On the Media Hierarchy

The media is not neutral or unbiased. It never has been. The formation of mass newspapers around the world were tied to political parties to promote respective agendas. The art of writing is itself a form of control and directionality.

The great myth of modernity is egalitarianism. That is, metaphysical egalitarianism. A consistent egalitarian—not an “egalitarian under the law”—would be forced to take the view that everything in the world is reducible to a bland sameness. There is no particularity. No distinctions. No uniqueness. And, yes, no individuality. Individualism and individuation are not the same thing. The vast history of philosophy, and even science, has long affirmed hierarchy and distinctions.

As such, the media can be distinctively broken down into a three-tier hierarchy. The first, faute de mieux, is the mainstream media. The mainstream media is the basest and lowest form of the media because it exhibits a “race to the bottom mentality.” In Marxist terms, the mainstream media embodies and exudes the race to the bottom mentality in its crass consumerism. Journalism is sloppy, unintellectual, and caters to the lowest common denominator of its audience for profitability and mass consumerism. The taste of the consumers is to be met, which means the lower quality the consumer the lower quality the content which pretty much epitomizes and encapsulates the mainstream media and its consumers, or “followers,” today.

The second-tier media, which is still broadly part of the media establishment, might be construed and understood as the literary establishment. Unlike the television and print (newspaper and tabloid) media outlets of the first-tier, this second-tier media is cosmetically superior and boasts a long and noted history. Most of the venues of the second-tier media are literary journals and magazines; once serious and of intellectual heft, these publications have also experienced a shift to the bottom through consumerism. While not as base and unintellectual as their more mass-produced counterparts, the literary media caters to the posers, the frauds, and the pseudo-intellectuals; the tweed wearing millennials and champagne drinking adults in Manhattan’s upper east side. People who haven’t read a serious literary or philosophical work in their life but read 3,000 or 4,000-word essays from these literary magazines and then parrot what they’ve read in place of the real thing are the consumer-based generally targeted by the literary establishment. Perhaps some readers have read the works being discussed. That was probably true in times past. But now, however, many readers take their knowledge of the books and other works from what is being highlighted for them in these literary publications.

The literary establishment is the politicized embodiment of ideological intellectualism. From time to time these publications do publish a very worthwhile essay, but for the most part they are just glitzier and cosmetically more alluring screeds with more word-space than allotted to a high school English reading-level column in a newspaper.[1] No one is confused when picking up the pages of The New Republic, Atlantic, New Yorker, Commentary, or National Review as to what perspective the writers are “coming from.” But many of these once venerable literary magazines and journals, in the growing politicization of mass society, have stooped to the level of mass political cheerleading to remain prominent and profitable.

The third-tier media, which is not part of the media establishment but is set apart from it, though some of these publications and venues have been noticed by the media establishment, form what is called the publications of the “higher journalism.” These publications are, in essence, what the old literary establishment used to be: Literary, intellectual, serious, and crypto-academic publications targeted the very specific demographic of a highly educated layman who has interests in literature, political philosophy, philosophy, theology, literary criticism, etc., but who does not have the time to devote himself or herself to a lifelong study of these topics. As such they are dependent, or turn to, these outlets of the higher journalism to satiate their intellectual desires.

Because the publications of the “higher journalism” do not cater to the mass man, they are generally unprofitable. As such, they depend on grants, foundation money, or reader fundraising, to stay afloat. Their cosmetics may vary pending whether they are primarily online or print constructions; nevertheless, what unites them is their robust analysis and writing which is, when done well, inviting to new readers to open a new world of thought to them, or insightful and reinvigorating to dedicated readers to gain new awareness of the issues at hand.

The same is true in the world of “alternative media.” Like the more pristine and visible media I’ve just described—some call it the Fourth Estate—the new alternative media (the “Fifth Estate”) has organized itself in the same hierarchy. You have the mass alternative publications online, like Truthdig and Breitbart, which cater to a mass consumeristic audience. You have the glitzier “literary-esque” alternative establishment, like The Baffler and American Greatness. And then you have the deep, “higher alternative” media which focuses on philosophy, politics, geopolitics, theology, and so on.

What is clear from the media, in its multifaceted existence, is that there is no such thing as an “unbiased” media outlet. What there is, is thoughtful, insightful, and engaging analysis and criticism—the “higher journalism”—on one hand, and crude, unsophisticated, and generally ideological criticism—the mainstream or lower journalism—on the other.

 

[1] See “Know Your Readers.” Though dated, a 2003 literary study found that most adults in the United States only have a 9th grade reading comprehension level and that most newspapers are written at an 11th grade English comprehension level.

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