Roger L. Simon

Whose "Circle Jerk"?

A media food fight to the death is in progress on the pages of tomorrow’s (today’s for me here in Japan) New York Times Book Review. “To the death”, you ask? Well, something extreme if you read the reaction of the Times’ own executive editor Bill Keller to the essay “Bad News” by Richard Posner in a previous issue of that review. (Disclosure: Keller is a friend and I would like to keep it that way.)

Apparently Posner had the temerity to suggest the near-monolithic liberalism these days of the Times and similar publications was motivated to a great extent by Mammon (in part in response to outside competition like blogs). Keller accuses Posner of making “ almost no distinctions within the vast category of American media, between those that are aggressively partisan and those that strive to keep opinion sequestered from news… Hmm… The editor later continues:

The saddest thing is that Judge Posner’s market determinism leaves no room for the other dynamics I’ve witnessed in my 35 years in newspapers: the idealism of reporters who think they can make the world better, the intellectual satisfaction of puzzling through a complicated issue, the competitive gratification of being first to discover a buried story, the pride in striving to uphold a professional code of fair play, the quest for peer recognition and, yes, the feedback from attentive and thoughtful readers. He makes no allowance for the possibility that conscientious reporters and editors are capable of setting aside their personal beliefs or standing up to their advertisers (and the prejudices of their readers) to do work they believe in.

But it does. I don’t think Posner would deny any of these things. Nearly everything has some influence, but the key point is that times are changing. They always do and entrenched forces almost always resist it. Elsewhere Keller has called blogs a “circle jerk,” an intemperate remark from someone who should know better – or perhaps projection, since that term just as easily applies to the world of Krugman, Rich, et al, perhaps more. But whatever the case, the Times seems on the defensive and has purchased, possibly for an excessive amount, the rather benign online information source About.Com.

There is a lot to learn from the plight of mainstream media right now for those of us in new media (hate that term). We should all remember ,first of all, not to be complacent. It doesn’t take Robespierre to remind us that the “revolution eats its young.” (ht: Tammy Bruce)