There is no public; there are only publics -or- You don’t represent me; I hired you

There is no public; there are only publics


You don’t represent me; I hired you

: Jay Rosen hit a nerve — again — with his post about George Bush’s view that the press does not represent the public. Much talk ensued about who represents whom and how good they are at it; Glenn Reynolds links to and discusses much of it.

What occurs to me is that no one respresents The Public — first because there is not one public and second because that is not the essential relationship we have with the people claiming to represent us. Those are the assumptions that need to be questioned — and our world of citizens’ media begins to question them.

I am not a member of a single, monolithic American public. You and I are members of many publics. OK, that’s fairly obvious; we, the people, are sliced and diced by demographic and psychographic and opinion and geography.

Yet there are many who claim to represent us, The Public. Winning presidents and political parties do. The press does. But they don’t. Bush didn’t win the majority of votes; he doesn’t represent us. The same could be said of every President, since so many of us don’t vote. Nobody elected the press; they elected themselves. And they certainly don’t represent everyone since there are so many who don’t pay attention to them.

So the first fallacy is that there is one public. The second is that anyone represents us. But the third — the one the matters — is that the relationship is representative at all. That’s the misnomer.

The relationship, instead, is one of service. We don’t elect politicians to represent us. We elect them to serve us. We shouldn’t call our system “representative democracy” but, instead, mercenary democracy: We hire people to run the government. Sometimes, they’ll represent our views; sometimes, they won’t. But if they don’t do their jobs well, we fire them. And if the press doesn’t serve us well, we get our information elsewhere. All they have is our trust and if they lose that, they lose any claim on either representing or serving us.

What does citizens’ media have to do with all this? It reminds us that we are not one public but, instead, countless individuals and interests. And when a politician does not represent us well, we each have the power to say so. When the press does not inform us well, we each now have the press and power to compete.

That’s why I suggested that the White House should invite bloggers to its Pres conferences — because it would demonstrate that no one represents us. That’s why I so strenuously object to the FCC playing national nanny — because no one should presume to know what my standards are and how to protect them.

For anyone say they “represent” us is dangerous conceit; it is their effort to take over our soveriegnty and act on our behalf. For them to, instead, say they “serve” us is to restore the proper relationship.