[Marxism] David Moore responds to Joaquin Bustelo

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at bellsouth.net
Tue Aug 3 15:03:28 MDT 2010

On 8/3/2010 1:19 PM, Louis Proyect wrote:
> Joaquin Bustelo claims he "saw the original [Pew] poll and understood
> *exactly*  what it represented ... a quite significant cross-section of
> 'news' media executives even if not a 'scientific sample.'"

I appreciate and what to thank David Moore taking the time to respond to 
my post, and so energetically. David's response forces me to admit that 
I'm not sure I expressed myself accurately or even adequately, as it 
looks like I did not succeed in communicating my point to him.

So I think I owe him an apology, because he took up the Pew study from a 
certain angle --how "scientific" or projectable were the results to the 
larger population of news media execs, and those belonging to certain 
organizations. And in that critique, he was undoubtedly correct.

I was frustrated by his failure to recognize what I view as the 
"qualitative" truth (so to speak) of the Pew results. That whether the 
true figure was a third, two fifths, half, two thirds or more, Pew had 
succeeded in identifying and capturing the mindset and outlook of the 
leadership of the dominant --or close to dominant-- wing of U.S. 
journalism, and without doubt the wing that is dominant in outlets 
considered "liberal" or "progressive" or even "objective" as opposed to, 
say, FOX News and the New York Post.

I have to recognize that, while I consider this to be MORE IMPORTANT in 
judging the "truthfulness" of the Pew poll, this isn't an area that 
David Moore's analysis extended to. I counterposed my insistence to go 
BEYOND "statistically significant" numbers to his critique of the way 
the numbers were handled by Pew, and within that narrower but entirely 
valid framework, David is right and I am wrong, and I wish I'd had the 
clarity to see that when I wrote the original post.

I think to explain my mistakes as well as why I *still* think the 
*underlying* points I was trying to make are valid, you have to 
understand where I'm coming from.

I work at a major news organization in an editorial role. By accident or 
fate or some combination of the two, a part of my role has been to put 
together parts of election campaign and especially election 
night/morning after coverage, especially aimed at the U.S. Latino 
community. It's the more "qualitative" and "why" part, so to speak -- 
i.e. focused on things like exit polls, demographics and issues, rather 
than the latest vote numbers on the tightest race or what it all means 
for the next X years, though I do some of the instant numbers also.

As to how I wound up there, all I can say --as a devout member of the 
Church of God the Utterly Uncaring-- is that "I was the victim of a 
series of accidents, as are we all." But having got here by accident, 
what struck me about the Pew survey of news execs is NOT that it was 
statistically significant or scientifically accurate, but that it 
captured the Zeitgeist in the journalistic "community," or a very 
important layer of the "community." ("Community" -- a term which for 
some inexplicable reason I find preferable to brothel although I'm at a 
loss to provide any substantiation for the distinction).

Thus a sober assessment of my comments of David Moore's post does not 
really negate the veracity of what he says: it is accurate. But I was 
trying to highlight the TRUTH of the Pew poll in a different sense, or 
dimension, in the sense of it capturing a very significant (and my gut 
feeling says dominant) mind-set among the news media leadership. In 
other words, my point is NOT that David Moore went too far or fell 
short, but that (IMHO) it was more important to point out that there is 
a dimension separate from the percentages and projectability of the poll 
to a larger population that needs to be looked at in THIS case. Even if 
it is not *quantifiable* in some "scientific" or "statistically valid" 
way, the poll results are TRUE about a dominant --or close to-- current 
in serious (OK, folks, stop laughing) US journalism.

In objecting to David Moore's critique of Pew's unscientific and even 
unprofessional handling of the numbers, I now realize that I was 
reacting to what came across to me as David Moore's throwing the baby 
out with the bathwater, and this may have had little or nothing to do 
with what he intended.

I base THAT conclusion (throwing the baby out with the bathwater) not on 
an "objective" evaluation of sampling techniques but, on the CONTRARY, 
on a completely "subjective" appreciation of the social layer being 
placed under the microscope, which I do believe I am and have been in a 
position to judge in this sort of way -- but there was no reason for 
David Moore to have been in a similar position.

Thus, his criticism of the way the numbers are handled and what 
significance is attributed to them viz-a-viz a larger population is 
entirely "accurate."

