Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What right do you have to an opinion about anything?

Glenn Greenwald's reaction to the Jon Chait "PC police" article everyone is talking about, hits the most important point.  There's a certain species of journalist, and Chait is among them, who still haven't made peace with the idea that the things they write about actually matter to people outside of their social circle... and that those people are just as smart and relevant as they are.
What made the indignity so much worse was that the attacks came from people these journalists regard as nobodies: just average people, non-journalists, sometimes even anonymous ones. What right did they have even to form an opinion, let alone express one? As NBC News star Brian Williams revealingly put it in 2007:
You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.
That sort of sneering from establishment journalists was commonplace once they realized that they had critics and that ignoring them was no longer an option. Seemingly every week, a new column appeared in the NYT, Washington Post, or Time lamenting the threat to journalism and democracy and All Things Decent posed by the hordes of unhinged, uncredentialed losers who now had undeserved platforms to say mean things about honored journalists.
Greenwald has a lot more to add regarding the standard complaints about the often vicious tone of online criticism. He's been on the receiving end of that sort of thing as much as anyone with a high profile.  One of the consequences of letting the rabble into the deb party is sometimes the lobster tree gets knocked over.  The thing about that, though, is that it's pretty much just part of the job.
But that’s the price one pays for having a platform. And, on balance, it’s good that this price has to be paid. In fact, the larger and more influential platform one has, the more important it is that the person be subjected to aggressive, even harsh, criticisms. Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement. Having people devoted to attacking you – even in unfair, invalid or personal ways – is actually valuable for keeping one honest and self-reflective.

It would be wonderful on one level if all criticisms were expressed in the soft and respectful tones formalized in the U.S. Senate, but it’s good and necessary when people who wield power or influence are treated exactly like everyone else, which means that sometimes people say mean and unfair things about you in not-nice tones. Between erring on the side of people with power being treated with excess deference or excess criticisms, the latter is vastly preferable. The key enabling role of the government, media and other elites in the disasters and crimes of the post-9/11 era, by itself, leaves no doubt about this. It also proves that one of the best aspects of the internet is that it gives voice to people who are not credentialed – meaning not molded through the homogenizing grinder of establishment media outlets
News and politics (news is politics, really) is not a consumer product to be passively absorbed.  It is a a contentious struggle to define what is important and what gets done.  The purpose of democracy is to ensure that the greatest number (ideally all) of the citizens are not only informed of the issues of the day but that they are active participants in how those issues are articulated and argued over.  This is not a healthy process if it is dominated by authoritative gatekeepers.   It is messy and often impolite.  It is insurrectionist.

An informed citizenry holds the constant potential to overturn order. This, more than anything, is why I wanted to work in libraries. And it's the reason I've been attracted to blogging and social media all of these years. (Well, one reason anyway. I also enjoy posting pictures of food and talking shit about football.)   Anyway, no one who cares about this stuff is in any way out to "kill journalism."  On the contrary, every blogger I've ever met has a great deal of respect for journalists and the job they do.   Except Jon Chait, of course.  That guy is a douche.

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