Re: Hall Monitors


Jeff Sharlet has a response to my earlier “Jejeune?” post that I’ll respond to here. He begins as follows:

We don’t really have the data to say whether the public reacted to Wright as the media did. Here’s what we know: the story began as the youtube adventure of a group of conservatives, less interested in understanding the black church than in wounding a charismatic Democrat. At which point the press could have swept in and said, Ok, we’ll take these charges seriously, and investigate them. Instead, it said — Look at that Angry Black Man! Hey, everybody, look! It said this so insistantly that “the public” began to rebel. Certainly that part of “the public” familiar with the black church was not well-served by this narrative.
As for the “hall monitor” designation, I didn’t define my terms clearly enough (not surprising, since I just made them up). A hall monitor is not one who says, I think you should learn this. A hall monitor is one who enforces the ideas of others. If there’s someone else out there whose ideas I’m enforcing — someone saying that there’s a powerful religious movement that belongs to neither the right wing nor the left wing but the empire wing — let me know so I can curtsy to this mastermind of my unwitting days.

On the course of the Wright story, I think it’s fair enough to say that there should have been better earlier coverage of the story by journalists–coverage that placed Wright and Trinity UCC in a broader, truer context. Having just looked back over the emergence of the story, it looks like what happened was pretty typical in these matters: those publications and journalists capable of doing such coverage were late to the party, and joined it at first only to 1) report on the uproar; or 2) monger opinions of their own.
But would it have made any difference had the New York Times, the Washington Post, the newsweeklies, etc. run the kind of thoughtful, insightful contextualizing stories that Jeff’s looking for? I doubt it–in part because they would have disclosed that Wright is indeed a pretty radical guy who says things that a parishioner in the midst of a heated presidential campaign was going to have to answer for. But more importantly, because in the present media environment, which includes ideologically driven talk radio and cable TV, the old MSM gatekeeping function is pretty much moribund. What happened re: Wright is what happened re: Hagee. Partisan investigators operating on their own found stuff, and got it into play with the help of partisan online media. I’ve argued here 1) that Hagee’s anti-Catholicism has more to do with the on-the-ground story of his church than with his End Times prophesying; and 2) that his Hitler/Holocaust comments should not be construed as anti-Semitic. No one’s been interested in looking into the former, and people I respect (including Jeff) differ on the latter. So it goes. I try to call it as I see it, whether the idea is mine or someone else’s, whether it’s tossing a bomb a monitoring a hall, whether anyone’s paying attention or not.