[Michael] Steele is representative of a fascinating but little noted development on the right: the rise of buckrakers who are exploiting the party’s anarchic confusion and divisions to cash in for their own private gain. In this cause, Steele is emulating no one if not Sarah Palin, whose hunger for celebrity and money outstrips even his own.
I think it was either Daniel Larison or Andrew Sullivan last year who noted that conservative pundits’ power and profit tends to go up whenever the Republican Party does worse. If you control the White House and/or Congress, you don’t really need a radio host or non-office-holding former candidate as a spokesman. But buckraking isn’t limited to the right — as Ezra Klein, Glenn Greenwald, and Wonkette point out, it’s kind of hard to see Harold Ford’s Senate run in NY as anything but an attempt at self-promotion. (Ford probably won’t win the primary nomination, but his place as a guy who gets interviewed on cable news is safe for years.)
In fact, “buckraker” is probably best reserved for pseudo-journalists, i.e., pundits who act as political hacks — but for their own benefit, over and above that of their media network or political party. That (as Word Wizard points out) is closer to the origin of the term, both as a variation on “muckraker” and its (probable) coinage by Jacob Weisberg in The New Republic, all the way back in 1986, in an essay called “The buckrakers: Washington journalism enters a new era”:
[M]ark February 1985 as the start of the next era. That was when Patrick J. Buchanan went to work at the White House and his financial disclosure statement revealed, to widespread astonishment and envy, that he had made $400,000 as a journalist in 1984. This included $60,000 for his syndicated column, $25,000 for his weekly appearance on ‘The McLaughlin Group,’ $94,000 for Cable News Network’s ‘Crossfire,’ $81,000 for a radio show, and more than $135,000 for 37 speeches. Welcome to the era of the buckraker.
But Buchanan was always a marginal figure, a good interview but someone who was always at the outside of the Republican party and national politics. The fact that Michael Steele has essentially refashioned the national chairmanship of his party — which (national political figures like Howard Dean aside) used to be a pretty low-profile, behind-the-scenes, support job — into a me-out-front full-time media position seems significant — Steele doesn’t have an incentive to promote the party at the expense of himself.
Serving as party chair is always a short-term gig. As Buchanan and now Palin and Ford have shown, buckraking is forever.
Thomas Baekdal has a nice schematic history of news and information from 1800 to 2020. I like his 1900–1960 entry:
By the year 1900, the newspapers and magazine had revolutionized how we communicated. Now we could get news from places we have never been. We could communicate our ideas to people we had never seen. And we could sell our products to people far away.
You still had to go out to talk other people, but you could stay on top of things, without leaving the city. It was amazing. It was the first real revolution of information. The world was opening up to everyone.
During the next 60 years the newspapers dominated our lives. If you wanted to get the latest news, or tell people about your product, you would turn to the newspapers. It seemed like newspapers would surely be the dominant source of information for all time to come.
Except that during the 1920s a new information source started to attract people’s attention — the Radio. Suddenly you could listen to another person’s voice 100 of miles away. But most importantly, you could get the latest information LIVE. It was another tremendous evolution is the history of information. By 1960’s the two dominant sources of information was LIVE news from the Radio and the more detailed news via newspapers and magazines.
It was really great times, although some meant that “The way for newspapers to meet the competition of radio is simply to get out better papers”, an argument that we would hear repeatedly for the next 50 years.
The stuff about 2020 seems very familiar.
Via Lone Gunman.
Julian Sanchez, “The Perils of Pop Philosophy”:
The function of the ordinary pop-science/social science/philosophy piece is to give the reader a sort of thumbnail-sketch of the findings or results of a particular sphere of study, while op-eds and radio talkers make the thumbnail case for a policy position. The latter are routinely criticised for their shrill content, but the really toxic message of contemporary opinion writing and radio is the meta-message, the implicit message contained in the form, more than any particular substantive claim. In an ordinary op-ed, the formal message is that 800 or 1000 words is adequate to establish the correct position on any question of interest…
What might be more helpful, at least in some instances, is an article that spends the same amount of space setting up the problem, and getting across exactly why it
Must listen: Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad, and Robert Krulwich on the differences between radio and television. Includes such gems as how radio amplifies intimacy and television turns gesture into parody, Jad’s observation that This American Life made real people’s true stories sound like fairytales, and how Stephen Colbert is more like a radio personality (his show more like a radio show, his audience more like a radio audience) than a television one.
(My own thesis about Colbert: it’s his perfect miming of big-personality talk show hosts like Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Scarborough, Hannity, Olbermann, usw., most of whom started on radio, continue to host radio shows, and whose TV shows and audiences are still a whole lot like radio.)
Music critic Simon Reynolds praises music’s moments of in-between:
It rankles a bit that the late ‘80s are now treated as a mere prequel to grunge. The recently aired Seven Ages of Rock on VH1 Classic was a marked improvement on earlier TV histories of rock, which tended to jump straight from Sex Pistols to Nirvana. But its episode on U.S. alternative rock nonetheless presented groups like the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth as preparing the ground for Nirvana. That’s not how it felt at the time: Sonic Youth and the rest seemed fully formed significances in their own right, creative forces of monstrous power, time-defining in their own way (albeit through their refusal of the mainstream). My Melody Maker comrade David Stubbs wrote an end-of-year oration proclaiming 1988
From a BBC radio debate with her husband (and publisher) Leonard, titled “Are Too Many Books Written and Published?”:
Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do. Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years. The life of the average book is perhaps three months. Why not face this fact? Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time? If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound. Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so. No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected.
Copyblogger lays out some guidelines for producing engaging podcasts or other audio recordings. Please note that if you maximize every suggestion, you wind up with a perfect episode of Radio Lab. This seems like a halfway-decent validation of their merit.
If you’ve got twenty-five minutes to listen to two smart + funny people talk about Marcel Duchamp, Ezra Pound, comparative literature, American poetry, and French philosophy, give this podcast a whirl. It’s by two of my teachers (and friends, and readers), the poet Charles Bernstein and literary critic Jean-Michel Rabat
Hey, awesome! Jennifer Guerra at Michigan Radio did a piece on the new liberal arts, keyed to our book project, and it aired this morning. It features me, Gavin, and Emily Zinneman, who teaches creative writing at University of Michigan:
“So much of creative writing — especially stories — is about character,” explains Zinnemann. “And that’s something that the students have a hard time understanding sometimes. But Facebook is a really familiar language that all the students speak. I feel like students are familiar in reading character and picking up on real subtle clues the way that grad students in English might read Shakespeare. They read Facebook in the same sort of way.”
I love it!
Anyway, a big thank you to Jennifer. And do check out her story.
And! Another NLA book update coming later this week.
I have to admit: I haven’t been keeping up with Radio Lab. I am genuinely ashamed of this, because I feel like Radio Lab is probably the best and most inventive media being produced anywhere right now. It’s just… the episodes… they’re so long!
But I did just listen to this: Radio Lab at the Apple store, explaining how they make the show. Some neat demos and examples of audio before and after “the Radio Lab treatment.”
The Radio Lab secret to storytelling is simple: Make it musical.