Talk about things you like to hear

"Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble talk . . . ."  Politico joins the ranks of professional media types grasping for an explanation of how they could have blown the last election so badly.  Clearly it's not deliberate bias, that would be wrong, but plausibly it's that the bubble they all live in has grown more extreme over the last decade as local newspapers disappeared and were replaced by e-journalism.  It's not our fault!  We might have guessed that the rise of internet news would have a dispersive effect, but in fact it's only concentrated the higher-paying journalism jobs in the usual coastal and urban bubbles.  So, yes, we talk only to those in our highly-paid, progressive bubbles, but that's only natural.

Politico's proposed treatment for this malaise is not particularly compelling.
The best medicine for journalistic myopia isn’t reeducation camps or a splurge of diversity hiring, though tiny doses of those two remedies wouldn’t hurt. Journalists respond to their failings best when their vanity is punctured with proof that they blew a story that was right in front of them. If the burning humiliation of missing the biggest political story in a generation won’t change newsrooms, nothing will. More than anything, journalists hate getting beat.
Do they really?  More than they hate preening and congratulating themselves and their colleagues?  More than they hate moping about how the profit motive contaminates discourse, just as they'd always suspected?  (Here, the author throws in a little salve to Politico's vanity by noting that Breitbart's news site does a surprisingly robust click-business, though of course nothing to equal Politico's own.  If you want to talk about being the popular kids.)

I've been reading "Shattered," about the disastrous Clinton campaign.  The authors may be unsparing in their description of the awful candidate--the only character who's getting kid-glove treatment so far is Bernie Sanders--but they're still 100% in for their poor lost Hillary.  It's pretty amazing, really, how much time they can spend wringing their hands over how difficult it was for the poor woman to identify and communicate her message.  She could not seem to articulate why she was running for president.  She kept berating her campaign staff for failing to accomplish this task on her behalf.  As if it were not obvious that would-be President "It's My Turn" wanted the office because it's only fair, dang it, not to mention pretty convenient and lucrative and flattering.

Sanders appears in the narrative as an admirably honest fellow; it's only unfortunate that "most Americans" don't cotton to socialism.  If the authors make a connection between the lovely, caring policies Sanders would try to implement and the horror that is now overtaking Venezuela, I can't detect it.  They simply are drawn to Sanders because they can't quite escape the conviction that Clinton is a stone-cold liar without a trace of self-knowledge, with no identifiable political convictions other than that governing is a tough exercise in smart policy of some kind or another that, to our collective sorrow, cannot easily be communicated to a lot of mouth-breathing voters.  Meanwhile, Trump effortlessly channels the ugly Zeitgeist.  Woe to the republic.

This aside in the Politico article made me laugh, too:
Unlike other industries, the national media has a directive beyond just staying in business: Many newsrooms really do feel a commitment to reflecting America fairly.
They . . . ? Well, unless "fairly" means looking in the mirror.  What's so hard about learning something of the viewpoints outside one's own bubble?  Is the job of a journalist really limited to cocktail party chat, or do they occasionally find time to read a book or frequent a website with opposing views?  Even if they don't have the leisure or the budget for a safari through wildest I-30 corridor-land, we have tools in the modern world for communicating with distant strangers, available to anyone with a bit of curiosity and a gift for tamping down the smugness for a few hours.

At church this week, a co-parishioner announced a new chat group that would attempt to bridge the unidentified political divide (guess which side she's on) and foster more respectful communication.  I told her I'd almost stopped trying to talk to family and college friends on the other (still unidentified) side of the political landscape, not because I couldn't restrain myself from insulting them, but because I was tired of listening quietly while they loudly and persistently insulted me.  It wasn't that the conversation foundered when I adopted her advice of listening respectfully.  All I do now is listen and try to stem the worst of the oblivious attack-speech by gently suggesting that there are other points of view, and that my interlocutor might want to consider that she might be in the presence of someone who holds them.  That, combined with my pruning of my Facebook feed, has meant I spend no time explaining myself to these people, and less and less time listening to them, either.  Increasingly, I get my limited information about their views from more impersonal outlets.  As far as I can tell, they get no information about my views from any source, unless you count their assumption that a second-hand description of what Limbaugh said this week accurately sums up my own views.

Why would I attend her gatherings?  Will she have taught any of her fellow travelers to listen to someone like me without drifting into insult?  Will she even learn the knack herself?  Her anecdotes of success included the breathless report that she mentioned to a friend how much she disliked Rush Limbaugh, only to learn that her friend unexpectedly was not that crazy about him herself.  A blow for communication and solidarity!  They went on to learn that her friend wasn't actually that crazy about Bill O'Reilly, either.  See, they really are people!  You don't have to be afraid to talk to them!  They may turn out to share your views on some public personalities, and then you won't even have to hear what they think on any of the scary issues.

