Back in April 2011, Prof. Jay Rosen — Twitter mindcaster extraordinary, NYU J-school Prof and Studio 20 program Director at NYU, media critic and student of new media — talked with Stuart Zechman. Jay Ackroyd moderated continued the conversation in hour two. Lightly edited, March 2013.
In this rare and still timely Sunday special, Rosen and Stuart Zechman talk about the ideology of the press, the 'church of the savvy,' the David Broder brand and Third Way Democratic constructs about social safety net programs.
Prof. Rosen's PressThink post "Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press" started them off. He writes
That it's easy to describe the ideology of the press is a point on which the left, the right and the profession of journalism converge. I disagree. I think it's tricky. So tricky, I've had to invent my own language for discussing it.
Stuart responded, at length, in comments:
There's another complicated answer to the question "What's the ideology of the political press corps?" that starts simply enough: "It's Centrism. Now, let me explain what I mean by that term..."
In order to provide just a bit more on what I mean by "Centrism" the ideology, I'm going to reprint an excerpt from a post of mine at Poli-Lag --the some-time political blog that Jay Ackroyd and I started in 2008-- called "Joe Klein is not your friend":
The entire "liberal media" is not liberal --we know this.The establishment political press corps' professional ideology, by conviction, or custom, or trade temperament or by simple peer pressure is Centrism.The problem here is that the national political journos won't admit to an ideology at all, because that violates their "professional objectivity" code. That's why they won't label themselves in mainstream print as such. Movement Conservatives call them "liberals", and they recoil in horror. Adding to the confusion, Centrism is an ideology that fatuously characterizes itself as "pragmatic", "non-ideological" and "moderate". Centrists pride themselves primarily on the national political press corps' claim to authority and Seriousness: an absurd, often reality-denying "objectivity".Because of this phenomenon, we actual liberals are routinely mystified by this state of affairs. Some of this has to do with our internalizing of the "liberal media" meme, perhaps.Even the great writers and thinkers among us confuse the issue, by reasoning that Beltway "liberals" are somehow irrationally pretending away an assumed liberalism......the reason "Broderian centrism" loudly renounces liberalism, demands "a centrist critique of everything", and then demands ridiculously false "centrist equivalencies as an ideology" is simply because it actually is Centrism, the ideology.This is why these people habitually distort or ignore facts that contradict their premises, and are disastrously wrong on just about everything of significance...They are ideologues, just as determined in their premises and convictions as any Ayn Rand devotee or Trotskyist.The main practical characteristic that needs to be understood about Centrism and Centrists is that, if you are in any sense of the word a political activist --even to the extent that you comment on political blogs in your spare moments, or go to your bible-based church a real lot-- they don't like you. That's it in a nutshell: they don't like politically active people trying to control their own government. They don't trust you to make the right decisions that they, the technocrats should be making for you. They trust institutions; they trust themselves. They don't trust you. They don't think that you're up to the job that citizenship in a democracy demands. They think that you should be working and shopping instead.It also happens to be that professional class Centrists are scared sh*tless by the tent-revivalists, costume survivalists, antebellum Confederacy nostalgists and latter day Know Nothings who make up the Republican base. This is because they're threatened by people and popular movements in general. That's why they love to equate us with the speaking-in-tongues Pentecostals in Sarah Palin's rural Alaskan church. They think that, Left or Right, we're all nuts, and should just be out shopping for more SUV's, like normal, low-information, suburban Americans (whom they empower to ruin our political discourse every four years). You know: the people who let the political class run Washington --who genuinely judge the candidates on "appearing Presidential"? David Broder's store clerk, to whom he chats briefly when he's summering on Nantucket? They like those Americans.Incredibly, laughably, they call these political in-activists "the Radical Middle", i.e. Centrists, like themselves. That's why they claim special knowledge of what "regular Americans" are really thinking, regardless of the reality of those claims, regardless of available polling data. That's also how the regular attendees of the National Radio-Television Correspondents' Association Dinner can know so much about what goes on in the minds of the customers of any given Applebees. This is why Conventional Wisdom is so bizarrely divorced from reality.They guard their privilege --including the privilege of inside information on how everything actually works in government and the press-- as tightly as they can. They do so because they believe that they deserve such privilege, that they are entitled to their power. This is why they're so reflexively revolted by the concept of blogging (and commenting). Because of they worship at the altar of institutional power, they respect and even sometimes admire the Right-wing media nutcases who created their own massive (and now established) press/political machine, even whilst fearing and loathing the talk-radio show calling, mouth-breathing carnival marks to whom they condescend in print.We need to get this through our heads, so that we don't end up letting the Villagers be the perpetually corrupt referees of a game whose rules by right should be decided by us.
I think that, by revealing the political press corps as fundamentally ideological, and by exposing the ideology of "pragmatism" and "realism" for the rank, un-self aware orthodoxy it is, you have gone a long way toward advancing real critique of this constitutionally enumerated profession.
What might be worth examining and considering is what you have left out of the critique: that the professional ideology might possibly be closely aligned with a political equivalent held by the majority of those who now hold an increasingly permanent place of power in the capital, and who are equally interested in maintaining an elite-consensus Sphere of Legitimate Debate.
Which ideology most closely shares appropriations of the language of "pragmatism" and "realism?" What kind of political perspective also prides itself on "post-partisanship" and the transcendence of party politics? What ideology sees itself as an insider, savvy, activists' naivete-rejecting technocratic synthesis, reveling in its otherness to both popular Right and Left? What political faction religiously denies its ideology, and will not willingly name itself as either conservative or liberal? Who are alternately statists and corporatists as it suits them in the accumulation of power? Finally, what self-important, narcissistic group of Beltway ideologues culturally reject accountability, share a cosmopolitan contempt for social conservatism beneath a veneer of respectability for provincial consumption, and a devotion to the maintenance of a nominally adversarial partnership between financial, industry and social elites mediated by themselves?
Those are Centrists, i.e. Third Way centrists, i.e. Lakoff's neo-liberals, i.e. the New Democrat Coalition.
The political and policy equivalent of the Church of the Savvy is the Third Way, Prof. Rosen.
Please note that I'm not asserting that these are identical ideologies, or that a journalists' trade centrist is going to necessarily come to exactly the same conclusions as someone who works at the highest levels for CAP or PPI or the Dole/Daschle/Baker Bipartisan Policy Institute, or the New Democrat Network --just that it's likely.
I think it might be useful if you were to also consider that the professional ideology of the political press corps seems to line up extraordinarily well with thatother complex "something else" than Left and Right that just so happens to dominate our politics and our policy in the year 2010.
Please pardon the length of this comment, and thanks so much for reading and considering this, Prof. Rosen.
In hour 2, Jay Ackroyd and Stuart Zechman reflect further.