The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Most Americans prefer MSM to Fox

Even online, apparently. According to Nielsen, Fox News got fewer unique visitors to its site in January than the BBC!

The Baghdad Broadcasting Company kicks Murdoch's ass. About time the poor things got a win...

Now, one might add a couple of things by way of perspective:

First, numbers don't matter so much: arguably, what one has in Fox, the talkers and the bloggers is a revolutionary vanguard that actually benefits in terms of morale and cohesion from being a small minority. You can't get ideological purity within a Big Tent. And you have to share power with those you let into that Tent.

Second, in many crucial respects, the MSM has coopted itself to the Cause:
  1. the stenography that is the reality of objective journalism produces as an artefact of the newsgathering and publishing process coverage helpful to USG;

  2. MSM has a low pain threshold for assaults (coordinated by the VRWC, many of them, of course) by irate readers when it attacks USG policies or actions;

  3. a perception that supporting such policies or actions as a rule [1] is genuinely popular with most readers and viewers;

  4. beyond the natural desire for accommodate USG in the hope of getting scoops (a staple of press-government relations), the MSM wants to bypass the Bush Filter Bypass: treat 'em mean to keep 'em keen on an industrial scale. By operating a ca' canny on stories hostile to USG [2], not only does the MSM do its bidding, but it acts as if it is part of the Establishment it so desperately wants to rejoin [3];

  5. on (crucial) occasion, the media's own PR has demonstrated its own lack of self-confidence and willingness to cave in to pressure (Rathergate being the most notable example). The pajamahadeen and Fox can only do so much: for CBS to have collapsed so easily, it must have been rotten to begin with. Risk-averse holding company suits will have taken note. Safety First is bound to be the order of the day.

A one-dimensional model may adequately explain ideological position in the Congress [4], but ideology in the news media seems much more complicated. Understanding the matter comes glacially slowly to your humble blogger, at least...

  1. Americans, asked whether or not they tend to trust their government answered No by about 2:1 - a January 2005 Harris poll.

    But there's a big difference between distrusting the government and wanting to have its misdeeds anatomised in front of you as you eat your breakfast.

    I suspect that there are all kinds of psychological tricks at work here in the same family as cognitive dissonance:

    1. people (I hypothesise) want to trust their government despite all evidence to the contrary;

    2. they blame the messenger even if his message is backed up by overwhelmingly probative evidence;

    3. their paradigms (I'm thinking of a wide swathe of moderate opinion) hark back to an ahistorical version of FDR saving the nation from the Depression and the Japs, Fireside Chat-ing, unifying the country, forming the Greatest Generation - all that bollocks.

    These people (most of them) know that government isn't like that now (some even know it wasn't like that then, either); but they'd like to think that at least some of it is true, especially given the shock of 9/11 (which is, I think, genuinely exceptional - and no less so for being very hard for Europeans to empathise with).

  2. Famously, CBS agreed to sit on the Abu Ghraib scandal that otherwise it would have splashed in 60 Minutes.

  3. There is a great deal of ahistorical bollocks talked, in discussions on Bush and the media, about the treatment the media was accorded by previously presidents. (I have some material on this, to which I hope to come back.)

    The Cliff Notes version: way back when (Wilson to Johnson, say), Washington journos were generally so cringing and supine that no rough stuff was needed from the White House to keep them in line.

    For instance, it's well known that a large segment of the press (going well beyond Colonel Robert McCormick's Chicago Tribune) hated Franklin Roosevelt's guts. So why weren't photos of him in that damned wheelchair splashed over every day's front page?

  4. The second DW-NOMINATE dimension is deeply unsatisfactory - I've seen no cogent explanation, that I can understand.

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