Alan Rusbridger must please not let ‘Guardian membership’ mean bread-and-circuses, and prove that he is sincere about ‘mutualised’ journalism

Guardian members will expect to share its media megaphone – on virtually equal terms - Hugh Lofting drawing for a book in his Doctor Dolittle series (1920-52)

Guardian members will expect to share its media megaphone – on nearly equal terms
- Hugh Lofting drawing for a book in his Doctor Dolittle series (1920-52)

It is the next stage in the rolling out of The Guardian’s new ‘paid membership’ scheme for readers and commenters that we want to see. This was the summary of the plan by The Financial Times last week — unaccompanied, as far as we know, by any comment or analysis, so far:

The Guardian has launched a paid membership scheme, as it seeks to narrow operating losses that reached £33.8m last year.

The newspaper, which has resisted charging for access to its online content, will offer readers access to events and a new purpose-built venue near London’s King’s Cross.

Top-level members, known as patrons, will be charged £60 per month and will also have access to tours of the Guardian’s newsroom and print site. Mid-tier “partners” will pay £15 per month, while non-paying “friends” will also be able to book tickets to events.

The Guardian has no pressing need for profitability, with £842.7m in cash as of March, after selling its stake in car magazine Auto Trader.

We hope that there is more to this idea than supplying forms of theatre – either professional entertainment, or the thrilling chance to watch genuine Guardian journalists and editors tapping at their computers. We resist cynicism, at post-Gutenberg. Yet the reminder that came instantly to mind was of the ancient ruses in Europe for diverting the populace from noticing social inequality – known as ‘bread and circuses’. This was an accusation also levelled at the splendid Medici family, at the pinnacle of its wealth and power in Florence during Italy’s Renaissance:

… The days of adventitious sharing in the noise and warmth within an open palace door and a hand-out of the leavings were over; the populace was firmly excluded from the pleasures of the rich.

A similar withdrawal took place with publicly organized occasions of holiday mood. Bread and circuses: Lorenzo de’ Medici was accused of soliciting in the 1470s and 1480s the support of those excluded from a voice in government by lavish public entertainments: tournaments, street pageants. … In a republic that had been subtly manipulated into a narrow oligarchy it was natural … for opponents of this tendency to remember with alarm how the emperors who subverted the republican constitution of ancient Rome had employed gladiatorial and wild beast combats to occupy simple minds. A century after Lorenzo, however, with the rising price of bread and popular insurgency that rose with it, the issue of diversion was seen in terms of practical contemporary politics. ‘Because the common people are unstable and long for novelty, wrote Giovanni Botero in 1589 in his Reason of State, ‘they will seek it out for themselves, changing even their government, and their rulers if their prince does not provide some kind of diversion for them.’

The Civilization of Europe at the Renaissance, John Hale, 1994

Bread-and-circuses is surely not what Alan Rusbridger, The Guardian’s editor, has had in mind, in his speeches and interviews about the ‘mutualisation’ of journalism. This is what he said on the site of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, in replying to a British commenter on a blog post about turning readers into paying members as an economic survival model for media organisations (part of their exchange):

Han Gough

It’s certainly interesting. And I’d be happy to support the Guardian. But I can’t for the life of me work out what benefits I would gain from membership. I live in a university town in the south west of England and there are no events scheduled in a 300 mile vicinity! And that building looks nice but I’m never going to get to use it. To be a Guardian “member” must one live in Islington???

I feel that the Guardian’s values, and it’s history as the Manchester Guardian, have been somewhat lost in translation. […]

alan rusbridger •

Han, this is a beta launch of something that will become more interesting in a few months and still more interesting once the Midlands Goods Shed is up and running. We haven’t forgotten the rest of the country (or the rest of the world) and will announce further and better plans. This is just the initial announcement…. a *very* soft launch. And thanks for kind words about the Guardian.

Han Gough •

Wow. Thanks for your reply. I wasn’t expecting that. I only posted here because there didn’t seem to be anywhere else to comment.

It sounds like a wonderful idea. And I can see how it would be really exciting if I lived in central London. But £15/month is quite a lot of money. […]. And even if you did put on an event at some point in Exeter (which is where I am), will you ever manage to put on £15-worth of events every month?

