As a journalist and a socialist, one of my interests is looking into and understanding the beliefs that underpin journalistic output.

By far the best way of understanding the mass media in capitalist democracies is the Propaganda Model from Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. Its greatest strength is that:

We do not use any kind of “conspiracy” hypothesis to explain mass-media performance.

Crucially when we come to the role of individuals in this system:

Most biased choices in the media arise from the pre-selection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power.

I think the idea of internalised preconceptions is powerful and portable. It is the idea that things “must” be as they are because “that’s the way the world works” or whatever phrase you want to use.

Switching from politics (of a sort), one thing that we see time and again is hostility to provision of cycling infrastructure because, obviously, mass unrestricted motoring is “the way the world works.” Any infringement on that — perhaps by redistributing road space — is in essence an affront to the natural order of things to benefit an out-group.

Again, this isn’t because the media are in hock to the Road Haulage Association or whoever else, but it is the natural conclusion in a society where transport policy has been focused on the motor vehicle for nearly a century.

An even more extreme case exists in the United States, where the motor vehicle has been so dominant that it’s not unknown for roads in built-up areas to lack pavements.

Which, finally, brings me to what sparked this post: a Los Angeles Times story about the health risks of living near LA’s many motorways. It’s actually a good story and pulls together all of the health and development stuff well.

However, it has a blind spot that reveals the internalised preconception that motor vehicle use must remain dominant. This paragraph sums up the avenues for change that the authors see:

Cities could re-zone areas near heavy traffic to exclude new residential development or change their general plans to prohibit such uses, planning experts say. Officials could adopt ordinances or moratoriums on new residential development. Or they could strengthen building standards — as they have for seismic reasons — forcing developers to design buildings in a way that reduces residents’ exposure to polluted air.

In short: stop building homes near motorways or build them better.

At no point is this flipped on its head to tackle the source: the motorway and the cars on it. There is no suggestion that that motorway is the thing that should be stopped, be narrowed or ripped out.

“10% of land currently zoned for residential construction” is “within 1,000 feet” of LA’s motorways so banning such construction would be problematic. But, again, the motorways are treated as unchangeable facts about our world that we must live with and cannot challenge — to the point that it is not even raised, just assumed.