Deep throat or shallow press?

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at
Sun Sep 13 15:05:08 PDT 1998

MScoleman at wrote:

Aside from all this, I think the press has reacted abysmally to this whole incident (or series of incidents). Every time any news program gives a report on the President/Lewinsky/Starr mess I either hit the mute or turn to another channel or stop watching TV.

The behavior of the press in this fits perfectly with the model that Bourdieu lays out in On Television The media people think that this is what the public wants, all evidence to the contrary - but they always project their own interests onto the public, and insist they're just feeding the demand. Why do the media love this so? Because it's about nothing serious, and because it allows various media outlets to compete for utterly bogus "scoops." They can look bold, original, and investigative,but it's not about anything really significant. Of course, they could be looking into the sexual politics aspects of the affair, but they're not; that would require thought, time, and a critical stance towards the status quo.



After reading the Bourdieu review above, and thinking on the current "crisis of the Presidency", nobody seems to note something that all of these stories have in common--they are drama, as in Theater. The means to make News, are the classic techniques of drama, i.e. moral conflict. If a story can not be re-cast as a piece of dramatic theater, then it is simply not News. So, we have one moral conflict after another done up as documented reality. One of the underlying reasons for the seamless uniformity of all these productions is simply the consequence of the limited repertory of moral conflicts available. After all there are not thousands or millions of these around, but merely a dozen or less classic, recognizable schemas. These are sufficient to fill maybe a few hours of time or a few shelves of text, but they certainly can not be extended by the tens, hundreds, thousands and millions of hours that are required by broadcasting, not to mention the metric tons of newsprint consumed year after year.

So, extending this idea a little further, the News media's apparent identification with the Right wing may not be entirely a matter of money, connections, political affinities, or anything as sinister or as rational as all that. While all those might be factors, it may also be that the Right, since it recasts every issue as a morality play, has discovered the key to media attention--drama as moral conflict through a sharply defined confrontation between actors. Now the old civil rights and anti-war groups learned this long ago and then promptly forgot it, or abandoned it as a theoretically 'bad' tactic.

In any event, drama sells, and in particular, spectacularly staged events that promise blood, and hopefully mayhem and death, just like Greek tragedies.

Chuck Grimes

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list