When News is No Longer News


Today, I am going to stab out at where we are in the public dialogue in this country. As I write this, I know that some will see my stab against the stupidity going on and the rush of kool aid drinkers to feed stupidity will be seen as a defense of one side. That is not my intent.

When the News Gets Silly

In the midst of this election, it is obvious which side the media is on.  Looking at USA Today, I see the allusion that Palin does not support women’s issues, that Obama is trying to reach out to working class white folks and McCain is refusing to “separate” (their quote marks, not mine) from Bush (it is interesting when someone thinks one word out of a sentence is a quote, however). Knowing that the average person does not read past the first paragraph, if he even reads past the headline, this is not news … it is commentary.

The problem here is not reporting facts. It is selective reporting of the facts. There are definitely facts in everything we see, but it is exceedingly hard to find positive facts about McCain/Palin or negative facts about Obama. I would say Obama/Biden here, but it is appears Biden is largely forgotten about in this mix, except his comments that Hillary would have been a better VP choice.

Some of the items presented have news value, but they are being presented as if they were fodder on Hannity and Colmes or Nancy Grace. As an intelligent human being, I see both of these shows as entertainment focused around the news, not news.

Contrasting Ideologies

As I have posted before, an ideology is thinking based on unproven assumptions. This does not mean ideologies are wrong, just that they are decided based on feelings and subjective observations rather than objective evidence. Ideologies serve use, as they form a base from which to expand our thinking. But the assumptions are accepted as fact without proof.

In the papers, we see the fight of ideologies. The Washington Post presents Palin as a perfect choice for working moms. USA Today presents Palin as a horrible choice for women as her town charged victims for rape kits.

In the former story, the bulk of the evidence to support the claim is eight working moms who attended a rally together. In the later story, evidence that this practice was common in Alaskan rural communities and that Palin probably had no knowledge of the practice is either ignored or downplayed. In both, it is not news that is being reported, but commentary masquerading as news. In both, the story is ideological, not factual.

Obama is a Muslim! Or at least that is what another ideologue has sent me … numerous times … in an email. The latest proof was his word slip on Stephanopolous’ show. I think you need quite a bit more evidence, especially when anyone can check this out on snopes. I wish it were so easy with the Palin attacks. It takes me quite a bit of time to research that stupidity. In this case, I am doing it for a blog entry and will not waste the time for other articles I read.

Half the Story … ie, Palin in the news

It gets even worse when items are purposefully misrepresented or taken out of context. I had personally hoped the news had not sunk so low, but I find this from the Palin interview the other night (Item 1):

Charles Gibson: You said recently, in your old church, our national leaders are sending U.S. soldiers on a task that is from God.

This is how the American public heard it at least, as Gibson never lifted up two fingers in a “quote” signal. Hearing this, I thought, “yeah, I know a lot of people in my church that might have said the Iraq war is from God, so this might be real”. I am from Missouri on politics, however, so I delved. Actual comment, taken from NPR:

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do what is right. Also, for this country, that our leaders, our national leaders, are sending them out on a task that is from God. That’s what we have to make sure that we’re praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God’s plan."

What? Was she stating “pray that our national leaders are sending the troops out on a task from God”, meaning they are on track with the divine rather than “our national leaders are doing God’s work by sending out troops”? That is sure how it sounds to me. Whether you agree that there is a God or not, you should be able to see a radical difference in the allusions between “doing God’s will” and “praying that our leaders are right considering God’s will”.

As an illustration, consider the following:

When I am with you, time stops

You have a face that can stop a clock

Both speak of the same outcome, but only one is likely to put you in the good graces of the person you are speaking to. Okay, bad analogy. The meaning Gibson gathered and the meaning from the original statement don’t even speak of the same outcome. My bad!

