“Harper, check the water!” Another one bites the hand that holds the leash

Well, I’ll be dammed like the Three Gorges, there’s something in the water.

Surely there can be no other explanation: another columnist – Paul Thomas in Saturday’s Herald – taking the flagellation device to his professional coterie. “Spare the rod, spoil the page,” I say.

Loyal readers will know that it was a lonely week ago that I brought to your attention a spate of honest spade=shovel introspection missives from a number of weekend columnists.

First we had Tracey Barnett lamenting the lack of analysis and focus on the horse race aspects of politics – winners and losers, rather than policy dissection – in the work of her colleagues.

Then, both Rosemary McLeod and Deborah Coddington had a go – totally without having read Tracey’s column (unless there’s some sort of “Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble,” clique going on, which I doubt) .

Rosemary was railing against the volume of paper and ink  wasted  in pursuit of sexlebrity scandals and Deborah basically told Ali Mau to get over herself and accept the flogging that comes with living in the celebrity goldfish bowl. The key is that they all want to talk about various versions of themselves and their fellow columnists.

Deborah warned that journalists are not (always) lapdogs: “We’re not a fluffy dog you can pat – we bite” OUCH.

Tracey described her fellow columnists as “myopic sheep” and Rosemary says that columnists actually ignore the issues that really matter.

Enter stage right Paul Thomas in a column that’s ostensibly about the media circus surrounding the Tiger Woods’ apology fiasco, sexlebrity drama stand-off broohaha:

Actually, journalists aren’t paid to represent the public at all; they’re paid to fill newspapers and air time, to generate a commercial product.

[Sorry or not, there’s no pleasing the media]

Phowwaaaarrrrr!!!!

That sir, is a big call. Debatable, not necessarily desirable and certainly in direct dialectic tension with the idea of the public interest, rather than the pursuit of profit, public purience and pervy curiosity.

I don’t want to get all scholastic, but there is actually a 90 year history of sociological debate about precisely this question [seriously, Google the names Walter Lippmann and Upton Sinclair].

That Paul can lay it on the line without any shadow of doubt is itself an interesting artefact and a piece of data that needs a lot more analysis and inquiry.

Paul goes on, throwing stones into a very fragile glass house – the rights and privileges of people like…well the name Paul Thomas comes to mind…to pontificate and pronounce.

…the media revel in pronouncing judgment, which they do as capriciously as a Roman emperor giving the thumbs up or thumbs down at the Coliseum

But not you Paul? There’s an interesting rhetorical question in this column too:

How did they acquire the omniscience to know what’s in a person’s heart and the moral purity to be undeterred by the biblical injunction that he who is without sin should cast the first stone?

Note “they”, not “we”” in this sentence. I find it interesting that Tracey,Paul, Deborah and Rosemary all talk about “them”, not “us”, even though they are all implicated in the culture they attack.

Well here’s my rhetorical:

If the purpose of journalism is to sell tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappings [or as I like to call it the Poolitzer] why would the media revel in pronouncing judgment on anyone and where does the omniscience come from?

Surely judging people cuts into sales: If you’re being pounded on,  why would you buy the bat?

These contradictory ideas can’t all be simply equated with ‘giving the public what it wants’.

Surely the point of Paul’s column is that the media has a mind of its own (sheepish perhaps, but with a modicum of independence from the avaricious wants of the media owners) and is therefore free to decide – in the safety of its own wisdom – what is important to “Mr & Mrs John Q Public”.

There is a spark of truth and self-cognisance in all the examples presented here. Tracey, Deborah, Rosemary and Paul are onto something: groping towards a higher level of understanding and self-awareness.  This is a good thing and should be encouraged. Come on Holmesy and Lawsy it must be your turn soon.

There’s something good and honest in reflective and reflexive journalism – we talk to students about this all the time.

The ‘Why?’ question of journalism.

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