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May 27, 2006

Why things are the way they are
Posted by Patrick at 01:45 PM * 120 comments

Jamison Foser of Media Matters argues that the “defining issue of our time,” and our era’s “dominant political force,” is our catastrophically feckless political media. The overwhelming majority of what we Americans hear about our own politics is, 24 hours a day on all channels, being carefully lathed into a storyline in which every fact about conservatives, no matter how uncomplimentary, is evidence of their homespun authenticity; while every fact about liberals and progressives—no matter how positive—is evidence of our calculating dishonesty.

Nothing is exempt. Nothing. Read Slate editor Jacob Weisberg’s explanation of how the contents of Hillary Clinton’s iPod show her to be engaged in “premeditation, if not actual poll-testing.” As the covers of 1960s DC comics would say, “Not An Imaginary Story!” Weisberg is perfectly serious.

Foser:

According to Weisberg, Clinton’s explanation of what music is on her iPod was “premeditated” and the result of political “calculations.” For Weisberg to be right, Clinton’s answer must be dishonest. Now: Does anybody really believe that Clinton doesn’t like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”? How many professional baby-boomer women don’t like “Respect”? Does anybody really believe Clinton doesn’t like the Beatles? They’re the Beatles! It’s hard to believe any rational person could assume that Clinton doesn’t actually like and listen to the music she listed. And if she does, Weisberg’s entire premise can be tossed out the window: There’s nothing calculated or insincere in answering a question about what music you like by listing the music you like.

But give Weisberg credit for trying: He describes Clinton’s stated fondness for both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones as some sort of trying-to-have-it-both-ways Clintonian dishonesty. There’s a word for arguments like this: Stupid. How many Beatles fans actually dislike the Rolling Stones? How many Stones fans dislike the Beatles? It’s like suggesting someone is dishonest for saying they like both ice cream and cake: Who doesn’t like ice cream and cake?

No doubt somebody reading this doesn’t like ice cream and cake, or the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, but the point is that it’s completely retarded to suggest that liking (or disliking!) any combination of these things is evidence of anything about someone’s character. This blog is no hotbed of enthusiasm for a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. But this isn’t about Hillary Clinton. It’s about facing up to the fact that this kind of swill is now being firehosed at anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman, every minute of every day, by our political press corps. This is not the same old American same old. It’s a new phenomenon in our history. The commanding heights of our mass media are in the iron grip of a class of people as unreflective, as foolish, as corrupt, and as utterly divorced from normal life as the 19th-century Russian aristocracy. This is what has put us at the mercy of the wolves. This is what our enemy looks like.

Comments on Why things are the way they are:
#1 ::: Writerious ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 01:57 PM:

This sounds like one of those dumb pop psychology quizzes you find in magazines, where you learn that if you like the color red, you're outgoing, and if you like blue, you're thoughtful, and so on. "If you like this, this, and this in music, you're a hypocrite."

Except the media pundits have all turned into pop psychologists, over-analyzing every little phrase and nuance, like so many Harry Potter fans rabidly over-analyzing "clues" in Rowling's books to predict how the story will end.

#2 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:13 PM:

And the question becomes, where can you find reflective media? In the niches. The New Yorker, Harper's and lot of web content come to mind, but all are either targeted at eggheads and wonks, or are strictly pull, like this fine blog. I think the most mainstream place you can get a message critical of conservatives is Comedy Central, via The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

Even NPR sings with the conservative choir these days. There's a place in hell (or at least the Washington Times editorial board) reserved for Juan Williams.

Let's hope that new media and the force of grassroots communities (a.k.a. cozy places like here and huge places like the Daily Kos) can help reawaken the collective consience of the very, very sick fourth estate.

#3 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:20 PM:

Thanks for the link to Jamison Foster's article. He is stunningly clear. The national media, from the NYT to Fox to the most shameless tabloid, is stupid, malicious, and biased beyond belief. It is quite possible, though he doesn't say this, that they are also bought and paid for. No surprise to anyone on the left.

#4 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:22 PM:

Sorry: Foser, not Foster.

#5 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:25 PM:

Seems like Weisberg is trying to recall the Stones v. Beatles arguments that were prevalent back in the Sixties, which proved nothing about the proponents of either group then or now. I wonder how old he is.

As to the premise that the mass media defines a theme and mercilessly (and perhaps dishonestly) sticks to it, maybe. OTOH, Time just put The Dixie Chicks on the cover of its magazine (to counteract their placement of Ann Coulter there a while back? Maybe).

#6 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:29 PM:

Another thought: I suppose it's too obvious to point out that an outfit which calls itself "Media Matters" would define the media as the defining idea of our time. Not that I disagree with it, but...

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:32 PM:

Conservatives have chorused that the MSM must be on the left because most journalists have more-or-less liberal personal views. The fact that the owners of newspapers, radio and television networks, and news-magazines might not be particularly liberal, or particularly interested in free expression, of course has been glided over.

Now we're seeing what happens as the MSM bends over backwards to respond to complaints of bias from the right -- be biased against anyone the right doesn't like. (Anyone believing that Hillary is on the left needs to have their head examined.)

#8 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:37 PM:

No doubt somebody reading this doesnít like ice cream and cake, or the Rolling Stones and the Beatles,

That would be me. I think most of the Stones work is, at best, OK.

But, as you say, I'd never decide that someone who liked both was fake.

I weep at the press. The amazingness of the way the Right has managed to subvert it, so that anything negative can be said about "The Left", and as you say, everthing about a person left of center (whereever the hell center is... Joe Lieberman, center? God save us all), no matter how far-fetched or beyond the pale, and nothing about those on the right can be tolerated, no matter how true and trenchant.

The Clintons marriage is a sham, but Guiliani is all about the stabilty of the family, and no one is interested in that.

Jefferson may have taken a bribe.... see how corrupt they all are. Kenny-boy had direct access to the White House, but he the things he asked to have put into the energy plan, there's no need to wonder if the hundreds of thousands of dollars he donated to Bush, they are completely irrelevant.

The outrage is too great to maintain, and has to be rationed out in doses, lest one go mad.

#9 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 02:48 PM:

Perhaps some part of this can be explained by the clear desire of some Republicans (some on the House Inelligence Committee, at least) to jail reporters for writing stories about torture, the NSA, CIA prisons overseas, etc? I mean, maybe these guys are just scared shitless that if they really do their jobs, someone will put them in jail?

Nah. Sorry. I can't make myself believe that. At best, they're afraid they'll lose their jobs, their perks, their seats on Air Force One.

#10 ::: Dave MB ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 03:50 PM:

Wikipedia says that Jacob Weisberg was born in 1964. He finished
Yale in 1986 and went to Oxford on a Rhodes.

#11 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 05:01 PM:

What strikes me as particularly odd about the iPod discussion is that the complaint against Hillary is based on her being demonstrably part of the mainstream. Can this be generalised to the actual politics too? I mean, it's been established before that the majority opinions of the US electorate fit closely with what the media calls 'liberal'; and Hillary Clinton's opinions, being maybe just left of centre, probably reflects that majority reasonably well.

So what we are seeing is the power as a political rhetoric of the 'brave' politician 'standing up to mainstream opinion' and therefore coming over as 'honest'. Politicians with extreme opinions can therefore sell themselves as authentic; any politician who actually represents the majority gets ridiculed as a panderer. This is surely part of it, never mind that it totally subverts the whole point of democracy. Personally, I've never understood why pandering to the majority seems to be considered a bad thing in electoral politics. Surely it is the whole *point* of a democracy.

Before anyone says so, I realise that the flaw here is that people with extreme leftist opinions don't get to sell themselves as brave individuals standing up for what they believe in the face of social pressure to the contrary. They get (maybe rightly) dismissed as undemocratic nutjobs.

I guess I'm saying that I can understand why the media might prefer to write about people with unusual stances and opinions and dismiss mainstream politicians as boring (which is not to say that I agree with it). But what seems to need explaining here is why rightist extremists are treated differently from leftists.

Or maybe I'm just misreading the whole situation.

(Full disclosure: I have an mp3 player which isn't an iPod, and which contains 6000 songs none of which are performed by the Beatles, the Stones, the Eagles or Aretha Franklin. But I'm fine with both ice-cream and cake.)

#12 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 05:15 PM:

Well, we are after all talking about a guy, Weisberg, whose meat and potatoes is the dead-and-flensed horse called "Bushisms".

That's like trying to build a journalism career on "sniglets". Though, come to think of it, at least Rich Hall came up with those himself.

I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Slate's parroting the GOP-biased editorial line of the Washington Post. Bushisms alone won't keep him in the cushy editor's office.

#13 ::: Chacounne ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 05:20 PM:

Mr. Nielsen Hayden,

With the greatest of respect, I appreciate entirely your right to put things as you wish on your own blog, but, especially in view of Jenna's pledge, I would be truly grateful if you would use a different word in place of retarded in the context of stupid. I realize that in the way you use the word in your piece it might be appropriate, however it is used as slur so often that it's use in this way is hurtful to those with mental delays or disabilities and their loved ones.

Thank you so much for your time and patience and hospitality.

