Does journalism matter?

Does journalism matter? Not as much as it once did – if audience numbers or circulation rates are any guide. The influence and authority of the nightly network news and the morning metropolitan daily is on the ebb. They like the sea of faith were once, too, at the full, round earth’s shore and lay like the folds of the bright girdle furled. But now I only hear its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, retreating, to the breath of the night wind, down the vast edges drear and naked shingles of the world -- sorry, can’t help myself when I get that Arnoldian urge.

Perhaps journalism is going the way of poetry?  In 1992, Dana Gioia, (who would later become the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts), wrote an essay entitled “Can Poetry Matter?”.   Unlike fiction­, poetry no longer mattered, and had become the specialized calling of a small and isolated group, he argued. Five years later, the novelist Jonathan Franzen made the same complaint about fiction, deploring the neglect of novels in favor of movies and the web. Journalism -- as practiced by the New York Times, Guardian, Washington Post, the BBC and the American networks -- suffers from the ills of poetry and fiction -- domination by a priestly caste whose views are formed by a closed world shaped by secularist materialist political-left pieties and an increasingly outmoded publishing platform.

Host Todd Wilkin of the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio and I discussed these questions on 25 April 2013 in the context of my GetReligion articles "Gosnell fog blankets Britain" and "Master of my domain". We began the show with an overview of the British press coverage (none to speak of save in the op-ed columns of the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which has written more about this story than any non-Philadelphia paper.) I did give Todd an update on the Guardian, noting that on 19 April one of its loonier left Comment is Free contributors explained to the comrades of Islington:

Now the [Gosnell] trial is underway, and anti-abortion activists are insisting there's been a cover-up by ideologues intent on averting honest discussion about the case in order to suit a cynical political agenda.

They're right. But the ideologues doing the cover-up are on the "pro-life" side.

Yes, its those nasty pro-lifers who are responsible for the news blackout. Go figure.

Todd then moved to a discussion of Diane Winston's Religion Dispatches article “The Myth of News Media as Secularist Conspiracy”. I observed her arguments were rather thin -- blaming the reader for being stupid is never a convincing argument before we turned to the assertion that this was not a religion story.

The Gosnell story is not a religion story, it’s a crime story. People with religious convictions may read their passions into it, but Gosnell did not seem to be motivated one way or the other by a faith commitment. Yet cultural religionists imply that the absence of religious commitment in the nation’s newsrooms—and consequent acceptance of baby-killing, oops abortion, is among the reasons that the Gosnell story was overlooked.

The notion that the news media is a secularist cabal ignoring stories that challenge its shibboleths is wrongheaded.

No, there has not been some grand conspiracy to spike news stories about Kermit Gosnell. There's been no need to issue instructions to the troops to toe the line and support abortion no matter the cost to the media's credibility. But there is quite clearly a secularist cabal that ignores stories or issues that challenge its core beliefs.

Newsrooms are the most intellectually monochrome places in the United States -- and I speak as one who studied at Duke and Yale, experiencing first hand the group think of the modern University. There was no need to form a conspiracy as just about all of the alleged conspirators were of one mind about this issue before the trial began.

While there are some ideologues and hacks amongst the press these days, many seek to be faithful to the truth as they see it and to do their job, to do the good. But what we see time and again in the mainstream media is the press's failure to understand that it's pursuit of what it thinks is the good can lead to bad through unintended consequences and unacknowledged motives.  The loss of a moral center, of a moral imagination has led the liberal press to become illiberal: single-minded, self-censoring and angry.

The avoidance of coverage of the infanticide, murder and depravity chronicled by testimony presented to the court in the Gosnell case is self-evidently a case of moral and intellectual failure. The press's avoidance of this major story leads to the question of whether it matters any more. And it is hard to say that it does.

In the closing stanza of Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold wrote:

Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I cannot help but think that if Arnold were writing today, it would be the new church -- the media elites -- who would man his ignorant armies. Listen to the broadcast and tell me what you think.

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