So Called Sphere of Consensus

Fascinating article by Jay Rosen on the role the press plays in determining a universal narrative and how the Internet works as an opposing force to the atomization of the audience and the regimented dictates of the acceptable sphere of discourse.

Rosen uses the diagram above, from the 1986 book  “The Uncensored War” by press scholar Daniel C. Hallin to illustrate his views.

 “Deciding what does and does not legitimately belong within the national debate is—no way around it—a political act. And yet a pervasive belief within the press is that journalists do not engage in such action, for to do so would be against their principles”

“That journalists affirm and enforce the sphere of consensus, consign ideas and actors to the sphere of deviance, and decide when the shift is made from one to another— none of this is in their official job description. You won’t find it taught in J-school, either. It’s an intrinsic part of what they do, but not a natural part of how they think or talk about their job. Which means they often do it badly. Their “sphere placement” decisions can be arbitrary, automatic, inflected with fear, or excessively narrow-minded. Worse than that, these decisions are often invisible to the people making them, and so we cannot argue with those people. It’s like trying to complain to your kid’s teacher about the values the child is learning in school when the teacher insists that the school does not teach values”

Seems to me that the press do not arrive at a unified conclusions in an entirely autonomous or “arbitrary” way. Of course that sort of concensus of randomness is always in play, but there is likely much more  that we usually cannot see. Rosen takes us to the edge but I’m not sure he leads us to the next question: Who is shaping the views of the view shapers?

“Political journalists failed properly to examine George W. Bush’s case for war in Iraq, they were making a category mistake. They treated Bush’s plan as part of the sphere of consensus. But even when Congress supports it, a case for war can never be removed from legitimate debate. That’s just a bad idea. Mentally placing the war’s opponents in the sphere of deviance was another category error. “

In the Iraq case, the bleeding edge of unanimity was provided, enforced and re-enforced by the Bush/Cheney gang. The unnatural subservience and preparedness by the public to accept a world view seen through a neo con lens was already in full force and has been since at least 1980. So the evil actors from above, combined with a spaced out, pre inoculated and, yes, I’m going to say it, somewhat brain dead brain washed public set the stage for the perfect calamitous storm.

So the real issue of the Mainstream Media and ourselves is: How did we allow those who traffic in Propaganda – and those who pay them – to dominate us so completely and how can we put a genie back in a bottle?

“This gap between what journalists actually do as they arrange the scene of politics, and the portion they can explain or defend publicly—the difference between making news and making sense—is responsible for a lot of the anger and bad feeling projected at the political press by various constituencies that notice these moves and question them.”

The anger and bad feeling projected at the political press is itself – finally – becoming mainstream. The distrust is palpable and has begun to leech past the American Idol facade through the late night comedies and the wreckage of the evening news into the living rooms and conversations of a North American population who had, without realizing it, begun to give up hope.

I think Rosen’s article is important and I find Hallin’s model helpful as we consider how we must be vigilent in watching both the watchers and their paymasters.


Comments are welcome without exception

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s