Also one of the reasons I like and read the Guardian is for its socially progressive values but this feels regressive at first sight. It’s providing opportunities for an already privileged segment of people: those who are cash-rich and live in London. That’s what I meant when I said it seemed out of step with the spirit of the Manchester Guardian. I can really understand why the Scots have had enough. It is this mentality that London and the south east of England gets the lion’s share and the rest of us roll over and pay for it. […] Thanks again for your reply.

The reason why Han Gough living in Exeter, in England, had to go to a site owned by an American university to react to the Guardian scheme is because that newspaper did not allow public comment on it. A box beneath the notice about it on The Guardian’s site invited readers to submit feedback on a form whisked invisibly into the paper’s mysterious innards. Ah so!

What would be better – much better – than what we have seen, so far, of The Guardian’s plan? Strangely enough, it was from the comments section of that Nieman site at Harvard that someone outstandingly practical contacted post-Gutenberg with the answer, three years ago. This is how our report about this most helpful encounter began:

A stranger, someone astute and entrepreneurial, emailed me about a comment posted in a discussion about the future of journalism on the site of Harvard’s Nieman Lab. ‘I think you’re on the right track with your focus on the business-model issue,’ he said.

He was referring to an outline of a means for old media organisations to move into post-print publishing in a Networking Age in which readers want to be more than passive audiences – to do more than influence stage management and be free to perform themselves. I set out a scheme for turning readers into financial stakeholders or co-owners – experimentally, at first, on parts of newspaper sites – suggesting that this might be an ownership structure for the future.

The essence of the idea was that every subscription would also be a share or financial stake in prospective profits. It would be an inducement for each reader or viewer to help bring many more visitors to a site. It would both help the site owner to attract more advertising and – implicitly – reduce dependence on advertising, if the concept of subscription-stakes caught on and went viral. …

[ continues here: 'Co-owning media is on the horizon ...' ... ]

Also see:

Can Alan Rusbridger do what he must to make a true mark on media’s future history?

 

Notes from the post-print transition, 4: the fetishization of (pre-print) handwriting

android dec 2011 to nov 2012 129

In this elegant script – the most original one we have ever known intimately – its owner recalls listening to aspiring Urdu poets on Indian trains - photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

In this elegant script – the most original one we have ever known intimately – its owner recalls listening to aspiring Urdu poets on Indian trains
- photographs: postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

None of the little grey cells serving post-Gutenberg believe that onscreen publishing will stop real readers from enjoying printed books. That is not least because, in weeks of acute eye strain — like this one — dead tree texts have a tranquillising effect on  eyeballs screaming about too much e-reading. Nor has the pleasure of writing by hand ever faded for us; not by the merest ink speck — since we felt the first thrill of shaping chalk letters by fist on a slate smeared with carrot-drool.

Nor do we ever study the most eloquent, distinctive or moving email with the delight, and anything like the same rewards, with which we re-read handwritten letters and cards, most of them antiques. And no, there is no equivalent satisfaction or fascination to be had in re-encounters with typewritten pages, no matter how jumpy, quirky or bizarre the lettering of a particular old typing machine.

All that should make it easy to see why we were startled to discover, of all things, a how-to article in a widely-read financial newspaper for people who have apparently lost the art of handwriting – and done so almost completely. How common is this lamentable fate? – more so, perhaps, among quants who get virtually all the news that interests them from The Wall Street Journal?

What comes after the death of – pre-Gutenberg – handwriting? If the WSJ contributor, Chris Kornelis, is to be believed, it is the fetishization of script on paper, using nothing less than the Kobe-beef-and-caviar equivalent of writing tools, once you leave kindergarten again.

Extracts from the piece — which, we are told, was published with the aid of a ‘styling’ specialist:

… When you are ready to invest in a more expensive pen, Mr. Wiederlight said that penmanship-focused writers should look for one feature in particular: a genuine gold nib, which is more flexible than a steel one. “It shows the variation of the lines: more pressure, thicker stroke; less pressure, thinner stroke,” he said, adding that the gold will get smoother over time. He pointed out that Sailor’s 1911 Large Collection($310, sailorpen.com) has the same 21-karat gold nib found on the company’s much more expensive models.

