-By Warner Todd Huston
There was an amusing story going around right after Nixon's re-election in 1972. As the story goes a New York columnist wondered how Nixon got re-elected as that Columnist had never met anyone that voted for him. This is the same sort of hermetically sealed bubble in which writer for Fortune Magazine, Marc Gunther, seems to live. A nether world where everyone he meets is homogeneous, all having the same opinions, influences, and pastimes.
In a recent article titled The extinction of mass culture
, Gunther bemoans the loss of what he imagines is a common American culture because of the rise of the Internet, its diversity of sources of information ringing death knell for the MSM.
But here is the bubble in which he lives defined; Gunther imagines the loss of influence experienced by the MSM has made our country "poorer" for that diminished influence! Obviously he feels the time America was controlled by the same opinions from the self-appointed few in the MSM was a better day."I think the explosion of choice has left us poorer in at least two arenas. The first is journalism. ... The network evening newscasts, big-city newspapers and the national news magazines once had the money, access, skills, commitment and power to deliver lots of original reporting and put important issues on the national agenda. Today, they are all diminished.Yes, there is more information available to us than ever, but I don't think we are better informed. Niche media will, inevitably, continue to weaken mass media."
Amazingly, choice is "bad" to Gunther! And, worse still, it is somehow destroying our "culture"... that is, if you define "culture" as that which is controlled by old media outlets like The New York Times
, news magazines, and the big three TV networks!
Ridiculously, Gunther's idea of a loss of culture is the fact that one can no longer easily name the biggest TV star or the most recognizable Advertisement slogan."TV's biggest stars are Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric, but they don't appear in prime time and they've been around for years - before the 300-channel universe fragmented audiences and damaged broadcast TV's hit-making machinery.As for advertising, there are no 21st century equivalents to 'We Try Harder' or 'Where's the Beef?' or 'Just Do It.'"
Somehow, I just can't warm to the idea that a passing of ubiquitous ad-lines like "Where's the Beef" equates to a culture of which we should bemoan the passing! Nor do I think we are somehow "poorer" because there isn't a particular TV star whose name is on the tips of everyone's tounge. But Gunther seems to feel that we are "poorer" for such losses none-the-less.
Sadly Gunther feels that all that America "is" is what happens on TV."Mass culture provides intangible benefits, too. Big stars, hit TV shows and even commercials help knit a society together. Think of the feeling that comes a few times a year - the morning after the Super Bowl or the Oscars - when tens of millions of Americans share a common experience."
This statement proves that Gunther is in a bubble of his own making, one of mere personal experience as well as one rooted in only a short amount of historical time. This "mass culture" Gunther seems to think America "is", has only existed for a small portion of our great country's history.
Without question, radio and Hollywood movies brought a sort of mass culture to America but only starting in the 1930s. And it wasn't really until TV became ever present that this commonality of experience that Gunther seems to feel defines America really took off.
Before mass entertainment, we had our history, our struggles, our educational system, our values, our politics and politicians comprising our culture and creating those shared experiences. But we also had our regional differences and local ideas that brought our communities together. Since the inception of mass entertainment venues like radio, movies and TV, our REAL culture has been watered down, even ridiculed and made "poorer" by the ever downwardly spiraling standards of that very entertainment. Recalling Newton Minnow's "vast wasteland" line here seems apropos.
Therefore, the death of the MSM and the rise of Gunther's lamented "choice" should be welcomed, not feared.
Speaking of politics, Gunther was also crying about how that has been affected by the MSM's loss of influence with his "second arena" of worry."The second arena where we are worse off is politics. This is related to journalism, as the moderate and responsible (okay, bland) voices of the MSM get drowned out by partisan, opinionated cableheads and bloggers."
Once again, Gunther is blinded by personal experience and a narrow knowledge of this country over too short a period of time. This "bland" world of mere facts and journalism that Gunther imagines existed to so better serve our common culture is a somewhat mythical creature that only existed between the decades nearing the end of WWII and the beginning of the Clinton years.
Gunther imagines that we had a steady, proud and unpartisan "journalism" that is now being drowned out by those evil bloggers. Yet, this is a canard. We have never had an unpartisan media. In those wonderful, halcyon days of perfect journalism that Gunther so warmly recalls, we had a decided lack of diversity of opinion as the main news sources all converged on a single ideology, one just as decidedly anti-government if not outright anti-American.
Gunther is also seemingly unaware of how bitter and partisan the press was during the entire of the 150 years before WWII, before FDR succeeded in co-opting the press to his narrow view, corralling them into lap-dog media status. Further, Gunther seems unaware that, since WWII, the media has viciously attacked anyone who did not toe the same socialist line that FDR set up in the 1940s. Truman, Reagan, Bush and W Bush have all been savaged because they stood for ideas that veered from the leftist line while their opponents rarely got but a cross word.
Gunther also claims that we are more "polarized" now than ever before. This similarly shows he doesn't know much about American history, but is basing all his opinions on his own narrow experience."Politics in America has become polarized for many reasons, but a big one is the fact that people can now filter the news and opinion they get to avoid exposure to ideas with which they disagree. Anderson suggests that this could well be a temporary problem, and that if the major parties continue to move to the extremes and the quality of debate continues to deteriorate, the Internet could well enable a new party or parties, to arise."
In this country's history, the press WAS the "filtering out" that the polarized political sides used to screen out unwanted ideas. From the very first days of our Republic newspapers chose a candidate or cause and promoted them. Each town had several newspapers, all of which supported their man or cause. If you supported a side, you read the paper that supported your side. And after WWII when the MSM all coincided on a single point of view, news outlets vehemently and overtly chose a side "filtering out" all opposing views. The only difference between the early days of American journalism and that after WWII is that diversity of opinion was quashed in the later.
Again, Gunther is dreaming of an American tradition of nonpartisan professional journalism, a trade that really has never existed. At least now we can get honest opinion from the new media on the Internet instead of the barely disguised homogenous leftism of the MSM.
Lastly, it is rather amusing to see him carp about the "extremism" of the Political Parties as if this is something new. America's political Parties have often gone "extreme" in the past, usually when they are out of power and trying to regain it or when their extremism is consequently causing them to lose the power they do have. They always figure it out eventually and distance themselves from the extreme and it is then they usually win. But, in many ways, politics is always about extremes, passions, loud talking and bellicose claims no matter who wins.
So, what Gunther laments as passing mostly never existed but in the minds of the snooty, Ivy League grads that run the MSM with their common opinions agreed upon and settled before they write their first "fact". The real world -- you know, the one Gunther has yet to visit? -- never ran that way but for that short, sleepy time of the Media's "Golden" age. This loss of culture that Gunther is so worried about is nothing to cry over, but something to celebrate. We are climbing out from under the oppressive opinions of the media elite and blinking in the sunlight of a world of free expression and forming our own opinions.
... But then, that threatens Gunther's elite position, I guess. So, maybe we can see why he wails so?
Of course, Gunther's "culture" dominated by I Love Lucy
, Madison Avenue ad campaigns, ABC News, and The New York Times
is a far different and "poorer" culture than that of the struggle for Religious Freedom, the Founding Fathers, the settling of the West, the great wars, and the quest for civil rights that forms our real culture. The culture that Gunther cries over at night is not the real culture of the country and its loss will not harm us a bit.
Gunther may be the king of media, he may know every prosaic entertainment trivia question under the sun, but he don't know jack about history nor what "culture" truly is.