Monday, August 1, 2005

previous entry | main | next entry | TrackBack (0)

Richard Posner's forthcoming book

Eleven months ago, Richard Posner's review of the 9-11 Commission Report appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. And lo and behold, Posner spun that review into a book of his own on homeland security, Preventing Surprise Attacks: Intelligence Reform in the Wake of 9/11.

I bring this up because Judge Posner has another lead review in the NYT Book Review. So in case anyone was curious about the topic of Posner's new book, it appears to be about the political economy of the media.

The mainstream media are predominantly liberal - in fact, more liberal than they used to be. But not because the politics of journalists have changed. Rather, because the rise of new media, itself mainly an economic rather than a political phenomenon, has caused polarization, pushing the already liberal media farther left.

The news media have also become more sensational, more prone to scandal and possibly less accurate. But note the tension between sensationalism and polarization: the trial of Michael Jackson got tremendous coverage, displacing a lot of political coverage, but it had no political valence.

The interesting questions are, first, the why of these trends, and, second, so what?

The why is the vertiginous decline in the cost of electronic communication and the relaxation of regulatory barriers to entry, leading to the proliferation of consumer choices. Thirty years ago the average number of television channels that Americans could receive was seven; today, with the rise of cable and satellite television, it is 71. Thirty years ago there was no Internet, therefore no Web, hence no online newspapers and magazines, no blogs. The public's consumption of news and opinion used to be like sucking on a straw; now it's like being sprayed by a fire hose.

Go read it all -- there's a healthy number of paragraphs about blogs and the media that Glenn Reynolds discusses as well. I'll post an update once I've semi-digested Posner's analysis.

UPDATE: Well, I'm still cogitating -- but Laura McKenna has posted her thoughts on the matter. Be sure to check out her typology of how experts interpret the rise of the blogosphere.

Meanwhile, Jack Shafer rips Posner's essay apart in Slate. Some of it is carping, but this paragraph raises an alarm bell that also went off in my head when I first read it:

When Posner declares that media competition has pushed the established press to the left, he gives only one example: Fox News making CNN more liberal. Has Posner lost his cable connection? The success of Fox News convinced CNN of the opposite. CNN realized that the demographic that has the time and interest to watch a lot of cable news tends to be older and more conservative, as this Pew Research Center report indicates. If anything, the one-worldist CNN of founder Ted Turner has been vectoring right in recent years. Lou Dobbs, for one, now blabs a Buchananesque position on trade and immigration five nights a week. Over at MSNBC, which dumped overt liberal Phil Donahue in 2003, they've given every nonliberal listed in the Yellow Pages a show in hopes of boosting ratings (examples: Michael Savage, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Jesse Ventura, and now, Rita Cosby).

posted by Dan on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM


>The mainstream media are predominantly liberal.


Now that's funnnnnnnnnnnnny....

posted by: James on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

Posner has some interesting hypotheses about why the media is increasing balkanized and--yes, James--increasingly liberal. In a nutshell, he says that as the media marketplace exploded, the old rules about playing it safe and not offending any corner of the political spectrum no longer held--now you needed to play to your base, lest they veer off to new media outlets. Hence polarization.

This is interesting, but not really satisfying. It doesn't explain the dumbing down of the American media, though it gives some insight into the political skewing of the system. Why, for example, is the only tv newsman EVERYONE likes now Jim Lehrer (the sole host of 04's snoozefests, I mean presidential debates)? Because his "Newshour" is the last of the "pure" newsshows. I don't know Gwen Ifill's politics--I don't want to know!!--and blessedly she and the rest of the crew are discreet enough not to really let on.

That makes Lehrer and co. the last vestiges of the establishment media. Do they have a core audience? You bet. Is it big? Ha HA. But I daresay it includes a close to 50-50 admixture of avowed liberals and conservatives. So it CAN be done. Why isn't it? Because it's not SEXY, and so journalists and the organizations behind them don't want to do it LIKE THAT. That's the bottom line. It's not that the market won't bear more "old-fashioned" unbiased reportage. It's that nobody much, besides this small, DC-area show wishes to be seen in that light.

Now we got something to talk about. Bring on the Jacko trials!

posted by: Kelli on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

Don't be such a dolt James. Of course the media is bias to the Left. In a recent survey, journalists were 6X more liberal in their political views than the most liberal sections of San Francisco Bay Area (including Berkeley). In fact, the media is far to the Left in most if not all Western countries (try living in Spain). The reason Fox news is so succesful is because they are tongue-in-cheek "Fair and Balanced." Fox will be around a long time because they play off of the overwhelming liberalism of the media and have carved out a strong niche for themselves now that's guaranteed not to go away.

Read Robert D. Kaplan's essay in Policy Review about how the media is the only substantial voice of Leftist ideas in the world now that the USSR is gone and China is experimenting with its captialist authoritarianism. This is an excellent point he makes and seems quite obvious once you think about it. What major voice is out there to challenge Big business and radical capitalism? Why it's the media of course. Other than Islamic-Fascists, there is no powerful voice for the ideas of the Left. The media is filling this void.

As one of my journalist friends said to me the other day, ever since Woodward, Bernstein, and Nixon--journalists have viewed their job as watchdogs for society. They don't just report the's their job catch all the wrongs that are being done (and hopefully win a Pulitzer).

Why are journalists liberal? Because it's a it is in most of the academic world. You simply don't know what you are doing if you swing to the Right. The cultural expectations are that intelligent, hard-hitting journalists are to the Left. It doesn't need to be spoken aloud--it's understood.

Some of the reasons why the news now looks like entertainment is because it has to compete with so many other shows. Second, going to a 24 hour news-cycle (thanks to CNN) forced news to become much more entertainment oriented. That's a lot of time to fill.

How bad is it? Well, I live in Hong Kong and prefer watching the English news from the People's Republic of China! Why? Because ironically, it swings less to the left, and the reporters actually just give the news instead of allowing their scripts to use bias words and their tone of voice to get weepy or tense when they are reporting on something they don't like. How ironic? Never would I have thought that state-controlled media in a Socialist country would be more professional than BBC, CNN, FOX, and all the other crap on in the West.

posted by: Matteo on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

Has anyone noticed yet that Posner's books, etc., except perhaps those on strictly legal topics, are pulled out of his ass? This new article being the latest example.

He's smart enough that he can do this and still sound adequately clever, at least part of the time. But it's unfortunate, since he could presumably produce some serious, durable work if he'd put more time into it.

posted by: Anderson on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

Posner goes off the rails even before he claims that CNN has become more liberal:

Strip these critiques of their indignation, treat them as descriptions rather than as denunciations, and one sees that they are consistent with one another and basically correct. The mainstream media are predominantly liberal - in fact, more liberal than they used to be.

Uh, no. The claim that the mainstream media are predominantly liberal is a right wing talking point. It's not something that people across the political spectrum agree on.

posted by: Kenneth Almquist on 08.01.05 at 01:04 AM [permalink]

Post a Comment:


Email Address:



Remember your info?