Jay Rosen was among the people Chris Lydon interviewed in his initial series of podcasts in 2003 when the art of podcasting was booting up. They did another one this week, which I listened to yesterday on my daily walk through Central Park. It was a depressing but good conversation.
Jay tells the story of the President's speech at the AP last week, which I watched. I walked away from the TV in disgust at the first question, which (paraphrased) asked if the Repubs and Dems would ever just get along because people are tired of all the fighting in Washington. I didn't want to hear the answer, because this is the loop the press is in. It's dysfunctional. It's not something they ever really look at. In a way it's like a recital. Let's begin this discussion by singing our anthem, and asserting up front that no matter what you say, we're going to believe what we were told to believe. No, we don't expect you to solve this "problem" -- we don't even want you to. And if you did solve it, it wouldn't matter because we'd act as if you didn't.
I always thought Jay could have been a mathematician, he even looks like one. He goes a little further in the theory than most J-school profs are likely to. He says the myth contains instructions for perpetuating the myth. It's a remarkable if totally depressing observation.
I've observed what Jay has observed in another way. I have tried to point out that discourse in the blogosphere is no better than it is in the press. If I said something political, it wouldn't be quoted or even read by Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, Simon Johnson, Glen Greenwald, Taegan Goddard, David Frum, Joan Walsh, Felix Salmon, to name just a few people who I read on political or economic matters. Likewise if one of them wrote about tech, it doesn't seem likely that I would read what they wrote. Though I would like to put that to a test.
The problem is two-fold, of course. On one hand, if I'm smart, why couldn't I figure things out about politics that maybe no one else has before. Why don't I even have a chance to. But that's the weaker of the two arguments in favor of breaking down the Chinese Wall in the blogosphere.
The other half of it is that it's inescapable that the political issues involve more and more what I am an expert in. There are aspects to the policy that these guys write about that, to understand them for real, you have to know things that they probably don't know. Not to say they're not smart, they are, or I wouldn't read them. But we can't all focus on everything to the same depth.
So we're all weaker for this divide, imho. Some people are allowed to write about some things, and others about others, and never the two shall meet. I think typecasting is killing us, as much as the lack of will of the press and politicians to try to escape the loops they've built to not deal with problems, as Jay so eloquently explained in the podcast with Chris.
BTW, it struck me while listening to the podcast that it would be interesting if Chris went back to all the people he interviewed in 2003 and 2004 and reflected with them on how things turned out. Those were heady days. We've had some major failures since then, and readjustments in thinking. It would be edifying and clarifying to hear a retrospective from each of them.