… Pick the Right Paper

You can reduce feathering—the effect of ink spreading through the paper’s fibers and creating an unkempt look—by using 100-percent cotton paper, such as Crane & Co.’s 32-lb. Pearl White Kid Finish ($20 for 50 sheets, crane.com), according to Capper Heffernan, owner of Seattle’s de Medici Ming Fine Paper.

… Improve Your Technique

Of course, the equipment will only get you so far. You also have to practice. Ms. Thorpe suggested finding a style that you admire and want to emulate. “Handwriting is shakable. People can consciously change their style of handwriting,” she said. “First figure out what your goal is.”

The next step is repetition. Ms. Thorpe recommended choosing a couple words—like your name—with letters that you use frequently and writing them over and over again. After you’ve mastered those letters, add a few more words until you’ve gone through the entire alphabet.

Good grief.

 

Leaked celebrity selfies, naked or clothed, are today’s frozen mirror-time: self-exploration never easier to capture without anyone’s help — or permission

Adaptation of Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe (Lunch on the Grass), 1863. Today, its central figure might be striking that pose all by herself, for idiosyncratic reasons - postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Adaptation of Édouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner Sur L’Herbe (Lunch on the Grass), 1863. Today, its central figure might be striking that pose to please herself, for idiosyncratic reasons
– postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

 

- Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) - Wikimedia Commons

– Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798)
– Wikimedia Commons

Some of the self-portraits that one actress was storing on her mobile appeared high on the first page of search results that came up with her name, on the first day of the furore over last week’s celebrity phone hacking. We looked, not just from curiosity about the expressions on her face, when she took them — but to understand why anyone would keep photographing herself in the nude, and not stop after a trial picture or two. More than a few images sparked an aha! moment: in them, we saw proof that the youngest adults are indeed being deeply affected, if not moulded, by pornography, as we have been told for some time. It was remarkable – even funny — to see evidence of a young woman with an intelligent, sensitive face creating an archive of self-portraits as an aspiring porn star.

But then we remembered reading that pornographic videos have been scripting, especially, the everyday bedroom dramas of millennials. Was the actress practicing seduction, or preparing for her next tryst with her partner? Or measuring her attractiveness against the assets of her competitors in the world of film – in which the most serious and gifted thespians are routinely asked to bare all, for the camera?

The expression on her face in some of the photographs is almost as curious as a scientist’s, inspecting a laboratory animal; surprised and almost startled, in others. What is most wonderful is that, whatever exactly she is up to, she seems in charge – the selfie being yet another post-Gutenberg phenomenon free of filters and signed permission slips.

There is not much self-conscious cringing in the bits of the archive we saw, and little evidence – in the precise moment of each camera click — of her feeling obliged to adapt for someone else’s conception of who she is; or telling her how she should present herself on the particular day; or instruct her more or less directly about what her place in the world is and is supposed to be. This is somehow true despite the overwhelming influence of pornography in several photographs.

The most powerful impression is of her trying to get to know herself, or decide who exactly she wants to be. Intensely private, yes – and this brought to mind an extraordinary extended monologue in the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai’s Casanova in Bolzano, one of the special pleasures of last winter’s reading.

It took the genius of a Márai to persuade a woman too disgusted by the mere thought of Casanova to care to read about him at all; and then become entranced by the delving into his psyche in Márai’s imaginative reconstruction of a phase of his life. The resistant female reader becomes a willing slave of this marvellous storyteller when he introduces into the tale a self-confident, beautiful and improbably young — but captivating — young female lover of the legendary seducer who delivers a long, passionate speech that is in equal parts adoring and castigating; icily and penetratingly analytical about his faults, including his pathological womanising. She comes as close as possible to winning the heart of a man who would rather not have one, and she grasps this ambivalence completely, then proceeds to outline her proposal for tailoring both their lives around it.

One professional American reviewer quoted on the book’s Amazon site detests this passage, and believes that it ruins the novel. (‘The harangue makes it hard to believe that anyone would fight over her.’) We would guess that the anonymous critic is a man; someone made uncomfortable by what was almost certainly Márai’s cold-eyed assessment of himself, and his own conduct – but also of caddish behaviour by all men who are prone to it.

The monologue is admittedly long-winded, and more or less an unbroken mass of text. Casanova in Bolzano is by no means this novelist’s finest work. But it does demonstrate rare insight into a female character by a male writer exploring her most private desires; and this impression persists, in spite of the improbably bold and decisive actions Márai designs for her, for the sake of narrative tension.

