Channeling ideology

Gans, Herbert J.

Media politics CHANNELING IDEOLOGY SENATOR HELMS EYES CBS ONE VIRTUE OF America's form of democracy has been the absence of doctrinaire and rigid ideologies in our major political parties, news...

...Even if 'Senator Helms and his friends could raise the estimated $1 billion or more needed to buy a majority interest in CBS, they would then have to figure out how to reorganize a heretofore profit-seeking corporation along ideological lines...
...The journalists, being experts, subordinate their personal values to their professional standards, and apply themselves to making routine news interesting, and to looking for elusive but highly prized "good" stories...
...More important, they are dependent for their informational raw materials on the people who make events and news happen...
...And if Senator Helms should join forces with entrepreneur Ted Turner and the duo were able to take over CBS, the resulting internal conflict between ideology and profit could send fans of capitalism like George Gilder and Michael Novak back to their typewriters...
...Some viewers would agree, and others would go along because they do not notice or care, but once the slant became regular and predictable, many more viewers, including many as conservative as the senator himself, would begin to doubt the program's credibility and reliability...
...In capitalist America, network executives, like those of other corporations, leave the production process to experts who can deliver a profitable product, whether computers, movies, or news...
...Routine domestic stories are often photo (and videotape) "opportunities" created by the White House and by Cabinet officials to publicize themselves and their activities...
...Both are examples of legitimate news stories...
...Being very expensive to produce, television news requires a large audience, most of which is not interested in ideology...
...They seem to be interested solely in greater profit, which should not significantly affect television news unless they turn it into an electronic tabloid and cut journalistic budgets accordingly...
...Although there is no dearth of implicit ideology and of loosely integrated sets of political and other values, the avoidance of explicit doctrine has reduced political and cultural polarization...
...Despite what they believe, network management does not run the news programs, and journalists are not liberals who create news to satisfy their own personal biases...
...Like others who have tried good-news journalism, however, they would soon lose their audience, because good news is not necessary for surveillance...
...According to recent news stories, he is spearheading an effort to erase the "liberal bias" he sees in CBS News, either by pressuring CBS or by purchasing sufficient stock to take over its management, and "become Dan Rather's boss...
...The truth is that Senator Helms and his associates do not understand American television journalism...
...Stories which uncover political dishonesty, malfeasance, and other villainies are not easy to find...
...they often require time-consuming investigative reporting...
...The prototypical "good" domestic story reports instances of incompetence, corruption, and other moral failure in government and elsewhere...
...Although journalistic Progressivism is widely shared by the audience, other values exist as well: conservative, liberal, and radical...
...Alternatively, the conservative journalists could continue running unemployment stories but change the slant and end them on an upbeat supply-side note...
...To them, good means important, exclusive, and whenever possible, dramatic news, for drama enlarges the news audience and helps make a profit...
...But television is even less well-suited for ideological news than the press...
...Although conservative news media have always existed in America, it is not coincidental that they have either been journals of opinion serving a tiny group of affluent readers or occasional daily newspapers, such as Col...
...If such stories and stories dealing with other people's worries were reported more fully, some good would come out of Senator Helms's outrageous experiment in ideological capitalism...
...Moreover, parts of the news audience want surveillance news about threats to such values...
...McCormick's Chicago Tribune and Rev...
...For one thing, they must report events that their professional standards deem newsworthy, from domestic floods to foreign coups d'etat...
...like liberals and radicals, some even with fare that violates their own moral and ideological precepts...
...Senator Helms is a different breed from the entrepreneurs who recently bought ABC and those eyeing other electronic media...
...liberals and radicals worry about rising economic, racial, and political inequality...
...For example, Senator Helms's journalists could stay with the present television news format but emphasize good news, such as rising employment, while ignoring increases in joblessness...
...Media politics CHANNELING IDEOLOGY SENATOR HELMS EYES CBS ONE VIRTUE OF America's form of democracy has been the absence of doctrinaire and rigid ideologies in our major political parties, news media, and other mainstream institutions...
...Moreover, the thirty-minute network news program has room for only twenty-three minutes of news...
...Of course, ideology can take other forms than pronouncements...
...By now, more Americans seem to get their surveillance from television than from the print media, which probably also helps to explain Senator Helms's interest in CBS...
...HERBERT J. GANS (Herbert J. Gans is professor of sociologyest Columbia University, and author, among other books, of Deciding What's News: A study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek & Time, published by Pantheon and Vintage paperbacks...
...Taking over a television network is more difficult than winning an election in North Carolina...
...Even the liberal bias the senator perceives in television news has not converted the citizens or else they would not have elected and reelected Ronald Reagan...
...it cannot spare the time for ideological pronouncements of any kind...
...Most likely, Senator Helms will not enter the world of network journalism but even so there is a lesson in his bizarre scheme: the need for new discussion and action, by the networks and the print media, on the place of values in the news...
...For instance, conservatives worry, and therefors seek news about, the threats they perceive from "secular humanism...
...And since surveillance requires information rather than ideology, they would switch to competing networks...
...instead, they make stories out of the violation of these values...
...However, some conservatives and radicals have never accepted America's ideological flexibility, and now North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms has declared his desire to transform CBS News into an ideological and, of course, conservative organization...
...News viewers (and readers) are not so impressionable as to get their political values from the news...
...religious, agnostic, atheist, etc...
...and then, to learn what is being done to eliminate such threats...
...Journalists do not openly advocate even professional values however...
...A major professional (but not personal) journalistic value supports the venerable "good-government" movement that seeks to encourage honest and competent political and business leadership...
...The threats, which conservatives sometimes call "bad" news, also make dramatic stories...
...Even so, journalists are not free to choose either routine or good stories as they themselves might prefer...
...Obviously, this has not happened...
...Moon's Washington Times, which have the space to satisfy both their own ideological proclivities and their readers' surveillance needs...
...In fact, news viewers and readers have their own agenda...
...Network news contains enough watchdog stories to suggest that if news viewers were as gullible as Senator Helms assumes, they would long ago have been brainwashed into becoming, or electing, Progressive-style reformers on a permanent basis...
...In addition, they would have to find substitute journalists and entertainment programmers willing to take orders from ideological bosses...
...All journalists wish they could find more such good stories, but lack the time to dig them out...
...Politicians dislike "watchdog'' news, and conservatives treat it as an instance of liberal bias when they are in power, and when they are likely to be the villains, which is presumably one reason for Senator Helms's desire to take over CBS News...
...Concurrently, a far larger number of viewers would desert the network's newly conservative entertainment programs, for even conservatives like to be entertained...
...Why else would so many conservatives watch such anti-business melodramas as Dallas and Dynasty...
...what politicians are doing about the threats brings them publicity on the evening news...
...Nonetheless, watchdog stories are neither liberal nor conservative but reformist, a modern version of the outlook that informed the professional, middle-class Progressives early in this century...
...What they want from television (and other) news is surveillance : to be informed about threats to their own well-being and 19 April 1985: 229 values emanating from the national and international scene...
...they want information, not ideology...

Vol. 112 • April 1985 • No. 8


 
Developed by
Kanda Sofware
  Kanda Software, Inc.