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Consequences of Journalism in the Progressive Era

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This paper tells that journalistic irony, as a force for civic reform, depends on such key terms in the vocabulary of democratic ideals as fairness in public policy and honesty in public service. But even as Richard Rorty celebrated the historical success of the vocabulary of democratic ideals, other observers began to sense that this vocabulary had begun to lose its coherence and expressive power. With a certain Gallic flamboyance, the French sociologist Jean Baudrillard captured a sense of decay in both public discourse and public purpose with the argument that, in an era of unrelenting “ hyper-information, ” the public has fallen silent— in fact, disappeared— as a meaningful entity.

Thus the public has collapsed into merely an aggregation of irritated and confused media consumers who, in response to their sense of uncertainty, “ take their revenge by allowing themselves the theatrical representation of the political scene. ” Even as media audiences consume politics as theater, Baudrillard argued, they sabotage the efforts of politicians as well as journalists, pollsters, and social scientists to tell meaningful stories either to them or about them. “ Where the whole population of analysts and expert observers believe that they capture [this audience through the theatrics of derision, reversal, and parody the audiences disappear into “ those simulative devices which are designed to capture them, ” and in doing so audiences come to realize “ that they do not have to make a decision about themselves and the world; that they do not have to wish; that they do not have to know; that they do not have to desire.

” (Baker, 1992) Even if the public-as-audience has not yet fallen completely silent or entirely disappeared, many individuals in the audience are reduced to the inchoate mutterings recorded by Nina Eliasoph in her study of the styles adopted by ordinary citizens for the presentation of their political self-image.

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