Via The Browser a rather lame article by Jay Rosen arguing that journalists in the USA have become so non-judgmental that they are striving for an impossible professional ‘innocence’ and are just missing the point.
By way of evidence he cites a long analysis of the Tea Party tendency in the USA by famed NYT reporter David Barstow, who saw much evidence that Tea Party people feared ‘impending tyranny’:
The other thing that came through was this idea of impending tyranny. You could not go to Tea Party rallies or spend time talking to people within the movement without hearing that fear expressed in myriad ways.
I was struck by the number of people who had come to the point where they were literally in fear of whether or not the United States of America would continue to be a free country. I just started seeing that theme come up everywhere I went.
Jay Rosen says that it is not enough that a reporter show analytical detachment, and so ‘merely’ report on what such people believe:
Seriously: Why is this phrase, impending tyranny, just sitting there, as if Barstow had no way of knowing whether it was crazed and manipulated or verifiable and reasonable?
If we credit the observation that a great many Americans drawn to the Tea Party live in fear that the United States is about to turn into a tyranny, with rigged elections, loss of civil liberties, no more free press, a police state… can we also credit the professional attitude that refuses to say whether this fear is reality-based? I don’t see how we can…
We have come upon something interfering with political journalism’s “sense of reality” as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called it (see section 5.1) And I think I have a term for the confusing factor: a quest for innocence in reportage and dispute description. Innocence, meaning a determination not to be implicated, enlisted, or seen by the public as involved.
Well, so be it.
What I dislike is the Rosen logic leap which takes us from where we are today to a banal lumpen Cuba-style tyranny – rigged elections, loss of civil liberties, no more free press, a police state – as if there was nothing in the middle which people should be worried about. Since he defines tyranny in such a banal way, Tea Party people ipso facto must be delusional!
Let’s look at examples of the tyranny of modern life in the UK, which is all the more nasty for being insidious. Not the abrupt clumsy squashing of the public by a Monty Python Foot of Tyranny, but rather intellectual and cultural oppression by myriad pinpricks and official insults.
Thus the Tyranny of Filth. Drive between Swindon and Oxford, or round the intersections of the M40 and M25 and the M25 with M1. The roadsides for mile after mile are filthy with litter. What policy processes are happening to exact more and more taxes from people when the standard of public services is so obviously slumping? How can we be lectured incessantly by central and local authorities on ‘the environment’ while outside the windows of their offices the rubbish is piling up?
Or the Tyranny of Indoctrination. Listening to Radio Five Live in the car the other day (Friday), I heard the BBC presenter talking to a woman in Scotland about current snow problems. He asked her whether she thought it was down to Global Warming. "No, I don’t believe in all that – it’s just the changing weather" was (in effect) her reply. "You can say that. I can’t" he replied in a curiously arch tone of voice. Huh?
Or the Tyranny of Complexity. My accountant tells me that many of his clients have had £100 notices for late tax filings, when he knows for sure that the returns were delivered on time (now the Revenue refuse to issue receipts to confirm delivery). He has tried to penetrate the tax system to find out what is going on. Eventually he finds a human tax-person: "We have hundreds of unopened envelopes here – there’s a backlog."
Try the Tyranny of Official Querulousness. A five-year old girl was left in a car which had crashed into a river for 97 minutes because the police refused to try to rescure her as they had not had the right training.
The Tyranny of Educational Underachievement. Manipulating the results of school exams for non-academic reasons.
The Tyranny of Abuse of Public Funds to Reward One’s Friends. See these especially awful examples from DFID.
Or the Tyranny of EU Deceipt, as exemplified by promising a referendum on the new EU Treaty then bundling it through Parliament instead.
And so many, many more.
It’s not that any one of these is tyrannical in itself. Life is not perfect. Governments will over-reach themselves.
Rather that the cumulative effect of all these nasty developments is to create a new sort of PoMo post-democratic tyranny, one in which the citizens stop owning the state. Freedom and responsibility as currently understood – and as operationally meaningful ideas – decline. Instead everything sinks into an ooze of dirty ambiguity and mediocre uncertainty.
So if the Tea Party people are ‘fearful’ of that sort of thing accelerating in the USA as it has done here, as their Federal Government borrows recklessly against the future, are they really so wrong?