Monday, June 25, 2012

"The Newsroom" and ideological centrism

I can't speak to the problem with "The Newsroom" because I haven't seen it. That being said, David Carr's critique in The New York Times comments on the show as clearly inspired by CNN and Sorkin's vision for what cable news should be, and well, it's problematic. One should preface such a discussion by stating that discussing the "perfect" news show is a perilous path. There be dragons! Still, this sentence irked me:
CNN has stuck with, well, a version of the news, and gotten clobbered in the process. ... In Mr. Sorkin’s series, and out there in the big, bad world of television, there is a battle for the souls and eyeballs of the American viewing public, and CNN finds itself in a competitive business where simply delivering the news is no longer sufficient.
Except the CNN doesn't simply deliver the news, does it? Here I think is where CNN has been unable to fix itself: its board or producers or whatever haven't grappled with the fact it's every bit as ideological as any other channel, but lacks their convictions. It's the media version of the political centrist, and it's losing cache among the public for the exact same reasons.

FOX is a news channel full of conservatives and run by a conservative. They may be trying to make as conservative a news channel as possible, but more likely it's a group of conservatives covering the stories they believe is important in the manner they believe is most accurate and most fair. Thus, discussions and editorial choices on that channel display all manner of conservative assumptions, biases and philosophical points of view. That being said, those assumptions and biases and philosophy are probably unconscious at the time of newscrafting; rather, the reporters and producers are reporting and producing what they believe is The Truth.

I loathe FOX News as much as any self-respecting liberal. I believe it's deeply unbalanced and unfair, that it places low value on journalistic integrity and is as much as an arm of the Republican Party as a news organization, but I think the anchors and talking heads and producers on there generally believe what they're saying.

It's largely the same with MSNBC. When it's liberal, it's liberal because Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow are liberals conducting a news show in the way they believe is most accurate and fair and meaningful, not because the producers are thinking: "Hmm, what would be the most liberal stories to cover, and how can we make them as liberal as possible?"

This is the problem with centrism, whether practiced as a news organization or a politician. Centrists begin not with their own first principles, but with everybody else's. The answer to every question lies directly between what the conservative said and what the liberal said. It matters not if the conservative and the liberal are both more conservative than they were 20 years ago, or whether the conservative was arguing what is now the liberal line only 3 years ago, or whether one's facts are demonstrably false according to every nonpartisan source in the country.

This hermeneutic of looking at two arguments and crafting a middle one is hardly "simply delivering the news." In fact, in my opinion, it's ideological in a much more calculated way than either of the ideological networks.

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