Look at me, the proof of Kaylan's thesis below, right? Don't I selectively read and filter information to present a "truth" that agrees with my worldview? Well, I hope not. I try to present & critique views I disagree with, I even make myself read FOXNews. But I do worry about the growing number of people who get their information about the world exclusively from sources which cater to their ideological taste, from dispenser of truth who may or may not call themselves "journalists." That is why I battle the myth of the "lib'rul media," because those who harp on this theme act like scarecrows, driving conservatives away from the "hidden bias" of the MSM, only to embrace the overt, comforting bias of talk radio and the right-wing web. But if you insist on swallowing the myth of the Liberal Media and the Conservative Antidote, you should still read and listen to both (however you define them), or else there will be nothing for you to "counteract" with your preferred source(s)!
Indeed, I reject the idea that there are only two sides out there, and the dangerous idea that, "If this news/analysis disagrees with my beliefs, then it must be biased."
Still, Kaylan's final question is a good one: How do people develop beliefs in the first place? Psychologists and political scientists have, I think, already answered this question, and it has little to do with what newspapers we read. For a journalist like Kaylan, perhaps the hardest truth to accept is just how powerless he is to shape public opinion.
To me, the central, disturbing question is: How interested are people in the truth, anyway? Do they really care? I mean, it's not like liberals and conservatives don't see or hear the other side's arguments, even accidentally; it's just that they don't care about them. It's not that they don't see or hear facts in reported news which contradict their views, it's that they simply disregard them. Talk radio, the Internet and cable news have simply made it easier for us to talk past each other, avoiding real interaction and the messy debates and clashes of ideas that come with it.
Kaylan chooses a great example in Iraq, because 99.9% of us have never been there, nor do most of us have the opportunity to talk with somebody who has been there. We have no common reference point for what's happening over there.
(Except, perhaps, the failed war in Vietnam. But time has shown how flawed that comparison was, and how unique the Iraq morass is. Nevertheless, Vietnam has served a useful purpose by giving us at least a starting point, some kind of framework within which to discuss the Iraq invasion and occupation. As the Iraq war wore on, and we realized we'd be there a long time, others -- mostly those who have supported the Iraq invasion and occupation -- reached back further still: to the shared reference point of WWII. They argued that the messy war in Iraq was part of a larger campaign identical to the noble and heroic war to beat back Fascism. In my view, however, that reference point missed the mark both emotionally and intellectually, and consequently, never took hold with many Americans.)
And yet, despite our ignorance and distance from actual events in Iraq, we care deeply about them. We have been forced to make up our minds on less than perfect information. For if we didn't choose a side, we weren't able to participate meaningfully in directing our democracy -- or, by extension, their fledgling democracy. Moreover, in times like these, professing one's ignorance or uncertainty is fraught, because those who claim knowledge and certainty -- even if they are dangerously wrong -- garner respect and public support and seize the initiative. (This is exactly what happened in the runup to the Iraq invasion). So when the stakes are this high, you have to choose a side and take a stand, knowing full well that the whole Truth may be beyond reach.
Thankfully, we usually do have a shared reality with which to vet the news and opinions presented to us. We have brains, education, and experience at our disposal. In the dawning Obama Era, let's use them. In 2009, let's be less ideological, more pragmatic and solutions-oriented, and embrace the "reality-based community."
By Melik Kaylan
December 23, 2008 | Forbes.com
The Internet's evisceration of the music business points to yet another kind of meltdown on the horizon, one that may reach a crisis in the Obama years: the meltdown of Big Media purveyors in newsprint, television, books and movies. We confront a bewildering sea change in mass communications, and nobody seems to have clue where we're headed.
In the music biz, easy download capability through computers meant that consumers preferred not to go out and buy CDs. They shared the music for free via the Internet. Now that they can download for a dollar a song from iTunes--a clear revenue stream has appeared but a little too late. Everything else has changed.
Soon after consumption became too easy to monitor properly, supply followed suit; anybody could create music and push it on the Web, thereby bypassing the music industry gatekeepers. Result: There was a Babel of options to choose from and--the already famous excepted--no way of knowing whom to choose because the new process destroyed the old one by which talent gradually evolved toward fame and recognition.