Thinking about the rumpus over the hacked selfies made a re-reading seem important:

Once, many years ago, you gave me a mirror, Giacomo, a present from Venice. A mirror was, of course, the only possible gift, a Venetian mirror, which is reputed to show people their true faces. You brought me a mirror in a silver frame, and a comb, a silver-handled comb. That is what you gave me. It was the best of presents, my dear. Years have passed, and every day I hold the mirror and comb in my hand, adjusting my hair, looking at my face as you imagined and wanted me to, when you gave me a mirror as a present. Because mirrors are enchantments – did you know that, you, a citizen of Venice, where the finest mirrors are produced? We have to look into mirrors for a long time, regularly, for a very long time, before we can see our true faces. A mirror is not just a smooth silver surface, no, a mirror is deep, too, like tarns on mountains, and if you look carefully into a Venetian mirror you will catch a glimpse of that depth, and will go on to detect ever deeper and deeper depths, the face glimmering ever farther off, and every day a mask falls away, one of the masks that is examining itself in the mirror that was a gift your lover brought you from Venice. You should never give a woman you love a mirror as a present, because women eventually come to know themselves in mirrors, …

- Casanova in Bolzano, Sándor Márai, trans.: George Szirtes, 2004

How the Gutenberg press helped Switzerland to become the pioneer of ‘inclusive capitalism’, and why poor Sophia Tolstoy needed a post-Gutenberg blog of her own

Muenster in early evening light -- around 4 pm -- Cheryll Barron

View from Bern Muenster Cheryll Barron postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

– photographs: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

A clarification. Our use of ‘inclusive capitalism’ is neither fuzzy nor subversive – as in the accusation levelled at the organisers of a conference on the topic in London last May. For us, it describes cooperatives of various sorts, more or less the range set out in a 2009 report by Co-operative Development Scotland. Scroll down this post to see why one subject of that study, Switzerland, is proof that man as a consensus-building, egalitarian animal can be wildly successful.

Nothing drills the facts about Switzerland’s revolt against the corrupt old Catholic Church into you — your very bones — quite like mulling over them as you climb the 254 sub-arctic, twisting stairs to the bell tower of the Bern Muenster in mid-winter. From the viewing balcony up there, eyes unglued with difficulty from the hypnotic, turquoise River Aare below stray to the stone terrace at the cathedral’s base, where, during the Reformation of the 1500s, rebels had a merry old time smashing priceless religious images and objects.

This battleground in the Swiss capital is an unequalled symbol of the fight against inequality: the hulking Gothic structure on which construction began in 1421 loomed above a mere 5,000 inhabitants of Bern, at the time. All the better to intimidate them — only that assumption proved a mistake. In the words of an English-speaking specialist in the culture and history of Switzerland – an underpopulated species we care about for reasons to be explained in future posts – ‘much of Swiss history derives its interest from a revolt … of peasants against abbeys, … of towns against the ecclesiastical foundations from which they sprang.’

Switzerland’s continuing refinement of practical egalitarianism in the centuries-long wake of the Reformation means that there is a great feeling of been-there-done-that for anyone Swiss coming across a Twitter-trending lexical combination: inclusive capitalism — spotlighted in a speech earlier this year by the International Monetary Fund’s leader, Christine Lagarde. The Alpine republic most famous for political neutrality, charming quaintness and its tourist attractions, arguably deserves to be better known for its vast experience of using cooperatives as tools for wearing down social inequality. You might almost say that the whole of Switzerland – a country that has never had kings or queens, and is run not by any single leader but a Federal Council – works like a giant co-op.

Most elements of inclusive capitalism listed in a PBS – public-service broadcasting – programme in the U.S. a year ago, ‘The Alternative American Dream,’ are old hat for, and well-used by, the Swiss: ‘consumer ownership, credit unions and ownership by franchisees pursuing common purchasing efforts …’. Earlier entries on this blog have pointed to stable, cautious and solidly-grounded Swiss banking cooperatives avoiding the disastrous subprime mortgage crisis, and praised Swiss super-democracy.

