February 05, 2011

Bad News: New Book Probes Role of Press in Financial Crisis It takes a special breed of reporter to do the digging and put faith in their convictions as they take on the dominant narrative of the moment--particularly when that narrative is championed by prize-winning economists celebrated as wise men, such as the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his successor, Ben Bernanke, who played leading roles in convincing the public that everything was fine. I first saw this dynamic up close during the technology bubble of the late-1990s. I never heard one of my colleagues profess a desire to help the Nasdaq continue to multiply. I never was privy to a directive to tout the impregnability of every new dot-com that came along. But many writers effectively opted to play these roles by default in selecting the stories that were most readily available--profiles of start-ups arranged by ubiquitous public relations consultants; astounding tales of technological discovery; stories of the wealth being harvested from the market like the proverbial gold at the end of the rainbow. You could sit at your desk in any newsroom in America in 1999 and simply wait for a press release to arrive in your inbox or a wire story to be flagged by your assignment editor and soon find yourself writing about something that no one had ever written before--the largest merger in history! The fastest this! The slickest that! The path of least resistance turned journalists into boosters, while critical stories entailed a path into the wilderness, with no eager sources and only...
What is to be done? (4) More lessons from Lenin: 1. Lenin: "The worst sin we commit is that we degrade our political and organizational tasks to the level of the immediate, 'palpable,' 'concrete' interests of the everyday economic struggle; yet they singing to us the same refrain: Lend the economic struggle itself a political character!" Sometime I find it so strange, so puzzling, that the spontaneity, immediacy, concreteness, amateurism, and emphasis on the everyday that Lenin condemns as primitivism and economism is taken so widely for granted among so many left activists and intellectuals. Is this uncritical acceptance a reaction to what many see as the mistakes of the Soviet period? Is it a more recent response to the failures and compromises of communist parties in other countries (I'm thinking mostly of Italy here)? Is it a reaction to the rigidity of some communists in the US and the UK, a reaction by those who associate themselves with a new left? Or are other explanations equally or even more compelling--absorption of a 100 years of anti-communism, cooptation by the pleasures of capitalism, relief through forfeiture of responsibility for the terribly hard work of organizing? So many strands of intellectual ideology converge: don't speak for another, appreciate differences, celebrate locality. It's no wonder that a politics can't emerge. Dogmatism, demands, and organization are discounted in advance. I should put this differently. There is a politics here: an individualist politics whose sole principle is that of individual freedom, where this freedom is reduced to particular choice and...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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