Sincerely,
Just my two cents,
Chac

#14 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 05:26 PM:

Those of you who haven't read the Foser piece, go do so. Further on down past the part Patrick quotes, Foser shows how Hillary's answer could have been spun against her no matter what answer she gave to the question.

It reminds me of the classic Daily Howler piece about Howard Fineman, in which he catches Fineman deducing that Bush was "a leader who is utterly comfortable in his role" because he changes his clothes to suit the occasion, while Gore "doesn't really always know who he wants to be in public" because he changes his clothes to suit the occasion.

#15 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 05:31 PM:

Hey, I just thought of something: Is it possible that many journalists suffer from imposter syndrome, and that, since they're mostly liberal-leaning, they're projecting their own problems onto the politicians they identify with?

#16 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 06:06 PM:

There's something profoundly toxic about political reporting, and this is clearly part of it.

#17 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 06:16 PM:

Nah, they don't have "imposter syndrome" - they're just imposters.

#18 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 06:33 PM:

Somewhere in (I think) Blue Champagne, John Varley has a character point out that doing things out of political principle is more complicated and difficult than doing things to maximize your income, and that as a result, any ideology as a motivation quite naturally gets obliterated by "bring hither the money".

There's something to that in general, and there's definitely something to it in journalism. It's doing what the people who own it think will bring them the most money.

Once that stops being by means of selling the most newspapers, media content starts being mediated by things that have nothing directly to do with the audience. Which is mostly what's going on now; content mediated by the insecurities of advertisers, which is to say individual old men. (Most of whom reached their present positions by socially mediated means, rather than anything that required

I'm pretty sure someone smarter than me could get a couple-six interesting scholarly papers out of the transition of the mechanisms of imperial court fashion from actual people in actual clothes to ideas possessed of no acknowledged source that provide templates for how to think about public events.

But, anyway, the individual reporters are pretty much the result of "you get what you reward" when the people doing the rewarding are addressing their personal insecurities about position in a power elite.

#19 ::: nglchl ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 06:51 PM:

Ptrck, pls sv th crcdl trs.

Wht's nt fr y t lk bt Wsbrg's rtcl? Y gt t njy sng Sn. Clntn bng ssltd gn *nd* y gt t snrk bt th h-s-trrbl cndtn f th MSM.

dn't s nythng wrs n Wsbrg's rtcl thn cn rd hr n yr blg, r n HffP, r FDL, r schtn, r DKS, r Dgby, r, wll, y gt th d. Th fct s, y LL bsh Sn. Clntn wth ndgsd gl nd frcty, y LL cs hr f bng dshnst nd nthntc, y LL mk hr t t b sm knd f hds crtr Wh Mst B Stppd Bfr Sh Dstrys th Ntn.

S, n th grtr nfldng f tm nd spc, dn't s mch dffrnc btwn th Hllry bshng f th MSM nd th Hllry bshng f th (gg m wth cbl mdm) "ntrts". t's stll chrctr ssssntn.

t *s* bt Hllry Clntn, nd th wy n whch th lft blgsphr bhvs twrds hr xctly s Wsbrg hs dn.

Rgrds,
nglchl

#20 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 07:06 PM:

...

OK. I'll admit I don't read all the political posts here, just the ones that sound particularly interesting. But I don't recall seeing anything that I'd describe as "bashing" Senator Clinton.

#21 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 07:07 PM:

Anglachel, when exactly did Patrick or Teresa "bash Sen. Clinton with undiguised glee and ferocity"? The worst I can find is Patrick saying he has "never been an unalloyed Hillary fan" and then going on to praise her. And for actual things she'd done, not over her favorite songs.

#22 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 07:09 PM:

Yeah, the left doesn't like Clinton much. But the reason for that is actually policy stances. Voting patterns. Public statements.

Not the contents of her frigging iPod!

As for us `all' hating Sen. Clinton:

A spirited defense of Clinton, and her commitment to her marriage.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 07:18 PM:

Anglachel's off his-or-her nut. I don't recall us ever bashing Hillary Clinton. At most, I think Patrick may have disagreed with a few of Sen. Clinton's decisions; but there's been nothing to warrant Anglachel's teetering-on-the-edge-of-unbalanced tone.

#24 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 07:47 PM:

"Itís like suggesting someone is dishonest for saying they like both ice cream and cake: Who doesnít like ice cream and cake?"

Wingnuts, that's who.

#25 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:13 PM:

On the subject of politician's musical tastes, I read that, prior to the latest election in NZ, the Minister of Education (Steve Maharey, I think, he of the Heinkein), was in a pub, listening to some NZ band play.

A journalist came up to him, and asked him about NZ music. Maharey replied that he loved it to pieces, thought it was absolutely amazing, etc. So, the journalist asked Maharey what his favourite NZ bands were. Maharey (allegedly) replied `Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party'.

Too good to check, eh?

#26 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:21 PM:

Oh my goodness, the trolls are out early today.

Thinking about "the media": it occurs to me that most of the mainstream guys, in print, radio, and TV, are so rarely challenged that they probably think no one has noticed how lame and/or bought they are. Consider their stupefied, sullen, childish reaction to Colbert. They should be challenged, often. And the reporters who actually do their jobs (Sy Hersch, Dana Priest, the two who broke the NSA story in the Times) should be thanked and their editors should be praised for supporting them.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:24 PM:

There's a comment up there that looks as though it was transliterated from the Cyrillic. Would this be the right time to say, "You're in America, learn to speak (and write) English"?

#28 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:28 PM:

To me, this describes what is happening, but it doesn't describe why it's happening (unless I'm just missing it which is quite possible.) The Daily Howler has a great series of posts about the scripted 2000 Presidential campaign. It's pretty clear that this is exactly what happened, has been happening and is still happening. What I don't understand is why reporters, who claim to be objective, are participating in this. Given that it's a pretty consistent message, it would have to be pretty much all of them.

They can't all be incompetent. I think it's pretty unlikely that they're all conservatives with axes to grind. It's hard to see why they would all willingly participate in the charade. I suppose one possibility is that some of them don't realize what they're doing? (That sort of swings things back to incompetent though.)

One thing I wonder is if there is some sort of "crab theory" effect going on here where reporters are attempting to pull down those they perceive as being better than them (or at least those who they feel need to be taken down a peg). I suppose the test case here would be an intelligent, articulate conservative politician who actually spoke in terms of policy and demonstrated an ability to reason.

Given what I hope is the increased prominence of the internet, maybe grass-roots efforts can counteract this in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns? (After all, the press would have been content to ignore Colbert's performance at the Press Dinner if the blogs had not raised an uproar. OTOH, the story became about the blogs' uproar more than Colbert.)

#29 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:34 PM:

Perhaps we need a Disemvoweling FAQ, linked from the front page.

#30 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:47 PM:

They can't all be incompetent.

JC, why not? Competent reporters upset powerful people. We don't want powerful people upset. Let's not hire competent reporters.

#31 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 08:59 PM:

JC --

They're doing what they're paid to do.

Reporters are only there to convey important news to the general populace when the general populace is paying them.

Once "the news" is paid for by means other than people handing over a nickle for today's paper, the reporters start doing what makes those people happy.

Since, right now, that's the owners and major shareholders of media conglomerates, you're getting pure "support corporate power" news.

Given the two dreadful legal precedents of corporate person-hood and "money is speech", that's not fixable, either.

So there needs to be a countervailing force; it more or less can't be the internet, because the folks who own the backbone will find a way to shut such a countervailing force down. It has to be a political movement.

#32 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 09:27 PM:

Graydon writes: "Once "the news" is paid for by means other than people handing over a nickle for today's paper, the reporters start doing what makes those people happy."

The more ethically flexible reporters will write what the editors want to see, because the editors will reward such reporters with more space, better placement, and better assignments. Good reporters who buck the editorial/corporate bias get their articles circular-filed, or, if the reporter is too well-established, get significant stories shrunk and/or stuck in the back of the paper. (For example, Pincus' pre-war reporting for the pro-war Washington Post.)

The editors, in turn, take their cues from higher-placed editors, and/or corporate management. Because if an editor wants to rise in the corporation, it'll be the business side that controls the promotions.

The owners and management, of course, generally are not terribly interested in the alleged values of good journalism.

On top of all this is the pressure to suck up to sources in return for access. It's hard to be a bipartisan suck-up, and not as effective, so if you're going to do this, you might as well hitch your wagon to the party your bosses favor.

#33 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 09:34 PM:

Lee: First, Anglachel's message as originally posted was written in standard English. Making Light's penalty for excessive incivility, trolling, and other serious offenses against the discourse is to remove the vowels from the offending passage or comment. Naturally, this is known as disemvowelling. You'll find that if you work at it, you can puzzle out the offending message; but you won't read it automatically if you don't care to do so.

Second, we've never objected to comments written in languages other than English, as long as they're pertinent to the conversation.

Thanks for asking. It's good to periodically be reminded that not everyone's familiar with local customs.

#34 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 09:40 PM:

So, if the "Left" complains about the right-leaning bias of the media...

...and the "Right" complains about the left-leaning bias of the media...

what does that actually say about the "media"?

#35 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 09:51 PM:

"...and the "Right" complains about the left-leaning bias of the media...

what does that actually say about the "media"?"

