Rage Against the MSMachine
Waldman is unequivocal on the need for the left to take its cue from the Republicans, who "integrate a media critique into their whole view of politics, no matter what the issue is, be it Iraq or Social Security." He argues that the left's more complicated or sophisticated critique of the media is in fact a disadvantage. "It's useful if you can reduce it to one simple idea, just like the 'liberal bias' [accusation] functions for the conservatives," he says. "Five reasons why the media is flawed is four too many because the average person isn't going to get it."
While progressives have no intention of manipulating reality à la Karl Rove, that doesn't erase the important difference between mending the media system and gaming it to your advantage. The concept of the noise machine views the press as an institution that has to be lobbied, pressured and at times bullied into serving our political goals. Media reform advocacy, however, views the press as an institution that must be strengthened so as to better serve democratic--not Democratic--ends.
What was clear at the Yearly Kos convention is that the task of political spin--which includes messaging, controlling the narrative, creating an echo chamber, etc.--is in danger of subsuming the agenda of media reform. If progressives' problem with the media is simply about getting bad press, then a couple of wins in the electoral column will do the trick. Imbalance in mainstream coverage has less to do with the might of the Republicans than with horse-race journalism, which reflects a Beltway bias toward power. "If you're a minority party that doesn't control any branch of government, you're more likely to be ignored," says Palmieri. "I think a lot of the bloggers are just mad that right now the horse-race story doesn't work in our favor."
But the deeper flaws in political journalism that paved the way for the excesses of the Bush Administration won't simply disappear. "Any journalist who says that we're doing as good a job on politics, on national affairs or international affairs as we were doing ten or fifteen years ago is out of their mind," admits Bai. This deterioration reflects the triumph of market values more than that of Republicans, per se.
Some, like journalist and blogger Micah Sifry (a longtime Nation contributor), argue that the very technology that powers the blogosphere will radically change the media landscape, making it democratic, diverse and participatory in ways still unimaginable--with or without the efforts of the netroots. He may be right, but for the foreseeable future the national debate in this country will continue to be shaped by the traditional press, as it's now clear even to its most ardent advocates that the blogosphere will not replace journalism. In other words, though we have to retool our agenda to address new issues (broadband access, net neutrality, the digital divide) in the twenty-first century, media activists' old-fashioned preoccupations with access, substance, representation and ownership will continue to be our best bet as we fight for a more democratic future.