since text is the medium it's more obviously similar to what they do so they feel the need to distinguish themselves somehow.
I think it's really kind of hard to explain to most folks just how much the conservative claim that "the media is biased toward liberalism" has been accepted in this country, and it's been going on for a very long time.

There's a joke in the netroots community that "facts are biased" (or, as Stephen Colbert said, "reality has a well known liberal bias") which is a shorthand way of pointing out how absurd the conservative claims of bias really are.

When conservatives get caught doing highly illegal, immoral and downright stupid things and are exposed in the press, it somehow becomes "liberal media bias." In this construct the bad things that have happened over the last 40 years or so are not the product of bad policy or deceitful conduct, but rather a gigantic conspiracy by liberal reporters and editors to cast Republicans in a bad light.

It's absurd, but millions of American truly believe this nonsense, and after decades of taking a pounding, the American media seemingly had neither the institutional fortitude nor capacity to elucidate much but pro-war opinions during the lie-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Things are changing somewhat, as the sheer disaster of our Iraq policy has for the moment pulled scales from many eyes in the country, but this isn't over. Limbaugh, O'Reilly, and the rest of the hate propagandists still command a following, and as conservatism continues to decline both in influence and popularity, their rhetoric will likely become even more bitter and ridiculous.

But those two are simply the circus clowns, sent out to keep the drooling base entertained while more "serious" Beltway commenters and journalists continue discussing haircuts and why Democrats and other dirty hippies are bad and need to adopt the policy positions of their opponents.

It's all really, really weird.

But what is the netroots? Why does it exist? It's people, that's what it is, mostly unpaid, and with many different backgrounds, perspectives and areas of expertise, who have decided that democracy itself has been under threat by an allegedly conservative movement, one that is actually a radical alliance between corporate power, extreme reactionaries and theocracy.

People can argue about how many elements of fascism are actually present, but it's kind of like trying to count cockroaches once you spot ten of them. You just want something done about it, fast.

American history is filled with progressive accomplishments. The New Deal was pioneered 75 years ago. The major civil rights laws were passed over 40 years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency was launched about 35 years ago.

We are the ones trying to build upon and improve upon basic concepts of human dignity, the rule of law and stewardship of the planet. The tradition of the Democratic Party, while imperfect (especially in the initial moments of the civil rights struggle), has broadly been to advance the standard of living, economic opportunity and equality of citizenship for all people.

The history of the Republican Party for the last eighty years or so has been, for the most part, to obtain power by dividing Americans along class and, more recently, racial and sexual orientation lines, because it has been the only way they can ever obtain power. McCarthyism was, in one sense, a temper tantrum at having been denied power for two decades.

Nixonism and Watergate, too, revealed the moral degeneration at the heart of conservatism, with its deep-seated bigotry and paranoid, illegal actions. And here we are, all these years later, and the same basic elements are still what define movement conservatism.

Yet some in the media treat that movement with a deference it does not deserve and a fealty better suited for a different century (say, the 12th.)

If journalism is the first draft of history, journalists better get it right. Reporting the downright atrocious policies and behavior of conservatives is not "bias," it's what journalism is supposed to be about.

It is not, for example, the fault of journalists that certain segments of the conservative movement harbor unrepentant racists and homophobes, and it's certainly not biased to report what they do.

It's a difficult job to be a journalist, or so I've heard, and heated elections and scalding rhetoric would seem to create a pressure-filled atmosphere at times. But there are many fine journalists out there, and the work that we find most interesting are the stories that go beyond the surface, and seek to create a meaningful, accurate picture of what is happening. Easier said than done, of course, but well worth the effort.

MORE: As if to prove the point, David Neiwert catches Lou Dobbs just making stuff up about immigrants.

And Atrios has posted Bloggity Blog Part the Second - The Vacuum.

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