The meta-view from meta-nowhere

Pseudo-objectivity about pseudo-objectivity

Jay Rosen coined popularised the phrase “the view from nowhere” (originally due to Thomas Nagel) to describe the default stance of political journalism in the US and elsewhere, often defended as “objectivity”. This is closely linked to the concept of the Overton window, which I wrote about recently in relation to the AUKUS nuclear subs deal

In essence, the “view from nowhere” amounts to treating all positions within the Overton window as equally valid, and providing neutral reportage about them. This may consist of repeating the arguments of their proponents, along the lines “the earth is spherical as can be seen from space” vs “who are you going to believe: a bunch of NASA scientists, or your own common sense, which tells you that it’s flat”. The second mode is “horse-race” commentary on the relative chances of the Flat-earth and Round-earth parties in political contests”. Views from outside the Overton window, such as “oblate spheroid” are simply ignored.

Now we have, in the Washington Post, an objective article about objectivity, by former editor Martin Baron. Baron spends a bit over 3000 words canvassing a wide range of views about objectivity. In the end, he decides it’s a good thing, but never brings himself to actually say what it is supposed to be.

Baron walks up to the edge of the question when he says

“many journalists have concluded that our profession has failed miserably to fulfill its responsibilities at a perilous moment in history. Their evidence is that Donald Trump got elected in the first place, despite his lies, nativism, brutishness and racist and misogynistic language;”

but never confronts the crucial fact that neither the Washington Post nor any other major newspaper ever ran a news story saying “Trump lies” or “Trump is a racist and misogynist” (even now he can’t quite bring himself to actually say the second, just that Trump used “racist and misogynistic language”).

So, was the refusal to state the truth about Trump in plain words a failure of journalistic objectivity or a perfect example of it?

At the end of this long, long article, we are none the wiser. But, at least every viewpoint within the Overton window {1} has been given an airing.

fn1. though not, for example, the view that this is what you would expect from capitalist media companies

18 thoughts on “The meta-view from meta-nowhere

  1. Where I live, the elite neolib class is still firmly in control of what passes for a discourse. This is most obvious to me in the area of housing and land-use. The most astonishing landgrabbing abuses are sailing through our state legislature, and they are barely mentioned in the MSM. When they are mentioned, it is with a heavy slant. (This happens with mostly silence from those few academics who aren’t in agreement. As they say, money talks. And talks … )

    So, don’t I wish I could get hold of some old-fashioned objectivity!

    What is perhaps worse, “old media” does not seem to be doing very well. If we lose our newspapers – as sad as some of them are now – we will be truly lost. I can’t be glib about that. Australia must be a much healthier place, from the way you speak about these things. I think you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

    As for Voldemort – I don’t think his supporters were in any doubt as to who he is. He probably *could* shoot someone and still win an election. Happily, I think the laws will still be applied though.

  2. Oh, and another thing. I don’t think it is bad to be careful about calling someone a “racist.” It’s actually not as clearcut as you might think.

  3. JQ “a failure of journalistic objectivity or a perfect example of it?” “The Austerity Train Wreck”.

    The good, the bad and the ugly.

    “The privateers – excuse me, the privatizers – did just what the profit motive demanded: they cut costs, not only by eschewing safety equipment but also by shedding railway staff. There are only 800 employees today, down from 6,000 in 2010, though there are supposed to be 2,800.”

    BBC – ugly.
    And scapegoating the station master, although probably human error contribution. Always the system, not just the node.

    James K. Galbraith – bad headline unless following, good article which is where the links originate.

    Good headline. “Europe’s Vindictive Privatization Plan for Greece” by YANIS VAROUFAKIS

    I’ll be reading more at Defend Democracy.

    “The Austerity Train Wreck”

    By James K. Galbraith
    Mar 10, 2023

    “If human error is to blame for the deadly train collision in Greece on February 28, the responsibility ultimately lies with those who devised, defended, and promoted the economic doctrines underpinning the austerity policies that were imposed on the country in the 2010s. Without those polices, this tragedy never would have happened.
    [last paragraph clip]
    …”It lies with those who devised, defended, and promoted the economic doctrines that have ravaged Greece, and with the rest of us who went along. We did so stupidly but with self-assurance, smugly accepting that free-market economics is the only option (“there is no alternative”), that regulation is an avoidable burden, and that private ownership is always better than public. Those in positions of power were complacent – if not cheerful – as these doctrines took hold in Greece and around the world. Ergo omnes in culpa.”

