Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 17, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MAINSTREAM MEDIA....Who's responsible for coining the term "mainstream media"? It's probably lost in the mists of time, but the first reference I could find in Nexis was in a Newsweek story by Elizabeth Peer and Lucy Howard titled "Washington's Press Corps." It ran on May 25, 1981 and contained this sentence:

The mainstream media have little in common with the burgeoning specialty and trade press, which now employs a quarter of the town's newspeople.

For what it's worth, the term was used commonly throughout the 80s and has been in very common use for more than a decade. Nexis returns more than a thousand hits for every single year since 1994.

Just thought you'd like to know. I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Kevin Drum 12:53 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

wow. this really is a full service blog! any other nuggets you'd like to share with us?

Posted by: mudwall jackson on March 17, 2006 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

When was the first time it was used as an epithet?

Posted by: Joel on March 17, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Interesting. I've only heard the term used within the last couple of years and thought it arose in reponse to the blogosphere. Yet it predates the Internet, let along blogging. What the expression? Everything old is new again.

Posted by: Peter on March 17, 2006 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, but the real question is when did it become the Lamestream Media?

Posted by: E. Henry Thripshaw on March 17, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

MSM is still an elusive term to most of my students, many of them in their thirties. It is amazing the power the MSM has over people without them even knowing what it is.

Posted by: nutty little nut nut on March 17, 2006 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

I'd prefer the term "professional media" to distinguish real news sources from crap like Newsmax.

Posted by: moderleft on March 17, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Google Book Search to the Rescue!

I found a 1975 reference in Negotiation and Statecraft: Hearings, Ninety-third Congress, First Session.

"... effective press or a significant particiapation in the mainstream media, they ..."

And also a 1976 reference in Passionate Politics, by Charlotte Bunch.


Posted by: chris on March 17, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Going way back to 1951, in UFOs Over Topanga Canyon, there's this:

"Otherwise, the entire Topanga Canyon UFO wave may have gone unnoticed by mainstream
media. Are the police perpetrating a cover-up?"

Posted by: chris on March 17, 2006 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: sharp bloggers have been going to "traditional media" and leaving "mainstream media" to the dustbin.

Posted by: Garuda on March 17, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

FYI: There exists media that are both traditional and non-mainstream (i.e. Pacifica Radio).

Posted by: Roxanne on March 17, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Completely off-topic: Presidential elections are supposedly won by appealing to a wide swath of the electorate.

Off-year elections like 2006 are supposedly won by firing up the base. This isn't something the blogsphere just cooked up; this was CW long before there was a blogsphere.

So when are the Dems going to start doing stuff to fire up their base, so they can win in the fall?

Posted by: RT on March 17, 2006 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

First mention in JSTOR ($ubscription required for you or your library) is in July 1976 by Charles Gilbert in "The Shaping of Public Policy", in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science:


A combination of communications technology, market organization, and professional ethos has probably produced a pattern of journalistic homogeneity in the mainstream media that has high influence contingently.

...hmm, sounds familiar, at least ripped from its context as I've done here.

JSTOR has one hit in 1978, then a whole truckload every year starting in 1982. Combined with chris's two google books hits from the same era, looks like the term was in occasional, if rare, use before busting out into the, er, mainstream media in the early 1980s as Kevin said.

Posted by: cdc on March 17, 2006 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

The real question, though, is who is responsible for shortening it to "MSM", and how can they be punished?

Posted by: cdc on March 17, 2006 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

The real question, though, is who is responsible for shortening it to "MSM", and how can they be punished?
Posted by: cdc

Force 'em to read Gravity's Rainbow?

(Sorry, Bob, couldn't resist.)

Posted by: CFShep on March 17, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Note that they use the word 'media' (correctly) as a plural noun. Whenever I see someone (on either side) saying 'the media is...', I immediately tune out; my life is too short to waste on illiteracy.

cdc, you're right--that is the key question. The term 'mainstream media' was, in itself, fairly neutral; the dismissive abbreviation to 'MSM' was the more important development in right-wing spin.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on March 17, 2006 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: sharp bloggers have been going to "traditional media" and leaving "mainstream media" to the dustbin.

Garuda, 'traditional media' has exactly the same problem as 'mainstream media': a failure to distinguish between partisan (e.g., Fox) and non-partisan media.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on March 17, 2006 at 7:48 PM | PERMALINK

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'Mainstream media' is bad framing. It puts the rest of us out of the mainstream, on the fringe etc.

'Corporate media' is more accurate and a more useful term for immediately defining what's going on in our mediated world.

Posted by: CurtisE on March 17, 2006 at 9:33 PM | PERMALINK

CFShep:

In an airport lounge waiting to catch a delayed red-eye home, hung over after a convention :)

Tom Hilton:

Well, I wouldn't be too pedantic about "media" as singular. The very same thing happened to "data." You don't hear too many references to datum (which sound archaic) or medium (which might make a nice pun if you're dissing it for vain prognostication :)

As for connoting bias -- well, bias can come from the left as well as the right, just to be honest here. The distinction is between established media and insurgent media. I think "traditional" works. "Corporate" doesn't as well, because a lot of the "MSM" are academic sources or so-called think tanks.

Bob

Posted by: rmck1 on March 18, 2006 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Well, I wouldn't be too pedantic about "media" as singular. The very same thing happened to "data." You don't hear too many references to datum (which sound archaic) or medium (which might make a nice pun if you're dissing it for vain prognostication :)

Well, I'm pedantic about 'data' and 'datum' too, and I always refer to (for example) the 'medium of television' (or what have you).

But the reason I'm 'pedantic' about media/medium is that using 'media' as a singular noun is a lie. It assumes a reality that is objectively false. The media are not singular--they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, monolithic, which should be obvious to anyone who considers that we are using a particular communications medium right now--and the lie that they are singular serves a political interest inimical to everything I believe in.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on March 18, 2006 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

As for connoting bias -- well, bias can come from the left as well as the right, just to be honest here. The distinction is between established media and insurgent media. I think "traditional" works. "Corporate" doesn't as well, because a lot of the "MSM" are academic sources or so-called think tanks.

It's not about bias; it's about partisanship, which is something else entirely. It's fair to say that everyone in any news medium has some kind of bias (although they are rarely the biases people claim to see), but not everyone is partisan (as Fox is, as the Washington Times is, as Daily Kos is).

As for the distinction between traditional and 'insurgent' media--okay, but why bother? For political purposes, that's a far less important distinction than that between the partisan and the non-partisan media.

Posted by: Tom Hilton on March 18, 2006 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

wow i am now certain kevin is the second coming of sherlock holmes

Posted by: frodo on March 18, 2006 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

As an employee of LexisNexis, I just have to say, "Thanks for your support."

Posted by: Foobarski on March 18, 2006 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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