The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Invisible Man

To begin, consider Robert Caro's descriptions in The Power Broker of the influence of image in reporting, made plain from his examination of the case of Robert Moses. Mr. Moses's often underhanded tactics had been overlooked by the New York press for thirty years, and the falsehoods common in his press releases had been passed unchecked to a public with no way of detecting them. The media's own inertia gave this image a self-perpetuating momentum of its own. Even when scandals broke into the press, the image hampered their investigation:
There had still been many editors and reporters unwilling to face the falseness [sic] of the image they had helped create. There had still been newspapers -- most notably, of course, the Times -- that had shrunk back from the investigations into Title I....
The media's new awareness was particularly significant because it is so strongly influenced by the images that are its own creation. For years, articles about Robert Moses had been researched, written and played in the light of the image of Robert Moses as hero.
[Emphasis mine.] These errors did not arise from any media bias, but from the fact that journalists are a fairly closed group of not very bright people who share many common beliefs. Their preconceptions, which generally agree with those of their associates, are reinforced every time they read the paper. Inconvenient truths are dismissed due to confirmation bias; unexpected facts have a hard time reaching the public.

With this in mind, consider the current press image of Barack Obama. I have no reason to believe ill of him; but I have little information. All I know about Mr. Obama is what I read in the papers; which is to say, all I know is the image. And that is all I will ever know.

The press narrative of Mr. Obama's character is now established. Facts which do not fit will be passed over by researchers, or questioned at every level of the editing process, making them very unlikely to percolate into public view. Instead, we will be given reinforcement of the narrative, presented as "news" just as if it, in fact, contained something new. We will be told nothing, and then reminded how much we have been told.