September 13, 2006
The class nature of journalists
There is one final filter that Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman do not include in their in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent that I think is worthy of addition, and that is the changing class nature of journalists and the professional paths that have developed.
Journalists in the past could enter the profession with little formal education. They could join a newspaper after high school as copy boys (and be essentially gofers), and then work their way up the ladder to become full-fledged reporters. They pretty much learned their profession on the job, by observing the reporters in the newspaper and being mentored by them.
An important consequence of this kind of career path is that the profession was open to a wide array of people. In particular, there was little in the way of barriers, especially income and wealth barriers, to entry in the profession. Furthermore, the very fact that journalism was so open made the profession less desirable to the members of the professional classes and people in the upper income brackets. Such people were more likely to steer their children to the prestigious professions of medicine and law and the corporate world.
In other words, the class background of journalists tended to be working or lower-middle class. Even when they rose in the profession, their background and families and haunts were those of the less privileged groups in society and one could expect them to view the government and its policies through the eyes of the people who were affected by them, rather than from the point of view of those deciding and implementing the policies. Issues such as unemployment rates and business layoffs and welfare and neighborhood decay were likely to affect people they knew personally, either as family members or friends and acquaintances. They were likely to even know petty criminals personally and socially, so the impact of issues of law and order and the state of prisons were things that they were familiar with on a personal level, and were not merely statistics or stuff they read about in think-tank reports.
But the rise of journalism as a profession has changed that dynamic. Oddly enough, Watergate played a role, making reporters seem glamorous, and journalism an appealing career for those who in earlier times would have disdained it. Having a college degree, preferably in journalism, became the new entry point and the cost of obtaining this entrance ticket naturally acted as a barrier to lower-income people entering the profession. As a result, over time, the class background of journalists has changed. Furthermore, the range of interpretations of what journalism should be became restricted, constrained by the views of the elite schools of journalism. The rough edges of the working class journalist had become eliminated, and we now produce journalism graduates who fit smoothly into the corporate media structure.
Reporters now are likely to have little in common with the poorer segments of societies. They are more likely to have stock portfolios, good health care and retirement plans, and to live in nice neighborhoods and hob-nob with the well-to-do. Their class interests mirror those of the elites in society. It is not a secret, for example, that the Washington press corps socialize with the very people they are supposed to cover, attending the same parties and hosting and being guests at each others' homes.
When dealing with issues such as unemployment, such reporters' instincts now are likely to be with the interests of Wall Street rather than the impact on the people without jobs. They are more likely to be concerned with the state of the Dow Jones index than on how families survive without a wage earner. If workers go on strike, journalists are more likely to view this from the point of view of the effect on the consumer or management rather than that of the strikers. When reporting on issues like raising the minimum wage, they are more likely to focus on the impact such an act would have on business profits, rather than the impact on workers' families and lives. When companies go bankrupt, they are likely to view this from the viewpoint of its stockholders rather than the workers who are now suddenly abandoned.
Since journalists are now members of the same demographic that advertisers consider as desirable (people with disposable income), they are much more at home with the idea of the media as serving the needs of advertisers, with its great focus on providing 'soft' feature coverage of sports and entertainment and lifestyle issues rather than the gritty aspects of hard news, because those are the things that they themselves are interested in.
As a result of all six filters, we finally have a fully functioning propaganda model that works smoothly. The profit motive and the economics of publishing push reporting towards coverage that is sympathetic to government and corporate interests. The pro-war/pro-business one party state ensures that contrary voices to the governing consensus are marginalized. And the barriers to entry into the profession means that the resulting class nature of journalists make them find the atmosphere created by these two forces very congenial.
Should we then be surprised that the media functions the way it does?
POST SCRIPT: Safe/Not safe
As usual, it is up to a comedy show to expose the fatuousness of Bush trying to simultaneously argue that he has made the country safer while trying to terrify people with the dangers out there.
Daily Show commentator John Oliver sums up the Administration message, "George W. Bush is the right man to lead us in the era post to whatever horrible calamity he leads us into next."
After all, as Will Rogers once said, "If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"