It says that the Right is complaining out of habit, or that the Right's definition of "left-leaning bias" is 'insufficiently subservient to the GOP'.

Evidence for the first may be found in the continuing right-wing complaints about perfidious CNN, despite CNN's strong rightward swing over the last ten years or so. Blitzer is usually in the tank for the GOP, Kurtz runs with GOP spin, Daryn Kagan dated Rush Limbaugh for quite a while, Lou Dobbs is TVs major anti-immigrant activist, it goes on and on. GOP complaints about media bias are mostly cant, and implicit warnings to the media to stay in line.

Evidence for the second point may be found in the way that the media gets criticized most by the right for not carrying only their propaganda. The right doesn't really criticize journalists for pushing left-wing causes. (Though the right does seem to think that reporting on gay folks as if they exist and are full members of society, without including explicit condemnation of homosexuality is evidence of "left wing bias".)

Whereas, critiques of news from the left and the center are usually based on actual craptacular reporting and blatant water-carrying for the GOP.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:07 PM:

Mark, it's not as simple as that. For decades the press presented "two sides" of the global warming "debate" as if the two sides were equal. In fact the one side was all true scientists, and the other was a small group of crackpots.

This was "playing it right down the middle," MSM-style. But if the situation is dreadfully imbalanced, that means that in fact they're biased.

And in fact they're heavily leaned toward the right.

#37 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:11 PM:

How much do y'all think Mark is being paid to say that?


It sounds so good, doesn't it? It's just those right-wing loonies (who wear sheets) and left-wing loonies (who believe in a mixed economy and good government) who are complaining. Some other miracle explains why everyone else has cancelled their subscription to The New York Times.

#38 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:20 PM:

To my mind, to answer my own question, it says very little.

To me, it says more about the people who are doing the complaining, than about the object of the complaint.

It was silly for Weisberg to claim that Clinton's musical choices were poll-based, but that no more makes him a tool of the "Right" than his previous editorial condemning Bush's management of the executive branch makes him a tool of the "Left."

#39 ::: Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:23 PM:

"Some other miracle explains why everyone else has cancelled their subscription to The New York Times."

Because circulation of all other newspapers is also down, because people can get their news more-or-less free on-line?

Just a shot in the dark, here.

#40 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:45 PM:

So, Mark, in your estimation, why did the NY Times recently run a front-page story about how much time the Clintons spend together? Why did the Washington Post call for an independent prosecutor for Whitewater -- though they admitted in that very editorial they thought the charges against the Clintons weren't credible -- yet devoted almost no attention (a mere 26 words during the entire 2000 campaign) to Bush's possible insider trading (when he sold his Harken energy stock)?

#41 ::: Craig Macbride ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:57 PM:

When someone can post, quite accurately, "I think the most mainstream place you can get a message critical of conservatives is Comedy Central, via The Daily Show and The Colbert Report", you have to be concerned about where your country is heading.

When I'm in the USA, I watch The Daily Show for news and Fox News for humour.

#42 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:12 AM:

Indeed. The far right does indeed claim that the Times and Post are Democratic house organs. They're wrong.

The idea that you can determine the truth of an argument purely on structural grounds ("X and Y both complain") is false. You have to examine the substance of the assertions.

#43 ::: Lesley K ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:41 AM:

Honestly? I think it's the fault of journalism schools. Judging by the reporters with whom I've spoken, journalists now must have a degree in "journalism" -- which as far as I can tell is a virtually content-free education.

I'll draw a comparison with the science teachers I know, most of whom have undergraduate degrees in "education", many of whom have advanced degrees in "education"; none of whom have any degrees in any actual SCIENCE, although they do profess to love science and do their best to study up on the various fields on their own. But their four years of academic preparation to actually *teach* science was completely filled with courses on "cognitive development" and "acquisition theory" -- very useful and important topics, I'm sure, but absolutely useless when a smart-mouthed fundamentalist seventh-grader publicly challenges you by parroting ICONS OF EVOLUTION.

This same emphasis on process and theory, as opposed to actual knowledge content, certainly afflicts most of what passes for "science reporting" in all but the specialized media outlets. I don't know if it has the same deleterious effect on political reporting, but I wouldn't be surprised. (This would also explain why practically the only thing left worth reading in my hometown newspaper are the sports pages, since sports journalists are still supposed to know something about the subject they cover.)

I know this post is too long already, but I don't want to leave it sounding like I'm unfairly picking on journalists OR teachers, most of whom care passionately about what they do, even if I don't believe they are equipped with the tools they need to do it. So in the interest of fair disclosure, I'll freely admit that my own professional degree in Library Science, while rich in coursework like Information Theory and Methods of Collection Analysis, was singularly useless in preparing me to cope with explaining why the Father Brown mysteries aren't considered "Christian Fiction," let alone with the teenagers having sex in the Biography section...

#44 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:43 AM:

Mark A. York: I'm afraid some of you have lived in fantasy a bit too long.

Ah, an attack of the some of you variety. What's next, an expression of sorrow at some perceived lack of civility?

Personally, I think it's naive to assume that the press has ever been unbiased. Here's a quick example of two different spins on the same (non-political) story:

The Seattle Times:
Under pressure, Microsoft fights to keep its workers
Top technology talent no longer automatically heads to Microsoft. The company now contends with the gleam of Google and other competitors, as well as internal employment issues.

But Microsoft showed Thursday it won't let practices that have stirred employee discontent get in the way of recruiting and keeping the best minds in computing.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Microsoft unveils new worker perks
Even towels are back in bid to lift morale
Amid signs of sagging employee morale, Microsoft Corp. on Thursday presented a plan to overhaul its performance-review process, increase stock awards, boost on-campus perks and address a wide range of additional concerns.

Even the towels are back.

The plan, dubbed "myMicrosoft," would improve training for managers, clarify internal career paths and increase child care and tuition benefits. New services on the Redmond campus will include dry-cleaning, convenience stores, grocery delivery and upgraded dining options -- such as Wolfgang Puck takeout.

---

Two different articles, two different spins.

Even accident articles spin. Did it involve a motorcycle? Often the next paragraph reveals the author's bias against motorcyclists.

Was one of the drivers a minority? Expect a comment about who did or didn't have insurance.

Yes, editors pick and choose the stories and may encourage certain kinds of coverage, but the reporters themselves do the actual spinning.

#45 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:49 AM:

What happens is that j-schools tend to teach a concept of objectivity that involves assuming that a story has two sides, and then giving each 'side' equal play. In that way, the journalist cannot be accused of bias -- even if that means that James Dobson and P.Z. Myers are both quoted on the subject of evolutionary theory as if they were equivalent in expertise.

#46 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 01:10 AM:

I've been here long enough to be able to read disemvowelled comments easily enough, but "hds crtr" has me. I keep getting distracted by reading it as "Hades crit(t)er", with visions of Hillary Clinton as Cerberus. Is anyone able to actually translate, because it's going to bother me for *ages*.

On topic: I'm sure Mark A. York really does intend to be unbiased, and no doubt most of the journalists he knows do too. I also suspect he doesn't need to be told that "two sides to every story" isn't a definition of unbiased, although I may be being overly optimistic given the number of my students who haven't grasped that yet. But the point here wasn't that the mainstream media can be criticised from the left and the right, which is no proof of anything; nor that ridiculous stories are often promoted in place of substantial (but complex) ones. It was that the same or similar stories, whether ridiculous *or* substantial, seem to be promoted when they raise doubts about 'liberals' and ignored (by the media) when they would raise doubts about the right.

Which is what Foser's article said, with all that supporting evidence. Mark - if you're still here (and I hope you are), what do you find unconvincing about the evidence Foser cites?

#47 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 01:17 AM:

candle: 'hds crtr' is probably 'hideous creature'.

#48 ::: Nessus ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 01:53 AM:

> It was silly for Weisberg to claim
> that Clinton's musical choices were
> poll-based, but that no more makes him a
> tool of the "Right" than his previous
> editorial condemning Bush's management
> of the executive branch makes him a tool
> of the "Left."


Agreed, I guess. But it sure does make him a tool.

#49 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 03:03 AM:

Aha! Thank you, Renee. That makes sense. I'd never noticed the string of vowels in "hideous" (as such, I mean).

Best of all, it still allows the Hillary/Cerberus mental image. Not that I dislike her...

#50 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 03:59 AM:

"How much do y'all think Mark is being paid to say that?"

Well, I think Mark is not being paid to say that at all. Who would be paying Mark to say it? Some national media chain?!? Which one? Frankly I don't think they have people out on liberal blogs paid to post comments, they don't gain anything that is their currency that way, their currency being readers.

If you wanted to insinuate that Mark was being paid for by a Republican organization to say that (Republican's being a group known to have paid operatives). Sorry but any Republican paid operative that said:
"I'm also an unabashed Clinton supporter, the former president anyway, if not the senator, although I find little disagreement with her. When he was president you wrote the White House and he wrote back. Now an intern replies with two pages of propaganda."

would be out of a job.

In an abstract way one can assume that Mark is being paid to post that, because he is being paid to be a member of the media, and it is tied in with his being a member of the media that he can believe in its lack of bias. But I don't think that was what was being said.

