Something Is Happening (And They Don’t Know What It Is)

It’s nice that the commercial and professional news media are now honoring us bloggers as (collectively) a powerful new player on the political landscape. Though they also like to disparage us (“rabid lambs” from David Brooks is my favorite), they really are paying attention to us—and we should be flattered.

Thing is, it’s a bit unwarranted and most assuredly over-blown. We aren’t nearly the power they think we are.

Their misperception is quite understandable. They have been living in an artificial media world constructed and limited by commercial and professional considerations—and they have mistaken this world for the “real” world. It’s a world where the majority of the population is expected to be reactive (almost passive), reacting solely to what is offered to them by the small number of people actively involved in politics and the news media. Popular opinion is formed by this small group of players—it does not arise from the general population.

Unable to get their minds around the possibility that people might be able to think for themselves, yet faced with this new phenomenon of the blogs, they have had to find some other way of explaining what is happening.

Their choice has been to admit us into their august society—even though we are somewhat smelly and don’t know how to dress—for then they can make sense of us. They have come to believe that we are, like them, manipulators of the public. That idea they can handle. That we are the public speaking for itself is a concept beyond their comprehension, for it does not fit into their model world.

The reasons their fake little world has come into being are complex. Part of his has to do with the removal of the news media from the realm of public discourse. Once upon a time, the local newspaper editor would hang out at the local tavern or inn, soaking in the arguments—and participating. The news media were a real part of the debate. But the news media left the localities, moving more and more to centralized (and corporatized) locations. And they took the debate with them, when they left (or so they thought). In DC and New York, they continued to talk and discuss, but now only with each other. Eventually, they forgot completely that the debates were also going on “back home.” When that debate suddenly intrudes on them, as it has through the blogs, they have to find some way to explain it away. In this case, the easiest way is to imagine that the bloggers are just new kids on their block. Integrating it, maybe, but not providing a real two-way connection back to the old neighborhood.

Another part of the construction of the fictional world was the growth of professionalism in the news media. Once, the local printer produced a paper as a sideline—and discussion in it was often just an extension from that found in the local coffeehouse. Now, one has to have a journalism-school education in order to participate… to allow just anyone in would be an abrogation of “responsibility” (say what?) to the public. The bloggers are proving that it doesn’t take special training to be an astute observer in the political realm. Not wanting to face that, the news media are giving the bloggers an honorary degree, thereby setting us apart from the general populace.

A third part (and one that most in the news media try to avoid recognizing) is the commercial drive of their media vehicles. There’s no public-spirited largess in the presentations through the news media to the public. It’s all done for profit. The ones who “make it” in the news media are not the most competent, but the ones who can bring in the biggest audiences. The people in the news media, though they know this, want to pretend that they are something more than that—at the same time believing that no one has any other motivation. Bloggers, to them, are just trying to cash in through a new media channel.

The news media don’t understand that we are something different altogether, that we don’t want to join their world, that we don’t care about their awards and recognition, and that we really aren’t in it for the money. They don’t understand that we, as part of the general populace, reflect that population. We aren’t trying to change it—we are it.

Until they get that through their heads, they will never be able to understand what is happening in the media world of today. They remind me of Mr. Jones in Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of a Thin Man”:

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks;
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks.
You’ve been through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books:
You’re very well read
It’s well known.

But something is happening here
And you don’t know what it is,
Do you, Mister Jones?

Because they don’t know what is happening, they imagine it is something else, something they could understand. When it comes down to it, though, they don’t know what it is.

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