Sunday, September 02, 2007

Melt down of modern news

My wife and I were talking about the state of logical debate in our fine country and society at large today, she because she had heard an interview with a man named Lee Harris, who is apparently liberal and gay, who wrote a book describing how the left has forsaken reason in their debate, if it can be called that. The book, and I assume the interview, was about the danger that radical Islam poses to western society and the myopia that occurs among liberals who assume that western values of civilization will prevail in the culture of the middle east and all we have to do is nurture that with a little dialog.

I fell into the discussion because of this article that I read a while back (via Instapundit). It was more how the current media, the press, does not aid in logical discussion of world affairs, politics and values, but actually hurts them because of the personalities behind the pages and business nature of modern media. Here is a bit of the article I was reading.
James Lewis spoke of the discussion about Carl Rove's departure because of something he said regarding the press.

When Karl Rove resigned from his White House job last week, to a chorus of yowling cat-calls from furious news writers around the country, some scribblers were particularly offended by a word Mr. Rove used for his good friends in the media: The word "mob."

Not the organized criminal type mob, but the screaming charging mass of crazed lunatics holding torches and pitchforks. Then he continues, using the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings as fuel for his argument.

The Big Media are a mob. That should be Politics 101. They are a tiny, unchecked power elite, locked into life-long careers in the remnant of a crumbling monopoly over America's national conversation. Like other unaccountable elites, they are monumentally fickle, self-indulgent, snobbish, vain, vulgar, entitled, incestuous, arrogant, ignorant, unprincipled, hysterical, and demagogic. They sound like a unified chorus for the same reasons that street mobs run as a group -- because by and large, they don't dare to stand alone. Media snobs are always looking over their shoulders to see if they are still singing from the same hymnal as The New York Times. The US media have been one-sidedly Leftist, while piously proclaiming their devotion to impartiality. Thus, they are also institutionally mendacious. Telling the truth is hardly their job. They're just not qualified.

This doesn’t go for all the newspapers you’ll read. The local ones still try to have a voice of their own sometimes. Here in Portland we have a pretty good local weekly called Willamette Week. They cover local issues with a penetration that you don’t often find in this sound bite society. Even they, however, once they step out of the bounds of purely local issues and try to make some statement on national or international issues, they recite the party line without deviation. Sad.

Basically, the importance of what gets put on the front page is what’s important to the journalists and editors. It’s only coincidence if that same subject is actually important to the rest of us as well. Again Lewis drives through several examples of that, notably that the media spends considerable time and pandering effort over presidential candidates and Hollywood celebrities but took virtually no time for probably the greatest human contribution to human welfare in the world in the last century: Norman Borlaug.

Mass killers make up the most famous names in history: Attila the Hun, Caligula, Hitler, Napoleon. But few of the famous can claim to have saved lives. Perhaps Louis Pasteur, and of course many unknown scientists and inventors in medicine, agriculture and engineering. But who is celebrated by the Media Mob? Paris Hilton. Dan Rather. Hillary Clinton. The next Democrat for president. None of them have real achievements to their credit. None of them come within miles of Norman Borlaug.

The Big Media just aren't interested in stories of profound human significance. Life-saving scientists are boring, and besides, don't we have too many people walking on the planet already? That's the vaunted "editorial judgment." It reflects the snobbish values of the vulgar Media Mob, and it's utterly subjective and selfish. Mobs don't think. They just hyperventilate at pseudo-scientific superstitions, like Global Warming.

He then goes into a description of where we started as a nation, with a collection of some of the most extraordinary intellectuals we have ever known, such as Jefferson and Hamilton and Franklin, and how the debate and news was carried in this country by free thinkers who’s ideas and values were shaped by their own studies and lives instead of the constant force fed side show we get now.

There was no centralized intellectual monopoly. Political arguments were often heated, with news sheets flaming each other like the best of the blogs. The newspapers produced geniuses like Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken, both self-taught news writers. Twain may be the foremost American novelist of the 19th century, and Mencken is one of the greatest essayists in the English language. That was before anybody had a degree in journalism.

Things have not improved. The decline of quality media in America can be traced to two things, (1) professionalization of the news business, and (2) a former technological monopoly in electronic and print media. With industrialized technology it became possible for a single ideology to exercise control. Colleges were accredited by bureaucracies, which enforced liberal uniformity where diversity used to flourish. Journalists became careerists, like teachers and other bureaucrats.

And then, he concludes:

But journalism doesn't thrive on a forced consensus. News conformity is always artificial, a matter of ideological indoctrination, not fact. Indeed, the average newswriter today is a shallow and gullible BA in English, with no knowledge of (or interest in) science, technology, history, economics, international affairs, or politics, nor any practical experience of real human nature. That is why we now have just one single national story line, repeated hundreds of times a day in all the major dailies. It is mental Coca Cola --without the nourishment sugar provides.

It's all very effective; with a more truthful media the Democrats wouldn't stand a chance in electoral politics. The entire American Left owes its existence and power to the Media Mob. And our national dialogue would be saner, better-informed, and more rational. We would have a much healthier world. Until then, a vigorous New Media provide our best hope.

Now, that last paragraph is a big OUCH. Not that I fully agree with this in light of the mental garbage that some Republicans put forth. It’s not like they’re much better, but they are on the right side of many issues from where I sit, if only by accident.

But his point about how we get our news and information has teeth, I think. I’ve talked about this before in the context of what happened to the news media since about Watergate, when the news went from capturing life to turning a buck. When every journalists turned from wanting to report to wanting to be the next big thing, at the heart of the next big break. Sensationalist reporting became rampant, and news media began a slow descent into madness by cutting corners and eliminating “beat” reporting. Now virtually the only true beat reporters are sports analysts.

Many journalists who got their BA or MA in writing and journalism are probably very upset about me and Mr. Lewis spreading this type of thinking around. But I see this type of journalism all the time. Stories are put forth without much real understanding or context. How many times have the NY Times or the AP gone on about some tragedy or military screw up in Iraq, only to have military people come back and explain that the news was completely backwards because they didn’t understand what they were reporting.

I could bring out other bits and pieces, but this one occurred in the news today as well. Tom Blumer noticed that the NY Times has to work pretty hard to twist economic data to make believe that the economy and job incomes are not doing well.

What will the future of news media be like? It does no good anymore for folks to disregard the blog world as non informational and patently inferior to traditional media news. People are going there anyway, knowing that they aren’t getting the full picture from the morning paper or the nightly news. I had a friend a couple of years back who used the pap statement when I used a blog post to back up something I was arguing: “I suppose you believe everything you read on the internet.”

Well, I suppose that we shouldn’t, but that goes equally for anything and everything. Know where it’s coming from. Use your own knowledge and experience. Get out from behind the TV and read a bit. Don’t think for a second that any journalist or writer (or blogger) is completely unbiased. Assume that politicians are corrupt, as power ultimately will do, and stop giving them more access to power. Assume that people are generally OK (if not good in a Godly sense) and that government’s and organizations don’t always speak for them accurately. Know that while Democracy and Capitalism have their flaws, there is no other governmental/economic system that has produced more freedom for people in the history of man.

Let’s get back to logical argument, can we now?

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