Friday, May 11, 2007

Tables Turned on Tuxedo Suiciders

Jay Rosen, attempting to fathom the moral equivalence of the White House Correspondent's Association dinner, exchanges letters with a New York Times employee:

Watching the dinner on C-SPAN, I found it impossible to decide: Are the press people sitting there with Bush sitting there as professionals who….
* previously understood and corrected for their most egregious failure in 50 years?

* remain in general denial about their most egregious failure in 50 years?

* persist in ironic detachment from this debacle, so as to return things as smoothly as possible to Normal?

* are completely deluded about the current state of the watchdog press and our basis for trusting it?

* aren’t worried at all because the bloggers and “activists” who say things like that have an ax to grind?

The press is now subjected to the same objectification and analysis as the institutions and officials it writes about. At first, the press imagined it was invisible, and this was not contested, because what it produced was "objective." Objective product. Therefore the producer could be anyone. Any professional. The product remained unblemished by subjectivity of the producer.

But now that we have another data set - the press itself, seen through the axgrinding bloggers - the tables are turned. To be in that audience, enduring Rich Little's dead presidents, is to have left the world of the invisible craftsman of objective reality, and entered Blogworld.

Now the surround of data is inescapable. Before, the dinner would be "covered" by the press however it wished. Now it's merely more data, inserted into a seething mass of information. Laughter and clinking glasses, riots, suiciders, displacement of the voices of those doing the laughing, Katrina victims -- Colbert's "report" brought into the room what is all around it, a resonant realm of metadata that situates the press within a context which it apparently cannot conceive or exclusively determine.

The denial Rosen mentions is more general than just having to do with one giant error. The press is in denial that it is no longer invisible. The grammar of the world that it manufactured for our consumption is no longer entirely at its service. The tools and skills that were its province are now more widely shared. Attending that dinner is the last gasp of a peerage being consumed by its king, to the general delight and disgust of the people it has failed.

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Blogger Jon said...

Your last two paragraphs outline the opportunities and challenges we face now .. how, and maybe more importantly, why will we all use and change (or not) the grammar of our world (lovely phrase, Tom).

As objectivity disappears, will we find ways to see all the sources of information as prismatic aspects, as sets of lenses as opposed to one main window on objective reality ? Up to us to create focus with the lenses we find, choose, are shown, etc.

The press is IMO having its lens (scope and strength of refraction) defined for it now, by its audience(s) ... it's increasingly clear what it does and whom it represents.

5/13/2007 3:56 PM  
Anonymous tom said...

NPR had three tables, I hear, at the latest joyous occasion. Maybe this has something to do with the current opacity of its lens.

5/14/2007 3:10 AM  
Anonymous tom said...

Its D.C. lens, I should add - especially the presidential lens. Other lenses at NPR are in fine fettle.

5/14/2007 11:19 AM  

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