    Headlines in order of link position in article.

    1st link – The Guardian
    “Myriad questions but no evidence yet for cause of Greece train crash”

    2nd link – BBC? This is particularly disturbing from the beeb as they are just using a political announcement to fill a page with zero background or investigation.
    “Human error to blame for train crash – Greek PM”

    3rd link – defend democracy – terrible headline “A devastated Greece”.
    [ KT2 H-line: “Plundering of Greece,  contributed to CRASH DEATHS, and rise of “new” Right”]

    Great article though:
    …”Recently it was revealed that the Greek government is monitoring nearly everyone in the country (with the help of the Israeli secret services).  Yet it doesn’t even bother to track where the trains are going and whether they’re heading towards each other!

    “The accident revealed to its full extent the endemic corruption and mismanagement dominating Greece nowadays, as well as the complete surrender of the New Democracy government to oligarchic Greek and foreign interests.

    “But it also fully exposed the results of the “bailout” programs, imposed by the Troika (EU, ECB, IMF) back in 2010 and still in place, which were in reality programs of destruction and plundering of Greece, having also finally contributed to the rise of a “new” Right, representing the country’s worst traditions. Nothing similar has appeared in Greece since the collapse of the military dictatorship, back in 1974.

    “Those “bailout” programs are still being implemented, but in a more discreet way, with the Athens government not doing anything that is not agreed with the Troika which was, in its turn, renamed  “institutions”,  then disappearing altogether from public sight, but  still very much subsisting, functioning, controlling and imposing its will on Greece.”

    NYT -“Station Manager Faces Court, but Greeks See a Scapegoat for Official Neglect

    NYT ” ‘Unustifiable Delays’: Rail Safety Upgrade in Greece Stalled for Years”

    6th – see 4th

    Reuters “Greece concludes sale of TRAINOSE to Italian railways”

    8th – in Greek “Trainose (which last year changed its name to Hellenic Train” or similar

    8th Council on Foreign Relations.
    “Greece’s Debt Crisis”

    10th Project Syndicate
    “Europe’s Vindictive Privatization Plan for Greece”
    Jul 20, 2015 YANIS VAROUFAKIS

    11th see 8th

  4. N: is anything ever as ‘clearcut’ as we might think ? Is anyone ever actually 100% consistent ?

  5. But on GrueBleen’s substantive point. Little if anything is as clear cut as we might think. And I highly doubt that anyone is ever 100% consistent. It’s gets even harder when we consider that the inconsistent are judging the inconsistent.

  6. GrueBleen,

    So hand on heart you have never appeared with any other pseudonym on John Quiggin’s blog? If you say so, I accept your word, in the absence of any other compelling evidence. Innocent until proven otherwise. Fair enough. I may have confused GrueBleen with a certain set of sock puppets. In that case, it is my mistake.

    I exempt accidental postings under “Anonymous” and misspellings of one’s pseudonym. A few of us, at least, have made those sort of honest mistakes.

    I’m mightily touchy about sock-puppets and I don’t even run a blog. It’s probably just as well I don’t run one.

  7. Well I first posted on JQ’s blog quite a few years ago – like maybe getting on for more than 20 ? So if your sock-puppet first posted back about then, it’s just vaguely conceivable that I might be he, she or it.

  8. Maybe this is just an illusion – since in general one tends to miss a lot below the surface about cultures with less knowledge and somehow one ends up knowing much more than one ever wanted to know about the US one for various reasons. You would think a “grab them by the pussy” leak would end any career there of all places. There are just layers over layers of self-contradictions and opposing subcultures. That pseudo view from nowhere just looks like another way to paint over it and get on with live (and make money in journalism) there. It is not a pure US phenomena, and at least all western/central European nations + British settler colonies if not more tend to still handle US dysfunction as an example to follow. The standard reaction to Trump then often is to talk about the evils of old white men, missing out on the rich part as if it would not be the dominant aspect. Probably because the people who have an opposing voice tend to be unified by being rich just the same.

  9. Headlines to appeal to any Overton Window anywhere. ‘A Fatal Distraction – Trump charges.’ (Just my imaginary headline.)

