The pre-stabilized harmony of the press
Posted On 18/11/2021
One of the most surprising effects of the pandemic to date has been the extraordinary homogenization of television, radio and print media coverage.
Some have attempted to see this as an alignment (“Gleichschaltung”), reminiscent of the political, economic, cultural and social process of National Socialism in the 1930s.
Although one can understand some elements of analogy in this comparison, at the same time it seems exaggerated and falsely suggestive.
Whatever the nature of this “imposition on democracy” (as Angela Merkel put it on 17 November 2020), it is not yet the sign of a new Thousand-Year Reich.
Another hypothesis put forward to explain this phenomenon was the manipulation of the media by politicians and financial powers. Indeed, in pre-pandemic times, serious scientific analyses of the political and economic interconnectedness of the media were part of a specialized field of research in sociology and communication studies.
From Karl Kraus to Noam Chomsky, from Karl Kraus and Jacques Ellul to Pierre Bourdieu, the critical analysis of the press has been one of the most serious, empirically sound and scientifically uncontroversial fields of research in sociology and communication studies.
With the radical politicization of the media, these analyses, many of which have become classics and part of academic curricula, are now being reinterpreted as dangerous “conspiracy theories”. Now, after barely a year, everything that has been published and proven about the role and function of journalism in the context of the wars and major political, economic and social crises of the 20th Century turns out to be null and void.
Criticism of journalistic objectivity, criticism of the lack of pluralism in terms of perspectives and the self-serving portrayal of news events, the impact of media competing for attention and the pressure of sensationalist reporting, the staging and manipulation taking place due to the financial and political dependence of the media, media actors’ closeness to political decision-makers and economic actors – all this seems to be part of a nebulous “conspiracy” or even a far-right ideology when it comes to health policy.
When it comes to the pandemic, most of the press (all of the Luxembourg press) act only as a vehicle for unassailable truths, the most scientific and consensual facts, the purest and most just interests and standards of morality ever propagated in the history of humanity. Based on the self-image of some of our journalists, one might conclude that they are on a par with the authors of the Gospels:
In the beginning was the Press and then the world appeared.
In its own interest, it has joined us.(Karl Kraus, Lied von der Presse (Song of the Press))
Of course, the homogenization of the media cannot be explained so easily. We have already had ample opportunity to note the strange similarities with a universal conspiracy in the context of the Iraq war, even if the ownership of major media corporations has long been intermeshed to an alarming degree.
On a more individual, everyday, implicit level, an answer can be found in the sociology of the journalistic field as founded by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
The “pre-stabilized harmony” (based on the concept of the philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz) of television, radio and newspaper reports does not even need universal coordination in order to be aligned with the same topics, the same perspectives and the same moral “values”. It has to do with the way the media works.
To use a famous metaphor, it is not necessary for clocks to conspire to show virtually the same time at the same time – it is sufficient that they are set to the same time and equipped with the same kind of movement, so that each of them, following its own movement, coincides approximately with all the others. The similarity of the mechanism obviates the need for machining.
(Accardo, Alain. Un journalisme de classes moyennes (II) – L’orchestration invisible des pratiques sociales. Éditions Agone)
To be continued …
- Accrdo, Alain. « Un journalisme de classes moyennes (I) ». Éditions Agone, mai 2020. https://agone.org/blog/un-journalisme-de-classes-moyennes-i.
- ———. « Un journalisme de classes moyennes (II) – L’orchestration invisible des pratiques sociales ». Éditions Agone, mai 2020. https://agone.org/blog/un-journalisme-de-classes-moyennes-ii.
- ———. « Un journalisme de classes moyennes (III) – Le maintien de l’ordre « démocratique » ». Éditions Agone, mai 2020. https://agone.org/blog/un-journalisme-de-classes-moyennes-ii.
- Bourdieu, Pierre. « L’emprise du journalisme ». Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales 101, Nr. 1 (1994): 3–9.
- Halimi, Serge. Les Nouveaux chiens de garde. Paris: Raisons d’agir, 2005.