"Mark A. York: I'm afraid some of you have lived in fantasy a bit too long.

Ah, an attack of the some of you variety. What's next, an expression of sorrow at some perceived lack of civility?"

Well, the some of you comment came after the question of Mark being paid to post. If one is not being paid to post and someone questions that one is followed by other people attacking one's arguments, I suppose that a thought of 'wow, these people are living in a fantasy land' might an expected response.
Also, I would think an expression of sorrow at some perceived lack of civility, although a strangely American ritual, would not be out of order in that situation.

Of course I think that because, as noted above, the accusation didn't even seem sensible to me.

#51 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 04:11 AM:

Teresa: Thanks for the explanation. My initial comment was intended as mild sarcasm directed toward the poster of the "disemvowelled" one, not as a serious complaint about foreign languages; in the brief glance I gave it, I'd taken it for txtspk.

#52 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 04:19 AM:

Personally, the only thing I'm interested in about Hillary Clinton's iPod is whether or not this song is on it.

What's really disingenuous is Weisberg's belief that Hillary's musical tastes are "premeditated", but Condi Rice's (which overlap with Hillary's) aren't. (Interrobang here.)

I'll allow him to believe W's aren't -- I mean, who would admit to "My Sharona" if they were trying to impress people?

#53 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 04:37 AM:

our catastrophically feckless political media

problem identified.
any solutions?

#54 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 04:46 AM:

Surely musical tastes are as much a consequence of when you grew up as of your politics? I was a teenager in the early Seventies, and in England, and not very interested in pop music, but the names that come to mind do spring from that time, good and bad.

I don't have an iPod, but if I had it might contain tracks by Yes, Simon and Garfunkel, Steeleye Span, Suzi Quattro, and Leslie Fish.

I wonder what political spin might be put on that.

#55 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 05:39 AM:

I wonder what political spin might be put on that.

Whatever spin suits their cause, I would imagine. If you were on their side, it would reflect your independence. if you were against htem, it owuld reflect your brainwashed history.

#56 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 07:40 AM:

This is why I'm not a politician: I'd be so tempted to answer that "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" was on my iPod, just to make the reporter gasp, "I knew it, I knew it!"

Or maybe "The Bishop of Bray," but the reporter probably wouldn't get the statement there: "For whatsoever king may reign...."

(It is early and I may have misspelled where he is bishop of.)

#57 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 07:58 AM:

Innocent, unbiased observation is a myth.
--- PB Medawar

And he was talking about processes inside scientific peer review. I'm not even vaguely likely to believe that political reporting can, or should try to, achieve such a thing. (There's a difference between factual and unbiased; I would be delighted at a renewed emphasis on factual.)

People do get paid to post comments on blogs; I doubt Mr. York is one of them.

I do think, though, that he's suffering from (apparently) ignoring malice as a motivation.

People do aggressively defend their world view; if they're rich people, with an intensely counter-factual world view in which they are deeply invested, the result is an ugly mess.

The core counter-factual isn't that evolution isn't real, or that global warming isn't real, or that tax cuts for the rich help the economy; the core counter-factual is that society is best organized under the direction of an elite.

That leads to beliefs like "the composition of the elite is of critical importance" and attaching bizarre qualifications to membership; people's "AIGH! I'll be left of the leopards!" hind brain processing over-riding any amount of quantitative analysis (in part because they don't know how (see, for example, Brad De Long's posts on why he's teaching a class on how to report economic material)); and the protection of self-reinforcing structures of privilege being treated as the purpose of government, trade, and civil society.

All of those things are grievously in error and actively harmful, but that only starts being inescapable once the system has crashed.

#58 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:19 AM:

The song is "The Vicar of Bray". And in the years before and after The Restoration a cleric in England could have easily lost their job on several occasions over preaching the wrong version of Christianity.

Wikipedia has one annotated version, with links to others.

#59 ::: squeech ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:48 AM:

Part of the problem, and certainly part of the reason why he said she said journalism fails to accomplish its stated objectives, is that facts are no longer part of the discourse.

I became aware of this in a local story. There's this rich family in the Boston area, the Varas. Many of the properties they own are bars, and as it happens, these bars cause a disproportionate amount of trouble in their neighborhoods: calls to the police, fights, drug deals, various sorts of disorderly conduct. By now many neighborhood groups have learned to distrust the Varas and to oppose any plans associated with them.

In this one story, there was a group of people who wanted to take over a shuttered Vara bar in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood and turn it into a simulated Irish pub. They declared they were independent of the Vara organization, that they were residents of the community and wished it no harm, and that the sole connection between them and the Varas would be that, inasmuch as the Varas actually owned the building, they'd mail the Varas a rent check every month.

Various neighborhood groups claimed otherwise, but at this point the article pretty much bogged down into reflexive accusations of bad faith.

One claim of the neighbors was that the Vara organization had ignored the property to the point where it was decaying, opening the door to urban blight, and said that trash was piled up in front of it. The group that wanted to open it up denied it. Now this was testable, as opposed to all the other stuff about intentions. But apparently it never occurred to the reporter to get in his car and drive the 15 minutes from the Boston Globe offices in Dorchester to Center Street in Jamaica Plain and looking at the place to confirm or refute that claim.

That's what we need in journalism. If two sides make an argument, presumably there are facts underlying the two sides. Is it too much to expect that reporters, in reporting these debates, also make some attempt at ferreting out the two sides' supporting factual claims? And then saying something about the comparative strengths of these facts? I know it's too much to expect a layman journalist to state categorically whether global warming is or is not a man made phenomenon, but it should be possible to observe whether the Vara organization picks up the trash.

#60 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:55 AM:

I think I lost some brain cells reading that article.

The thing about the Bush Ipod choices was that it was "leaked" at a time Bush was in hot water again and was clearly designed to put a nicey human interest story about him out to the press; the choices didn't matter. Clinton on the other hand was asked for her music during a routine interview.

So it's telling that Weisberg thinks Bush choices are "genuine" while Clinton's choices are "premeditated".

It's not that they're stupid, it's that they think we're stupid that offends me so much.

#61 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 09:26 AM:

This ties in with something I've been thinking about for a while: Why is it that, given country music's history of songs that talk about the little guy getting screwed by The Man, are all the songs I hear on commercial country stations rah-rah God, Apple Pie, and the Values of the Republican Party?

That's a rhetorical question, btw.

#62 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 09:27 AM:

Perhaps all this means is that I'm hypersensitive to this phenomenon right now due to this thread and a predisposition to voting for Al Gore, but I noticed an odd reference in the concluding paragraph of today's Washington Post review of the book version of _An Inconvenient Truth_:

Gore urges readers to save energy at home, recycle, use mass transit, don't even think of buying an SUV -- and vote out politicians who don't share his sense of urgency. In Washington, his new push has started the inevitable mindless chatter about whether he'll run for president again. The inconvenient truth is that Gore was never much of a politician, but he remains a very serious policy analyst -- and this frightening, galvanizing book will convince plenty of readers that Earth genuinely does hang in the balance.

Does it mean something that even a favorable review of Gore's book feels the need to reinforce the myth of Al Gore as "never much of a politician." The writer could have easily written that concluding paragraph without reference to his abilities as a politician. Like it or not, how good he is as a politician does not have anything to do with the quality of it book. Or, if it did, the first place to bring it up is not the conclusion.

In any case, I always thought someone who "was never much of a politician" would have never made out of local office, much less become a respected Senator who was a leader of his party and someone who was expected to become President some day. However, this may not be so much anti-Al Gore as much as it the same phenomenon which causes people to think that the team which loses the Super Bowl to be a worse team than a team which never made it into the play offs in the first place.

(Now that I think about it though, I suppose one could spin "never much of a politician" into a good thing. But Al Gore as The Outsider? I would scoff at this, but we, as a country, apparently bought this notion for both George W. Bush and John McCain.)

#63 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 09:56 AM:

JC --

Al Gore is very upsetting to the right because he's a much more plausible second Roosevelt than just about anybody else.

He's really smart; he's got a history of duty above class, and he's got a history of doing hard work himself, so he's not really trustable as a member of the upper class.

The Right's institutional memory of Roosevelt is very strong; they remember him as the guy who had the political power and inclination to fundamentally change American institutions.

Since the present basis for a whole lot of American institutions -- the post-Second-World-War political and economic landscape, up to about 1970, and then the US high tech lead, up until about 1995 -- are now more theoretical than actual, there is going to be a fundamental change in American Institutions. The question is "which one?".

Selling against Al Gore's hopeful high tech future of general prosperity and decency is pretty hard, so a big slice of the conventional wisdom dismisses the possibility in the hope that they can get what they want by default.

#64 ::: Bruce Adelsohn ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 10:07 AM:

Magician's force: an apparently free choice offered by the performer to the audience, but one in which the outcome is predetermined, with the magician having prepared responses to all possible choices such that s/he achieves hir desired result.

This is what the media have reminded me of for a while now; it's clear they're doing it with smoke and mirrors, and not interested in reality.