    Below a real headline:”Photos Show Paris Protesters Storming BlackRock Building Amid Pension Fight”

    And Another: “No, BlackRock is not leading a Marxist assault on capitalism”

    hix says “There are just layers over layers of self-contradictions and opposing subcultures. That pseudo view from nowhere just looks like another way to paint over it and get on with live (and make money in journalism) there.”.

    JQ said: “At the end of this long, long article, we are none the wiser. But, at least every viewpoint within the Overton window {1} has been given an airing.”

    Carl Rhodes in “No, BlackRock is not leading a Marxist assault on capitalism”…
    “All of this is a fatal distraction from the broader political and economic problems we face both locally and globally. It pushes serious discussions – such as what to do about economic inequality, political polarisation and declining social capital – into the background.”

    The Overton Window in France? It seems it is lit by street lamps which drunks use to find their lost keys. Or lit by burning capital. 

    All these headlines and euphemisms, click bait and dog whistles are dripping with ‘Overton Window amnesia triggers’. News outsude your expertise, and in my opinion often because of expertise and or bias, Crichton tells us that our own objectivity is lost due to;
     “… the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know – that the rest of what you read is equally biased / truthful etc .
    “That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.”
    [143] wikipedia  /Michael_Crichton / Other speeches /

    As can be seen from French pension change protesters symbolic storming of (1st floor not 3rd) a building in Paris with a tenant called “BlackRock” – “a fatal distraction” as Rhodes says –  we lose sight of the main drivers generating the grievances – a subtyoe Gell-Mann Amnesia? And get distracted and look for the keys under the light of a lamp – in this case a lamp called BlackRock.

    How about news by sortition, judged via best social capital improvement, because “… our profession has failed miserably to fulfill its responsibilities at a perilous moment in history.” as Baron admits, therefore necessitating news FOR as Carl Rhodes says; “serious discussions – such as what to do about economic inequality, political polarisation and declining social capital”.

    Now, where is my fux the world magic wand? Oh, I forgot, due to Gell-Mann Amnesia.

    “Photos Show Paris Protesters Storming BlackRock Building Amid Pension Fight

    “Workers across France are striking against the government’s plan to increase the retirement age, taking their battle to the world’s largest money manager.”

    “No, BlackRock is not leading a Marxist assault on capitalism

    April 6, 2023

    Carl Rhodes, University of Technology Sydney

    “According to ESG opponents this is putting democracy on a downhill road to socialism – or worse.

    “Purportedly central to this sinister plan is United States company BlackRock and its chief executive, Larry Fink. BlackRock is the world’s biggest funds manager, overseeing more than US$10 trillion in investments on behalf of clients such as superannuation funds.

    “Concerns about the “woke” politics of ESG don’t just live in the dark recesses of the internet. In the US it has become a mainstream fixation. Anti-ESG opinions abound in the pages of The Wall Street Journal and on the infotainment network Fox News. It is a hot battlefield in the culture wars.

    “Impoverishing democracy
    “So what explains this fantastical rhetoric about ESG being the road to Marxist tyranny? In my view, it shows just how much the intellectual foundations of conservatism and liberalism have been debased in a media marketplace that favours reactionary emotionalism over tempered thought.

    “Economic conservatism (rooted in the belief in free markets, globalisation and small government) has become disconnected from social and political conservatism (especially as related to climate activism, social justice and diversity and inclusion).

    “All of this is a fatal distraction from the broader political and economic problems we face both locally and globally. It pushes serious discussions – such as what to do about economic inequality, political polarisation and declining social capital – into the background.”

  10. One aspect of this is what assumptions are being made by journalists and editors about the capacity of readers to make political and moral judgements on the basis of plainly reported facts, direct quotes, authentic images, etc. To take up the example that hix provides, among the circles of people I interact with the political and moral judgement that people would make of Trump on the basis on that quote would be clear, quick and unanimous, with no need for any explanation of what was wrong with it. However the evidence of the last two US elections is that such vileness has done Trump’s standing no harm among quite large constituencies.

  11. The “grab them by the pussy” line is vile, obnoxious, sexist and oppressive. Bad enough in itself of course. The attempts to subvert the vote and the constitution and then to dog whistle the storming of the Capitol and overthrow the constitutionally elected President and Congress are all nothing less than high treason. This renders Trump a domestic enemy in the parlance. It is beyond me why he is not already in federal prison. In this case, justice delayed is democracy placed in escalating jeopardy. The longer one leaves it to stop a political actor of proven dictatorial intent and zero respect for other people or democracy, the more emboldened and brazen they and their supporters become in acting out and attempting to seize power by a coup. You can’t be a patriot in a democracy if you don’t defend the democracy and democracy in general.

