Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Man Behind the Curtain

Being a successful media pundit depends on a couple of core skills - one is a capacity for sounding absolutely confident about your predictions; the other is your ability to seamlessly and plausibly change gear after the fact without denting your public credibility at all.

Traditionally, pundits have gotten away with these 180-degree reversals because of the mainstream media's monopoly on analysis. Being the sole mediator allowed established outlets to play footsie under the table with the poohbahs who told us what to think about economics, politics and everything else. Each needed the other.


Now people are wising up to this confidence trick. Like Dorothy and Toto, we can see the red-faced man behind the curtain pulling the levers. At this point, he is vaguely aware that he has been discovered, but he's still frantically pulling the levers trying to pretend there is something more to the wizardry than there is.

In the past month or two, we have seen curtains pulled asunder across the globe as as once booming and authoritative media voices are exposed as artificially and thinly constructed pipsqueaks bouncing around in echo chambers of their own making.

In Australia, there was the now widely recognised misjudgement of the press gallery over the significance of the Prime Minister's speech to parliament about the misogyny of the Opposition Leader. The condescending accusation by legacy media that social media had misunderstood the "context" of the speech was vaguely amusing at the time. But it now looks plainly ridiculous. They missed the story and they still don't accept it.

In the UK, the once almighty BBC has not only made monumental editorial mistakes - bungling an investigation into Jimmy Savile's record as a child abuser and wrongly implicating a Tory peer in abuse allegations - but it has given the impression that no-one is in charge.

And in the US, there was the cosy consensus of the mainstream media in describing the presidential election as "too close to call".  And when they were all proved wildly wrong, they demonstrated an equally shameless hindsight bias that allowed them to walk away apparently unmarked by their bad calls.

Outside politics, we continue to hear confident forecasts about interest rates, the share market, the dollar and the economy from legions of television economists who when proven wrong tell us that while the outcome was not their "central case",  it was within their "range of expectations".

There's an economic reason for this explosion in media punditry. The news has been commoditised and everyone has access to the same information in real time. That leaves the established, legacy media to suck its metaphorical thumb, indulging in idle conjecture about what happens next.

So at what point does the public twig that all these people behind the curtain of authority bestowed on them by traditional media are just making guesses - educated guesses maybe - but guesses nevertheless? At what point do we all just go to the source material ourselves and make our own judgements?

That point is arriving. But for now, like Oz desperately manipulating the levers, the media is telling us to play no attention to the man behind the curtain.

(Hear my discussion with the ABC Radio National's Jonathan Green on this theme here).

9 comments:

  1. The current lot of journalist pundits remind me of the prelude to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

    After the crash, the victims turned on the financial advisers and economists wanting to know why they had not predicted the crisis. The economists responded that of course they knew it was going to happen but if they had said so they would have been out of job.

    To get along the journos go along, just don't expect me to pay for this rubbish.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Is it too much to ask for the Old Guard to stop trying to predict the future and give us some analysis of the present, perhaps some reportage of the past?

    All I want from the media is discussion about what just happened and what's happening now. Leave the future to the soothsayers.

    ReplyDelete
  3. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/editorials/a-time-for-open-confession/story-e6frg71x-1226516925407

    This editorial is a doozy.

    fred

    ReplyDelete
  4. That Australian editorial really is a doozy. I wouldn't have thought anyone ever would extend the "my enemy's enemy is my friend" principle to the point where they would happily cosy up to child rapists and their protectors.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I reckon Gillard's been gung ho about this Royal Commission because it's the first time she can do something unhindered by those who put her into power.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thinking people are quite capable of forming their own opinions.

    They don't need to be force-fed by media figures. Especially given that most commentators in the media sing from the same one-party Liberal songsheet, on behalf of the agenda of billionaires and elites.

    What we want from the media is facts and reliable background. Equipped with those we can formulate our own conclusions.

    Sadly, that content is declining in the "mainstream" media, making it necessary, as Mr D said, to go to the source materials ourselves.

    The trouble is, most people don't have the time and know-how to do this, so many take the path of least resistance, succumbing to the Liberal propagandists with microphones.

    Abbott must be laughing his dumb arse off at the systemic media advantage he enjoys as conservative leader.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "The trouble is, most people don't have the time and know-how to do this,"

    ...or the source materials may be hidden, or expensive. It can be much, much easier said than done.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree up to a point, but most people with jobs and kids and interests don't necessarily have the time or the skills to research everything from primary sources. It's wonderful now that I can, for example, get instant access to the Gonski report or the latest report into whatever environmental outrages are being committed by our State governments. But I can only ever read, and blog about, a few of them in detail because of time constraints. Also, we're not in a media "loop" so we might need reminding that X report is coming out today on Y topic which we're passionate about (Joining interest groups does help in this regard.) Fortunately it's possible to form a network of blogs which you read and trust so as to pick up on the work of others.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I find I may not have time to go to the source material myself, but I can use the blogosphere to find better experts in specific fields who write from a position of passion and applied experience in those fields.

    I wonder if paid journalism with ultimately end up in that space, rather than paid opinionistas on a broad range of topics.

    ReplyDelete