(Speaking of which, This Modern World rocks, again)

#65 ::: Mary Aileen Buss ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 10:19 AM:

Now that I think about it though, I suppose one could spin "never much of a politician" into a good thing.

I read it that way on first pass. And what does that say about the status of politicians in the public mind?

--Mary Aileen

#66 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 11:03 AM:

Mark - I sounds like you're running into a bias wall. Why would any (non-indy) newspaper hire someone who would sully the approved story line (CO2 = The Breath of Life) with actual expertise?

#67 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 11:24 AM:

Yes, that's it, thanks, Dave Bell: just a minute ago, I thought, "Oh, crud! I can't even get my 'possibly wrong' right!" And then you'd figured out what I meant anyway.

#68 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 11:45 AM:

I wonder how likely it is that somebody who comes trhough the modern system of training for journalism will even be as successful an author as that distinguished former journalist Terry Pratchett.

#69 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:21 PM:

Lesley K: I'll draw a comparison with the science teachers I know, most of whom have undergraduate degrees in "education", many of whom have advanced degrees in "education"; none of whom have any degrees in any actual SCIENCE

Or, why my mother said not to vote for people who describe themselves as 'educators'. They have degrees, but no real knowledge of that whereof they speak. And they are frequently really bad teachers, too.

#70 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 12:58 PM:

Greg London says:

> > our catastrophically feckless political media
>
> problem identified.
> any solutions?

Greg, with all due respect, please knock it off. We don't need an intervening "facilitator" to guide the discussion.

Sometimes a long-simmering conversation about the nature and details of the problem is the way to find a solution.

I would rather have Greg London as a discussion participant than as a would-be moderator.

#71 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 01:39 PM:

Lesley K: I'll draw a comparison with the science teachers I know,
most of whom have undergraduate degrees in "education",
[..] none of whom have any degrees in any actual SCIENCE

I've thought that a good arrangement for teaching
might be a two teacher team,
where one was a trained educator,
who worked with a subject specialist.

The specialist would be doing the lectures and lessons at the front of the class,
while the educator would be sitting in the back of the class
( keeping an eye on the kids ).

The specialist would have training in the subject
( math, science, history, art . . . ),
and would only be required to have minimal educational training
( on par with a driver's ed course, maybe ).

This could be a second career for people who have worked in their fields,
and who wish to share their knowledge and enthusiasm
with the next generation.

It might be something that college graduates would do for a while,
perhaps counting a payment against their student loans.

Although someone might make a career out of it,
it would not be expected to be a career.

The educator would have the required degrees in education,
and would help the subject leader in the preparation of lessons,
provide assistance in what approaches would be helpful,
and provide feedback on what parts of the lessons
the students might be having difficulties with.

The educator would also be responsible for class discipline.

This would also require a style of supervision
which could work at putting together productive pairs of people,
and prevent antagonisms from getting out of hand.

I don't see anything like this on the horizon;
but maybe something like it
is already being tried.

[ It is not obvious to me
   how this would make for better journalists.
   But if we could have a better educational system,
   maybe we could get better journalists out of it,
   as a bonus. ]

#72 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 02:09 PM:

Let me see if I understand these premises correctly. Journalism has devolved into "he said/she said" because:

1. Reporters only know what their sources tell them.
2. For some mysterious reason, reporters aren't allowed to fact check what their sources tell them.
3. If they are allowed to fact check, they're not allowed to let the fact check interfere with their stories, or even appear in their stories, because that would be bad for "balance."
4. If one or more of their sources are confirmed liars, they're still not allowed to say so in their stories, or find new sources - again, because that, too, would interfere with "balance."

Do I have that right?

I suppose it's churlish of me, but I have to wonder what's so great about "balance" that all else - accuracy, veracity, reality - must bow down before it.

#73 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 02:10 PM:

The thing that bothers me is how little all the pieces available to me add up to a reasonable answer to "why?". The facts of the bias seem indisputable to me - okay, I know that they're disputed, but they are nonethess very sound. It's just...

Okay, I understand why fellow travelers covered up Soviet crimes and failings from the Revolution on. They were wrong, but I can see how you get from great hopes and fears to blunderingly stupid deeds. Likewise, with, say, poor whites dreaming of the Confederacy, ignoring the real position of their ancestors int he old order. And for that matter I understand the motives of serious ideologues and plain old toadies and sell-outs.

I do not get what drives the reporters doing this kind of thing who aren't personally buddies of the administration, dedicated right-wingers like Judith Miller, or anything like that.

It might have been one thing to hope in the '80s that they could win over critics. The evidence now is against it. I don't think they're all being blackmailed - not that I doubt someone in the administration thought seriously about it, just that I think it would have leaked it. They don't seem to have enough power to raise New Class-style cooption possibilities, and I don't think they all hate themselves and liberals enough for self-loathing to be sufficient. But...

I don't get it. I look at it, and I cannot construct a mental model that adds up to the sort of thing I can understand peopel doing even though I don't want to do it myself.

#74 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 03:51 PM:

Rob: there's a very simple solution to the teaching problem -- just adopt the British system. (Which is also used in a lot of other countries, but the UK implementation is the one I'm familiar with.) To create a teacher of X, start with someone with a degree in X. Then put them through a postgraduate degree in teaching (1-2 years) and some supervised on-the-job training to turn them into a teacher of X.

To put it in perspective, when I was studying for my "A" levels, lo those many years ago, my Physics teacher had a PhD in radio astronomy, my Chemistry teacher had a PhD in inorganic chem., and my Biology teacher had a masters in biochemistry. They knew their shit, and if you wanted to learn the subject they could teach you all the way to first year undergraduate level. But each of them had spent 5-10 years in higher education studying their field before they added the skill set necessary to stand up in front of a class. Whereas a teacher with a degree in education and some remedial background reading in physics or biology would be ... well, short of about 5-10 years of the necessary experience.

Double-whammy: I think the same goes for journalism. If you want an economics correspondent you get better results by taking an economist and give them journalism training than if you take a generic media studies/journalism graduate and expect them to understand what the economists are talking about.

#75 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 04:00 PM:

Bruce --

It's a job.

They want to get paid; that means doing what they're told.

So on up through the editors, managing editors, publishers, etc. and the TV news equivalents. Basic principle of hierarchical control.

Fact checking has costs; if you're competing for advertising dollars, and someone else -- whether competing reporter or competing news business -- stops fact checking, and it has no negative effect on their ad revenue, poof!, massive selection pressure to cut out the fact checking.

Sometimes the effect on ad revenue is positive; it's pretty clear that not fact checking "global warming is a myth" can have positive side effects on advertising revenue, frex.

#76 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 05:47 PM:

All things press from Jay Rosen whose blog is overrun with anti-prss wingnuts. Engaging them gets liberals banned. I consider that false balance two. A conservative action commenting policy no matter how buyying they get.

Hmm. At least two of those sentences don't make any sense. The link may be a useful contribution though, seeing as it is the next step for my first-year college students: the "but everyone is biased, so there!" argument.

Yes, everyone is biased. Nobody here is insisting that the objective truth be put before us, as far as I can tell. What I would like to see the press engage with is the usual rules for logical debate and discussion, in which a point of view is supported by agreed-upon facts, and in which the conclusions one draws from those facts are drawn consistently; and in which agreed-upon facts are not ignored when they would contradict or affect one's stance.

I have no doubt that Hillary claimed that those songs are on her iPod. I don't dispute the right of Slate to accuse her of pandering to popular musical taste. What I find unsettling is that equivalent facts about Condoleeza Rice's music preferences are used to support precisely the opposite opinion (and that a similar pattern is easily identified wrt Whitewater and so on). Even a high-school debate team would pick this up as being not simply and ordinarily biased, but *unacceptably* biased to the point of wilful stupidity or sheer incompetence in argumentation.

So my problem is not that the press is biased, but that the grasp of discussion and debate in the mainstream press is at such a pitifully low level. Perhaps we *can* blame journalism schools: the one linked to at NYU would be failed in my history class. A scientist, too, ought to be able to recognise where the line is between differing interpretations of the data, and inconsistent or unjustified interpretations. Every valid interpretation is biased, but not every biased interpretation is valid.

Oh, and to (mis)quote Dark Star, an idea can be valid no matter where it originates.

#77 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 06:44 PM:

Graydon: Granted all that. It just strikes me as being more than usually contrary to self interest.

There are, I think, several different complaints about how reporting goes bad, and a lot of the responses from the press seem not to grasp this, or to use it as a topic-shifting ploy in some cases.

There's the key question, what are the facts of a story? Among many others, Brad de Long and P.Z. Myers have written about their exchanges with reporters who seemed genuinely to feel that what X said and what Y said are the facts of a story, not whether what they said matches up with other evidence about their subject. Other facts are sometimes difficult to establish, but not always, say some of us.

There's the follow-up question, what are sensible conclusions to draw from a story? This is where the iPod one goes. Senator Clinton's playlist just isn't that different from the others, and yet is usedt o fuel wildly different conclusions, which are not justified in any obvious way by the small differences. But we are not able to have an exchange about the process by which these conclusions are reached.

