Ezra Klein on How New Online Media Technologies Shift U.S. Political Conversation: Implications for “Pope Messiahs” and Centrist Catholic Media Gatekeepers


William D. Lindsey

This is what I mean when I keep saying repeatedly that new media made possible by online technology, as well as the tools of social networking, are changing the game for the centrists who have long sought to control public political and religious discourse in the U.S.: Ezra Klein explains what, in his view, is going on with the rapidly shifting terrain of American politics:

[Th]e tools that party insiders use to decide both electoral and legislative outcomes are being weakened by new technologies and changing media norms. And so models of American politics that assume the effectiveness of those tools — models which weight elite opinion heavily, and give outsiders and insurgents little chance — have been thrown off.

Two points to note here: first, new technologies are weakening traditional media. They are changing the media game. They give more of us access to the role of “mediating” news stories to the world at large. And second, note the corelative statement with which Coates follows this observation: the centrist job is to “weight elite opinion heavily” while keeping dissenting voices firmly outside the conversation, firmly shoved to the margins, and pretending that they do not deserve a hearing, because they are not “objective” and “balanced” in the way centrist commentary is objective and balanced. …

The kind of citizen journalism being done by “ordinary” citizens who snap photos of, say, police brutality against peacefully assembled citizens of Ferguson, Missouri, and immediately send those photos around the world changes the game of traditional media in a radical way. It upends the centrist gatekeepers and explodes their control games.

To relate these ideas to the Catholic context, where the challenge of overcoming the dead hand of control of the centrist gatekeepers of the Catholic media remains acute and imperative, given the continued dominance of a mostly heterosexual, mostly white old boys’ network that is shamelessly unapologetic about its unearned privilege in the Catholic media: as Sister Teresa Forcades has repeatedly reminded us, effective change of the Catholic institution will not come via a “Pope Messiah” over whom the centrist old boys (of both genders) fawn and for whom they cheerlead, while they keep the voices of other Catholics, “real” Catholics — especially those on the margins of church and society — decisively locked out of their conversations. It will come from the bottom of the church, as “ordinary” Catholics raise their voices and assert their right to a role in the conversation that makes church.

Think about this for a moment: a pope has resigned. In our own lifetimes. And though the reasons for Benedict’s resignation remain murky and will not ever be fully disclosed to us, it is beyond doubt that the assiduous, unrelenting pressure of some long-despised members of the Catholic church played a key role in that resignation. I’m speaking specifically about survivors of childhood clerical abuse.

Who have refused to shut up. Who keep speaking out and telling their stories, organizing despite fierce opposition on the part of the institutional church and, for a very long time, from the media and the legal and criminal justice communities.

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