Friend and sometime Pileus commenter Damon Linker has a post in the New Republic that left me unsettled. I have to say that Linker’s usually measured conclusions are a tad unhinged.
He correctly points out that the historical norm of American journalism is not one of high-minded neutrality, but one of passionate partisanship. Still, can the following statement really be supported?:
…today there are thousands of political bloggers, each of them vying for attention and influence by screaming into computer-amplified megaphones. The numbers are greater and the medium is different, but the style is the same: libelous exaggeration and furious passions rule the day, every day, on every side of every public dispute, drowning out the few who resist choosing sides and joining the partisan battle.
Isn’t it odd to condemn exaggeration with a statement that so wildly exaggerates (perhaps I shouldn’t say “wildly” since I would not want to exaggerate my criticism of Damon’s exaggerating about exaggeration)? As I see it, there is a lot of muck and crap out there, but also a lot of honest, careful stuff–some of which is even produced by independent political bloggers.
According to Linker’s view, the fault for this rests with us (American citizens) because we are “especially receptive to the claim that [we] are being unjustly ruled–that all authority is arbitrary authority.”
I can forgive Damon’s hyperbole and disgust, but I think he is fundamentally wrong about the quality of news and public opinion in the pre-internet era. As one who gets almost all his news from traditional, mainstream media outlets, I have to say that I much prefer today’s media environment to the 50s and 60s Linker idealizes in much the same way that I prefer the entertainment options available today over the 4-channel TV of my childhood (even though I watch mostly network TV).
Sometimes (often, actually) I long for some old-fashioned civility and objectivity, but I would not relish returning to the days when ordinary folks listened as Uncle Walter told them the way things were. If they wondered if they were being told the whole story, or the best version of the story, or the most important story, or a sanitized version of the story, or even the true story. Well, they just got to wonder.