Thursday, September 11, 2008

Republicans exploiting serious flaws of the press in ever more dangerous ways

With regard to Paul Krugman's September 12th colunm, Blizzard of Lies:

All of this frighteningly shows what an enormous problem the press is.

There are two big problems:

1) So many people in the press think it's their job to be equally "nice" to both sides, regardless of what the truth is. The goal should be as well as possible to convey important truths in a non-misleading way (It's not enough that what's written is literally true, if you know it will mislead a large percentage of your readers about something important, and you are very capable of writing it in a way that won't mislead), and an accurate way. Until there's a change in press culture and morays greatly towards this, there will be serious problems, and the country will be at great risk of making disastrous decisions like we did in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

2) There are enormous positive externalities to serious quality news reporting. Thus, we can greatly increase welfare and efficiency by subsidizing it, for example with a well constructed program like the investment tax credit for serious investigative reporting. Without subsidizing it, corporate organizations will have an extremely strong incentive to only do what maximizes profit which is a great deal of fluff and sensational reporting and relatively little serious and expensive investigation and analysis. Just look at what's happening at the Los Angeles Times right now. The world is a lot more complicated than it was in 1810, the primitive time Republicans want to take us back to (you know, the good old days, when people fended for themselves, average life expectancy was under 40, and those who were old were by far the largest group in poverty). A big problem with the press today is that they have to report on complicated economics and science when they majored in journalism -- and on very short deadlines. They really need large staffs of in-house experts in economics and science who can work closely with them on their articles, but profit-wise this is a money loser, and won't happen if we leave it to the pure free market. The enormous positive externalities from these things have to be subsidized or we're at much greater risk of more George W. Bushes. The costs of not addressing these externalities are absolutely enormous.

1 comment:

trog69 said...

Thank you for this. I've been whining about the corporate slant for quite a few years now. Tommy Jefferson knew how valuable the press was for keeping things at least somewhat honest. The MSM heads who answer to the stockholders must do whatever will increase share value, or they'd be remiss in their duties. Look at how dead silent they all were when the FCC, under M. Powell, tried to give even more access to a very few massive conglomerates. The true enemy to them, the intertubes, and the letter writing and phone calls campaign was the reason that crap was overturned by Congress.

Trying to get my head around the Fairness Doctrine gives me the vapors, though perhaps a second look at the "personal attack" rule and the "political editorial" rule might be in order. This still does not answer what you bring up, the unhelpful way that reporting is done now. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of subsidizing much of the things needed for accurate reporting, such as experts on tap, less 'he said, she said', more international news desks being reopened, etc. Another thing it may help with is a clean break from the other entities of telecom conglomerates. A good example is the AP's political coverage, now that Murdoch is on the board, has taken a...less neutral stance, especially with Mr. Fournier, their DC editor, showing a very blatant lean towards McCain in the regular reporting. It's almost an erasure of the line between reporting and an Op-Ed piece.

Don't get me started. hehe.