Saturday, October 08, 2005


The media: befogged or brainfogged?

Eric Alterman asks an excellent question: This whole Tom DeLay mess appears to have put members of the Beltway MSM in a bit of a Texas-sized pickle. If it’s been going on for so long and we all knew these indictments were coming, why, only now, are the media beginning to pay careful attention? This comes hard on the heels of Jodi Wilgoren and the New York Times endorsing creationism, CBS convening a panel of Republicans to discuss Tom DeLay's little problem, CBS (again) refusing to cross-examine former FBI Director Louis Freeh's self-serving description of the Clinton years and these are hard on the heels of a stampede of other media atrocities so numerous and bovine that reason shivers and the imagination fails. I have corresponded with a number of reporters, editors, and ombudsmen, trying to balance praise with criticism and always trying to leave my own political prejudices out of it. Although some of the media people seem to be well-meaning, the overwhelming impression their correspondence leaves is of reasonably intelligent people who have made themselves stupid. Some of that impression comes from the grammar of their missives. Many fail to use capital letters and the punctuation of others clearly needs to receive the Heimlich Maneuver. But the quality of the thinking that is further marred by such childish scribbling is also breathtaking. Let me paraphrase an exchange with an ombudsman of a major newspaper: Me: The headline of the article is outright false and the text irresponsible and misleading. Om: I don't see the headline you are talking about. Me: It's on the front page of your website. Om: Well, I don't know everything that goes on at the paper. Me: So you are dodging responsibility too. Om: ::huffily:: I thought I was being responsive. Me: Being responsible is recognizing the need for personal initiative and exercising it, as in: "I saw a journalistic error and, exercising my responsibility as a citizen, reported it." Being responsive is a property exhibited by all creatures not suffering irretrievable brain damage. Now, are you going to address the errors in the article? Om: ::crickets:: When Monty Python does it, it's funny. When newspaper ombudsmen do it, it's a sign that they have deliberately shut down their reasoning faculties. That's the answer to the question Eric Alterman asked but did not answer. Note added: I was glad to see that Larry Beinhart has documented this deliberate witlessness as it applies to reporting on Bill Frist; the fog metaphor of the title of this post is his. Further addendum: It has been brough to my attention that a reader takes exception to my characterization of Wilgoren's recent article. 1. I should point out to those who have not already noticed that there is a comments section. Anyone who has a contrary view and believes that he or she can defend it is willing to try. 2. As one who believes in the literal supremacy of truth, I do issue corrections on those occasions when i discover that correction is merited. Fortunately, I try to think through what I say before saying it. 3. Anyone who wants to argue that Wilgoren's article is balanced should be aware of how it has been received among practicing scientists. I recommend Professor Paul Z. Myers posting, titled Screw You, New York Times, which is where I learned that Wilgoren's third article had appeared. Myers doesn't represent all of science, of course, but many scientists do feel that the New York Times is, metaphorically speaking, giving equal time to Galileo and to the Inquisition. I happen to agree with that assessment. I know that some reasonable people disagree with it. If I were a betting man, I would bet fifty American dollars that no one, reasonable or not, is willing to debate the issue openly.
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