The Global War against Islamic Fascism is a many front war, being fought in such venues as Iraq, London, Rome, New York, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, and in the media, in academia, and in the precincts of the Democratic Party. Political Correctness severely damages the West's ability to adequately prosecute, and ultimately to win the war with a minimum of death and destruction. I would contend that the West, especially the Anglosphere, will not lose this war, but that short term defeats by America will ultimately lead to devastating defeat for Islam. If we leave Iraq prematurely, or the Iraqi constitution institutes some form of intolerant Shariah Law, even if done democratically, this would be a defeat for the liberal, democratic West in the war. The possibility of leaving prematurely increases in direct proportion to the anti-war distortions and bias in the MSM, which still has a powerful position in influencing public perceptions of the Iraqi theater. The existence of Fox News, right wing radio, and the blogosphere has done a great deal to level the playing field with the left-leaning MSM, but there remain fundamental ways in which the MSM determines the overall shaping of public perceptions in a country where most Americans gain their view of the world through the MSM and its derivatives.
The MSM is no longer completely denying their bias. In today's New York Times book review, Richard A. Posner writes about Bad News. In Posner's opinion, the MSM is being forced by economics to address their bias.
The audience decline is potentially fatal for newspapers. Not only has their daily readership dropped from 52.6 percent of adults in 1990 to 37.5 percent in 2000, but the drop is much steeper in the 20-to-49-year-old cohort, a generation that is, and as it ages will remain, much more comfortable with electronic media in general and the Web in particular than the current elderly are.
He suggests that one outcome of the threat to their bottom line is to protect their base. (The left wing side of the Democratic party is making the same mistake for different reasons.) He believes liberals will prefer to read liberal papers and conservatives will prefer conservative papers. Apparently, the idea of trying to decrease bias and attempting to report the news is not considered an option. Further, he rationalizes that readers will prefer to leave their world view unquestioned:
Moreover, people don't like being in a state of doubt, so they look for information that will support rather than undermine their existing beliefs. They're also uncomfortable seeing their beliefs challenged on issues that are bound up with their economic welfare, physical safety or religious and moral views.
This is an important argument, but he directs his attention in the wrong direction. He comments:
The public's interest in factual accuracy is less an interest in truth than a delight in the unmasking of the opposition's errors. Conservatives were unembarrassed by the errors of the Swift Boat veterans, while taking gleeful satisfaction in the exposure of the forgeries on which Dan Rather had apparently relied, and in his resulting fall from grace. They reveled in Newsweek's retracting its story about flushing the Koran down a toilet yet would prefer that American abuse of prisoners be concealed. Still, because there is a market demand for correcting the errors and ferreting out the misdeeds of one's enemies, the media exercise an important oversight function, creating accountability and deterring wrongdoing. That, rather than educating the public about the deep issues, is their great social mission. It shows how a market produces a social good as an unintended byproduct of self-interested behavior.
He has this backwards in several ways. Almost every conservative blogger I read (and there are many) was openly distressed by the behavior of the guards at abu Graib. None thought it would be a good idea to hide the abuse; rather they thought it was an isolated episode being dealt with through the proper channels. Despite the New York Times running >50 front page stories on abu Graib, the Times was never able to enlarge the story beyond the single episode that the army had detected and was investigating themselves, because they never had any evidence to support their contention that the abuses were systemic and the responsibility of shadowy higher authorities. I read less of the liberal bloggers, but do not recall Josh Marshall, Daily Kos, or Democratic Underground showing much interest in exposing Dan Rather. Be that as it may, the fact is that it is not the public who are uninterested in facts, it is the reporters who have "less an interest in truth than a delight in the unmasking of the opposition's errors".
Interestingly, Posner agrees with those in the blogosphere who see our great strength being our low level of trust and authority. We have real-time fact checking and have to earn our authority by making sense and admitting our errors when we make them.
What really sticks in the craw of conventional journalists is that although individual blogs have no warrant of accuracy, the blogosphere as a whole has a better error-correction machinery than the conventional media do. The rapidity with which vast masses of information are pooled and sifted leaves the conventional media in the dust. Not only are there millions of blogs, and thousands of bloggers who specialize, but, what is more, readers post comments that augment the blogs, and the information in those comments, as in the blogs themselves, zips around blogland at the speed of electronic transmission.
Finally, Posner takes a somewhat sanguine view of the development of the electronic media and its impact on the MSM. He believes that by increasing our access to information, we will all come out ahead, and in many ways, this is impossible to disagree with.
So when all the pluses and minuses of the impact of technological and economic change on the news media are toted up and compared, maybe there isn't much to fret about.
However, there is an aspect of this discussion that is insidious and powerful and threatens to damage our ability to execute and ultimately win this war on the level of ideas.
In the next series of posts on this topic, I plan on exploring the ways in which Political Correctness erodes a society's ability to critically assess reality and evaluate information. I believe the cancer of Politically Correct thinking has already caused serious damage to our body politic and its affects continue to metastasize today.
Continue with PC & Defects in Reality Testing: Part I