Monday, August 23, 2010

The Death of "Mainstream Media" and "MSM"

Larwyn's e-mails that consolidate conservative blogs are back.  Her most recent two e-mails contained about 25 conservative blogs. I did a search on them and found only two uses of the phrases "mainstream media" or "MSM." One blog used the phrase "aka mainstream media" and the other put the phrase "mainstream media" in quotes. Thus, my campaign to obliterate the once-popular phrase "mainstream media" has worked.

When I first began blogging four or five years ago the phrase "mainstream media" was common.  Conservative, libertarian and contrarian bloggers used the stock phrase almost as often as the five vowels.  In 2007 I was still using the phrase myself, but by 2009 I had concluded that the phrase is inaccurate and began a campaign against it.  There is no "mainstream media" in the United States.  The American media is dominated by Progressives who are not representative of the mainstream public.

There may have been a mainstream media between 1900 and 1980 and especially between 1930 and 1975.  In the 19th century there was a partisan media (each party had its own newspapers) but five factors supported a consolidation of viewpoints and the creation of the monolithic, mainstream "Progressive" viewpoint that has dominated the media between 1900 and today but which the public has bypassed.  That is, the media's viewpoint was once but is no longer mainstream.  Increasingly, the Progressive consensus that existed between 1900 and 1980 has given way to a division between those who  favor big government and Wall Street and those who believe in freedom.

The reasons that the 19th century's diverse media became a mainstream media are fivefold. First, the expansion of markets created the necessity for large scale news sources.  This is the business issue of economies of scale.  Although this did not eliminate the possibility of a two-party media (witness talk radio today, for example) it at a minimum created the need for reduced variability within the two parties. Second, the dominance of Wall Street in financing media corporations led to the reduced variability of views away from those inconsistent with the needs of Wall Street. Third, the growth in scale led to mergers, reducing the number of editors. This resulted from the expansion of markets and Wall Street's influence.  Fourth, Adolph Ochs's and the New York Times's creation of "objective" journalism fit the new mass market and Progressivism. This was complemented with the Progressive ideology of journalism that John Dewey set forth in his Public and Its Problems.  Journalists were to serve as cartoonists who made the serious solutions proposed by Progressive experts in government accessible to the public, who are too slow, in the Progressives' views, to grasp the truth that the experts understand. Moreover, applying the Ochs model, journalists could claim that they are "objective" and "scientific" and so there was no need for diversity of views.  Fifth, the policies that the new Progressive journalism advocated, the monetary policies of the Federal Reserve Bank; the New Deal; government regulation; the "third way" of Theodore Roosevelt led to increased consolidation and the bankruptcy of smaller newspapers. For example, the Times probably advocated the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in the 1930s (I haven't checked, but I assume so); by the 1970s the number of newspapers in New York City had dramatically fallen because of strikes and labor costs.  The bankrupt newspapers included Republican ones like the Herald Tribune.  Other New York newspapers that fell in the 1960s because of strikes and labor costs were the Journal American, the Long Island Star Journal and the New York Daily Mirror not to mention the Banner (just kidding, a reference to The Fountainhead).

In sum, the policies of Progressivism and the New Deal led to (a) a reduction in the flow of ideas and (b) a unification of public ideology in favor of a monolithic state buttressed by supposed experts that supported a monolithic ideology.  The spread of mass media over consolidated markets was consistent with the emphasis on scale and size that the Federal Reserve Bank and Wall Street facilitated.  This ideology was inconsistent with the rapid growth in technology, the innovation, of the 19th century.  Hence, it is not surprising that the pace of innovation in the American economy has slowed since the 19th century.

The stagflation of the 1970s, more than the immediate failure of New Deal policies in the 1930s, awoke the public to Progressivism's failure.  I was certainly awakened and many others were too, leading to the election of Ronald Reagan.  His election was unfortunate because Reagan, although adopting the rhetoric of Ayn Rand and freedom, was in fact, as Rand pointed out in a letter to the New York Times, not really a believer in freedom.  Upon election Reagan did not reduce government, although he limited its growth.  Hence, he was very much in the Progressive tradition of William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge.  Harding and Coolidge were elected in favor of a return to "normalcy" from the Progressive years of Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson, but neither repealed any of the elements of the Progressive program.  That Progressivism never died also was evidenced by Hoover's election in 1928.   Hoover had played a key role in implementing Wilson's wartime Progressive interventions by setting up state regulated food cartels.  One example of the dominance of a monolithic media is the fact that many mistakenly still believe today that Hoover favored laissez faire, limited government.  Franklin Roosevelt and Hoover just differed on the application of state power; Hoover believed in public works and the cartelization of business; Roosevelt shared these views but added welfare and social security.  The New Deal further consolidated power and media opinion (and perhaps ownership). State control of public opinion was further re-enforced through the expansion of state universities and the secularization of the elite northeastern Christian universities like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

The Progressive New Deal approach did not work.  Its program was largely that of the Federalists and the Whigs, and it required a high degree of centralization that is inconsistent with a modern or post-modern economy. It is ironic that in advocating the 1500-year-old Roman model of organization to America's industrial economy the advocates called themselves "Progressive" but so was it.  The system required centralization, fascism, which led to (a) economies of scale, lower costs and increased consumption in the short run and (b) a slowing of diversity of ideas and innovation, which led to reduced progress in the longer run.  By the 1970s the failure of Whig or Keynesian economics (Keynesian economics adapted Whig ideas) was evident as inflation and unemployment accompanied deficit spending. Since then, the economy has NOT recovered despite several stock market and real estate bubbles.  The American economy has NOT been able to produce consistent, healthy growth.  Rather, the Fed has financed retailing, real estate, finance and other bubbles in services and real estate that do not produce the value to the economy as would spontaneously developing firms. Life has gotten worse since 1970, not better.

Hence, Progressivism continues to fail and the media's (as well as universities') views increasingly reveal themselves to be ideological justification for the power structure of Progressivism.  When Progressivism failed in 2008, the media and universities worked together to provide disinformation about the importance of public support for the failing Wall Street stock salesmen.  Billionaire investment bankers needed vast sums of money so that they could invest in the carry trade, and this was critical to America, according to the Democrats and their servants in universities and the media.  But the public has become increasingly aware that the power structure does not serve its interests, and therefore that Progressivism is NOT mainstream. However, a public understanding of why and how the Federal Reserve Bank is the centerpiece of Progressivism and the reason America is faltering has yet to evolve.

Hence, I applaud Larwyn and the conservative bloggers for their reduced use of the phrase "mainstream media" and MSM. There is no such thing, and these phrases empower dying institutions.

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