And of course there's the question, what makes this collection of facts and conclusions newsworthy? That's the one Foser was writing about. Why call for formal investigation into matters where there were no credible charges, and then vigorously oppose investigations where there were charges with good documentation? Most of us here would, I think, comfortably grant that there is an art to all this, and some outright guessing - we are not, by and large, Objectivists or Leninists, and accept intuition, and for that matter will accept "went with the consensus on that" and stuff like that. It's just that we also wish to see the reasoning part.

In practice these overlap, but they are not the same question.

#78 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:22 PM:

Bruce --

The systemic slide from the hierarchical control is being helped along by actively nasty people with power who want to operate in the conditions of the worst sort of despotism, where things are true because they say they are true.

Individual reporters have no hope of crossing them, know they have no hope of crossing them, and either don't care, try anyway, or leave the profession. The first bunch are the ones who are presently active, and I think it's fair to say that their ability to define their self interest lacks something.

So there's powerful selection for people who just don't know any logic at all, and are willing to operate within that kind of autocracy.

There's deliberate -- and mostly successful -- attempts to co-opt the news as a propaganda organ, too; the lesson the right took from Nixon seems to be mostly that a free press is way too dangerous to their agenda to allow. Since the free press is a central American myth, there has to be something that claims to be one, is all.

Co-worker in job minus three from the present one was from the Ukraine; claimed that the only difference between Soviet-era Russian news and present Anglo-NorAm news was that in the later case, it was permissible to attempt to find out what was really going on for yourself.

Huge swathes of the news are that way because they're supposed to be that way; the people who own media conglomerates have agendas, and expect their product to support their agenda. Which means that almost all of it is one sort of propaganda or another.

It's also almost impossible to get anyone in the news business to admit that they have their own agenda.

#79 ::: Lisa Goldstein ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 08:35 PM:

Graydon -- "...the lesson the right took from Nixon seems to be mostly that a free press is way too dangerous to their agenda to allow."

Boy, do I agree with this. Watergate was kept alive by the Washington Post, and all the other newspapers were forced to follow along or be left behind. If it happened now no one would even pay attention. In fact far worse things are happening now, and no one is paying attention.

The right also learned that if they were going to run a candidate who's a crook, at least he shouldn't look like a crook.

#80 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2006, 11:31 PM:

Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani ran a footrace around Central Park. Rudi came in a very respectable second, while Hillary struggled to cross the finish line next to last.

#81 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:05 AM:

On a related note, I'm currently reading _Disciplined Minds_, which discusses - indicts, even - the brainwashing of professionals into supporting the ideology of power. The author (Schmidt) uses a lot of examples from scientific PhDs, but it would all hold the more strongly for fields with even less claim to objectivity.

I think there are flaws in the book as an argument, but not so many that the underlying issue isn't painful and worrying.

#82 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:29 AM:

Mark York: I don't know what to say. I studied journalism, completing an excellent school some 15 years ago.

For a number of reasons I didn't enter the field as a line of work (local market was tight, and I didn't want to move to Kansas, mostly).

Objective has shifted When I was in school the facts were important and an expert meant more than a guy with an axe to grind. I was taught to look at the same sorts of things Gore looked at (say the number of peer reviewed articles and how many were in opposition to the idea of "X." None, out of fifty... maybe X is pretty solid and the guy whose against it is a nutjob with a specific agenda.).

These days we have reporters who say their job isn't to weigh the facts, but to just act as a conduit for the debate, but as I learned when I was doing debate, the idea in debate isn't to find the truth, but to better persuade the audience that what I am arguing is right, irrespective of either the real facts are.

That is not only a shame, but a moral failing which borders on crime.

#83 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:39 AM:

>Greg London says:
>> > our catastrophically feckless political media
>>
>> problem identified.
>> any solutions?
>
>Greg, with all due respect, please knock it
>off. We don't need an intervening "facilitator"
>to guide the discussion.
>
>Sometimes a long-simmering conversation about
>the nature and details of the problem is the
>way to find a solution.
>
>I would rather have Greg London as a discussion
>participant than as a would-be moderator.

I wasn't facilitating anything. I was simply
saying that I agree completely with the
identified problem and that no further
convincing is needed on my part, and that if
there is anything I can do about it, I'd like
to know.

I wasn't trying to be a moderator, this is me
participating in my own quirky way.

#85 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:44 AM:

To quote:

Subject: modern day phrenology

What is this, neo-conservative-phrenology? Are you going to decipher these people's political qualifications and the very core of their character based on the lumps in their iPod?

...

Perhaps your next article will explain people's political qualifications, or lack there of, based on what soft drink they prefer.

#86 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:55 AM:

See also, another reply to Weisberg.

Perhaps your next article will explain people's political qualifications, or lack there of, based on what soft drink they prefer.

Hillary states she likes Pepsi, obviously calculated to ride on the coattails of that drinks popularity and appeal to the wide demographic.

Condi, who was trained in classical fountain drinks, states she likes Pepsi, revealing she isn't as uptight as she sometimes seems.

#87 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:59 AM:

yeah, it doesn't solve the problem, or at least not the entire problem. It did, however, feel really good.

#88 ::: mary ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 10:55 AM:

Terry Karney: The outrage is too great to maintain, and has to be rationed out in doses, lest one go mad.

This is the way I feel every damn day. I've taken several days to get through this thread because I can only take outrage in small doses this year.

Jon H: On top of all this is the pressure to suck up to sources in return for access. It's hard to be a bipartisan suck-up, and not as effective, so if you're going to do this, you might as well hitch your wagon to the party your bosses favor.

I'd say: you might as well hitch your wagon to the party that's in power, especially if you're covering the white house. Otherwise you get zip.

This administration has used this journalistic temptation to great effect--anointing a handful of journalists as the chosen few. Those journalists had better be supportive, though, or they'll find themselves out of favor and relegated to the back pages writing stories about what Laura plans to wear to the Easter Egg Roll.

Graydon: The core counter-factual isn't that evolution isn't real, or that global warming isn't real, or that tax cuts for the rich help the economy; the core counter-factual is that society is best organized under the direction of an elite.

yes yes yes yes yes. This is the way I've felt about the Bushes ever since Bush I was president. This has always been part of the democratic/republican dichotomy [note to hosts: sure would be nice if we could spellcheck our comments before posting...just saying], but this administration takes that belief to an extreme.


#89 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:55 AM:

Terry says: These days we have reporters who say their job isn't to weigh the facts, but to just act as a conduit for the debate.

That's it. The "story" for the media then becomes the argument, the disagreement itself, and when there is not in fact a disagreement (as in the scientific consensus on the facts of global warming) we'll find a disagreement and uncritically make it the story. As we all know, it's fun to root for a side. Winners, losers. Good guys, bad guys. This practice turns reporting into entertainment, to be understood in the same way we understand Law and Order. (Don't get me wrong. I like Law and Order. I just don't expect or desire journalism to take on the characteristics of a television drama.)

Not only will we (reporters) pretend -- or perhaps, even believe -- that this is "balanced" journalism, we will discover that by turning the story into a description of an argument, we have been relieved of any obligation to critically examine the facts which are being discussed. Indeed, such a critical examination can actually be made to look "unbalanced" and "unfair," and anyone who does examine the facts apart from the argument about them can be portrayed as having chosen sides.

Good morning, Mr. Blair. How's it goin'?

Very well, Niccolo. But please, call me George...

#90 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:40 PM:

Hmmm, Patrick, seems to me you jumped all over me, five years ago, when I made related comments. In any event...

"I do not get what drives the reporters doing this kind of thing who aren't personally buddies of the administration, dedicated right-wingers like Judith Miller, or anything like that." The personalities of figures like Reagan and Bush plus serious management pressure seems to be the basic answer here. Bush has (and Reagan had) a talent for persuading people that he's their good buddy, and all the while undercutting them. Think of the journalists as court hangers-on, and the dynamic becomes clear.

I don't think the press is worse now than at the time of the Spanish-American war, or the various red scares, or 'nam. In many respects, the mainstream press seems to me to be better than the press at the time of 'nam, and we have the local "alternative" weeklies, some of them quite good. What is different is the imperial presidency. It used to be there was "peacetime" and "wartime", and the Presidency had much less power in peacetime. But we have had wartime at varying levels for sixty years, and have forgotten what a peacetime government looks like. So I suppose that is Greg's answer; we need to raise the threshold of tension and lower the fear level, so that people feel that these are "normal" times, and start to act in their own interests again, rather than out of panic.

#91 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 01:58 PM:

We need to raise the threshold of tension and lower the fear level, so that people feel that these are "normal" times, and start to act in their own interests again, rather than out of panic

I read this and thought yes. Then I wondered how we could get there. With the changes in the laws allowing massive media consolidation, all the people can hear are a very few and very powerful voices telling them to be afraid. Then I wondered why, with all that power, the media would choose to speak such things that so obviously go against the common good. There must be some level where they perceive their actions as good for society, or at least themselves. Otherwise, it would simply be deranged. What if they are right, and what they are doing really is good for themselves, their families, and the media empires they are happily building? If so, I don't think we can talk of people and self-interest in the general sense. Ironically, I think the answer may be to break up the media conglomerates, and return the media to local control more like what we had a generation ago. That move would be strongly opposed by the current media ownership. From their point of view, we would be forcing them to act on the basis of fear and panic, rather than their rational self-interest.