The gatekeepers had served the vital function of filtering, marketing and branding talent. By creating celebrity, they'd helped focus the attention of mass audiences toward shared tastes, shared cultural experiences and, ultimately, shared values (however dubious).
Many iconoclasts objected to the old system, and have been delighted with the changes. They talk of "democratization" and "proliferation of choice" and "pluralism."
This is especially true in the area of news media. Ann Coulter, for example, was recently asked in a public forum what she thought of the financial difficulties besetting mainstream newspapers. She was delighted that the monopolies had finally fragmented and new voices like hers could be heard.
In principle, she is right--but then she achieved fame just before the floodgates opened. She had Fox News on her side and a still-healthy book-industry distribution and marketing system, albeit one that largely found her views distasteful. When the monopolies fade, so will the role (and fame) of anti-monopolists like the leggy and feisty Ms. Coulter. (I have written about her before.)
Where are we headed? Here's a clue: Whenever I returned from reporting in Iraq, I was always asked by people at dinners and cocktails--informed citizens all--"What's it really like over there?" Ye Gods, I thought, you live in the most media-intensive environment, with so many sources, how can you still be asking?
At first I thought they didn't trust the media monopolies or the political slant in every report they read ranging from blogs to newspapers. But I've come to sense a profounder cause at work: the fragmentation of the very process by which we form opinion, or taste, or ultimately a sense of the truth.
I grew up in the U.K. at a time when the television offered two state channels and one commercial channel. It meant that mandarins with high taste determined the level of culture to be nightly consumed by the citizenry. It also meant that the country as a whole experienced culture, even counterculture, in unison.
Not a bad time to grow up--from high-minded documentaries like the 7-Up series to entertainment from the Beatles to Monty Python to Spitting Image, the system produced terrific results. Sure, one had to filter out the snoozy-left default ideology of BBC apparatchiks, but most people were intelligent enough to do so, and partly because the BBC didn't talk down to them. After all, the country elected Margaret Thatcher.
Never in doubt, though, was the nature of truth, what it looked and felt like. It was a whole and compact thing with a glue of certainty at the core, enough to act upon, and it grew out of shared reality, common experience. I am not talking about opinions here, political or otherwise, but the sense that it was possible to know what actually happened, to digest the knowledge and believe you knew the truth.
I speak here of the Western world. That sense of the truth was precisely what the Iron Curtain countries lacked, because they disallowed any and all alternative voices.
But there is a point at which multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, trans-national, infinite and contradictory sources of information simply confuse and bewilder the individual and fragment the perceptual consensus. Since no one has the time to wade through all the sources, one arrives at the same relationship to the truth as the Soviet citizen: knowing the truth is too much hard work--if it is even knowable in the end.
To take Iraq again--what your news source chose to report--what it chose to see, even--depended often on its political bias. Anti-war bias? Lots of car bombs to report. Pro-intervention? Lots of turning points in the long struggle. But with a zillion blogs and sources, even by local Iraqis, each with its particular political nuance, how could you know what was the "balanced" version, indeed what was the reality. So much for infinite pluralism in the media.
Recently, I went down to Miami Beach to report for the Wall Street Journal on the annual Miami Art Basel extravaganza. Watching the mega-moneyed collectors at the main art fair, I was fascinated to see that they were all watching each other. In a field where a bunch of cigarette stubs in a medicine cabinet by Damien Hirst can be worth $1 million, nobody knew what was good or bad art, indeed what art was.
Here is the reductio ad absurdum of endless "inclusivity" or "inclusiveness"--it ultimately destroys the category that contains it. Endless truths destroy the notion of truth. If anything can be art, you have no idea what defines art, and you start watching other people to get clues.
The Internet, by its nature, destroys that shaping experience by which countries or cultures live a "moment" together. It's not a normative medium as the BBC was in my youth. It simply feeds the consumer's pre-formed tastes, it doesn't form them. If you know what you want, the Internet is a great tool. But how do you develop your tastes, or political biases or moral code--the criteria that help you to choose--in the first place? My bet is, in the coming decades, it won't be through the media anymore.