Most people think of the news media differently than the participants in it think of themselves. While most people think that the job of newspapers, news radio stations and television newscasts is to report on events, those on the other end of the wire, the printing press and the cable, think that their job is not to report, but to advocate.
That is why the rise of the internet has only accelerated media bias, as advocacy journalists are less worried about owners and working for a single outlet, and instead focus on maintaining political solidarity with their professional colleagues. A journalist no longer thinks in terms of working for the same newspaper for 20 or 30 years. He knows that by then there probably won't even be any newspapers. A month from now he'll be in a different outlet. Two months from that, he might be printed in three others, one of them a media blog. Three months from now he may be doing video blogs for Time Magazine. The unstable nature of the market means that the journalist is less concerned with the owners, and much more with his professional standing with the colleagues who will hire him or recommend him for jobs. And today professional standing means political reliability, just as it did in the Soviet Union.
Jornolist is only one of the more public revelations about that private political solidarity, which these days determines the content of the news we are allowed to read. That boys and girls media club serves as an unofficial union in an unstable marketplace that is bounded not by accomplishment or educational credentials, but by pulling together for a common political cause. Whether it was plotting to bring down Bush or raise up Obama, to push nationalization of health care or internationalization of national security-- that unofficial fraternity and sorority of advocacy journalists has turned media bias into their reason for being. They have turned into the definition of what a journalist should be.
The difference between a reporter and an advocate, is that the former reports on events, while the latter uses events as props in his message. Where a reporter tries to learn what happened, the advocate tries to understand how he can use that event in his narrative. The advocate has less in common with the reporter, than he does with an ad executive. Like the ad executive looking at a box of chocolate, the advocate looks at an event and decides how he can use it to sell his message.
That is why news reports and articles have become commercials for liberal products. One news report might try to sell viewers on the idea that the War on Terror is a bad idea, another will encourage them to view bank bailouts positively, and a third will try to make them feel bad for opposing amnesty. And then the news commercials will pause, to allow that ad executive to run a commercial selling viewers a new brand of dog food of chocolate, before returning back to more news commercials. Or to music and dramatic television programming that is likely to be selling some of the same political messages as well.
The politicization of all forms of media is the result of an understanding that places political advocacy above any notion of objective truth or individual rights. It is fanaticism and propaganda in a suit and tie, sometimes even with an American flag placed around the border. Its not so secret belief is that the American people are stupid, that their culture is stupid and that their opinions can only be improved through direct programming from newspapers, books, radio, television, websites and any other source that can deliver political messages to them, whether they are disguised as news or entertainment.
Americans today are living surrounded by as much propaganda as any North Korean. The difference is that the propaganda is subtler because it is less standardized by any regulatory body or fear of prison sentences. But that too is beginning to change. The Obama Administration has defined its idea of the media's role as being the purveyor of its talking points, nothing more. Obama's avoidance of press conferences, and unwillingness to grant access to the media, makes it clear that he wants to keep them on a short leash. Like most totalitarian organizations, the Obama Administration is not interested in being asked questions, only in making sure that their propaganda is distributed in a timely and consistent fashion.
The Obama Administration is a major reason why the media has become dumber lately. Where attacking Bush gave the media a challenge, the Obama Administration leaves them with nothing to do except praise the Beloved Leader and condemn his critics as ignorant racists who hate America. Being an assassin requires more brains than being a herald, and much as the media struggles against it, their only function anymore is to blow the trumpet and repeat what they've been told to say, off the record, by their contacts in the White House.
While the media tries to paint the Tea Party protesters as extensions of the Republican party, it is actually they who have become extensions of the Democratic party. By advocating a polar political agenda, the media has come to be identified with liberalism, and with the country's primary liberal party. Distrusted by much of the country, yet taken for granted by the ruling political elite in Washington D.C., the media is reaching the end of the road. As the media organizations that employ them are becoming financially unsustainable, the ranks of reporters that came out of college firmly believing that their mission was to politically indoctrinate Americans are realizing that they are nothing more than bloggers working for dinosaur media outlets.
