Sunday, April 24, 2016

Temporarily embarrassed executive editors

The New York Times plans to lay off a few hundred staffers this year, according to a report in the New York Post. And the major reason for the delay? Ownership and management are negotiating "a deal to provide reduced severance to those affected". On top of that, they are even moving staff from its Paris office to London, "where it can have better control of letting staff go, since French law makes it very difficult and expensive for companies to lay off workers".

This is the first of what will obviously be only a handful of token articles about the coverage. Compare that with the 1000+ news articles we saw in the month following the firing of Forbes Powerful Woman Jill Abramson from the NYT in 2014, and you get a pretty clear idea of where the media's priorities are and how much it actually cares about the problems of sexism and employment. Or you can compare the coverage of Abramson to media coverage, that very same week, of the thousands upon thousands of women who took to the streets to fight for a living wage. Those people, of course, only won any significant media coverage when another bougie white woman tried to take credit for their efforts.

The way that the media fetishizes the rich and powerful while ignoring the plight of poor and working class women is as predictable as it is disgraceful. Obviously the sponsors and stakeholders who fund corporate media - including corporate media's boutique "liberal" brands - don't care about the poor, and neither does the increasingly alienated petit bourgeois class of six figure managers and editors who play a primary role in setting and shaping coverage priorities. Nor, of course, do the growing ranks of independently wealthy / trust-fund dilettantes for whom media is little more than another novelty on an ever-growing CV.

Solidarity, or ambition?

That said, what I find particularly odious are the working-class-traitors in journalism who clearly just do not give a fuck about their comrades and colleagues. Obviously the media rank-and-file only have limited-to-nonexistent opportunities to cover and push for more coverage of the plight of working class women; the problem is largely structural, having to do with the hierachies and commercial incentives of industrial capitalist media, and no one should blame them for this. But what I've found in my conversations with so many liberal journalists, in reading their personal writing, and in observing their personal activism, is that many of them wouldn't even focus on the working class even if they had the opportunity.

Usually, liberals will deny this, and insist that their focus on the temporary inconveniences of rich women emerges from a broader concern about inequality. But read closely, and that focus is just as often tied with another concern: ambition. Watch how the former seamlessly shifts into the latter:
If even Abramson can’t get equal pay for equal work at the Times, what does that mean for the 22-year-old college graduate scrambling to climb from an unpaid internship to a real living as a reporter? The women out there who dream of ascending to the top of the Times masthead— is a dream all that will ever be?
So we move from the shared struggle with workers to make "a real living" to a struggle against the workers - to the "dream of ascending to the top", which means, of course, that someone will remain at the bottom. It is not the ethic of equality at the heart of feminism that animates this dream, but just the opposite - a resignation to inequality, albeit one of a different sort.

This is what I see in liberal journalists who call themselves feminists, but who only care about the problems of rich women: a toxic blend of apathy for their comrades and ambition for themselves. If America, as Steinbeck supposedly put it, is a land of "temporarily embarrassed millionaires", liberal journalism is an industry of temporarily embarrassed executive editors, would-be Jill Abramsons who are fine with laying off hundreds of women as long as they're the ones who get to do it.