Sunday, March 18, 2007

And then there's the other reason I haven't been posting...

My lack of posts here recently doesn't have anything to do with a lack of things to write about, but rather with a proliferation of important issues and the fact that when I start to write about them I tend to get upset, stressed, and more than a little bent out of shape.

I guess it isn't much of a secret that I'm not really that happy with some of the directions I see my country, the good old US of A, going these days. Or, should I say, the way it is being led down a dangerous path by the current administration. I have some very strong views about some of the things that have been going on...Iraq and Afghanistan, an administration that leaks like a sieve when it thinks it will serve its ends, the efforts to pack government agencies with a bunch of ideologues, and more. I want to address these issues, but I want to do so from a logical, coherent point of view.

Unfortunately, lately, I just haven't been able to remain calm enough to write sensibly about it all. Not that I think there is anything wrong with getting upset about what has been going on in my government. Actually, I think distress is probably a healthy response to the dysfunction going on in Washington. But I prefer to write from logic rather from emotion, simply because arguments from emotion are not nearly as effective as arguments from logic. And so I've just refrained from writing about these issues at all.

I'm getting there, though. I'm working through the distress and frustration, and I think I'll have some things to say on the state of the world fairly soon.

Meanwhile, I've been reading some really good books, some of which have only been adding to my distress. But they've been adding to my store of knowledge from which to write from logic as well. Two books I've finished recently and would like to recommend are The Republican Noise Machine, by David Brock, and The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney.

As you can tell, there's a definite theme running through the two volumes. Brock takes as his subject the media which, he shows, is not biased toward the liberal end of the spectrum but to the conservative end. He points out that while reporters might be a bit more liberal socially than the US population at large, they are more conservative economically. And, despite that liberal bent on social issues, the reporters are not the ones who decide what gets reported on the air and printed in the papers...the job of deciding and approving editorial stances goes to management and ownership. And the owners of newspapers and broadcast media outlets are clearly conservative, both economically and socially. Added to that, the repeitition over the past few decades from the conservative media that the media is liberal has resulted in people actually starting to believe that, all evidence to the contrary. Brock points out the number of conservative pundits who get heard and published regularly as opposed to the number of liberal or progressive pundits who have a regular outlet for their opinions. The balance isn't even close to even, with the preponderance of domination going to the conservatives. And, as Brock shows, even some of the "liberal" commentators in the media aren't really all that liberal at all.

I think Brock's most important point is that the conservative media has succeeded in pushing the center so far to the right that what was considered conservative not so long ago is now seen as moderate. And those who were once considered liberal are now looked at as raging leftists, all without changing their views at all. I know that to be the truth. I have long considered myself to be quite moderate in my political views, but I find my opinions (which haven't changed all that much) now pushed farther and farther to the left. What is seen as liberal here in the US would be squarely in the conservative portion of the spectrum in most European nations.

Mooney's book is more narrowly focused on the steps that Republicans have taken in Congress and among the regulatory agencies to discredit and disenfranchise objective science as a force in governmental decision-making. By calling anything that doesn't favor corporate deregulation "junk science", by insisting on "equal time" in public school classrooms for so-called Intelligent Design, by arguing every point made by the scientific establishment on issues such as global warming, by editing scientific reports to conform with administration prejudices and forbidding scientists from speaking either to the press or to colleagues about scientific issues, the Republicans have endeavored to remove science as a component of the decision-making process within the government. Mooney goes into detail about how this has happened in relation to a number of issues. I recommend The Republican War on Science as an essential book for anyone who is concerned about how decisions get made in Washington, D.C. in regards to science and technology issues.


JP said...

'the conservative media has succeeded in pushing the center so far to the right that what was considered conservative not so long ago is now seen as moderate'

That's something that's especially clear to an outsider I suppose. But it relates to a larger trend I see where the media itself moves the goalposts of common opinion by consistently putting forward a particular extreme opinion to the extent where it is no longer seen as extreme but a reasonable, even moderate stance which happens to be on one side of the debate rather than the other.

I'm fascinated (and frightened) by how our mediated societies open themselves to subtle manipulation like this - Brock's book looks like a good one to seek out, not just for a view at the US media but to further undestand this perplexing way in which the mass media actually slants public opinion subtly.

lma said...

I think you're probably correct, jp, that it is much more noticeable to an outsider than it is to someone living in the middle of it. But it is so pronounced here in the States now that I don't see how people can miss the bias and the manipulation. Still, many do miss it.

Another good book, by the way, that points out how liberal the US media outlets aren't, is Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News, from 2003. It takes a little bit wider view than Brock's book, which states particulars and names names in great detail. Both books are valuable, I think.