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and that line plunged sharply starting in the mid-1990s, when the FCC was facilitating so much consolidation.” Devine argues that the big owners “share a cor- porate culture and set of values among themselves, but not with their audiences. Their bottom line isn’t public service; it’s shareholder profit. In that model of journalism, fewer voices can afford to stay in the game.” In her view, if news media are “driven by corporate agendas, that makes for journalism with- out a soul, and without a future.” She’s interested in the alterna- tives proposed by Robert Mc - Chesney and John Nichols in The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again. The book suggests more philan-


1970s, such as redistricting that “carved out safe Republican and Democratic districts” so that each party’s primaries now serve as “forums where ideologues debate moderates,” Senate fili- buster rules and House commit- tee structures that make it hard to contain “the more inflamma- tory members,” and “a ceaseless money chase that compels can- didates to seek support from ide- ological groups.”


RADIO AND TV “DEBATE-A-PALOOZAS DO NOTHING TO ELEVATE THE DISCOURSE.” MEANWHILE, EVEN “STANDARD” TV NEWS OFTEN FEEDS SENSATIONALISM ON A SUBTLER SCALE.


thropic and even government support of media, as with the BBC and the Guardian in England and PBS in America. Cambria says government involvement in the free press “sounds creepy,” and philanthropic funding raises red flags too. She praises Pro Publica but calls for “close scrutiny of who is funding some of these start-ups, especially the more local ones.” Jochnowitz has been following the online Texas Tribune, “which doesn’t seem to be carrying anyone’s water so far,” and a handful of such outlets are cited in the Economist report for their nonprofit status and also their express focus on political, civic, and accountability journalism. Whether its budget is be- holden to commercial advertisers or charitable foundations, Jochnowitz figures “a widely diversified base of support can in- sulate a paper from too much fretting or susceptibility to a sud- den loss of sponsorship.”


FACTS, LIES, FLAMES Don’t forget, says Steve Rosenbaum, that America has a long history of biased journalism, starting with its first political par- ties, which each had their own newspapers, and continuing with “press barons” like Democrat William Randolph Hearst and Republican Joseph Pulitzer, up to the unabashedly conser- vative media mogul Rupert Murdoch today. As the Economist explains, impartiality became a journalistic tenet in the 19th century for business reasons (wider audience appeal meant big- ger circulation and ad revenues) and then as part of the profes- sionalization of journalism during the early 20th century. Has journalism become too polemical again? Ron Seyb ques- tions the question; he believes it’s not the media that have po- larized America in recent decades. If it really is more polarized, he says, he puts it down to political changes since the mid-


16 SCOPE FALL 2011


Jochnowitz does see a media role. He concedes that the ex- tremes of politics have “always been prone to selective facts, lies, and incendiary rhetoric, but this seems to be creeping closer to the center.” To avoid any whiff of perceived bias, he says, today’s most circumspect media resort to “he said, she said” re-


porting. With popular opinion so evenly split on many issues, those media also blanch at the prospect of alienating half their audience, so they “make them all feel their side had its say, without any ‘judgment,’” Jochnowitz says. Take, for example, reporting that gives the same weight to one expert speaking for thousands of climate-change scientists as it gives to one non - scientist speaking for a fringe of climate-change deniers—it “blurs the lines between opinion and fact.” Now add the Web’s power of propagation. “The written word, especially a simple declarative sentence, has always had the ring of truth,” he says, but when a sentence is posted and retweeted by thousands of like-minded Web users, it’s soon per- ceived as hard, established fact. “This is why I love sites like Politifact and Snopes,” which try to fairly evaluate the truth of assertions, (mis)quotes, hoaxes, and legends. In the welter of facts and opinions, the Economist accounts for the popularity of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and scores of other strongly, even wildly conservative news commentators, along with liberal partisans like Rachel Maddow and comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, this way: “Consumers are overwhelmed with information and want to be told what it all means.” No wonder Fox is not the only news outlet “that is un- afraid to say what it thinks and is prospering as a result.” Seyb says talk-radio’s and cable-TV’s “partisan debate-a- paloozas do nothing to elevate the discourse.” Meanwhile, Devine argues, even “standard” TV news often feeds sensation- alism on a subtler scale. “In the early days of TV, you had a solemn anchorman at a plain desk, to lend gravitas to the nightly news. But now the screen is full of loaded images— maybe an American flag in the background, maybe a colorful headline.” With the ubiquitous emotionally charged music, it


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