But from where I sit, it misses what is for me the heart of the matter: 
the Pew survey (even if no highly accurate or even rough STATISTICAL 
significance can be attributed to it) reflects a *social layer* and 
social reality that is of some significance: this IS the dominant 
mindset among a very important layer of the people that run the news 
machinery, i.e., that are in charge day-to-day of re-enforcing bourgeois 
political and ideological hegemony.

But even if I think that is the most significant side of the matter, it 
was wrong from me to insist that David Moore should focus on it in the 
same way, especially as my take on it went well beyond anything he was 
claiming to address.

To illustrate the sorts of issues that I had in mind, that David Moore 
wasn't addressing, let me cite an example that I just happened to notice 
in today's news coverage. It is from CNN, which prides itself in being 
"objective" and straight up the middle.

This is a web page story headlined:

"FBI highlights similarities between AL Qaeda, cartels."

With "cartels" referring to, not BP, Shell and the rest of the oil 
mafia, but by what by all lights appears to be the winning side in the 
drug war in Mexico.

But if you look at the fine print, the actual story, it turns out this 
is NOT an FBI opinion. It is the opinion of ONE "special agent" --one of 
12,000-- quoted anonimously in one article on one of the countless pages 
of the FBI web site. The anonimous (and perhaps non-existent -- I say 
that as an  experienced "hack") agent is portrayed as making a comment 
that is evidently off-hand, informal, obviously NOT the fruit of careful 
deliberation after a rounded process of evaluation to calibrate the 
precision of what's said, but on the contrary, simply an expression of 
how frustrating it *feels* to be where this agent is putatively sitting: 
"We think AL Qaeda is bad, but they've got nothing on the cartels."

And, yeah, when you read about drug cartel victims being decapitated or 
having their corpses found with the hearts torn out of them, which are 
things that have actually been reported in the last two or three of 
weeks from Mexico, you can see why this agent said that, even if, coldly 
considered and carefully calibrated, it doesn't really exceed crashing a 
mostly-full civilian passenger jet into a high-rise building with 
thousands of people inside.

But bravo for the FBI agent saying that, as it challenges the idea that 
"we" are winning the drug war and opens the door to the truth: the drug 
war is a war IMPOSED on Latin American countries that is utterly and 
ruinously winnable anywhere outside the United States. And the US 
politicisans are unwilling to fight in THIS way within their own 
borders. They want all the "darkies" to do the heavy lifting.

The REASON the war is winnable is a simple matter of demand-supply 
bourgeois economics. The *more successful* the "drug war" is in 
restricting supply, the higher the price of drugs, and thus the greater 
the resources available for defeating the "war on drugs," including 
funds available to bribe the local constabulary.

I mention that last point because it should be remembered that the 
status quo on drugs in the United States is IMPOSSIBLE unless the police 
forces on all levels are *massively,* *thoroughly* and *completely* 

That is the ONLY way it could be true that 15-year-olds entirely 
untrained in the art of conspiracy and underground functioning could 
find marijuana and cocaine suppliers that the police "can't find".

As long as American imperialist society insists on allowing gazillions 
of dollars to be paid for drugs for recreational use, the market WILL 
prevail in THESE kinds of societies, no matter how much "political will" 
or how many "plan Colombias" are deployed against it.

BUT -- is it really TRUE that this one offhand comment by one unnamed 
FBI agent consumed by the immediacy of his assignment on the border is 
"objectively" and "fair and balanced"-ly worth all this coverage, not 
just on the web, but throughout the day in CNN's "news" casts?

By chance my editorial coworkers and I were talking about that today and 
the ONLY one who thought it was worth covering was the "supervisor," 
i.e., management's representative -- who did not really believe it 
himself, he explained, he was just sure what the people upstairs would 
want. Which they did. Of course.

And THAT is what the Pew survey captured and highlighted. It is not a 
question of whether 30% or 70% would say yes to a question formulated in 
  a certain way, but ON THE CONTRARY how the political/ideological 
stranglehold of the ruling class over the media is developing and 
expressing itself.

So --apart from my unfairly directing the critique at what David Moore 
had written-- I stand by the substance of what I said. And I would also 
urge David Moore to focus more on the production and reproduction of 
bourgeois ideology, above and beyond the misdemeanors and felonies of 
the Pew pollsters -- and Marxmail posters.


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