#92 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:14 PM:

From Atrios: I've long been puzzled what I've found to be a deep degree of dishonesty/obfuscation among journalists when they talk about their own craft. I've had various theories about why this is, though none are entirely satisfying. One potential theory is that they've spent years with the basic rules of source/reporter, where even on the smallest things access is exchanged for a willingness of the reporter to portray things as the source would like them presented.

#93 ::: DaveL ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:39 PM:

I doubt you would find many Americans of any political stripe who would raise a cheer for the MSM.

What I find a bit odd is that both left and right not only believe that the MSM is biased against them (or in favor of the other side), but that claims of bias from the other side are so much hogwash, raised to counter the obvious bias against their own side.

The more likely explanation, which should resonate with anyone who has ever read a newspaper or magazine article about a subject in which they are expert, is that the MSM is lazy and incompetent, deferential to authority but always on the lookout for a juicy story, and obeys Sturgeon's Law pretty much to the decimal point.

The preceding paragraph is not meant to imply that "the blogosphere" is any better, of course.

#94 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 02:47 PM:

"There must be some level where they perceive their actions as good for society, or at least themselves."

I don't think most reporters actually work this way; they enjoy the process of their work and drawing their salary, and broader considerations go hang. This is not uncommon. Control rests with their management, the various public relations organs, and the mass public. A particular problem in the USA is that there is no public opposition figure of visibility comparable to the president; unlike parliamentary systems there is no highly-visible minority party leader.

In the broader issues, it seems to me there are two problems: first, not-losing the next election. If the Democrats can regain even one house of Congress, they will again have their own hangers-on and matters will improve enormously, especially if they can gather public attention by investigation of the abuses of the radical right. Longer-term there is a need for changes that stabilize the system and, truly, I do not think it is even mostly the fault of working reporters that things have gotten so bad; they are only the foot-soldiers in this war. I think political reforms that made minority and opposition parties more visible and powerful would probably be effective, as would restoring the rules of media concentration and balance. This might be a project for Democrats as a successful minority party, only first they must get to be one!

#95 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 03:03 PM:

Andrew Revkin is a fine science writer and reporter; there are other fine reporters, previously named here. Exceptions prove the rule. We know journalism can be done honestly and well, but we also know that it is more often done badly, lazily, and dishonestly, with more attention paid to excitement than to fact, let alone truth. And I agree, Randolph Fritz, the mainstream media, and particularly the print press, is probably no worse now than at other times in our history. (I'm not a student of journalistic history. But think Hearst.) But a claim can be made -- I think Patrick might be making it, and I will if he doesn't -- that the media supersaturation of American life, its presence everywhere, makes that laziness and dishonesty most dangerous now, because this country is really in danger of losing its essential character, part of which, critical to it, is a free, independent, functioning, active press. We need those guys and they are letting us down. We need Edward R. Murrow and we have -- Chris Matthews, Joe Klein, and Tim Russert. Ugh.

#96 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 03:10 PM:

"Co-worker in job minus three from the present one was from the Ukraine; claimed that the only difference between Soviet-era Russian news and present Anglo-NorAm news was that in the later case, it was permissible to attempt to find out what was really going on for yourself."

One of the points Chomsky and Herman made in Manufacturing Consent was that at least in the USSR you always knew what was a lie and were allowed to disbelief it in private, as long as you acted like you did belief it, whereas in the "free west" you are lied to in a much more subtle fashion, making it much more difficult to find out that you are being lied to.

It seems to me the lies haven't been so subtle anymore lately.

#97 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 03:27 PM:

Lizzy, well, we also have Al Gore, who I think is a better journalist than politican. Other than that, I agree with you. Yet we cannot, in any profession, count on extraordinary levels of competence. And who should set the standards for the media? Myself, I would rather see us in a state where mediocrity is not disaster. The poor quality of our media at this time is a big problem, partly because, indeed, it dissolving our cultural identities, and partly because we have become so powerful, and when we catch a cold, the world sneezes. But I do not think a solution rests in reform of the profession, rather, I think, in broader reform.

#98 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 04:36 PM:

To get meta for a moment here, the biggest problem with the MSM - corporate consolidation - is also the biggest problem afflicting the country top to bottom. Healthcare, finance, you name it (even book publishing): the trend for 20-something years has been to consolidate more and more under fewer and fewer owners.

That crowds out local control and diversity. But it also builds economies of scale so that independents can't break in, as vital supply and distribution channels are designed to choke them off. That's the real death rattle, there, since it perpetuates a lack of local control and diversity.

That's another reason (as if more were needed) to fight for net neutrality. Letting the telcos get their hands on the pipes absolutely guarantees the same kind of consolidation that's turned the MSM into a wasteland. If the Net is really going to replace the MSM as the best source of news and comment, it better not go the same road the MSM did.

#99 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 05:54 PM:

The more likely explanation, which should resonate with anyone who has ever read a newspaper or magazine article about a subject in which they are expert, is that the MSM is lazy and incompetent, deferential to authority but always on the lookout for a juicy story, and obeys Sturgeon's Law pretty much to the decimal point.

Yes, this isn't about accusing the press of being biased. It's about accusing (a large proportion of) the press of being lazy, incompetent and/or hypocritical, in a way which tends to favour the people and factions with the money and the power. No doubt this isn't a new problem. But it worries me if journalists are being taught that it isn't a problem at all.

Terry: you're right, I think, about the difference between debate and argument. It's the old Greek difference between sophistry and philosophy. I'd be no good at set-piece debating because for me the point of arguing with people is to find out where the most convincing arguments lie, and I want to reserve the right to change my mind. In politics and in journalism this is made to look like weakness. (Of course, it is more creditable still not to have been wrong in the first place.)

Prospect magazine in the UK used to have a regular feature called "Previous Convictions", headed up with a quote from JM Keynes: 'When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

#100 ::: Frank ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:14 PM:

Hi. I don't usually comment here but I lurk pretty regularly. I'm always interested in this topic. I read a diary at Kos a couple of days ago (I really love the diary rescue entries.) that sheds some light on why the MSM has gotten so bad http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/5/25/1756/87486

It was called White Privilege, Social Networks, and the Traditional Media. There was also more on the sociology here: http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/

The people at the top of the media world all belong to the same class, and in order to get an ifluential job in the media you have to see the world the way they do. Thats the best I can summarize the argument quickly.

#101 ::: Frank ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:41 PM:

Tucker Carlson-

His father was a longtime anchorman on local news in Los Angeles and San Diego, who later in his career served as Director of Voice of America in Europe, and then as President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Prior to his hiring at MSNBC, Carlson wrote for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Policy Review, and The Weekly Standard, and came at issues "from the right" on CNN's Crossfire.

Father: Richard W. Carlson (Los Angeles news anchorman, later VOA Director)
Mother: Patricia Caroline Swanson (stepmother, heir to the Swanson frozen-food fortune)
Brother: Buckley Carlson (Executive VP, right-wing PR firm McCarthy Communications)
Wife: Susan Andrews Carlson

High School: St. George's School, Newport, RI (1987)
University: History, Trinity College, Hartford, CT (attended, no degree)

#102 ::: Frank ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 06:45 PM:

the upper management of the traditional media are part of a closed social group with upper management of other corporations

Six degrees of Lois Weisberg here: http://www.gladwell.com/1999/1999_01_11_a_weisberg.htm

#103 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 10:44 PM:

We need to raise the threshold of tension and lower the fear level, so that people feel that these are "normal" times

Fear is a gut-level emotional response. It is automatic. And certain folks have figured out that it's easy to strike a chord of fear in the people and present themselves as the political solution.

I don't know if this is true or not, but I think I read somewhere that every president who was up for re-election during a time of war, won.

Now, either, that is a reflection of unbelievable luck in electing just the right president for the time so that they are just the right person to lead this country in a war, or people succumb to fear during a time of war and start thinking irrational stuff like they've got to support the current president or they're supporting the enemy, and when people get afraid, their automatic reaction is to look at their government as a parental figure that will somehow make it all better.

"i don't know how we can win, but daddy will figure it out."

The problem, then is that attempts to "lower the fear level" are exactly what the people in power do not want to do. They want voters to look to them for answers, rather than look to themselves for the solution and then elect the person who will fit that solution.

So, given that there will always be a counter tendancy by people in power to use fear for political advantage, the only solution then is to get people to act rationally even when they are experiencing fear.

And given the difficulty this presents, I think it's tempting to simply say that we're screwed.

#104 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:06 PM:

http://fray.slate.com/?id=3936&m=17565358

What is this, neo-conservative-phrenology? Are you going to decipher these people's political qualifications and the very core of their character based on the lumps in their iPod? OK, fine, then allow me try my own analysis based on the bonehead content of your article: ...

"phrenology"->"bonehead"

Well, I thought it was funny at least.


#105 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 29, 2006, 11:52 PM:

"So, given that there will always be a counter tendancy by people in power to use fear for political advantage, the only solution then is to get people to act rationally even when they are experiencing fear."

In other words, we must teach courage. I think I hear an echo in here...

