The Mass Media’s Balancing of Our Political Crisis

The difficulty we face in confronting the political crisis that has gripped the West (and perhaps we would have to say it is a crisis that has been running with foot flat to the boards for well over a century) is also manifest in an ongoingly corrosive way in the mass media.

   Like Alan Storkey, readers will appreciate the desire of “post-academic” and “retired” bloggers to be perpetually provoked by “local” contexts. And so, dear reader, you have Nurturing Justice. Thanks for your toleration.

   In yesterday’s post I tried to identify the deep problem of the neo-neutralist journalism of the major mass media outlets. It is a post-postmodern view of “millennials” who find themselves employed in jobs that require them to maintain “balanced reporting” in what they write (as well as trying to dispense with the former “essentialist” critique of objectivity).

   What we now experience is a persistent reliance in media analysis upon a presumption that “balance” in reporting means finding an “objective middle ground” among all the competing (subjective) opinions so that fairness can be ascribed to all views. And then what happens as we read the reports? What is ascribed as the normative subjective standard for “balanced”, “professional” journalism by the journalist, actually finds its way into the analysis by the dogma that public governance is actually and always subject to a similar balancing act (i.e. in the sphere of politics rather than the sphere of “just reporting” on politics). And we might say the rest is … ideology. We get what we receive – the “news” is all about how public governance is now, as ever, subject to the major agents of political machination who, all in their own ways, either seek to find middle ground or, presumably rejecting “balance”, claim to recast the entire polity by careering ahead with their own marginal agendas, and regular Tweets. And hence the “extremists” are classified as those dispensing with “balance”, except the people concern counter by saying they are dispensing with what “powerful interests” merely say is “balanced”.

   The “extremists” are very often in deep reaction to the “balancing act” of those seeking to capture the “middle ground” which they say is nothing other than self-interest. And they, for their part, from the “extremes” claim to be claiming to create a new middle ground. And so journalism that gives a “balanced account of the political crisis” from its own presumed “middle” needs to maintain credibility by continuing to construe alternatives in terms of extremes, and balance alternative balancing acts.

   And from there appeals to a normative standard of public justice are reduced to merely subjective appeals by those with opinions – so, the important thing for assessing opinions is that they be rightly “centred”, located on the middle ground, in other words “balanced”. And how is this middle ground discovered? Principle is whatever is “emergent”, whatever will give a new angle, or ensure a new cache of votes; at least it can be said to be a principle until the next election.

   In this context elections have become a kind of nation-wide mandated public opinion survey. Presumably they are necessary to ensuring our ongoing role as citizens. What we have to worry about politically is whatever is “emergent” in the revelations of popular opinion in response to a left-right (mythic) cosmological principle, and opinion polling is now in please to measure and orchestrate social and public issues because it is by changing people’s opinions that reality is restructured according to human demands.

   But as much as we can see this at work in the “mainstream”, it is a view that is present, and almost impossible to shake, whenever we engage in informal political discussion with our neighbours. It is not just the mercenary and greedy mass media. The appeal to what is “immanent” in public opinion is widely considered to be the true route to human fulfilment on the corporate scale. Such an appeal is also present in a recent Christianity Today analysis claiming to assist reader “understanding” of trends among post-Trump evangelical millennial women.

   Whatever normative maybe, what is measured as normal becomes the principle for how public governance in all of its dimensions is going to unfold. An earlier form of this “immanence” was that political parties by their electoral majorities determined what is normative for public governance – election winners had the permission of political sentiment to “transcend” mere opinion and elevate their platform into (hopefully timeless) legislation. The hope was that it time it would become the norm for normal, balanced life.

   With the corrosion of political parties we see the transformation of the rule of the myth of the “centre”, the “fulcrum” from which “balance” (and hence public justice) is to be discerned. This says: market research rules! Political parties, and Christian-evangelical reflection that runs on these same tracks, is headed toward a populist obeisance to little more than the advertising of public relations firms that have produced “results” for their “political side” (or in CT’s case their journal’s market niche) in a competition to bring right worship to the idol of “balance”. (And then after this blog was posted we read the latest “market research” on people’s opinions about marriage and parenting and the results are that the “middle ground” is now certainly in favour of SSM – and now it is the BBC that lends its hand to maintain the balance …).

   Could it be that we are currently experiencing the judgment of the Almighty which, in the words of Alan Storkey, comes not from God’s vindictiveness, but “because we get things wrong and face the consequences of our false normativity”? Is not that error stalking the earth at this time?


BCW 2.8.17



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