Hubris gone to seed

As Jeff Jarvis is quick to note, the hubris of the press can get in the way of accepting change. The odd thing about hubris (hell, most character defects) is that those so tagged usually don’t think of themselves that way. That leaves it to the rest of us to point out instances that demonstrate the fact.

My favorite is from Walter Lippmann himself. If you’re a regular reader here, you know him as the father of professional journalism, the guy from the early 20th century who, with his cronies on the Creel Committee — including Edward Bernays, the father of professional public relations — sought to manage culture through an élite press. Here’s the money quote from his book The Phantom Public.

“The public must be put in its place, so that it may exercise its own powers, but no less and perhaps even more, so that each of us may live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd.”

“Each of us?”

Last year, I attended a wonderful conference on the future of media, and NBC anchor Brian Williams offered opening comments via a video. In it, he expressed deep concern as a journalist about the amateur blogosphere (a.k.a. the bewildered herd) and used quotes from a blog about nose hair to prove it. The juxtaposition of professional news with a blog about nose hair was shocking — and entirely self-serving for Williams. I just shook my head in amazement.

And now we have Morely Safer, who told an audience at Quinnipiac University this week that he trusts citizen journalism as much as he would trust citizen surgery. According to the AP, “Safer said good journalism needs structure and responsibility. He considers the blogosphere no alternative, saying it is crammed with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard.”

That damned bewildered herd!

Honestly, folks, it’s no bulletin that there are people who are fascinated with nose hair, and what’s wrong with them publishing their thoughts about it? One man’s noise is another’s news, and the First Amendment is honored by such, not trashed. But to look down your nose at it as the “ravings” of a “nut with a keyboard” and then use it to make the point that “my journalism’s better than yours” only clouds the issue. And to compare professional journalists with surgeons? I won’t even go there.

This is not only hubris but a special kind of hubris, one that has gone to seed.

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