The press is a player, believe it or not.

The press is a player, believe it or not.
The tenets of “professionalism” prevent them from admitting it, but the press has become essential role-players in our electoral process. Jay Rosen’s argument is brilliantly crafted and must-reading for students of the subject.

And here’s William Powers of National Journal on the inside baseball approach: “The class of true political obsessives is tiny, and the media feel a little guilty about belonging to it, about behaving less and less like everyday people and more and more like the political operatives they cover.”

But feeling guilty and changing your behavior are two different things. Spin Alley is absurd, and called so by journalists. But Spin Alley is there after every big debate, and it still draws the journalists. Why is this?

The answer involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst… the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for. So while the press likes being a player, it does not like being asked: what are you for?

In fact, the instructions are not to think about it too much, because to know what you are playing for would be to have a kind of agenda. And by all mainstream definition the political reporter must have no kind of agenda. The Washington Post, National Public Radio, CNN, Newsweek, The Des Moines Register, and all similar competitors, are officially (and rhetorically) committed to “no agenda” journalism, also known as the view from nowhere. So while it might be recognized that the press is a player, journalists also see an unsolvable problem if they take one more intellectual step. So they dare not.

This conundrum is the inevitable fruit of living within Walter Lippmann’s smokescreen of a “professional” class of journalist. As I’ve noted many times here, Lippmann and his cronies on the Creel Commission invented the concept of public relations, and Lippmann’s vision of democracy was that it should be run by an educated class of elites. Is it any surprise that the mainstream press now finds itself privately knowing its role and liking it but unable to acknowledge it?

The chuckle is that public knows (or senses) this too.

Postmodernism is all about power to the people, people who survey the landscape of Modernism, with its worship of logic and reason, and find ruin. Pomos detest hierarchy and being “managed,” and the irony is that the technological inventions of modern times have made it possible for them to call a spade a spade. The higher up the Modernist ladder one gets, the quicker the bottom is rising up to meet them, threatening to swallow them whole.

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