The World O' Crap Archive

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Friday, January 28, 2011

June 22, 2006 by scott

Sister Jonah
In his LA Times column, Jonah Goldberg cements his role as a public intellectual by treating us to a history lesson which proves that, as far as revolutionary means of instantaneous communcation goes, the internet is actually a step back from the Babylonian woodcut technology William F. Buckley used in the early years of the National Review. 
My conservative instinct is to believe that there’s really nothing new under the sun.
 Although he stole this belief from Ben Domenech.
Technology almost by definition is developed to solve problems (necessity, recall, is invention’s mommy). But, as conservative philosophy teaches us…
Isn’t it cute when Jonah pretends to have a philosophy (other than nepotism)?  The effect is similar to when my four year old nephew points his finger at me, pretending to have a gun, and says, “Bang!”
…the “problems” of the human condition are permanent.
Excess adipose tissue, for instance.  That ain’t goin’ away…
Boosters of the brave new World Wide Web and mourners of “traditional” media alike share a common view that the way the news media has operated over the last half a century is the “normal” way. Both sides think the Internet is more unprecedented and revolutionary than it is. In reality, the crumbling status quo was always an aberration.
For various reasons, the post-World War II generation was unusually trusting of big institutions and elites.
This would be the Baby Boomer generation; you remember, the one that launched the counterculture and drove the anti-war movement.  Poor trusting saps.  If only they realized that they were merely disposable cogs in the vast machinery of Big Hippie.
It grew up with the first real national media outlets.
Given that the Boomer generation comprises those born between 1946 and 1964, and that the “first real national media outlet,” was the NBC radio network launched in 1926, Jonah’s assertion doesn’t make much sense.  Fortunately, this temporal disparity can be easily reconciled once we factor in the rogue activities of a time-traveling cyborg.
Following on the heels of radio, TV further united the nation. Network news anchors had what CBS News executive Jim Murphy calls “the voice of God.”
In that they were all dubbed by Cecil B. DeMille.
A handful of media outlets, almost all of them based in a few square miles of Olympian Manhattan, dictated the terms of the national conversation.
Because even though there were local TV and radio stations, and often several competing newspapers in most cities, Chet Huntley’s very breath was law.
This was the era of the “vital center,” when the establishment was marked by an astounding level of consensus. Polarization is actually the American norm.
Lionel Trilling famously summarized the conventional wisdom of 1950 when he declared that “it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation.”
I guess it would have been different had there been–oh I don’t know–say a Red Scare that followed the Soviet test of an atomic bomb in 1949, or the Korean War, or the Iron Curtain, or anything that was happening in the world that might have driven a culture of fear and reaction here at home.  Fortunately, Walter Cronkite’s Saddam-like ability to crush the centrifugal energies of America’s restive tribes and mold them into an uneasy union with his iron-fisted avuncularity prevented a civil war.
The media reflected this consensus, reporting the news based on a host of moderate, liberal assumptions about everything from foreign policy to economics. Reporters believed in their duty to be objective even if they didn’t always understand that their biases were quite obvious to those, on the left and right, residing outside the elite liberal consensus.
That was the problem with the Fifites.  Too damn liberal.
Instantaneous technology — photography, radio, television — allowed people to feel like “you are there.”
Oh-oh, a Murrow ref.  Jonah better back off or the break room wedgies are going to start coming fast and furious again…
Of course, the reality is that such technology does not communicate objective truth so much as give the viewer the visceral sensation that it does.
Phew!  That was close.
The Rodney King video is a good example of how misleading “reality” can be, in that a snippet of video caused riots.
Actually, wasn’t it the not guilty verdict in the trial of the police officers that caused the riots?
When the video was shown at trial, the jury saw something very different.
 Yes, the white jury in the phosphorescently white suburb of Simi Valley saw white police officers dealing out a bit of street justice to a deserving member of the underclass which infests that teeming urban dystopia to the south.  It’s a good thing they weren’t misled by “reality,” or they might have voted to convict, and then Jonah would be forced to question their impartiality.
I’ve toiled in the cyber-fields for close to a decade now (I was the founding editor of National Review Online), and what fascinates me is how the Internet is allowing the nation to return to its historical relationship with the media, not how it’s changing everything.
In the 19th century, newspapers played a different role from the one we think they’re “supposed” to play.
They didn’t realize they were supposed to serve as a vector for “Ziggy.”
American newspapers were never as unapologetically and uniformly partisan as European ones were (and still are), but they were still mostly creatures of specific political biases. There were Republican and Democratic newspapers, populist and communist newspapers, union and anti-union newspapers. These publications served as vehicles for partisan education and crusading personalities, in much the same way leading blogs do today.
Because if you’ve never experienced the electricity and charisma of a Glenn Reynolds’ “Heh,” the flood-tide inevitability of a Malkinian “Newsbusters has more,” or the plangent clarion of a Jonah Goldbergian “Does anybody know who Thomas Hobbes is?  Can you email me?  I’m supposed to write a book…” then you’ve never experienced the blood-thumping rapine of an online crusade.
Take another look at the most flagrantly partisan websites today: the liberal Daily Kos and its conservative doppelganger, Red State.  What you see are media outlets trying to serve the same function as newspapers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.   A work in progress, they often screw up.
Unlike genuine newspaper columnists, such as myself.
The recent clunker by, which reported that Karl Rove was to be indicted when in fact he was cleared…
I missed the press conference were Patrick Fitzgerald cleared Karl Rove, apologized on behalf of the people for his long, unjust nightmare, and presented him with a crisp double sawbuck and a new suit.
…is nothing compared with the 19th century press’ routine manufacture of events great and small, typified by William Randolph Hearst’s “yellow journalism” to cook up the Spanish-American War.
Or the New York Times invention of the Whitewater scandal, or their manufacture of widespread Chinese infiltration of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, or their conjuring of WMDs to cook up a war in Iraq, or…
There will always be a need for serious, professional news-gathering organizations.
We should look into getting some.
But there will also always be a need for the politically committed to form their own communities.
This is how Jonah coped with the neighborhood kids kicking him out of their treehouse.
The Internet is allowing the United States to have both once again.
Thus ended the history lesson.  Thanks for the course credit, Jonah.  I’ll be eagerly watching the mailbox for my diploma from Adam Smith University in Saipan.
Doghouse Riley, in a masterpiece of grumpy elegance, flenses Jonah for further high crimes against historiography.

6 Responses to “Sister Mary Jonah Explains the Internet for You”

Oh, Gods. That picture was just too wrong. It’s scarred my delicate psyche. (I was raised Catholic.)
I’ll be back to read the article later, when the drugs have kicked in.
Recently published research actually suggests that the era of public consensus Goldberg refers to derived from the existence in the 50s of a strong middle class.
Of course, we could argue with the premise that there was an era of public political consensus in the 50s (the integrationists might disagree), but that would only mean that Jonah Goldberg is wrong twice over, and that’s twice the fun.
Oooooh yes, the European newspapers are and always have been uniform in their views. You can see the amount of research put into that opinion – the hours Jonah spent reading El Pais, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Le Monde, Gazeta Wyborcza, El Mundo, L’Equipe, Die Tageszeitung, Lidové Noviny, Postimees or SME. Indeed.
And I’d hate to nitpick, but it should be “Chinese woodcut technology”. The Babylonians used clay tablets and stone blocks.
The boy just keeps getting stupider. And I can’t believe he passed up a chance to make an Al Gore Invented The Internet joke.
Nice takedown.
Flense. What a perfect choice of word:
flense, flench
v.t. cut up or skin, especially whale or seal.

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