bureaucratic malfunction

Democracy and Capitalism Gans found that U.S. journalists favor U.S.-style democracy. Coverage of other governmental forms dwells on corruption, conflict, protest, and bureaucratic malfunction. The unstated idea of most U.S. journalists, said Gans, is that other societies do best when they follow the American ideal of serving the public interest.

Gans also found that U.S. journalists are committed to the capitalist economic system —even in the economic crisis that began in 2008. Greed, corruption, misbehavior, and bad business practices were treated as aberrations that required corrections. The underlying posture of the news coverage of the U.S. economy, as Gans observed, is “an optimistic faith” that businesspeople refrain from unreasonable profits and gross exploitation of workers or customers while competing to create increased prosperity for all. In covering controlled foreign economies, U.S. journalists emphasize the downside.

It may seem only natural to most Americans that democracy and capitalism should be core values of anyone raised to believe in these values. This sense itself is an ethnocentric value, which many people do not even think about but which nonetheless shapes how they conduct their lives and view the world. Knowing that U.S. journalists by and large share this value explains a lot about the news coverage they create.

Tempered Individualism Gans found that U.S. journalists love stories about rugged individuals who overcome adversity and defeat powerful forces. Although journalists like to turn individuals into heroes, there are limits. Rebels and deviates are portrayed as extremists who go beyond another value: moderation. To illustrate this bias toward moderation, Gans noted that “the news treats atheists as extremists and uses the same approach, if more gingerly, with religious fanatics. People who consume conspicuously are criticized, but so are people, such as hippies, who turn their backs on consumer goods. The news is scornful both of the overly academic scholar and the oversimplifying popularizer. It is kind neither to highbrows nor to lowbrows, to users of jargon or users of slang. College students who play when they should study receive disapproval, but so do ‘grinds.’ Lack of moderation is wrong, whether it involves excesses or abstention.”

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