Affluent Bias

Brilliant, brilliant article from The L. A. Times (via James Tata’s blog). In “Affluence Remakes the Newsroom,” Tim Rutten argues that contemporary journalism is dominated not by a liberal bias but by a:

middle-class quietism that the majority of reporters and editors share with other Americans. They are the suburban voters who now cast the majority of ballots in our presidential elections — mildly libertarian on social issues, mildly conservative on fiscal matters, preoccupied with issues of personal and financial security. They are suspicious of ideology with its sweaty urgency and wearying demands for consistency.

Rutten supports his claims with a fascinating interview with Russell Banks:

“I was a journalist for 50 years and hate to pronounce, but these are not adventuresome people. How could they be? Most have been to college and then have gone directly into journalism. What can you expect with that sort of background?”

What you get, in fact, is rather conventional careerism. In Washington, Baker said, that means journalists “who work hard; everybody in Washington works hard. But they lack empathy for the rest of the country. If you’ve never lacked health insurance — and most reporters and editors never have — you don’t understand what it means for the 43 million Americans who are doing without it, any more than the Congress does.”

In the New York Review, Baker wrote: “The accelerating collapse of the American health care system may illustrate how journalism’s disconnection from the masses will produce an inert state. If every journalist in the District of Columbia had to have his health insurance canceled as a requirement for practicing journalism in Washington, quite a few might … get to know what anger is, and discover that something is catastrophically wrong with the health care system.”

For Baker, the general lack of empathy that precludes such anger is a far more powerful force in contemporary journalism than any covert political bias.

Great stuff. And a useful example of how the language of empathy and morality can productively replace (in a sense, at least) all of the tiring partisanship.