Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Heart of Their Culture

Bob Somerby has never lost sight of the violence the media inflicts on our public life with its deeply disturbed game of "Who's in the club today?"

Alone among the political bloggers, he has no wish to be a member of the Village. Every other blogger above a certain visibility level wants to be part of the crowd, associated with a high-profile website, regurgitating the stories of the MSM, featured in celebrity interviews in papers and magazines, and appearing in the talking heads venues of cable, broadcast and radio.

Somerby knows that to have an independent and critical voice about the media you must be independent and unrelentlingly critical of that media. In order to do this, it also means criticizing the enablers of the media, the social and political insiders who hold the cocktail parties, pick up the phones, provide the spin, and, most of all, enforce their narrative of how the world works. The "creative class" on the left has never relinquished the fantasy that somehow the press is on "our" side, secretly harboring fantasies of being the next Woodward and Bernstein. It is all about catching someone in an act of wrong-doing, not about presenting a corrective context to the agendas presented to them. It's all about "gotchas". Their counter-parts on the right have never relinquished those fantasies, either, and they have been strikingly successful at taking over the media while asserting that the media is a hopelessly biased tool of the liberals. The chief difference between these two groups is that the right has used the media to consolidate its hold on power while the left has cheerfully assisted the right in achieving that goal. They both delight in playing "gotcha" with Democratic figures.

His five part (to date) response to Tim Russert's death is an incredible, blistering analysis of this self-serving relationship. While other people (myself included) have focused on Russert himself, either to lionize him or reject him, Bob has taken the occasion to use their own words to expose their solipsistic adulation of their own dishonest culture. The last paragraph of the first post lays it out succinctly:
The guy [Russert] who wrote those books about dads is the same guy who gave those embarrassing answers in that interview with Bill Moyers. (In fairness, we’re inclined to think that Moyers overstated one alleged problem.) Predictably enough, Tim’s colleagues told you about the books; that interview got disappeared—along with the (inevitable) human shortcomings behind it. And no, they didn’t necessarily do that out of respect; it’s what they do in every circumstance. The instinctive refusal to tell you the truth lies at the heart of their culture.

Let's repeat that: The instinctive refusal to tell the truth lies at the heart of their culture.

Read all five of Somerby's posts. They are somewhat repetitive, but they build to his ultimate criticism, which is of the netroots and those who claim to be liberal voices.

  1. The instinctive refusal to tell you the truth lies at the heart of their culture
  2. Three pundits staged a rare discussion
  3. Tim always knew who the phonies were, Brokaw oddly explained
  4. Put the novels aside!
  5. This was quite a week for press watchers

The way in which the allegedly oppositional netroots reporters have handed their credibility over to the MSM without a struggle is their unwillingness to tell the truth when it clashes with their desire for how the world should be. Like the MSM, they have picked sides based on a script handed to them by the movement conservatives, and now, when the dust clears, they are left backing someone very like themselves, someone with an instinctual refusal to tell the truth.

Anglachel

5 comments:

CMike said...

Anglachel writes:

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The way in which the allegedly oppositional netroots reporters have handed their credibility over to the MSM without a struggle is their unwillingness to tell the truth when it clashes with their desire for how the world should be. Like the MSM, they have picked sides based on a script handed to them by the movement conservatives, and now, when the dust clears, they are left backing someone very like themselves, someone with an instinctual refusal to tell the truth.
***************

Shouldn't that be their unwillingness to tell the truth when it would interfere with the advance of their own careers and celebrity? This is about being adept at advancing oneself in a hierarchy.

And a word about media critic Bob Somerby's use of repetition. If he had not already picked up on it by watching television commercials when he was younger, I'm sure he came to understand the effectiveness of a certain technique when he began watching cable news shows.

If you want to communicate your ideas to others successfully you are wasting your time if you throw out one brilliant insight after another. Rather, to be an effective polemicist, you have to slow it down and repeat the ideas you are selling in your presentation. Then you have to return to, and again repeat those same ideas when you make future presentations. That's the way Chris Matthews does it. It works on the radio for Rush Limbaugh too.

We in the audience out here may think of ourselves as worthy of being regulars at some modern day Algonquin Round Table. Truth be told, we're all marks for the AFLAC duck.

Anglachel said...

CMike,

My note about Bob's repetition was simply warning for those who are not used to his style, not a criticism of the repetition. When he is building an argument like this, the repetition is necessary to keep reminding the reader of the main themes and how they have been expanded.

I agree with Bob that for many Blogger Boyz, especially WKJM, Big Media Matt, Young Ezra, and the others who have been aggressive about getting their mugs on the big screen, it really can be explained by careerism. But what about people like Kevin Drum who is actually retired and doesn't appear to be eager to start a second talking head career? Or the various people on group blogs who are not angling to belong to the Village?

The point I am making (and I suspect Bob as well, but I don't want to attribute my perpsective to him) is that his observation about the refusal to tell the truth applies just as much to the non-careerist kool-aide swillers as to the Boyz who want to bloviate on the talk shows.

The unsettling tendencies I saw in Left Blogistan more than two years ago are no longer tendencies but dominant behavior. To my mind, it is virtually indistinguishable from the psychosis gripping the MSM. The biggest difference is these people give it away for free while the Russerts, Mattews, Olbermanns, etc., of the MSM have figured out how to become millionaires from it.

Anglachel

CMike said...

Anglachel writes:

*************
But what about people like Kevin Drum who is actually retired and doesn't appear to be eager to start a second talking head career?
***************

Now that you mention it, I thought Drum was retired from some tech firm. Here's what it says at Wikipedia. Doesn't sound like he's on his way to Shady Acres just yet.

When you referred to "netroots reporters" I thought you were referring to more of the front rank types.

Actually, I do find it much harder to explain what's going on with the literate lefties who were the regulars in the prog blogs but who were avocational participants.

I never thought they could be Kool-aid (Flavor Aid) slammers. Sure I knew "we" had some conspiracy theorists and some closet revolutionaries on our team but I thought the Right had a corner on those who were faith/ideological-based, irrational thinkers. I thought it was actually a personality characteristic of those who had a passion for ideas, politics and print; that some were, from very early on, liberal/iconoclastic and others were conservative/authoritarian.

I was so wrong. And I had no clue about this a year ago.

As for Bob Somerby, the first thing I read of his was a long story about Socrates waking up and wandering about late 1990's Washington D.C.-really funny stuff if you had read Plato recently enough to have remembered the style, the voice of Socrates.

Now, of course, Plato was able to make a lot of the toughest philosophical concepts pretty accessible. In writing about contemporary matters I used to think Somerby was going overboard breaking it down for his readers -- I mean how hard could media criticism be to follow? I thought his use of repetition was a little unnecessary. Now, after reading the guy for years, I understand his style is pedagogy at its best.

I just like to be effusive in my praise of Somerby whenever his name comes up. Sorry if I sounded like I was presumptuously explaining his writing style to you. Obviously, if you took notice of his use of repetition enough to mention it you understood its purpose.

Susan said...

Actually the best pieces about Tim Russert came from of all places the World Socialist Web Site. They had TWO pieces on the late moderator, one regarding his death and the other regarding his funeral.

You don't want that outfit writing your obituary, let me tell you. The site had a blistering one a few years back on David Bloom and Michael Kelly.

CMike said...

Susan, you should have left links.

Tim Russert and the decay of the American media

Tim Russert honored: A “state funeral” for services rendered

That "state funeral" piece is worth a read.