Peggy Noonan has always been, and will likely always be, one of my all time favorite columnist/writers. She, as very few in the main stream media seem able, has an uncanny ability to see things as they are. She may not be C.S. Lewis with 50 years of foresight in political and cultural thinking, or Dostoevsky who saw much further. But it is still a rare gift to be able to accurately assess that which is happening today.
Perhaps if she lived in a slower time (Just thinking about the sheer pace of our media intake can be nauseating) she might have been one with more foresight. But I still have a profound respect for the acuity of her mind. In her column from yesterday she expresses this mental sharpness with her usual wit.
The media has been called an echo chamber. I think that is an apt description, and in its best moments that is exacly what it does, it echos(definition here) that which is happening loudly enough for the public to hear it and respond. Unfortunately, in our further and further segmented/ing culture, the media begun to create the the sound waves instead of reflecting them. One has only to look at the opinions of “mainstream” media re: FoxNews or MSNBC to understand that producers are creating news as much if not moreso than the events of the day.
If you tell a lie, long enough and loud enough, people will begin to believe it, despite their better assumptions. Witness the lie of “Separation of Church and State.” The Constitution never utters the words, ever. Look it up. But as the secularists of America, since the early 1960’s have repeated the phrase, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, the public has gradually, slowly begun to accept the idea as fact without critical challenge.
The same is true for today’s economic environment. The media, driven by its endless hunger for the scoop, (partially)created one. A year ago, when the media first began talking about the “economic crisis” none existed. Columnists and editors were throwing around the words recession and depression willy-nilly, and, at that point, jobs were increasing, the economy was still growing, income levels were still rising, and home ownership was at an all time high. Hardly indicators of a coming recession, or worse Great Depression II (as Noonan calls it).
Were there problems? Absolutely, Congress had pushed hard over the last few years to enable sub-prime lenders an easy path, and many home owners were shuddering about the coming need to refinance loans they couldn’t afford. Economic growth was slowing (that’s an interesting phrase btw, one I’d like to address more fully in a later piece). And insurance and rising day-to-day costs like gasoline were reaching historic highs. So there were certainly indicators of difficulty ahead.
But the media had a different goal in mind. They thought by trumpeting the economic woes and by blaming President Bush for it all (a strategy that had worked in previous years on a variety of issues – even SNL understood this one) that they could help the democratic ticket succeed. In fact, it worked. The media successfully changed the issue of the day from leadership, character and security (the primary issues of 2004 according research) to the economy.
The problem is the strategy worked too well.
Not only did it secure the election of Barrack Obama, who may turn out to be just the man for the job, but it actually increased the chances of an actual economic crisis.
Now is it all the media’s fault? Of course not. Like I mentioned, ecomic realities existed in which the potential for downturn could flourish. I think there were two main narratives. 1. Economic realities 2. The media speaking in half-truths over and over again talking about the impending economic doomsday.
Does the media need to rethink it’s goals? Absolutely. The fourth estate needs desperately to rethink its understanding of itself and its role in society. The press exists to to keep people informed and leadership accountable. And, really to keep people informed so that people will keep leadership accountable (remember we do live in a country that can express its opinion via the vote).
The danger is when the press begins to cheer lead for certain candidates, or for certain types of news. Most people don’t have the time, or the energy to think through the editing decisions of major media outlets, they don’t have the desire to do the research and learn for themselves when the press is in the tank for a certain candidate (one study this year showed that media members financial giving was 100-1 for Obama/dems vs. McCain/repubs). People expect the press to be unbiased, to leave their opinions and hopes at the door of their office. In short people expect the press to be professional.
I didn’t go to journalism school. I haven’t worked or written for the New York Times. In fact as far as those standards are concerned, I’m pretty much a nobody. But I am a thoughtful person, one who weighs all of the issues with a sense of responsibility. A person who, at the end of the day, hopes and prays that I make/made good decisions in the roles for which I do have responsibility, because the good of many outweighs the good of my affections or opinions.
Here’s to hoping the press can begin to think this way again soon. And here’s a thankful note for people like Peggy Noonan.