Can the Swiss economy be said to have been injured in any way by excessive idealism? Quite the contrary. Cooperatives are democratic, not socialist. Socialism – as the Cambridge historian-of-ideas Gareth Stedman Jones has observed, was in part an attempt to replace the Catholic Church with a state religion. Most Swiss, a supremely praktisch people, have more down-to-earth aspirations. Last September, for the fifth year in a row, Switzerland was the world’s most competitive economy — leading the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness ranking based on its vetting of ‘the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country’.

And its record for inventiveness? Last month, for the fourth year in a row, it was also the country at the top of the Global Innovation Index – ranking economies by their capacity to marry ideas to knowledge for creativity with social and economic value.

What connects such success with putting idealism into practice to Bern’s Muenster — and the chief preoccupation of this blog — is the media revolution on which the Reformation rode. Printing centres, most notably in Basel, were established early, in Switzerland, and became critical to marshalling and disseminating the anti-clerical, anti-Vatican arguments and facts.

Forcing change on the Catholic Church in the prelude to the Renaissance would seem dustily irrelevant, to members of the chattering classes in our time. Practically none of us have been constrained by the dictates of religious authorities: most of us grew up as the children of agnostics, atheists or doubting semi-believers. But smashing medieval religious authorities’ outrageously unequal information-power with new technology – in the shape of the Gutenberg printing presses – resonates loudly, in the midst of our digital revolution. Print broke the power of sermons, just as the internet and e-publishing are vaporising the power of print’s gatekeepers today. It was from preaching that most people, who could not read, gleaned authoritative information about the world.

A report on a conference of medieval sermon scholars at Harvard two years ago sets out the remarkable parallels – including doomed attempts to discredit the unmediated broadcast of information, as in old media propaganda, now, about blogs and blogging:

… It was the ecclesiastical system behind sermons “that invented the idea [that] there was a universal body of knowledge” and that led the way to modern universities. Sermons were the dominant literary form in the Middle Ages. They bridged the emerging power of the written word and what was, 900 years ago, the predominance of the spoken.

… Before the printing press, knowledge was disseminated through oral traditions. In the public sphere that meant sermons. These discourses from the pulpit were the Internet and the mainstream press and the propaganda machine of the Middle Ages.

… At the same time, sermons of nearly a millennium ago prompted a very modern question: Who has the right to speak? Vying with priests for the right to preach were lay people, lawyers, kings, and public officials. In a bit of recurrent culture shock, even women demanded the right to preach sermons.

Most of all, the prospect of lay preaching “was an anxiety for the Church,” wrote Carolyn Muessig in a study of medieval preaching and society. (The University of Bristol scholar delivered the first paper at the Harvard conference.) The concern, she wrote, was the Vatican’s desire to protect people from heresy and “to preserve a clerical monopoly on learning.”

The debate over who owned the medieval airwaves went on for hundreds of years. As late as the 14th century, one critic still held that the Vatican had the final say. “No lay person can preach without authorization,” wrote Robert de Basevorn, “and no woman ever.”

… In an internet break from reflections on that old battle, news of a book published by Yale University Press surfed onscreen, this week. More than twelve decades after a brutal misuse of power by her husband, Leo Tolstoy, his wife Sophia Andreevna has got her revenge. It seems that the author of War and Peace wrote a spiteful, vicious tale about his own domestic wars in an 1889 novella, The Kreutzer Sonata. Everyone in literary Russia, and lofty beings outside it – including Tsar Alexander III – knew that the old philanderer’s story about a jealous husband who murders his wife was intended as punishment for Sophia’s infatuation with a musician who filled the void left by the romantic hopes and expectations that Tolstoy’s behaviour wrecked.

The aggression in the novelist’s self-pitying tale was not lost on the tsar, who sympathised with Sophia. In one phase of the drama, this writer’s wife demonstrated exceptional nobility of character in pleading with the ruler to order government censors bent on suppressing The Kreutzer Sonata to lay off – even though she was profoundly hurt by it.

She found her own way to fight back – in two novellas telling her side of the story that languished in deepest obscurity in Tolstoy’s archives until they were published in 21st-century Russia. Now, Yale has had them translated into English, in The Kreutzer Sonata Variations, a collection that includes, along with extracts from her letters and diaries – more amazingly yet – a story by the Tolstoys’ son Lev that is also a protest against Kreutzer.

