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[This special supplementfeatures a critical exchange between Michael Bérubé and Jim Neilson and Gregory Meyerson. The exchange derives from Neilson and Meyerson's review of Bérubé's Public Access, published in the last issue, n.s. 45-6, "Institutional Questions" We welcome further responses.—Jeffrey Williams, Editor] Michael Bérubé Public Axes: A Reply to Jim Neilson and Gregory Meyerson According to Jim Neilson and Gregory Meyerson's recent piece in mr, "Public Access Limited," I am overly sanguine—if not downright blithe and gay—about the academic left'sprospectsfor "public access" to mass media. Apparently I believe, as Neilson and Meyerson put it, that "institutions have no essential class character" (266), and as a result , I fail to understand why Rush Limbaugh is more widely known than leftists like Noam Chomsky, who have been "marginalized because of what, not how, they write" (265). Now, this may come as a surprise to Neilson and Meyerson, but Public Access does not argue that access to mass media is simply a matter of style. I do take issue with some kinds of academic self-absorption and byzantine writing (who can't?), but I've never pretended that these are the primaryreasons the academic left doesn't have a significant impact on public debate. (That would be RusseU Jacoby, whom I've criticized for exactly that reason.) Indeed, my complaints about the rightward tilt of mass media have drawn the fire of liberals like Oliver Conant, Christopher Lasch, and Jacoby himself, all of whom have cast me as an inteuectual snob, an anti-populist academic inside-trader—preciselybecauseofmypenchant for talking about how clueless, conservative, and hostile the U.S. press has been in its treatment of the academic left. The difficulty of theory, then, is only one reason we academic lefties haven't gotten a decent public hearing. A more important reason is that there are only about five mass-media outlets that are consistently willing to give us a decent hearing, and ifyou don'tconsiderZMagazineand Pacifica Radio "mass" media, then we're down to about three." Like most readers of the minnesota review, I think of political "debate " in the United States more or less the way it's depicted by F.A.I.R. and the brilliant cartoonist Tom Tomorrow. Every "left/right" opposition pairs a wishy-washy centrist/liberal (say, Mark Shields) against a fire-breathing avatar ofGoebbels (PatBuchanan); Liddy and Limbaugh rule the radio; and Michael Kinsley marks the leftward boundary of 232the minnesota review televised political commentary, with the occasional and surprising exception of Christopher Hitchens. I've often argued that the Right has better distribution networks than we do partly because they have aU the money in the world and almost full control of the liberal media (see "Cultural Criticism"). PublicAccess does notsuggestotherwise—as even Neilson and Meyerson grudgingly admit at one point in their essay. So what should we do, other than complain? Neilson and Meyerson apparently see this state of affairs as cause for defeatism, for giving up on mass media; I see it as cause for urgency, for devising strategies that wUl gain us access to mass media against tremendous odds. Neilson and Meyerson do give me some credit on this score, opening their review with praise for my attempts to work in large-circulation journals. But what they give with one hand they take away with the other—not because they're curmudgeonly, but because they really are ideological purists, despite their disclaimers, and as purists they believe thatyou can'twrite formass media withoutcompromising your principles. "In striving for public access," they write, "Bérubé must, given the ideological limits of the mass media, disguise his position as centrist" (268). Their case in point is a VLS cover essay in which Td cited Terry Eagleton and HUton Kramer as critics of postmodernism's aUeged relativism, playfulness, and depthlessness (if I were writing it now I'd pick Christopher Norris and Gertrude Himmelfarb). On the basis of this citation, Neilson and Meyerson attribute to me a rhetoric of "left-right equivalence" that "bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the centrist equations in mass media political discourse, as in Géorgie Anne Geyer's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 231-238
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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