Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the stream it’s hard to know just how fast the current is flowing. That’s as true of the flow of history as it is the flow of water.
Journalism and punditry have been undergoing such an overwhelming number of changes since the days of Hearst’s yellow tabloids that it’s sometimes hard to take it all in. From the shadow of the Great Depression and World War II came television, the dominance of three channels, Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. The “view from nowhere” became the norm: instead of a variety of competing perspectives, there were voices of universal moral authority spread out on the pages of national newspapers and beaming into the homes of Americans from coast to coast. The pinnacle of U.S. journalism arguably arrived with the intrepid unveiling of Watergate, making household names of the investigative reporters and anonymous sources who brought down a President.
But then, as with so much else, came a period of ugliness largely brought about by the rise of the radical right and the increasing dominance of corporate power. The 1970s and 1980s saw the birth of the Reagan revolution–not so much a revolution as a counterrevolution, a revanchist movement designed to wipe away as much of the New Deal and the Civil Rights era as possible. As the edifice of right-wing think tanks and advocacy organizations grew, so too did the accusations of “liberal media bias.” While the left still held the view from nowhere as sacrosanct, the right increasingly called into question its very legitimacy. The Fairness Doctrine was eliminated. Entire conservative media enterprises moved in to cater to a crowd of increasingly angry, bitter and paranoid voters.
As the right’s media infrastructure pushed the Overton Window in a more radical direction, the “view from nowhere” became more a “view from the center”–where the center was moving ever rightward on basic economic issues even as it moved gradually left on social ones. The “center” was a comfortable Washington Consensus around mostly corporatist economic policy with a socially egalitarian veneer.
Into this hollow breach came the Netroots and left-leaning journalism to counteract the “view from nowhere” that in reality had become an ever-shifting view-from-corporate-center. Some of these efforts featured new organizations and new websites like DailyKos, where I first got my start writing about politics. Others like the Washington Monthly simply transferred much of their older print content into a new web-based platform.
Of course, with the move to a more full-throated left-leaning advocacy journalism came the inevitable blustery ranting and partisan defensive hackery. All of which has its place–indeed, I’ve participated in more than my fair share of it. And now we have the rise of a new attempt at a more helpful form of objectivity in explainer journalism like at Vox.
But all-too-often missing from the rubric is a careful, studied view of the facts from a progressive populist perspective. One that pulls no punches when it’s time to call out the right wing for exactly what it is. One that isn’t afraid to point out when the emperor has no clothes. But one that also tries to keep a level head with a solid understanding of political dynamics and policy necessities, and that also isn’t afraid to point out when members of our own side have gone too far at times.
I feel that we do an excellent job of that here at the Washington Monthly and the Political Animal.
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