Sunday, July 02, 2017

Towards a theory of Trump and the media

From Niklas Luhmann, The Reality of the Mass Media --

The media designate what they are communicating about and must therefore distinguish it. For example, they inform people about scandals and in doing so must presuppose that non-scandalous behaviour would have been possible as well. What is not reflected here, however, is that one could pose the question (which a sociologist might pose) why something is even being observed in the schema scandalous/non-scandalous at all, and why the frequency of use of this schema is clearly increasing. In other words, the media remain (for good reason, as we shall presently see) invisible to themselves as an observer. They are turned towards the world in their operations and do not reflect that this turning itself generates an unmarked space in which they find themselves.

Coverage of the Trump spectacle presents many challenges, but as we've said before, one of the challenges that he has posed to pundits, especially liberal pundits, is their lack of any engagement with sociological theories of the mass media. Here for example is a perfectly reasonable tweet from Farhad Manjoo that takes as given a particular role for the "mass media" even as the Trump spectacle strains conventional notions of "outrage" and "scandal" -- notions in which the media play a determining role.

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