We have had to wait much too long for these remarkable discoveries. Sophia Andreevna had to make a special journey to St. Petersburg to plead her husband’s case with the tsar. Now, if she had only had a blog …

No one in old media apparently wants to transmit the cheering reasons for the gap between America’s trust in its military vs. its elected leaders

Barred from the medieval bell tower; but in the age of blogging we need no key to get the message out -photograph: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

Barred from the medieval bell tower; but in the age of blogging, we need no key to get the message out
-photograph: postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

achilles LARGE

[ After this entry was posted, we followed a tweet to Glenn Greenwald’s report on The Intercept about dire consequences of militarising the police – his reaction to the nightmare killing of young and unarmed Mike Brown in Missouri. It is essential reading. But because polling results showing exceptional public esteem for the military have been so drastically under-reported for years, most people would find it hard to understand why the authorities blithely assumed that the citizenry would approve of arming and equipping policemen like soldiers. Media biases badly need counterweights. ]

We have searched and searched again but, so far, failed to find in online newspapers – well-known or obscure – any mention of, or solution to, the puzzle in our last post, the question of why Americans trust their military vastly more than other public institutions. If we were using all the wrong search terms, Google could hardly have served up the missing explanation in a persuasive paper by three collaborating scholars from which we will paste in a segment below.

But first, we must draw attention to a caveat, and then the reason why traditional media’s neglect of this subject is tragic – showing just how much the world needs the new media space that independent blogs have created:

• ‘The military’ is distinct from the political decisions its armed forces are obliged to execute – that is, which wars they fight, and where, and in broad strategic terms, by what means (eg., bombs dropped by drones vs. boots on the ground). Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist of rare gifts who made his name treating veterans of the Vietnam war for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), makes this essential point: ‘The justice of overall war aims and of operational theories – “strategic” bombing of civilians to weaken the industrial capacity to wage war is an example of such a theory – is not within the individual soldier’s scope of moral choice, unless he or she is willing to face imprisonment or death by refusing to fight.’

• Media hostility to, or neglect of, what the military does for civilians, since the Vietnam war — not just in America but in similar disenchantment elsewhere — could account for why it has been far more common for veterans of recent wars than for their historical predecessors to have the mental afflictions now called PTSD. That fits Shay’s suggestion in his brilliant Achilles in Vietnam (1995) – in which he drew riveting parallels between the tragedy of Achilles and his comrades, Homer’s subject in The Iliad, and the disturbances in Americans who fought the Vietnam war twenty-seven centuries later. He says, in extracts slightly rearranged, here, for concision:

What a returning soldier needs most when leaving war is not a mental health professional but a living community to whom his experience matters … [W]e should care about how soldiers are trained, equipped, led and welcomed home when they return from war. … [H]ealing from trauma depends … on being able safely to tell the story to someone who is listening and who can be trusted to retell it truthfully to others in the community. … Economically, unhealed combat trauma costs, and costs, and costs. Recall that more than 40 percent of Vietnam combat veterans … reported engaging in violent acts … Between a tenth and a quarter of all males in prison are veterans … When combat trauma results in domestic violence … there is an intergenerational transmission of violence.

The New York Times, for one, has published excellent and massive reports about sufferers from PTSD and their families. But, as far as we know, it has devoted no equivalent analysis to – or run any report on – the shining public image of the military, as revealed by Gallup’s stunning findings about the confidence gap in which the military reigns virtually unchallenged as a reservoir of trust. For that, anyone curious must hunt down a 2012 American Academy of Arts and Sciences dissection of similar results in an opinion poll a year earlier, unenticingly titled, ‘The Origins & Lessons of Public Confidence in the Military’.

First, it notes a contradiction:

[T]he relationship between the American people and its defense establishment has historically been anchored in two opposing sentiments: on one side, Americans see a large, standing military as a potential threat to liberty; on the other, they revere the U.S. military for its role in establishing the nation in revolution, preserving it against rebellion, and defending it from foreign aggression.

The start of the next extract is a hugely welcome surprise for anyone depressed by the impression — seemingly based on irrefutable facts — that Americans care most about wealth creation, and the feeding of the gigantic getting-and-spending beast we call capitalism:

In addition to valuing competence, society also expects institutions to serve a greater good. This public-mindedness is grounded in three principles: selflessness, accountability, and fairness. These factors are highlighted by the other institutions that enjoy widespread public confidence: small business and the police. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 78 percent of Americans expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military; 64 percent said the same for small business, and 56 percent for the police. In contrast, Congress (12 percent), the presidency (35 percent), and big business (19 percent) are held in relatively low regard by the American public.