The media has poisoned its own well. Its survivors are increasingly political bloggers who satisfy the left's taste for blood, e.g. Andrew Sullivan, Joe Klein, Glenn Greenwald, Ezra Klein, who survive by pushing radical messages in the most abrasive way possible. But all this really does is turn Time Magazine and the Washington Post into Firedoglake, the Huffington Post and DailyKos. And radicalizing media outlets also marginalizes them. The media has successfully alienated conservatives and independents. Now it is alienating even mainstream Democrats who are sick of childish rantings and conspiracy theories taking the place of serious journalism.
The blogsphere has not only defeated the media, it has remade it in its own image. Conventional reporting is vanishing, and what remains of the media exists only to push talking points, repackage memes, launch attacks at the opposition, and furiously cover the asses of their own pet politicians. Unlike printing presses, radio and television stations; websites are relatively cheap. And that put the media into the uncomfortable position of trying to compete with free blogs. Paywalls have not worked, and so newspapers are folding and media outlets are trimming their staffs to try and stay competitive. And as the Time Magazine website shows us, the end result leaves you with something that has the Time brand on it, but reads like the Huffington Post.
Advocacy journalism has traveled a long from the posturing of a Walter Cronkite pretending to be your favorite uncle, to Keith Olbermann mimicking him with spittle flecked rants about the "Worst Person in the World". Dan Rather's takedown marked the end of the news broadcast. MSNBC and FOX are the logical result of cable news networks surviving by finding a political demographic and catering to them. But what works for FOX and MSNBC won't work nearly as well for media outlets that depended on a general cross-section of readers and viewers, rather than on preaching to the choir.
And that is the irony of advocacy journalism, whose politics helped kill their own jobs. Media arrogance and entitlement polarized media coverage at a time when media outlets had to make a compelling case why their readers should support them. And so they did. They made a compelling case to liberal readers, and told everyone else to take a hike. The result is all around us. The jobs of a small media elite will be preserved, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of jobs, from the circulation department to production assistants, from producers to designers, from delivery truck drivers to ordinary hard working reporters who legitimately covered non-glamorous events. Their jobs have had to die, so that a few thousand angry liberals will be able to keep on ranting on the websites that will be all that remain of once great newspapers and publications.
Now there's talk of a media bailout, which would recognize the media's new status as a government propaganda department. It isn't likely to happen though, except in a small and very selective way, because the Obama Administration's hostility to the media makes it rather clear that they view it as dangerous and redundant. Dangerous because even a heavily biased media can cover stories they don't want, and redundant because a government media would just do what the government already does, without actually being any more trusted than the government. A few political bloggers providing their opinions, subsidized by Soros funded organizations, would suit the Obama White House much better.
By embracing advocacy journalism, the media wrote its own obituary. It stopped being biased as an aspect of its reporting, instead bias became its identity. There ceased to be a media apart from the biased narratives, the attacks aimed at everyone who disagreed with their politics and the shameless slobbering over their favorite politicians. The media made political indoctrination in support of government control over every aspect of people's lives into its goal, and discovered why there is no free press in totalitarian countries. Because the people won't buy them and the government doesn't need them.
The media has reached the end of the road. It still makes noises about public service and informing the public, but everyone knows by now that these are buzzwords that mean op-eds and talking being run as news stories, commentaries being run as broadcasts. No one is buying it anymore, and no one cares. The culture of political conformity has destroyed the media. Its war on the Bush Administration and anointment of Obama were the last gasps of political propagandizing from a collapsing brontosaurus that once defined how Americans got their information. What began as great edifices of journalism that served information coast to coast and around the world, now come to their end as shoddy political blogs ranting about who dares to disagree with them. The media's obit is written, and there's no one even around to read it anymore.