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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Walter Lippman on media corruption « Previous | |Next »
October 30, 2007

As we know the standards of objective journalism,which were adopted as ideal goals by major news organizations in the mid 20th century, have long since been undermined, trampled, and trashed. Hence we have a narrative of the steady degeneration of the media s over the past few decades.

Walter Lippman on the early stages of this historical process in his Liberty and the News (1920), which has just been reissued:

Just as the most poisonous form of disorder is the mob incited from high places, the most immoral act the immorality of a government, so the most destructive form of untruth is sophistry and propaganda by those whose profession it is to report the news. The news columns are common carriers. When those who control them arrogate to themselves the right to determine by their own consciences what shall be reported and for what purpose, democracy is unworkable. Public opinion is blockaded. For when a people can no longer confidently repair "to the best foundations for their information," then anyone's guess and anyone's rumor, each man's hope and each man's whim becomes the basis of government. All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied an assured access to the facts. No one can manage anything on pap. Neither can a people.

We have the "manufacture of consent"---public opinion is channeled and shaped by the managers of news--that damages democracy. For Lippmann the present crisis of western democracy is a crisis of journalism.

Lippmann's argument that you can hardly have a real democracy without a functioning press or media as we say today, is spot on.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:16 AM | | Comments (4)


an early and influential first criticism of the press as a corrupt special interest held that the press simply reflected its big business ownership and did its bidding. This vulgar marxism, as the academics usually call it, has been very influential in Australia---eg., the standard criticisms of the way Rubert Murdoch uses his media to further his business.

well economics isn't everything.

Consider the general conservative argument that the media was a bastion of "liberal bias," (eg., the ABC) and was thus untrustworthy and even potentially perfidious in the war on terror.

For Murdoch patriotism became a criterion for presentation of news. News Corp has a tendency to reduce patriotism(love of country) to jingoism (my country right or wrong).

So vulgar Marxist critique was limited. It was too reductionist.

media corruption springs from the fundamental lie of western societies: that they are democracies. they are not. the people do not rule.

in a genuine democracy, there is no (publishers) freedom of the press. there is instead the right of citizens to know.

rather than having a 'freedom of information' law that most commonly doesn't work, as it is based on the notion that the people are cattle, in a democracy, public business must be done in public, so that public servants can be seen to be carrying out the wishes of the people.

Gary, your assesment of Murdoch is kindly. I would have put the equation as "love of Murdoch " to "Murdoch, right or wrong".
Murdoch is not "my favourite marxian" in the tv sense.
I think the current equivalent of the rabble is the mortgage belt, certainly as pertaining to (deficits in) various "literacies" and perverse gullibility.