What does the military have in common with the police and small business? In the case of the former, unselfish service is a common trait. The police (ideally) have no other purpose than to protect and serve the nation’s communities. In performing this service, capable men and women make sacrifices. They give up potentially lucrative and rewarding opportunities in other jobs. They put themselves in danger, sometimes sacrificing their lives. Small business is perceived to share two key traits with the military: fairness and accountability. In small business, Americans see the best qualities of the nation’s economic system (opportunity for those who seek it, rewards for those who succeed), absent the abuses and corruption that they impute to big business and banks. Small business owners pursue self-interest, but their success is deserved because it emerges from their own hard work and not from a manipulation of the system’s resources. Small businesses create wealth and opportunity; they are a gateway for immigrants to enter the American middle class, and they evoke the entrepreneurial spirit and mythos of American economic history – think of Andrew Carnegie, Bill Gates, the fictional heroes of Horatio Alger stories, and so on. Furthermore, small business owners are exposed to risk; if a small business fails, it is left to fail. Thus, fairness works both ways. [the highlights in bold type are post-Gutenberg’s]

The essay is a good read, all the way …While on the subject of strangely unpublicised opinion poll findings, here is a question for dining table entertainment: are Democrats or Republicans likely to be more sympathetic to the NSA’s spying on American citizens?

Gallup’s startling answer, from June of 2013:

There are significant partisan differences in views of the government’s program to obtain call logs and Internet communication. Democrats are more likely to approve, by 49% to 40%. Independents (34% vs. 56%) and Republicans (32% to 63%) are much more likely to disapprove than approve.

The newspapers associated with the left, which broke this story, do not seem to have paid much attention to what turns out to be a strictly partisan split in opinion. Gallup’s explanation makes it unlikely that the poll would have a very different result today:

In 2006, when Gallup asked the similar question about a program that came to light at that point, Republicans were significantly more likely to approve than Democrats. The differences in partisan reaction between 2006 and 2013 reflect the party of the president under whose watch the programs were carried out at those two points in time.

Now, why has the information in this blog post had virtually no attention in traditional media, as far as we can tell?

Might the shockingly low numbers for public trust in the media solve the mystery? As we recorded last week, in Gallup’s poll earlier this summer, the 74 per cent statistic for the military compared with just 22 per cent for newspapers – in an ever-narrowing gap in status with ‘news on the internet,’ deemed trustworthy by 19 per cent of those surveyed. Still, that was several cuts above the 7 per cent for the U.S. Congress – to which we saw theadvocates.org blog referring, pointing to

… a Public Policy Polling poll last year (reported in the Liberator Online) … found Congress less popular than lice, root canals, cockroaches, hemorrhoids, and colonoscopies, among other plagues and pests.

If the Snowden leaks proved that government spooks are evil, why do Americans still trust the military more than any other institution?

‘… the Snowden brand - with hints of baby Jesus - and the Guardian  brand - as something like God the father and protector …’: GQ , June 2014  - postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

‘… the Snowden brand – with hints of baby Jesus – and the Guardian brand – as something like God the father and protector …’: GQ , June 2014
- postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

In honour of the silly season, here is a real-life puzzle drawn from opinion polls. Somehow, members of the public remain obstinately un-manipulated by the one-sided reporting on the Snowden leaks about NSA and GCHQ surveillance. Reorganising media to make such an extreme, pointless bias impossible would be an incalculable enrichment of our culture, as we proposed last week.

The other day, we came across the results of a Gallup poll in June: by a staggering margin, Americans still trust their military more than any other public institution, including the people’s own elected representatives in Congress – and the presidency, and Supreme Court. Just look at the percentages of interviewees who answered that they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot of confidence’ in each of these groups: military (74); Congress (7); the church or organised religion (45); presidency (29); public schools (26); banks (26); medical system (34); criminal justice system (23).

Most government spying is done on behalf of the armed forces, to serve military ends. Indeed, America’s citizens are slowly coming round to a less benign view of the NSA’s arguments about needing to collect vast stores of personal data about them for their own safety. But they also seem, on the whole, to accept the government’s arguments that changes in technology and the differences between fighting terrorists and waging conventional wars have changed what spies must do to spy effectively.

