Monday, February 14, 2005

The Media Wars Howl - Common Ground in the Culture Wars

Not a day passes in Left Blogistan when I don't read the phrase, "We can't find common ground with neocons / wingnuts / fuckwits who are so far removed from our progressive values." As a general rule, I would agree with this statement (on a cultural level), but there's one thing the wingnuts and moonbats can agree on: we both hate the MSM.

Now, don't get me wrong. For years and years, the wingnuts have been screaming "liberal media", even when it's crystal clear to the most casual observer that MSM slants have tracked significantly to the right with percieved cultural shifts in the past 20 years. Those of us on the left have screamed, with little effect, that the MSM has become a latter day version of Pravda, and it simply regurgitates the latest TASS-style press releases from the White House Communications Office. But in our residing at opposite poles of the "values fight", the common ground of hating on the SCLM / MSM has emerged.

I'm going to take you someplace that you might not otherwise travel to: Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine. Jarvis resides well to the right of anyone who frequents ASZ, but a posting directed as an open letter to the NY Times is quite en pointe (if written from a "righty" perspective). With the emergence of blogs as a rapid response and investigative vehicle on both the left and right, the MSM is left reacting to stories such as Eason Jordan or Gannon / Guckert. And that's not ultimately good.

Regardless of the reach of bloggers such as Kos or Glenn Reynolds, at the end of the day, both are reaching primarily a dedicated cadre of footsoldiers on their own side of the aisle. There is a very real need, and perhaps always will be, for traditional media to straddle the fence that exists between the two sides. Where Jarvis and others on the right seem to miss the bigger picture (in my own view, of course), is that news reporting is supposed to be about facts, wherever the facts fall.

For example, over the weekend I listened to several news reports on KYW (my local all-news station) regarding the selection of Howard Dean as DNC Chairman. Leading off a radio news report about his selection with the "Dean scream" is not reporting the facts - it's prejudicing the story before the words to the story even follow.

Now, if KYW wanted to run an on-air editorial (which they do, on occasion), incorporating the "Dean scream" into the editorial or commentary piece is fair game. Where it becomes "slant" is when the scream becomes an integral part of hard news reporting itself.

So, it occurs to me that there is some common ground between the wingnuts and moonbats. In fact, I think Jarvis recognizes this (in a manner of speaking, anyway), and proposes the following to Bill Keller of the NY Times:

So let's get some Times journalists and citizen journalists together in a room.

The agenda is quite simple:

1. Let's spend a few hours letting each group vent at the other to get over it.

2. Then let's explore our common interests -- quite simply, informing the public, acting as the people's watch on authority, getting to the truth, and creating a better-informed democracy.

3. Finally, let's investigate the ways that citizens' media and professional media can help each other find stories and find the truth and listen to the public and extend the eyes and ears of The Times and its journalists in ways never possible before.
If we do this right, the reporters and the bloggers will learn that the "other side" is not another side at all; this isn't about monoliths and mobs but about good people trying hard to do the right thing. Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson spent a few days at Harvard in a room with bloggers and didn't seem to come off any worse for the wear; I think she and the bloggers came away, instead, with better understanding and respect.

The thing is, folks like me on the left don't want folks like Jeff Jarvis on the right dictating the terms and conditions. We have a common complaint, but what I don't want to see is a strictly wingnut solution to the problem. There is a need for the MSM to recognize the emergence of open source media, and we all need to find a way to play a role.

So, I'll let Jarvis' invitation stand as written for the moment. I'll wait and see if anything comes from it, and look to see who's on the invitation list.

Again, we're miles, nay, lightyears removed in cultural and political views. But if both the moonbats and wingnuts can agree on anything at all, forcing a dialog with the fourth estate is as good a place as any to start, as long as the deck isn't stacked one way or the other going in.

(PS - while you're at BuzzMachine, take a look at the comments on Jarvis' article.)