Saturday, April 21, 2007

Liberalism Isn’t Libertarianism, Profit Isn’t a Civic Value, Mindless Diversion Isn’t Important.

Posted by olvlzl.
The reaction to NBC broadcasting part the Virginia Tech murderer’s self-made trailer carries a warning to the media about how far the public is willing to go. Or, eventually perhaps, what the public will tolerate in the media. NBC running with it has been defended, just as Don Imus and other obvious excesses by the media have been defended and excused. Having heard those defenses they seem to come down to two things.

Some say that they should have run it just because it’s their right to run it, a sort of “see, you can’t stop me” kind of argument. I'll get back to that attitude problem in a minute.

Some have said that it was newsworthy because it was timely. Anyone who has seen the portions of the video released by NBC, with their unremovable sticker attached, and says it has any kind of news value, is an idiot. The video was useless, watching it had exactly the same value as rubber necks gawking at a scene of carnage before going off to seek newer thrills.

Behind these assertions lies a deeper and largely unstated value held by increasing numbers of our jaded media. Despite their empty assertions otherwise, profit , and in the media that means viewers sold to advertisers, is really the only responsibility accepted by the media. It’s the media version of that self-serving dogma of business ethics, that the only responsibility of the corporation is to maximize the returns to investors. That value seems to guarantee that all other values will be buried, that they will have to be to insure maximium return.

Another angle on the showing of the psychopath’s video was made the other night on a prominent blog I usually respect, that NBC shouldn’t have edited the thing but should have shown it in its entirety. The argument was that their doing so was an instance of paternalism. It would be tempting to reflect on the difference in this use of the word “paternalism” and the way it is used on this blog and on others like Hecate’s and I encourage others to look into that.

Here I’ll say that while it isn’t an appropriate use of the term, it is revealing. In this use of the word it’s exact synonym is the ever increasingly used favorite of conservatives, “nanny state”. The two terms complain about the restraints put into place by responsible adults and which inevitably are meant as means to protect someone. I don’t know what kind of world the liberal libertarians think we’re headed for but when I see irresponsible corporations given free reign to do whatever it takes to maximize profits the direction is to hell. It won’t be exactly the same horror as that produced by a fully ripe Bush regime but it will still be horrible.

Those working in the corporate media shouldn’t ever forget that their professional freedom isn’t a natural one. Corporations aren’t born, they aren’t endowed by nature or by nature’s God with rights. They were merely incorporated under laws that are subject to change as needed or desired. Freedom of the press was guaranteed only because accurate information is necessary for free people to govern themselves. That service, providing accurate and useful information is the only reason anyone should care about press freedom. If just about all of the junk put out by the media disappeared today it would have no impact on the ability of people to vote or conduct their lives.

They should also realize that this also makes them vulnerable to losing their freedoms if people suspect that they are contributing to increasing violence. The old arguments requiring proof beyond a reasonable doubt that violent media promotes violence are receiving an increasingly skeptical response. I used to be an absolutist but I don’t buy it anymore. I don’t think that any corporate action should enjoy that standard of proof, one increasingly denied to human beings*. When it comes to a media bent on maximizing profits by broadcasting ideological lies, FOX, etc. conviction by a preponderance of the evidence is much more than they should be allowed.

* The very preliminary research, which needs following up badly and right away, that cell phones might be killing off bees could lead to an important decision. Do we risk the food supply while we wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt proving that cell phones are contributing to the problem, or do we take action on less than certain information that could prevent a famine? Considering that cell phones are primarily used as an entertainment medium it could be a question of bread or circuses.

Note: I’ve written about the copycat issue before. I stand by what I wrote then. There is some reporting that the V.T. murderer was probably influenced by a movie. I won’t name the movie or the murderer, I won’t lend them any glamor. And I’m going to be restarting my other blog this weekend.