Friday, December 27, 2019

Mess the Press: A Matter of Faith

Jordan writes in the comments:
The Jay Rosen piece keeps getting into his rejection of any possibility of Todd's "naïveté" -- contrasting that idea with Rosen's famous "Church of Savvy" (the brilliant Rosen idea that what's valued amongst Washington journalists isn't insight, or wisdom, or accuracy, or righteousness, but "savvy" -- the ability to speak from a bored, cynical, apolitical, anti-idealistic position that indicates one's membership in the inner sanctum of the Beltway, a vantage point from which one can relate what's "really" going on) -- but I wonder about this; I think it's just semantics.
Because, whether you want to call it naïveté or not, I think it's fairly obvious that Chuck Todd believes in what he's doing; he thinks he's accomplishing something by bringing Republicans and Democrats onto a television show to ask them "fair," "penetrating" questions; he accepts the same symmetrically-balanced paradigm that his audience presumably believes in -- and the built-in favoritism towards conservative ideas and elected officials, vs. the automatic, disdainful suspicion of Democrats and progressives, is just a manifestation of a basic systemic bias that Todd is utterly unaware of -- he can enact it so guilelessly because he can't see it.
I won't disagree with much of that. I was put off by the way Rosen insisted that "it's not naïveté" several times, which seemed awfully facile (and by the strangely self-serving way he suggests Todd ought to be reading Press Think, when he says "Todd did not care to listen" and then quotes himself, as if the blogpost had been addressed to Todd).

One of the things Rosen sees but doesn't understand is wonderfully encapsulated in the term "Church of the Savvy": that it really is a church, with articles of faith, and the members believe in it, but that doesn't exclude guile. A priesthood doesn't doubt the truth of the doctrine but its members jockey for status in cynical ways and blindside those who aren't initiated all the same. When you watch video of Trump's "spiritual adviser" Paula White prancing the stage frenetically during the service, you know she's worked into a genuine trance state and having an absolutely real spiritual experience, which doesn't stop her from being manipulative and corrupt.

Chuck Todd isn't a Holy Roller: his church is much more discreet and dignified, and much more widely recognized and esteemed, so esteemed in the wealthy and powerful circles he travels in that it would be foolish to doubt, and indeed ungrateful. It's showered him with riches, and love!

Savvy isn't the only one of Rosen's concepts at issue, but also the View from Nowhere (the idea that you can see more clearly if you don't have any beliefs at all about the subject matter, as opposed to the sacred beliefs about your own priestly status), and the High Broderism (the assumption that every valid idea stands equidistant between a pair of extremities that are equally wrong). To recognize that one side is lying, regularly, and the other side isn't, is to be forced to see yourself as having chosen a side: what I call recognizing (in Karl Rove's confessional language) that journalists and Democrats alike belong in fact to the reality-based community, and Republicans don't, which means that High Broderist doctrine is false and the View from Nowhere is impossible.

(Incidentally this goes some way toward explaining the imbalance of conservative over non-conservative guests on the shows: the journalists are representing the world of facts and falsifiability along with the liberals, so the paranoid fantasy world needs more representation among the invitees, especially since by common agreement left paranoia can't be represented at all.)

This is to me what the problem is. Chuck Todd living with weekly demonstrations that his religion is a lie, and he has to live with it, and he's been living with it under extreme conditions since Sean Spicer proclaimed the size of the inauguration as the hugest ever seen and Kellyanne Conway explained about the alternative facts, and he's held strong and remained unbroken by the cognitive dissonance until now, as he told the Rolling Stone interviewer:

In your recent interview with Senator John Kennedy, he used Russian talking points to defend Trump. Somehow, he gets that disinformation from Russia. Why do you think Republicans are willing to come on your show and run that exact line?
The fact is, and by the way, this isn’t going to be easy to show, but I actually think when we outline this it will, the right has an incentive structure to utter the misinformation. Look, I’ll just be honest, when I had the third senator [to spread Russian disinformation], Senator Ted Cruz, come on my show and do this — who I did not expect to do this — I started to think, he wants the confrontation. He wants to use this for some sort of appeasement of the right. 
I didn’t know what else to think. I was stunned because he’s a Russia hawk. He spent the entire week showcasing his hawkishness on Russia. Threatening the administration on the pipeline in Germany and really be there. So the reason I, and I’m sorry I ever showed an expression, the reason that the expression on my face went viral, I think, I was genuinely shocked. And by the way, they came to us. They came to us saying they wanted to come on this week.
My bold. It's been widely noted how Todd consciously or unconsciously changes "disinformation" to "misinformation", because "disinformation" implies an awareness that Cruz is lying. It's so odd how deciding to "just be honest" seems like a good idea to him because he feels it's simpler. His own error is allowing his audience to realize he's perceived a lack of equivalence between the two sides, that he knows Cruz is lying. The thing that bothers him isn't that Cruz is lying, but that Cruz is contradicting his previously known foreign policy position against Russia, which he's spent all week articulating. And the evident fact that Cruz's purpose in being on Meet the Press that morning was to say this thing and contradict himself.

I guess that's what interests us, including Rosen, in the incident. I mean, the fact that he chose this month and this particular incident to suddenly break character and be upset by a Republican lie is the mystery, but the solution has to do with what it was that broke him, that Cruz failed to play the game or, if you prefer (as I do), to stay within the terms of the ritual, with the shameless self-contradiction and open manipulation of the show. I think that's why Rosen is angry, or interested in showing he's angry, because it's as if Todd suddenly showed his knowledge that it's "only" a game, as if he'd been hiding it all along.

Whereas perhaps it would be kinder to say his faith has been shaken.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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