Friday, October 29, 2004

Culture Wars

I suppose if I was getting paid to do this blog I would write it every day. But I'm not. I intend to build it into an experioment in branding, but that is down the road. Right now, as with 99% of the blogs out there, it is just a place for me to spew forth.

I got in an interesting fight with my mother recently. Now it must be understood that Mom is the person who taught me my politics, taught my my spirituality, and then went off and became a born again republican. She spends most of her time now praying for my soul, for which I am eternally grateful, as I need all the help I can get. Where once our politics were identical they are now completely at odds. She wrote me asking what it was like teaching media studies durring this election, wherein there is so much anger and hatred being expressed by both sides. She also brought up the New York Times as an example of a media organization which, she says, sellects stories based on an anti-Bush political agenda.

With the comment on anger and hatred I kind of opened up with my own, which while hardly on the level of some on the far left or right, is still fairly intense over some issues. Mom ws distressed. What can I say, I'm no longer in California: I live in New York now, and we don't hold back.

But the comment about the Times bothered me, because it is not what I have experienced in the past. Now I have my problems with the Times. I was one of those infuriated with their uninformed and dismissive obituary for Jaques Derida recently, and signed a petition in protest of what they wrote. Furthermore, in the area of integrity, they have had some black eyes. To their credit when it was discovered that one of their reporters had been making up sources they acknowledged it imediately and fired the guy, a much better response the the "circle the wagons" aproach adopted by CBS with regard to the recent forged memos. What I think about the Times, however, is not the issue. What my students think of the Times is.

Up at CCNY I give an assignement every semester on newspapers and how different papers cover a story. I assign my students to buy coppies of the three major dalies here in New York, the Post, the Daily News and the Times. They must pick a story covered in all three papers on the same day and compare and contrast the editorial styles of each of the papers. I ask them to comment on headlines, language, objectivity, writing style and the ammount of information to be gleaned from each. The results are amazing. Students, most of whom when they entered the class read either the News or the Post, are nearly unanimous in their conclusion that the Times is the better paper; better written, more informative, and more objective. Only 3% of my students every say they prefer the Post after having compared all three, and fewer then that prefer the News. Now, the purpose of this assignment is not to increase the Times circulation. It is to demonstrate the differences between a traditional broadsheet like the Times and a tabloid style paper like the Post and the Daily News. That 97% of my students come to the conclusion that the Times is more objective then the Post is hardly surprising: the Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is every bit as partisan as his Fox News Network, and has long been his personal soapbox on conservative issues. However, that better then 99% of my students come to the conclusion that the Times is more objective the the Daily News is very interesting, as the News tries hard to occupy the center of polcitical discourse on most issues (at least what passes for the center in New York City).

The accusation that the Times picks its stories based on a political agenda is, I think, not borne out by the facts. To those who ask why the Times ran a story about missing explosives in Iraq, I answer that the story is news (reports today indicate that the missing explosives were likely their when US troops occupied the site imediately after the invasion, taking som of the wind out of the conservative's sails). Bush supporters claimed this was an unfair, partisan attack against their candidate, but they always claim that whenever they get bad news. Complaints such as this are yet another piece of anti-news propoganda spread by conservative idealogues who, at leaast since Nixon, have been antagonistic toward the press. They seem to believe that if a newspaper covers any story critical toward them or their agenda it shows the media as a whole to be pawns of a radical liberal elite. Conservatives do not want an objective press--or rather, their definition of objecvity is limited to "anyone who agrees with me." The current administration's relationship with the press is indicative of conservative attitudes toward the third estate. The preisdent rarely holds press conferences or interviews. When he does grant an interview it is usually to someone who will not challenge him, like Bill Oreily (with good reason, as shown by his gaff in an interview with Matt Laur, when Bush said he didn't think the war on terrorism could be won). As I've said before, this administration seems to have taken Orwell's 1984 as an instruction manual on how to run a country, including how to control the flow of information. A free and objective press is dangerous to George Bush.


Blogger Chloe said...

Heavens, your mother sounds a bit like mine. haha. But I have some gratitude now because she's not quite as right-wing. My mother was a very liberal all through my childhood. Now in recent years it seems like she's fallen for a lot of that right-wing propaganda crap and thinks Bush is no worse than anybody else. It's highly annoying though. It would be rich if either of our mothers made any comments about a candidate "flip-flopping" on issues though. haha!!!

8:28 PM  

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