Diversity's Great; Just Not in Media


The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum has an interesting column today noting that different countries will play the same news differently, and that news consumers will flock toward providers who reflect their own biases. This diversity seems to alarm her:

[I]n the world of globalized information, where just about any newspaper or television program in any language is available at the click of a mouse, this isn't supposed to happen anymore. Nowadays we're all supposed to know what everybody else is thinking, to have access to the same images and information, and some of us do. [?]

Strangest of all, the availability of alternative points of view doesn't appear to have mellowed anyone's prejudices—quite the contrary. Nowadays, we all live under the illusion that we are receiving many different types of information, but that we select only the most plausible.

Reading news from thousands of different sources hasn't mellowed anyone's prejudices? Think of how Baghdad blogger Salam Pax put a human face on the Iraqi people, and contrast that to the way Americans talked about Iranians in 1979 and 1980. And is it possible that some consumers—just like Applebaum!—are sophisticated enough to realize that even their favorite news sources have editorial slants? I think so. Here's the money shot:

The prophets of globalization once spoke of a seamless, borderless world, in which national differences would magically disappear. They were wrong.

Said "prophets"—who sound suspiciously like John Lennon—go unnamed. Meanwhile, some fans of globalization have noted that it has created vibrant cultural competition, as opposed to a world dancing to the exact same drummer. This is a good thing.


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  1. I ONLY get my news at Reason. Reason is the ONLY fair news source. I must convert others to Reason ONLY.

  2. here is a related article “Murdoch’s Extended Reach”:

    Something that really bothers me is the above article’s plea to democrats to put regulations on the content the media owners produce.

    “…to separate the control these mega-giants have over both conduit and content; to insure that broadband serves community and civic discourse as well as it will serve commerce; and to carve out sections to be used by nonprofit groups.”

    Wow, talk about first Amendment violations there. They want government to force companies to broadcast certain types of content to customers? Now THAT is a dangerous proposition.

  3. Hit And Run is The One True Blog!

  4. I’m not sure Anne Applebaum would disagree with anything Matt Welch says here. With her background living in and writing about Europe, she might point out that the “seamless, borderless world” she speaks of closely resembles the European community many Europeans have been working on for decades.

    But it’s fair enough to say that we do not have a world dancing to the “exact same drummer.” Instead we have “vibrant cultural competition” which is supposed, by Matt Welch and by me, to be a good thing. But the nature of competition is that it usually produces winners and losers. Countries that share most values can agree on the rules that will determine how the competition will be conducted and how complete victory or defeat will be, but competition among cultures is by definition competition among groups of people who do not share many values.

    We need to expect, therefore, that the competition will be quite rough — even, at times, violent — reflecting the stakes involved and everyone’s uncertainty about the outcome. Applebaum is not wrong to be distressed about this. She would not be wrong, either, to point out that mellowing American prejudices is hardly the enormous step toward world harmony we might like to think it is. At this point in history the greatest threats to world order are coming mostly from the most economically and culturally backward parts of the world. News sources that play to the prejudices of people in these places may be inevitable, but they are not things to celebrate.

  5. Zathras — Very nicely said.

    But I do think 1) her “globalization prophet” is a straw man, 2) she gives short shrift to people’s abilities to do useful, non-prejudicial things with all this fancy new information we have access to (such as, for example, engage in complex cross-border “fact-checking” of each other’s newspapers), 3) globalized competition is not a zero-sum game, and 4) even in the borderless multi-national super-state of the EU, national identities seem (to my eyes at least) to be surprisingly resilient. Maybe this is BS, or it will be once a full generation of Euro-brats are bred, but I find it interesting.

    There certainly are reasons to feel anxious about globalization, but I think the continued proliferation of news organizations around the globe, and their connectivity to the Web, is in of itself one of the most cheering developments I can think of.

  6. My problem was with this:

    “Strangest of all, the availability of alternative points of view doesn’t appear to have mellowed anyone’s prejudices — quite the contrary. Nowadays, we all live under the illusion that we are receiving many different types of information, but that we select only the most plausible.”

    Now since when did human cognition change without me knowing it? Didn’t people ALWAYS believe they were right, with one whole hell of a lot of certainty, and hardly needed the internet and globalization to make them sure of themselves and their rightness?

    Isn’t this how people have always been? Globalization hasn’t somehow made people more logical, or figured out how to sufficiently educate them and open their mind so as to shove cross-cultural highly verified facts down their throats; nor has it otherwise gotten everyone on earth to magically realize that they should seek to understand the other side of the issue, so that they can more fully understand their own and be more likely to come to valid conclusions.

    In short, given that her very column couldn’t have so been written before globalization – in that she would not be so informed as to the differences in how things are reported in America and Britain – it seems her entire column is about people I’ve never heard about or heard from. As pointed out by others, who are these globalization prophets that said that everyone in the world would apparently not merely be as one country, but one individual (they all act the same way, always looking through multiple sources and going back and forth between opposing sides?).

    You know, maybe her article is actually valid, to that extent, in the opposition to some such stated prophets. But I nonetheless cannot recall who in sweet hell these people are, nor can I recall ever hearing of them.

    As far as I can tell, in many ways it can be as though someone living on the other side of the earth is my next door neighbor. Given how different I am from my next door neighbor, perhaps she, or some storied prophets of the past, fail to appreciate how different people can be and behave even when they have access to the same sources of information and data.

  7. I’d venture that since only a few thousand bloggers ever heard of Salam Pax, he didn’t have much effect on the American populace as a whole or how they talked about Iraqis during the war.

  8. 4) even in the borderless multi-national super-state of the EU, national identities seem (to my eyes at least) to be surprisingly resilient. Maybe this is BS, or it will be once a full generation of Euro-brats are bred, but I find it interesting.

    no, the State can create itself out of nowhere and a generation later diehard patriots exist where before there was only a few zealots fiddling around. f.e. israel was once just a bunch of jewosh immigrants in palestine, not really the true nation it is with patriotism and all that that it is today. i predict that 50 years from now nationality will be superceded only to be replaced with european continentalism (as opposed to nationalism) with the same regional prejudices we have here in te US: just like theres a stereotype that people from california are hippy dippy or people from the south are laconic or whatever those may persist as well in the new european state; but i do think it will become a true State just like the others.

  9. I think people inclined to hate the average Iraqi would have assumed Pax was an Iraqi agent or a fake.

    There’s that one guy who wrote a whole column explicating how he could tell that Salam Pax was a hardcore Baathist.

    I’d guess that anti-war types probably tended to assume Pax was genuine, while hawks had a tendency toward being more skeptical, if not hostile.

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