  12. Further to my post above, if it was not treason it was certainly seditious conspiracy, involving Trump and his active supporters carrying out the Capitol attack. Time will tell if the strategy of embroiling Trump in endless lawsuits of a other felony ratings will prove more or less effective in neutralizing the serious danger he and his followers pose to democracy in the USA.

    18 U.S. Code § 2384 – Seditious conspiracy:

    Paging to the next code, “18 U.S. Code § 2385 – Advocating overthrow of Government” is also of interest.

  13. JQ gets around.

    “The “Crisis of the Intellectuals” and the Poverty of Public Discourse

    April 3, 2023 BY JOSEPH SHIEBER

    “One of the strange juxtapositions appearing in the past few weeks was the publication of Ibram X. Kendi’s essay, “The Crisis of the Intellectuals” in The Atlantic, followed – a day or so later – by Marty Baron’s essay, “We want objective judges and doctors. Why not journalists too?” in theWashington Post.

    “Belying the seeming contrast between the two essays, what is striking most about both of them is how similar their effects are. Reading both of them – particularly reading both of them serially – is like attempting to follow a conversation while completely submerged in molasses. Each seems dedicated to conveying as little substance as possible.

    “Despite, or perhaps because of, that devotion to the anodyne, the biggest problem with Baron’s essay – as John Quiggin describes it in his short response, “A meta-view from meta-nowhere” – is that Baron never clearly states whether the coverage of the Trump Administration by the Washington Post and other legacy media outlets constituted a failure of objectivity or paradigm example of it.

    “What’s NOT good is that the pages of The Atlantic and the Washington Post are filled with this tripe, while income inequality is rampant, the Supreme Court makes a mockery of women’s equal status under the law, Republican governors and lawmakers attack trans kids and their parents and caregivers, and K-12 teachers and librarians face retaliation for attempting to teach kids the truth about history and science. By adding fuel to the fire of the fake controversy about objectivity and reason, both Baron and Kendi contribute to a public discourse “which lacks the information by which to detect lies.”

    Joseph Shieber
    Lafayette College · Department of Philosophy PhD

  14. KT2,

    The first thing I would say about the “The Crisis of the Intellectuals” is that modern mainstream journalists are not intellectuals. Far from it in most cases. Historically, some MSM journalists may have been intellectuals. This begs one’s definition of an “intellectual”. I will have a stab at it. An intellectual is;

    (a) a professional person with a Ph.D. in a recognized field,
    (b) a considerable polymath with abilities in a number of fields,
    (c) likely to have followed a profession or professions for many years, and
    (d) likely to have been a leader or notable in at least one field.

    There are a few who can come at being an intellectual from “left field”, usually notable writers like Tolstoy (my favorite author) who have some philosophical things to say. A true intellectual takes an interest in science, the humanities, moral philosophy and probably these days has to take an interest in politics and economics. Religion, general philosophy and metaphysics may be other fields of great interest to them.

    By the definition above I am not an intellectual nor even near it. I am a kind of autodidact dilettante polymath with perhaps wide but not deep interests and readings. I lack the formal training and career to get anywhere near the mark. Yet, I have the temerity to think that I perceive a few things or can think a few things that some badly stove-piped intellectuals do not envision. Indeed, if they are “stove-piped”, I don’t think they are true intellectuals. To me, that is very much a disqualifying trait.

  15. “To you who think there’s something to being “in”:

    You’re always hanging on to others. If somebody’s eating French fries, you want French fries too. If somebody’s sucking on a candy, you want a candy too. If somebody’s blowing on a pennywhistle, you scream, “Mommy, buy me a pennywhistle too!” And that doesn’t just go for children.

    When spring comes, you let spring turn your head. When autumn comes, you let autumn turn your head. Everyone is just waiting for something to turn their head. Some even make a living turning heads—they produce advertising.

    One at a time people are still bearable, but when they form cliques, they start to get stupid. They fall into group stupidity.

    We live in group stupidity and confuse this insanity with true experience. It is essential that you become transparent to yourself and wake up from this madness. Zazen means taking leave of the group and walking on your own two feet.” – Kodo Sawaki Roshi [1880–1965] or “Homeless Kodo.

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