Journalism in a bubble: Daily Bullshit, June 17, 2017

Updates

  1. Originally published, June 17, 9:49 am.
  2. June 17, 12:14 pm:
    • Commentary refined and enhanced under Brexit.

Brexit

In a piece that I think also points to failings in the mainstream press in the U.S., George Monbiot writes on the failure of journalism in the recent British election, which produced a surprisingly—to journalists anyway—good result for Labour, led by Jeremy Corbyn,[1] who is often depicted in editorial cartoons as a crank with a Maoist style cap.

I think Monbiot is right to allege that,

The broadcasters echo what the papers say, the papers pick up what the broadcasters say. A narrow group of favoured pundits appear on the news programmes again and again. Press prizes are awarded to those who reflect the consensus, and denied to those who think differently. People won’t step outside the circle for fear of ridicule and exclusion.[2]

The pressure Monbiot writes on here is known as ‘flak;’ in an extreme manifestation, it first destroyed, then set the stage for Gary Webb’s (probable) murder;[3] and while, in the U.S. the press has sometimes been accused of looking too much over its right shoulder to see what the right wing thinks of its coverage (the latter were never satisfied and now have their own news ecosystem, of which Fox is the most prominent outlet), journalists do indeed look to each other, forming a consensus as to what should be covered and how it should be covered.[4] This process—at least the part I see—is now most visible on Twitter as an ongoing conversation between left-wing alternative news reporters and mainstream reporters.

I differ with Monbiot in the way he assigns blame: He writes that “[i]t is partly because this industry, in which people without a degree could once work their way up from the floor, now tends to select its entrants from a small, highly educated pool.”[5] On its own, this claim is mostly correct. My mother, for example, who worked as a reporter for decades, managed to catch the tail end of the time when no degree was needed. She says the gate to the path she followed slammed shut soon after she passed through. But I would argue that this pool is not in fact ‘highly educated’—this term should probably properly apply only to recipients of some, but definitely not all, terminal degrees (shove your Ed.D., the terminal degree in a ‘discipline’ that seems not to know what inquiry actually is, where the sun doesn’t shine).

There are actually a couple problems with coverage of the British campaign. One was with polling; such work should not now even be reported because it is simply rubbish.[6] This failure cropped up yet again in the British election,[7] although one survey which deployed its failing methodology at the constituency level succeeded.[8] Journalists nonetheless treat such work as divine prophesy and, within their bubble, it is beyond challenge.

The other problem, the one which Monbiot addresses, lies rather with folks who have their Masters degrees and think they’re highly educated. It leads to an arrogance with the same result that Monbiot rightly complains of. Properly educated reporters would be more critical in their reporting and analysis. In the U.S., for example, despite a dearth of hard evidence, it’s widely accepted that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, probably helping Donald Trump and possibly colluding with him to achieve victory over Hillary Clinton. The actual evidence for this claim, if it even exists, is classified;[9] it dribbles out to the press through folks who have an interest in spinning it but has been repeated so often that it is now gospel.

And the heretics who challenge that gospel are excluded from the bubble that Monbiot rightly complains about.

George Monbiot, “Press Gang,” June 16, 2017, http://www.monbiot.com/2017/06/16/press-gang/


Bill Cosby

The rapist[10] gets away with it, again, at least for now.[11] And the court system stands accused yet again for how it treats rape victims.

Steven Zeitchik, “Mistrial declared in Bill Cosby sexual assault trial,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-cosby-verdict-20170617-story.html


  1. [1]George Monbiot, “Press Gang,” June 16, 2017, http://www.monbiot.com/2017/06/16/press-gang/
  2. [2]George Monbiot, “Press Gang,” June 16, 2017, http://www.monbiot.com/2017/06/16/press-gang/
  3. [3]Ryan Devereaux, “Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb,” Intercept, September 25, 2014, https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/09/25/managing-nightmare-cia-media-destruction-gary-webb/; Greg Grandin, “‘The New York Times’ Wants Gary Webb to Stay Dead,” Nation, October 10, 2014, http://www.thenation.com/blog/181940/new-york-times-wants-gary-webb-stay-dead; Chris Ip, “In a new film, once-shunned reporter’s reputation comes full circle,” Columbia Journalism Review, September 26, 2014, http://www.cjr.org/critical_eye/in_a_new_film_once-shunned_rep.php
  4. [4]Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002).
  5. [5]George Monbiot, “Press Gang,” June 16, 2017, http://www.monbiot.com/2017/06/16/press-gang/
  6. [6]David Benfell, “On a nine percent response rate,” May 28, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/05/28/nine-percent-response-rate
  7. [7]Francis Elliott and Sam Coates, “May on course for landslide,” Times, May 6, 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/may-on-course-for-landslide-f7pqgwwfp?CMP=TNLEmail_118918_1818300
  8. [8]Sam Coates, “Poll firm predicts shock losses for Theresa May’s Tories at general election,” Times, May 31, 2017, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/latest-general-election-poll-predicts-conservatives-will-lose-seats-02zfwl8lc
  9. [9]David Benfell, “Vladimir Putin’s motives,” Not Housebroken, December 15, 2017, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9162; David Benfell, “Blaming the Russians,” Not Housebroken, December 17, 2017, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=9151
  10. [10]David Benfell, “I will say it forthrightly and without qualification: Bill Cosby is a rapist,” Not Housebroken, November 24, 2017, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=6953
  11. [11]Steven Zeitchik, “Mistrial declared in Bill Cosby sexual assault trial,” Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2017, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-cosby-verdict-20170617-story.html

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.