The Media and the Blogosphere
As often happens, this post began as a comment to another entry, dcblogger's post on attempts to cut funding to NPR.
I think the blogosphere really took off back in 2002-2003 in the run up to the Iraq War. I know it did for me. It wasn't until that time that there was an alternate and widely available metric to evaluate how far the MSM had descended into propaganda and infotainment. Nor was it that this metric sprang fully formed into existence. It developed as the blogosphere developed, and is still developing. It was a collaborative effort of finding information and sources of information and sharing these with others. As we did, our analytical skills improved and became more detailed.
Inevitably, there were comparisons with traditional media and the question naturally arose: How was it that we, unpaid amateurs for the most part, could do better analysis and reporting than the paid professionals with all their resources? Before the Iraq War, people like me, thought there were aberrations and some but not overwhelming biases in news reporting. But the media's behavior in and around the Iraq War, and the blogosphere's ability to chronicle and analyze it made clear that the MSM was not influenced by propaganda, it was propaganda, and that it's use as propaganda was not occasional, as with just the Iraq War, but systemic.
Someone found Upton Sinclair's quote: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it" and it became the defining media critique of our times.
Because of how and when the blogosphere developed, it has retrospective limitations. A lot of older information isn't on the web or is more difficult to access. So it is harder to say when the media became lackeys of the elite or if they always were and we just didn't know or couldn't prove it. For me, I would say that while the tendencies always were there the real takeover of the media and its conversion into propaganda tracks fairly closely with the development of kleptocracy in the country, that is to say over the last 35 years or so.
We can see this in the hagiographic media treatment of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and continuing with the media's obsession with Bill Clinton's penis in the 1990s. By the time George Bush steals his way into the Presidency, the media is pretty much the mixture of propaganda and distraction we see today. I would also add that media consolidation really began in earnest in the 1980s. Individual news outlets were bought up and became part of large media companies. In the case of the broadcast networks, they were bought up by even larger non-media companies. All this consolidation resulted in cuts to staff, in the name of efficiency but also to maximize profits. So media companies lost most of their ability at the local level to investigate. But they also lost the will to. As large corporations or units of large corporations, they became subject to the priorities of the parent firms. As the parents had a corporatist agenda, the news increasingly became corporatist in outlook. Investigative reporting was a nuisance. It was useful, on occasion, to burnish the brand, but not if it threatened run ins with the government that might hurt the parent company's profits and business with the government. Then too investigative reporting was largely superseded by access journalism. Why dig for information when the powers that be would give it to you as long as you passed along their viewpoint on it?
That's my take on what happened to the MSM, but what I find interesting about the blogosphere is that the same tools and analysis that it can use with the MSM can also be applied to itself. When I do this, I see in the left side of the blogsphere a repetition of these same corporatizing tendencies, especially among the larger and better known players. dailykos trades on its identification with the Democratic party and has little tolerance for criticism of the party. The Huffington Post imitated mainstream media to the point that it became indistinguishable from it, and just sold itself to a larger media company. History repeats itself. Then there are sites like firedoglake, more liberal than kos, more willing to criticize Democrats, but just as intolerant of opposition to that party as kos. Is that ideology or corporate interest, and at what point do the two merge? Certainly over time as it has grown that site has become markedly less progressive and more Democratic in orientation.
The conclusion here if there is any is that the blogosphere really came into its own in reaction to deficiencies in traditional media, deficiencies which as it develops it tends to emulate.