Saturday, June 12, 2010

Strange Bedfellows

Daniel McCarthy, editor of The American Conservative, asked me to contribute a piece to his magazine. Fanatical readers of this blog will recall his smart review of the Ramparts book, so perhaps not a huge shock, but certainly unexpected.

The topic was Sydney Schanberg's piece in The Nation a couple years ago--or rather, the mainstream media's refusal to explore its implications, especially as they pertain to John McCain. Daniel collected contributions from Schanberg, Andrew Bacevich, Alexander Cockburn, publisher Ron Unz, and others.

My piece offers some historical parallels, drawn from the McWilliams bio and Ramparts book. In fact, the mainstream outfits often miss or garble big stories for a variety of reasons, and I argue for creating and maintaining a media ecology that includes savvy fringe players that can play the big news organizations off each other. Without big outfits, most stories will never reach large audiences. Without the small ones, many important stories won't be covered at all.

Few oppose that idea in principle, but many reflexively think that the true test of worthiness is the marketplace. If political mags, left or right, can't survive under current conditions, they should perish. But there are plenty of examples of indirect subsidies--both here (in previous eras) and abroad--that have created better conditions for lively political discourse. Like Bob McChesney and John Nichols, I think we need a fresh review of those options--especially if we think that political journalism is a public good.


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