Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Good Press, Bad Press...

     I'm informed that no Press is the worst Press, but it depends on who you ask.

     Reading Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check (1919) is like looking in a funhouse mirror.  Sinclair was a socialist, of the American early-twentieth Century type, meaning he ran with union organizers, Wobblies and people who set up co-operative stores, living arrangements and other communal ventures; think of him as Bernie Sanders with much more sweat equity and a whole lot less free money from the government.  The book is an expose of American journalism in his day, and that's where it gets interesting: the newspapers and magazines of his time were nearly all controlled by large and quite conservative businesses; publishers were highly interventionist and it was not uncommon for editors to have a list of people and events who were not to get positive coverage -- and others who were never to be mentioned in a negative way.

     Sound familiar?

     I find Sinclair a bit tiresome; his style is arch and slightly whiny and he has the same "true believer" mindset you can find all across the political spectrum: everyone on his side is well-intentioned if not downright saintly, the movers and shakers on the other side are uniformly villains, reporters and editors are craven at best and often willing accomplices.

     Still sound familiar?

     It's still much the same game.  Oh, the interests and focuses of the movers and shakers are different; the methods are more subtle, and there are a whole lot more voices and "publications," on paper, on the air and online.  Some of Sinclair's fondest dreams came true -- a 40-hour week, overtime, old-age pensions, and the like.  But the game plays on -- and the warning is the same: don't believe everything you see in the paper (etc.); don't be surprised when eyewitness testimony and new reports seem askew.

     Outliers like Upton Sinclair are the canaries in the coal mine.  Oh, they often faint dramatically, but they serve a useful function.

     The Press both guide and reflect popular sentiment, and they cast public figures into simple molds.  Simple and often inaccurate.  Of necessity, reporting removes context: they can't tell you everything, so they focus on what they deem important and that's a subjective process. 


Paul Schwa said...

As an old (a little older than you) Lit major I'm impressed with anyone who's read more than "The Jungle". Even that, as I'm sure you know, is tedious.

A history prof of mine used to refrain: "Times change. People don't".

Roberta X said...

They certainly don't!

Sinclair's writing is interesting despite the tedium; he certainly cannot be faulted on grammar, usage or punctuation and his subject matter is fascinating. But oh, my, does he go on! I have to take a break after reading a chapter or two.