But then the national votes come in and remain perennially astonishing.  "We may never know what motivates these people . . . ."

8 comments:

Christopher B said...

As far as I can tell 'reporting', especially about politics, is little more than regurgitating press releases or stenographing comments from people interested in advancing an agenda. Some quotes by the usual go-to people might be thrown in for local color, and in rare cases a few leading questions intended to get answers that advance the narrative are presented to those with opposing views.

One of the more interesting things to me that came out of ‘Shattered’ was the revelation that the Dems were doing no polling in the last few weeks of the race, and though the GOP was polling they weren’t releasing the numbers because they didn’t believe them. There was a lot of speculation that Nate Silver’s incredible accuracy in 2008 was due to insider information from the Obama campaign. The general inability of the press to get the election right seems to confirm that media organization polling is unconsciously biased at best and potentially deliberately biased, and they really are entirely dependent on the campaigns to tell them what’s happening on the ground.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

If you go to one of those meanings be prepared to have people make a point - even a show of of listening, then saying "Yes, but..." followed by explanations you have heard a thousand times. If those don't convince you, more asperity may begin to creep into their tone.

They are hoping the differences are superficial and quickly adjusted. They don't understand that there a thousand new things to see. I used to say that the journey out of liberalism is difficult because it is always a personal one, not merely re-looking at a few issues. I still thank that.

Texan99 said...

I could invite them to explain what about the current economic system interferes materially with their desire to be more generous to the needy. If they can approach that explanation without beginning to shout at me in more-compassionate-than-thou exasperation, we might have a real conversation. I might be made to understand why true charity is not giving from one's own plenty but instead commandeering the labor and property of other, less compassionate neighbors to serve one's own charitable priorities.

But I've had lunch with this woman and know her to be a perfectly pleasant pudding-head. I wouldn't expect an exchange of ideas or even a rational hearing. At best, if I troubled her with my views, I'd expect mute, hurt puzzlement. At worst, she'd retreat to "But what about that awful Mr. Limbaugh? Isn't he really what's wrong with this country?" It's just style and personalities.

Anonymous said...

When I can readily pull up a video that is the subject of a news report, and see the malicious mischaracterization in the report, then I have less respect for the reporter. DJT got a lot of votes that way.

I frequently encounter people who believe that nonsense. Pudding-head is a good description.

Valerie

douglas said...

"At church this week, a co-parishioner announced a new chat group that would attempt to bridge the unidentified political divide (guess which side she's on) ...As far as I can tell, they get no information about my views from any source, unless you count their assumption that a second-hand description of what Limbaugh said this week accurately sums up my own views."

That whole paragraph was brilliant. Now, imagine living in California where you're outnumbered 8-2 in the cities, and you start to understand what my life is like.

That said, some of them are reachable, if not in terms of flipping them to our side then at least to starting to question what 'their' side is feeding them. Seed doubt in what they know, don't try to persuade them of your views, that's largely wasted effort. Look to the long term, and to the inevitable clash of the 'victim' groups that illustrate to the sane what's wrong with the left. The middle third is swayable, and will be swayed when those events come to their front porch. The other third is almost completely unswayable.

It's a long game, and not for the faint of heart.

David Foster said...

"That said, some of them are reachable, if not in terms of flipping them to our side then at least to starting to question what 'their' side is feeding them."

Yes, I think that's true...I hope so, anyway, because if not, it's all over. I keep thinking of something St-Exupery wrote, based on his experiences during the Spanish Civil War. (He was not a combatant, but was sent by the French government to rescue French people who were in danger of being shot or worse.)

"Let us, then, refrain from astonishment at what men do. One man finds that his essential manhood comes alive at the sight of self-sacrifice, cooperative effort, a rigorous vision of justice, manifested in an anarchists' cellar in Barcelona. For that man there. will henceforth be but one truth-the truth of the anarchists. Another, having once mounted guard over a flock of terrified little nuns kneeling in a Spanish nunnery, will thereafter know a different truth-that it is sweet to die for the Church."

People's political views are greatly influenced by their personal experiences, as well as by those around them.

Texan99 said...

And both those truths will turn out to be a lot more valuable if the anarchist doesn't conclude that everyone in the world must become an anarchist in order to share his experience, and if the nuns' guard doesn't conclude that everyone must convert to Catholicism at the point of a sword for their own good. Think what good they could do each other by learning what woke each of their hearts up, and concluding that dead hearts are their only common enemy?

Larry Harman said...

Tex and David, those are both thoughtful and eloquent comments. I appreciate them, and they're very helpful to me.