A lot of talk has been devoted to the notion of the so-called "mainstream media," and how our current media does not live up to this supposed standard. But the understanding that the fact that something inhabits the mainstream discourse makes it newsworthy is flawed. It is indicative of the pathology currently suffered by the media: an obsession with the ratings or popularity of news, the stock price of the holding corporation, and the ability of the content to attract a desired "target audience" to the readership.

In all possible respects, the commercialization of news is a bad thing. First, it only encourages the public's sensationalist instinct. It doesn't logically follow that what people will most like to pay attention to, or pay attention to most immediately, is the same thing as what's important. Secondly, what the advertisers want is increasingly in contradiction to what solid, investigative reporting will entail. This is a consequence of increasing conflicts of interest between regard for the readership and the desire to obtain legislative and regulatory favors from the government, itself following from Big Money politics. Most ridiculous of all, a more mainstream media is sometimes interpreted to entail news practices that "keep up" with the prevailing state of knowledge in the country. I can't think of a more blatant reversal of the role of media than to suggest it ought to be more in touch with what people already believe.

I understand the objection that many will raise, that what is actually referred to as 'mainstream' is a location on the ideological spectrum. This complaint is common, in fact, however contradictory the various incarnations of it may be. Liberals complain that the media is more conservative than liberal, and that it certainly is not as liberal as it used to be. Conservatives, on the other hand, recite the refrain of "the liberal media" without end. Therefore, I don't believe this concept holds water. And if it did, would we want the media to be ideologically allied or ideologically determined in any way? From this light, the criticism seems more like a way to attempt to advance your particular viewpoint than a legitimate critique.

Let's list some of the times the media followed the mainstream line during the Bush tenure. After 9/11, for, oh...a good year and a half, the media publicized, parroted, and lionized everything said by any senior administration official. They let legislation get passed without any deference whatsoever to an opposition view. Did the overwhelming mainstream of Americans support bills like the Patriot Act unwaveringly? At the time yes, but that doesn't mean the dissent shouldn't have been covered. Now that people have changed their minds, we're hearing the dissenting views, 5 years after the fact. Nothing has changed. In fact a lot of the worst stuff was already passed in the first bill. In the Iraq build-up, the same pattern occured. It's not that there weren't PLENTY of contrary views to the assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was capable/willing to use them imminently. Many of the international intelligence agencies held this dissenting view and were ignored. Not to mention the wide section of the intelligence community represented by those who have spoken out and the U.N. inspectors. Yet basically no airtime was given to these parties.

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