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Useful news perspectives

Author:   Stephen Waters  
Posted: 6/1/04; 10:49:19 PM
Topic: Useful news perspectives
Msg #: 135 (top msg in thread)
Prev/Next: 131/138
Reads: 9245

Blogging-instigated media introspection ("What is journalism?", "What is bias in the news?") hasn't generated useful answers, but other perspectives are more likely to do so.

Physics uses different perspectives called calculus derivatives to usefully re-examine objects and the paths they follow: the first derivative is velocity, the second derivative (derivative of the derivative) is acceleration, and the third derivative is the acceleration of the acceleration, humorously called "jerk".

If news had "first, second, and third derivatives", they might be

  • Reporting,
  • The examination of the reporting, and
  • The re-examination of the examination of reporting.

At the first level -- where reporting rubber meets the road -- the purpose of news is to produce clarity of understanding in useful context. Miss that target and reporting becomes:

  • Pedantic -- like the wind and conjecture of CNN's artifical Iraq drama, "Countdown to Handover",
  • Erroneous -- like Tim Robbins, who castigates Bush for stuff actually written by Lyndon Larouche, and like knee-jerk claims that "Bush lied about WMD", or
  • Belligerent -- like Fox's Bill O'Reilly, whose spin zone claims, in Orwellian newspeak to be a no spin zone.
  • And more.

At the next level -- the second derivative level -- news reports are re-examined to help identify ommissions, mistakes, and misdirection with an eye toward improvement. Ombudsmen, Letters to the Editor, and, in today's online world, weblogs help to advise news generators positively, constructively, and, we always hope, with good humor.

At the "third derivative" level, the success or failure of the feedback process about news is studied. Clearly, blogs distinguish themselves to be either useful or not. By re-examining their own reports on news generators, willing blogs can improve themselves. They also can police their comments and other blogs, if they have the skill and will to do so, critiqing wherever brittle infatuation with ineffectual ideas of their own can be exposed; where if left unlabeled, others might run across the misinformation and believe.

Currently, as far as this third level is concerned, the will to clear the fog is weak. The free and easy weblog comment environment, designed to tolerate diversity of opinion, tolerates some incredibly bad ideas and equally bad attitudes. Amonst so many bloggers, who will stand up to it? Who will mark on the map where there be dragons and why? Who will apply weight and judgment to links? Who will sift and measure comments?

Dragons worth slaying

Recent bloggers illustrate the problem:
  • Tim Robbins, a well-known Hollywood actor and playwright among those against President George Bush, wrote a play to illustrate his objections. A prominent blogger was told that drama critic Terry Teachout had caught Robbins in what was either ignorance or deceit[excerpt below]1. The blogger discounted the fact completely, saying "OK, that's funny, but it doesn't destroy Robbins's point". Robbins was wrong, but as far as the blogger was concerned, even if he was wrong he was right.
  • Another well-known blogger, given a challenge that undercut his anti-Iraq War preconceptions, wondered sarcastically how the person who refuted the weak supporting case could presume to know what he, the blogger, thought. Apparently everyone is entitled to mislead others with an opinion, and you don't have to know anything to have one.

Blogging is rife with nonsense voiced in clichés at the top of the lungs by people contemptuous of any ideas but their own. Its beligerence couches intellectual brittlness backed by an unsuccessful education. It generates incredible, dangerous noise -- that ought not be cut off, but that deserves to be identified and labeled for what it is.

Richard Mitchell, author of "Less than Words Can Say" wrote about the worm in the brain. As the worm of bad language and thought burrows in, seemingly intelligent people can come down with mental rigor mortis -- like 100+ years of the followers of Karl Marx who mutilated any good ideas he might have had about examination and re-examination into a static dogma where the overarching ideological goals mattered more than truth, consistency, and quality of life.

There seems no difference between tolerating Marxian misperceptions and tolerating "Bush lied about WMD"; no difference between Marxian misperceptions and promoting the flag at the expense of the Constitution, or destruction of liberty through oversealous sections of the Patriot Act.

It's as if being intellectually dishonest is somehow acceptable for an ostensibly "good" cause. Zealots on both the right and left embrace "the end justifies the means." Intellectual dishonesty is undemocratic, unpatriotic, unAmerican -- not in the bogus John Ashcroft sense where, because they can't marshall compelling arguments, they simply try to stifle opposition. Intellectual dishonesty is unpatriotic in the sense that successful democracy requires the sharpness to identify dogmatic, flawed, fuzzy, discredited thought and the willingness to reject it.

The problem, and dealing with the problem

Faced with resistance, if communication is at all possible, there are two conversations necessary, "There appears to be the problem, and the problem with dealing with the problem. We can discuss them both, but we cannot discuss them both at the same time. You choose which one you prefer to deal with first."

Secondly, if a blog owner could tint a comment entry from white for germane to another color for irrelevant trollery, there would never be a question of censorship, just a question of judgment. Readers could skip over the darker shaded comments.

Yes, there are things to be done... but first we need to recognize there is a problem. Blogging will be better for it. News will be better for it.

1 Reviewing Terry Teachout's new book, the Wall Street Journal observed in "The Critic and His Culture", WSJ May 5, 2004; Page D12:

"It is the rare playwright who quotes the philosopher Leo Strauss and the rare critic who catches him out doing so dishonestly. In "Embedded," a recent antiwar play, Tim Robbins has one of his oilier characters -- a stand-in for the defense analyst Richard Perle -- citing Strauss to the effect that amoral elites control the ignorant masses to serve their own purposes. Mr. Teachout, writing about the play in The Wall Street Journal, traced the "quoted" words -- not Strauss's at all -- to a Lyndon LaRouche magazine. With such bosh was Mr. Robbins attempting to argue that President Bush went to war, with the help of Strauss-loving elites, merely to secure his re-election."

[Macro error: Can’t call the script because the name “commentIt” hasn’t been defined.] [Macro error: Can’t call the script because the name “commentIt” hasn’t been defined.]

This page was last updated: Wednesday, June 2, 2004 at 8:04:19 AM
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