See Richard Posner's roundup of eight -- count 'em -- recent books on the media in this week's issue of The New York Times Book Review (the cover story). For those of you old enough to remember, Posner is the fabled and prolific conservative academic/jurist (he sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and is a lecturer at the University of Chicago School of Law) who has led the "law and economics" movement since the dawn of the Reagan era. Posner and others have used L&E to do battle with many longstanding laws and precedents, interposing the economic cost/benefit analysis as the basis for deciding all manner of legal dispute. He's applying a similar economic lens today to the media scene, arguing that negative trends like sensationalism (think Michael Jackson) and polarization (think Fox, talking heads, and angry bloggers) are the result of "the vertiginous decline in the cost of electronic communication and the relaxation of regulatory barriers to entry, leading to the proliferation of consumer choices." But greater choice hasn't created a competitive market for truth and accuracy, says Posner. "[P]eople don't like being in a state of doubt, so they look for information that will support rather than undermine their existing beliefs. They're also uncomfortable seeing their beliefs challenged on issues that are bound up with their economic welfare, physical safety or religious and moral views." It's like a page from George Lakoff -- people generally prefer to listen to what fits their views, filtering out the rest.
A proponent of new media -- see the article for a lengthy and passionate defense of bloggers against charges from mainstream journalists -- Posner himself is a blogger, sharing a site with University of Chicago economist Gary Becker.
UPDATE, 8/1: Fellow PR blogger Elizabeth Albrycht writes that Posner's analysis has dangerous assumptions. Meanwhile, Slate's Jack Schafer accuses the professor of laziness, sloppiness, and verbosity ("[d]eploying four words where one will do....").