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Conspiracy or just "systemic"  
Posted by ALP on March 6 2008, 14:01 » Uploaded 06/03/08 14:51  

My interest in "conspiracy" is semantic - how people use and abuse the word/concept, in contrast with others such as "systemic".

Nick Davies (author of Flat Earth News) characterises a certain type of idea about media as "conspiracy theory":

“...there is a popular theory that mass-media coverage is orchestrated or at least fundamentally restricted in order to win the favour of corporate advertisers. To an outsider’s eye, this is very tempting: these advertisers have money, the media outlets need the money, so they must be vulnerable to some kind of pressure from the advertisers to describe the world in a way which suits their interests.”. (Flat Earth News, page 14)

Some people reject this characterisation (and they get quite upset about it). It's really about systemic, institutional factors, they say, not conspiracy. They quote people such as Elizabeth Fones-Wolf (a favourite source of Noam Chomsky, no less):

"Manufacturers orchestrated multimillion dollar public relations campaigns that relied on newspapers, magazines, radio, and later television, to re-educate the public in the principles and benefits of the American economic system... employers sought to undermine unionism and address shop-floor conflict by building a separate company identity or company consciousness among their employees. This involved convincing workers to identify their social, economic, and political well-being with that of their specific employer and more broadly with the free enterprise system." (Fones-Wolf, Selling Free Enterprise, page 6)

If the first piece of text (Davies) is describing conspiracy, how is the second piece of text (Fones-Wolf) not? Is it possible to "orchestrate" without conscious intent? Systemically, perhaps? Who is confusing the map with the territory here? Who isn't?

COMMENTS Post comment


Comment 01 – Brian D March 06 2008, 15:34

I don't want to get into battles between various factions (life's too short), but I do think ALP has a point here - which is that many of the apparent disagreements are "semantic".

No one has the complete map of the territory. Each semantic piece of the jigsaw is of use (as long as it's not a stray piece from an evil jigsaw).

I'm interested in Nick Davies's "churnalism" idea, and the wider issue of the "economics of time" in the "market", because it dovetails with other areas I've been studying (for a magazine article on the corporatisation of time, etc).

Because I'm looking into this in detail, I see how significant it is, how central it is. It's impossible for me to separate it from the other "structural" aspects of market ideology.

But I appreciate that people who aren't investigating the history of this ideology from this perspective might "reduce" it to something unimportant - in their minds - relative to what they're focusing on.

This will make more sense when I publish some of the stuff (on the market economics of time) that I'm talking about.

For my previous comment on Nick's book, see here:

Comment 02 – Jean Tollett March 06 2008, 17:48

Thanks, Brian, for that piece of good sense. There appears to be a tendency in certain circles of saying:

"Why aren't you addressing the points WE find important" ... "Why are you completely blanking what WE have established as being most important..." (blah, blah).

Your multi-perspective approach is a much needed antidote to this. A little oasis of sanity. ;)

Jean X

Comment 03 – Peter March 06 2008, 19:12

"Why aren't you addressing the points WE find important"

Yes. Have you noticed that when people don't focus on the areas they are supposed to focus on, their analysis is branded as "shallow" or "superficial"? For example:

But if you take a look at Davies's key focus - "churnalism" - you can see that it really is a very superficial analysis (David Edwards)

You can only "see" this if you look through David Edwards' perspective, because there's nothing inherently "superficial" about an analysis on churnalism. In fact, Davies produces real data (he commissioned an academic study for the purpose), so already his analysis is looking much "deeper" than Medialens's mixture of airy rhetoric, abstractions and quotes. Medialens have this delusion that their analysis is "deep", when in fact they don't provide any analysis at all. They're rhetoric-mongers, not analysts. You don't measure depth of analysis by the number of repetitions of the word "systemic".




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