I did not have the time to prepare a post while teaching with Daniel Dayan “Media and News in a Time of Crisis” in Wroclaw, Poland. This was unfortunate because there were news events during the period of the course that seemed to be a series of case studies on our topic. As we were examining theoretical material, which illuminates the roles media play in such cases, media were playing important roles, from the Murdoch scandal, to the terrorist attack in Oslo. Today, I will reflect on Murdoch and, more broadly, the tasks of making distinctions and coming to actionable judgments in the media. Oslo will wait for another day. I draw on the ideas of Eviatar Zerubavel, a distinguished sociologist of cognition and student of Erving Goffman, to make sense of our ongoing seminar discussion and the debate between Daniel and me.
The Murdoch presence in America has long concerned me, particularly Fox News and the Wall Street Journal. While Fox is a strange mix of opinionated journalism and political mobilization instrument, as I have already examined here in an earlier post, the Journal has been a distinguished business newspaper with a conservative slant on the news, with the slant increasingly prevailing over the news in recent years with Murdoch’s ownership. I was struck by Joe Nocerra’s analysis in The New York Times. Concern with factual reality has diminished. Editors went beyond improving reporter’s copy from the stylistic point of view to ideological “improvement.” Political and business news reported was re-worked to confirm the political positions promoted on the editorial page. Note the problem in these cases is that strong distinctions between journalism as a vocation and other vocations are ignored became fuzzy, in the terms of Zerubavel.
Such willful ignorance is also present in The New York Post, another Murdoch enterprise that I see in my daily life. I read it only late at night, picking up a discarded copy on the train when I . . .