This flatly contradicts the claims of some of the most ardent campaigners on behalf of Edward Snowden – who remains more unfathomable than either wicked or virtuous, for many of us – that he has sparked mass outrage about government surveillance. (Though, by last November, the weaselly word ‘resonate’ was being used, as in, ‘His disclosures about the NSA resonated with Americans from day one.’)

A new specialist in conducting interactive, continuous polls, isidewith.com – commendably non-partisan, if a Forbes report is accurate – suggests that Americans, by a solid 10 per cent margin, oppose granting Snowden immunity from prosecution. But where in The New York Times or The Guardian – two purveyors of news analysis considered disproportionately influential– has this view been reflected, delved into and explained in perceptive commentary by either insiders or outside commentators?

Since there has been no such delving, nor in-depth reporting on the reasons for the public’s continued support of the military, the true mission of the 29 year-old at the heart of l’affaire Snowden continues to be as mysterious as the Turin shroud. Or, so we thought, as we read Michael Wolff, in his GQ profile of the Guardian’s chief, describing the newspaper’s attempt to ride the uproar about the leaker that it largely manufactured to make itself the talk of America and win a vast new transatlantic audience:

Its efforts so far had hardly put it on the map in the US – and suddenly Snowden did. … News outlets want to break big stories but at the same time not be overwhelmed by them – a certain detachment is well advised. It is an artful line. But the Guardian essentially went into the Edward Snowden business – and continues in it. … The effort to pretend that the story is straight up good and evil, … without peculiar nuances and rabbit holes and obvious contradictions, is really quite a trick.

In an effort to pull off that trick, the Snowden brand – with hints of baby Jesus – and the Guardian brand – as something like God the father and protector – become nearly symbiotic. (The Guardian now campaigns fiercely for a Snowden pardon.)

Because the Snowden exposés were so crucial to the paper’s U.S. ambitions — in turn, part of a future plan sequestered behind dust sheets, as we said last week — it stifled virtually all perspectives and discussion critical of him and his band of helpers, including the lawyer-turned-journalist Glenn Greenwald:

The theoretically freewheeling Guardian locked itself down. Staff and contributor Twitter feeds were closely monitored for indications of Snowden or Greenwald deviations, with instant reprimands when any party-line divergence was spotted.

Devotees of the Guardian will find it hard to recognise it in that censorship usually associated with dictatorships, unless they have been loyal readers of this blog – and remember the comments about press reform that its moderators deleted, which post-Gutenberg saved and reproduced here. (Scroll down to the bottom of this earlier entry: ‘Why is The Guardian censoring debate about press reform and ignoring the Lord Chief Justice’s endorsement of citizen journalism?’ 7 November 2011.)

Such drastic warping of the discussion in a democracy of a subject as serious as military tactics and defence must be countered. How? In the spring of last year, we suggested that for systematic and regular audience consultation, media might adopt equivalents of Switzerland’s Publikumsrat – the five-man Public Council of Swissinfo.ch, which is the internet adjunct of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) founded in 1999. (See: ‘How Swiss audience inclusion and a certain sort of nudity might be the key to success for post-Gutenberg media,’ 3 March 2013.)

An extract:

The style of government that makes Switzerland the world’s most democratic democracy is replicated in organisations of every size and kind in CH – including its many businesses run as cooperatives, two of which make the list of the world’s top twenty-five in sales.

The Publikumsrat gives Swissinfo’s editors and journalists detailed feedback on their choice of subjects as well as on the way these are tackled. It makes suggestions for new topics. It also defends Swissinfo from its detractors. More than once, in the last ten years, it has led campaigns to protect it from accountants wielding budget-slashing axes – inspiring ‘Save Swissinfo!’ petitions from as far away as New South Wales, in Australia.

We see Publikumsrat equivalents in the Anglosphere as unavoidable and essential. If the Guardian had one, the gap between popular opinion and the paper’s religious fervour, covering Snowdenia, could not be the great black hole it is.

The proof of quite how badly we need one is in the Gallup poll statistic for public confidence in the press. It was a humiliating 22 per cent, only three points higher than for ‘news on the internet’ (19).