But we, after all, are not in power, so we need not use fear for advantage. Indeed, since fear plays to the incumbent it is to our advantage to, instead, encourage people.

Definitely an echo in here. Over to you, Mr. Gore.

#106 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 12:09 AM:

Ah, fear... I checked Kathy Flake's blog today. Apparently, one episode of Boston Legal had James Spader extensively quoting from Adlai Stevenson:

The tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live, and fear breeds repression. Too often sinister threats to the Bill of Rights, to freedom of the mind, are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-communism.

(...)

Men who have offered their lives for their country know that patriotism is not the fear of something; it is the love of something.

Now, while it may be difficult to imagine a Democrat with the courage to say this in this day and age, you know that's what they think. But can you imagine a Republican saying or thinking any of that? And that's why, in spite of everything, we Democrats, even the likes of Hillary, are not the same as the Republicans. Not the same. Nope.

#107 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 01:27 AM:

In other words, we must teach courage. I think I hear an echo in here...

I'm getting groggy. Did I just repeat someone else's point? echo?

But we, after all, are not in power, so we need not use fear for advantage. Indeed, since fear plays to the incumbent it is to our advantage to, instead, encourage people.

courage is a funny thing.
I'm not sure how it can be "taught".
I'm almost convinced that it must be experienced.
which is bloody hard to do via a text blog.
maybe someone more in tune with the workings
of the human psyche can chime in.

Encouragement is funny thing too.
I've seen people try to encourage someone
and have it turn into little more than
saying "you can do it" or something.

I've been doing one on one life coaching for over a year now with a number of clients, and I think I can say that over the course of a few months of phone calls, they learned courage in an area that had previously stopped them.

How you scale that up so that you can teach a nation escapes me.

We are, for the most part, bumbling around life based on our mind's way of thinking while at the same time being totally unaware of our own programming. Introspection is not a natural activity for many people, and to get people to look at their own fear, a thing they are trying specifically to avoid, can be difficult.

(end of broad brushstrokes)

#108 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 11:58 AM:

to get people to look at their own fear, a thing they are trying specifically to avoid, can be difficult.

This is particularly true when there is a large class of people trying to exacerbate that fear, in order to channel it for political advantage. The "free" press cannot be relied upon, and has no desire, to point that out, since the folks who own the newspapers also benefit from selling the mechanisms of avoidance.

#109 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 03:46 PM:

Dave Klecha ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2006, 10:20 PM:

"It was silly for Weisberg to claim that Clinton's musical choices were poll-based, but that no more makes him a tool of the "Right" than his previous editorial condemning Bush's management of the executive branch makes him a tool of the "Left." "

I strongly disagree. Bush's (mis-)management of the executive branch is a well-supported subject. Starting with Donald Rumsfield, and working through 'heckuva job, Brownie' to such active dislike of science as to make a long list of nobel laureates complain.

Whereas Hillary's recollection of the contents of her iPod were unremarkable, and not relevant to her qualification for office.

So you're asserting equivalence of two things which can be shown to be extremely non-equivalent.

#110 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:45 PM:

"Condi, who was trained in classical fountain drinks, states she likes Pepsi, revealing she isn't as uptight as she sometimes seems."

come folks, this is funny stuff

"you're mention of Condi being trained in classical piano and that she isn't as "uptight as she sometimes seems" clearly indicates that you're a political suck-up, unless, of course, you really believe that classical pianists are laid back, relaxed, groovy kind of poeple, or, more importantly, that you believe being able to play the piano has anything at all to do with being Secratary of State."

Nothing?

What's a guy gotta do for a laugh? A chuckle? or even a titter?

Tough crowd.

Oh well, I did my part.

#111 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 04:52 PM:

I just heard Al Gore being interviewed by Terry Gross, and it made me so mad -- not hard to do, these days -- because he was calm, on top of stuff, funny, intelligent, knew what he was talking about, had his ego well under control -- WHY ISN'T THIS GUY PRESIDENT!! Shit. Excuse me. Grumble, bitch.

#112 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: May 30, 2006, 06:01 PM:

Charlie - "If you want an economics correspondent you get better results by taking an economist and give them journalism training than if you take a generic media studies/journalism graduate and expect them to understand what the economists are talking about."

Exactly. I gave up reading Computerworld (technical weekly) after their editors told me, in not quite so many words, that it's easier to teach computer science to a journalism graduate, than the reverse. This was in response to a letter of mine complaining (with footnotes) that their writers did not understand the details of the problem they wrote about.

That seemed nonsense ten years ago, and it hasn't improved with age. Writing clearly is a fundamental skill: competent members of any profession are capable of it.

#113 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 02:21 AM:

Greg, the echo is myself; I've been saying these things for years. It's good to hear them from someone else.

"I've been doing one on one life coaching for over a year now with a number of clients, and I think I can say that over the course of a few months of phone calls, they learned courage in an area that had previously stopped them.

"How you scale that up so that you can teach a nation escapes me."

Isn't that one thing art can do? Not as well as personal teaching, of course.

#114 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 08:43 AM:

Quote from Bill Moyers:

"A free press is one where itís okay to state the conclusion youíre led to by the evidence."

That is what is so completely lacking in journalism recently. Not to mention, as has been pointed out, the lack of qualifications to develop a conclusion.

In fact, we have the same effect as a totalitarian-style intimidation of the press, caused by the ownership of all the press by those whom it should be investigating.* And a repudiation of the whole concept of a free press as the guardian of democracy.

Or perhaps it's simpler: an intended dismantling of our democracy itself, completely deliberate. (As the nutbar t-shirt says, I resent being made to feel paranoid like this, but that doesn't mean it's wrong.)

*Non Sequitur has been doing a good job of commenting on this all along.

#115 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 11:08 AM:

"How you scale that up so that you can teach a nation escapes me."

Isn't that one thing art can do?

up until about a year ago, I thought that was the case. After I started coaching, I started noticing just how experiential coaching is, as in the client comes with the first wave of concerns, we deal with them on the phone, and end up with some goals for next week. Next week, they've run into all sorts of new stuff that are even bigger concerns, and we deal with that on the phone, possibly adjust some goals, and they're off. About two weeks later, they'll be telling me about something that has them stopped dead in their tracks. We deal with that on the phone, and adjust.

The thing with art, or most art, at least, is that it's completely one-way. I coach whatever the client is giving me, and I ask them to give me certain stuff, but it's all about the client, not what I think. one hour a week on the phone for a couple months, and people who were stopped dead in their tracks by something, become unstoppable in whatever they're up to.

I can't even imagine how to do that in a book or movie or song. Well, maybe a self-help book, but that isn't art.

ponderous.

then my shoes started to squeak....

#116 ::: Joe J ::: (view all by) ::: May 31, 2006, 03:41 PM:

Lizzy L. wrote: "I just heard Al Gore being interviewed by Terry Gross, and it made me so mad -- not hard to do, these days -- because he was calm, on top of stuff, funny, intelligent, knew what he was talking about, had his ego well under control -- WHY ISN'T THIS GUY PRESIDENT!! Shit. Excuse me. Grumble, bitch."

He was... sort of. At least he was elected once. I wouldn't mind seeing him elected again. Maybe this time he could serve in office.

#117 ::: JC ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2006, 04:08 PM:

I guess this is the exception which tests the rule. However, it strikes me as being pretty much the exception. Given an truly objective and functional press, this story should have gotten much more attention. In any case, it's certain the most scrupulously sourced story I've ever read. (The first page alone has 74 references)

Was the 2004 Election Stolen?

#118 ::: eyelessgame ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2006, 08:50 PM:

Mark, you illustrate exactly what is wrong with political reporting today.

"The liberals say X, the conservatives say Y. What does that say about the truth?" To the lazy reporter, the truth is therefore straight down the middle. But what it really means about the truth is exactly nothing.

The truth is the truth. Sometimes it matches what one side says. If the Beltway press thinks it's okay to report on the state of Hillary Clinton's marriage, but not on the state of Rudy Giuliani's or John McCain's divorces, the press has a rightward tilt on the topic.

It doesn't matter whether or not the source of that data is a liberal Democrat. It's still the truth. It's still the truth even if you can also find a conservative who bleats at you that the press is liberal.

That someone says something does not automatically confer legitimacy on the claim. That there are two points of view does not mean that the truth sits balanced between them. If you do not learn that, you, Mark, have been trained to be part of the problem, not the solution.

I don't think the press has a rightward tilt. From what I can see, the press in general is lazy. The Beltway press in particular has the social dynamics of the movie Heathers. And the Republican party, in particular, has learned that the press will treat any statement, however extreme, as "one point of view", and any opposing statement, no matter how mainstream or correct, as "the opposing point of view", and suggest that the truth lies balanced between. It is therefore to the advantage of the unscrupulous to tell as preposterous a lie as they can get away with.

And they know that the press will provide cover, because no matter how far to the right it moves, the conservatives will never stop saying it's liberal.

#119 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 02:13 AM:

I thank whatever gods may be for the blessing that is Rachel Maddow. The truths she tells, while often dire, desperately need telling.

#120 ::: TexAnne sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2012, 06:45 PM:

Look, it's not an empty compliment this time.

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