February 7, 2009

From Bill Moyers Journal:

President Obama's message of change resounded deeply with Americans tired of "business as usual" in Washington, but most people, the President included, have admitted that change does not come easily to Washington. As the President's agenda meets its first resistance in the Capitol, two guests on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL argue that the establishment has a surprising army of defenders — the political press.

Full transcript to follow.

BILL MOYERS: We use these term, media and press, pretty generally. I mean, "The Washington Post" is in the media and of the press. You all are in the media and of the press. But so is Rush Limbaugh.

I think you wrote on your blog that Dave Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network, Pat Robertson's outfit, will one Sunday show up on "Meet the Press." But an Amy Goodman of "Democracy Now" will never show up on "Meet the Press." What's behind that phenomenon?

JAY ROSEN: I think part of the reason is that if Amy Goodman came on "Meet the Press," she would say all sorts of things that not only challenge the people on the program, but challenge what they have been saying over the years. Would go back, in a sense, discredit the narrative that's been building up for a long time. And even though it's maybe not wholly conscious, the idea that there's a kind of building narrative that is more or less accurate, that we kind of tell you what's going on in Washington, is a common assumption in the press. And people who would completely shatter that, don't.

GLENN GREENWALD: I think that's exactly right. It's all about the content of views. Rush Limbaugh can depict himself as being this insurgent outsider. But he supported the wars of the last eight years. He supported the tax policies that Ronald Reagan essentially instituted as conventional wisdom, that we need to lower taxes, reduce government spending. All of the conventional clichés that the media airs frequently, and doesn't need much time in order to explain, are ones that Rush Limbaugh and the furthest fringes of the right essentially embrace.

And so, to include them into our discussion is not very disruptive at all, whereas if you had people on from the left who were advocating things like the United States' responsibility for its unpopularity in the world, the fact that we wage wars and bomb other countries and invade and occupy other countries far more than any nation on the planet.

To include somebody like that would not only threaten the vested interests of everybody who's participating in these conversations, it would disrupt the entire narrative, as Jay said it would. Almost sound foreign, as though these views are un-serious views, don't belong in mainstream, serious shows. Because these views are never heard. They're stigmatized, they're demonized as being things that don't really deserve a platform. And so, you can't include advocates of these views in these shows.

JAY ROSEN: You know what's really striking to me about this, is Lawrence Wilkerson, who worked for Colin Powell, when he retired from the government, he said that the people in power: Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld especially, were, in his view, radicals. That the radicals were the people actually running the government.

And this idea that the people in power were kind of outside the sphere of normal government, never made its way into the establishment press at all. The idea that Wilkerson could have been right, that the real radicals were running the federal government, never really penetrated their narrative at all.

BILL MOYERS: How do you explain the fact that so many in the press, pundits and others as well, were saying Obama has to be bipartisan?

JAY ROSEN: I think that the ideology of the press is not so much liberal or conservative. They think themselves the keepers of realism, of savviness. I think the real religion of the American press is savviness. And in their view, it isn't savvy to say you're going to mobilize the anger and frustration of the American people and bring that power to Washington to change it.

That's not how politics works. The way politics works is you say things like that to get elected, and then, once you're in, you make your accommodations, you show that you want to hew to the center. You demonstrate that you're bipartisan. You pick people who are familiar.

And it's those eternal laws of politics that journalists feel they know better than us. And they expect politics to kind of run down these rails that they've laid down, because then we have to turn to them for the inside story. And this is what they want to continue.

GLENN GREENWALD: I agree with Jay, that it isn't so much that the media is liberal or conservative in terms of how those terms are defined conventionally in our political spectrum. What ends up happening is that ideas that are threatening to the media and to the political elite end up being attached to the label of liberalism or leftist ideology.

With the corresponding orthodoxy that the one thing Obama, for instance, needs to show, is that he's not beholden to the far left of his party, or that he's willing to scorn the leftists and the liberals in his party. That's when he generates the most praise. And the-

BILL MOYERS: From the Washington press corps.

GLENN GREENWALD: From the Washington press corps.


GLENN GREENWALD: If you go back and look at the way in which Obama was praised for the last two months, almost entirely by the media, will almost always be based on this idea that he's not an ideologue that he's not in concert with the liberals and the leftists in his party. That's the great accomplishment in the eyes of the media; a president could possibly aspire to.

And the reason for that is because in their eyes, what liberalism or the leftist ideology that they're scorning, are not things about policy making per se, or even approaches to foreign policy. It's the idea that the prevailing consensus among our political elite is corrupted and needs to be radically changed. And so, what I think they are most afraid of is having the anger of the American people start to affect what happens within their system. What they want more than anything else, is to exclude those external influences.

JAY ROSEN: Here's another way to look at it. The press is full of behaviorists. They don't know they're behaviorists, but they are.

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean?

JAY ROSEN: A behaviorist is somebody who thinks that we can figure out what's going on by looking at probabilities and large numbers of people, and what tends to happen with those people. And politics runs on laws like that to a large extent. However, there's another aspect of politics, which is leadership, action, bringing something new into the world, starting something that didn't exist before. Having an idea nobody had before. Pushing it through.

Journalists, deep down, don't believe that action really works. But the real excitement of democratic politics is that something new can come into the world, because we decided it. Because there was an election. Because there's a new crowd in town.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think that's happening?

JAY ROSEN: I think it very much could happen.

BILL MOYERS: Even yet?

JAY ROSEN: It could, yes. Because not only are there new people in the government, but there are new realities, especially in technology. The whole transparency revolution of let's make the business of government radically open to inspection, not just in the establishment, to everyone in the country, to everyone in the world. I think that can have very powerful effects on politics. But journalists don't see it. Because they've always had that information.

BILL MOYERS: But if Obama stayed true to what people perceived he was saying and being during the campaign, would the press begin to write about that? Wouldn't they then get it?

JAY ROSEN: They might, if Obama were able to succeed and to show that the rules have changed, and to keep people mobilized, that after a while - this is the good thing about journalists. After a while, they have to report a different reality. But at first, their assumption is going to be same old game, same old people, and same old laws of behavior.

BILL MOYERS: Is there a narrative that you think could be written now that's not being written?

JAY ROSEN: The narrative that we aren't getting is that the political class cannot solve the problems it created. And that some outside force is needed. People from outside, ideas from outside, as well as the anger and sort of mobilized - feeling of Americans themselves.

BILL MOYERS: By your own paradigm, these ideas, as you said earlier in the broadcast, don't get into the Washington mix, because then they're seen as heretical by the establishment.

JAY ROSEN: They have to be forced in.

BILL MOYERS: It is not enough just to elect a president?

JAY ROSEN: It's not enough to elect the right people. They have to be forced in from the outside. And we have more means of doing that. So it's going to be a little bit more uncertain.

BILL MOYERS: Where is the evidence of a movement like that?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think, you know, even if you talk to journalists, they will tell you that they have in some sense, lost the monopoly that they previously exerted on our political discourse. There are alternative voices now. The internet enables people to construct their own platforms and to attract like-minded people.

So that now there are gathering places of hundreds of thousands, if not more citizens, who are just as angry, just as dissatisfied and just as intent on circumventing these institutions, shaming them into changing as well, in order to force the change that they themselves so vigorously resist. And I think there's a cause for optimism in that regard.

JAY ROSEN: And when the story coming out of Washington, when the story on the talk shows isn't actually true, or isn't accurate to what we know, many more people are aware of that now. Many more facts can be added to the story. What we haven't seen yet is national politics adjusting to bring these mobilized outsiders in more.

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