Item 2: Palin’s earmarks. Once again, when you look at the stories about Palin and “her bridge”, there is no doubt that earmarks were a big part of funding in Alaska. Looking at her town, Wasilla, you also cannot deny the large number of earmarks. But missing from most stories is the fact that she greatly reduced earmarks over the previous governor. It is also missing that the governor is not queen of the state. Interestingly enough, it is the governor of Illinois who is currently coming to her aide and he is a Democrat. It is very hard to find someone on either side of the aisle that is willing to give kudos to someone on the other side.

It would not be so bad if we were simply focused on the bridge issue, as that deals directly with the facts. But, then, we would be focused on the bridge issue and not the Palin issue. By this, I mean we would be talking about the bridge, not the bridge in context of Palin. The allusion, however, is Palin is the Queen of earmarks (newsday), ignoring the difference between her spending as mayor and spending as governor and ignoring the difference between Palin and the former governor of Alaska. To me, these are critical pieces of the entire puzzle. But perhaps reporting the news is not the real goal? You decide.

If you want to speak of the attacks on the other side, there are certainly comments against Obama. As I have mentioned before (and will mention again), they are not the types of comments we see coming out of the media right now.

Buzzwords

Creativity via selectivity is an interesting subject, but it is more fun when we can bandy about negative words and give them a new context. With Palin, we have troopergate. Personally, I think it is absolutely ridiculous to add “gate” to every “scandal” so we can make it more like Watergate (the break in of a hotel named – shock – Watergate by Nixon appointees). I found it absolutely stupid when the Clinton affair was called Lewinski-gate. Okay, so we did not go that far into stupid, but troopergate was used.

Okay, I have to tangent for a second, as I find this absolutely hilarious. Here is the Wikipedia entry for troopergate:

The term "Troopergate" has been used in reference to several American political controversies involving the state police forces (troopers) and state governors.

Their examples are the Paul Jones affair (1991) and then Eliot Spitzer (2007) and Sarah Palin (2008). You have to love when we redefine older terms to attach meaning for those who opposed the original. Troopergate was a Clinton thing. But, “Gate” was a Nixon thing. When they come out with Bratwurst-Gate, with spicy mustard of course, let me know. J

News Versus Commentary

A few weeks ago the American Family Association organized a boycott of McDonalds (I originally posted about it here). Their issue was a $20,000 donation to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. This particular donation was equivalent to most of us handing a quarter to a homeless person, but it was blow out of proportion into a major gesture worthy of protest.

I am not sure whether the AFA did this because they truly believe the $20,000 was a statement or if they are chasing the news, much like Jesse Jackson has done in the past by rallying in support of people committing criminal actions. There is a strong desire to remain relevant which may force people to make mountains out of molehills. There is also a need, especially for non-profits, to go where the story is rather than go where the need is. I really have no ties with the AFA, or Jesses Jackson for that matter, so I cannot answer why.

I can, however, examine the news treatment of the story. If reported as news, the facts line up like this:

American Family Association boycotts McDonalds over $20,000 Donation to the Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce

The UPI, however, saw the need for commentary in its headline:

Anti-gay group to boycott McDonalds

Suddenly, we see opinion and judgment in place of news. It is also why you are seeing the word Anti-Choice assigned to the Pro-Choice movement (at least someone finally realized Life and Choice were not opposites).

This is not a new trend, by any means. As long as there has been news there has been some amount of shading. Traditionally, it has been selection of where to place the facts. Facts that support a certain bias can be placed in the first paragraph, where they are likely to be read. Facts that are counter to the claim are placed in the tail of the article. The reporter can then rightfully claim he presented all of the facts, although it is well know the average person does not read entire articles.

This is taught, in journalism classes, as the inverted pyramid. At least that is how it was taught when I took journalism classes in the early 80s. The idea is the first paragraph contains the salient facts, with less and less critical facts, and more color, as the story goes on. The word color, as used here, is indicating human interest and not bias.

When the inverted pyramid is used correctly, a person can get the basic facts without having to read everything. This is a good thing, as time is precious. Used incorrectly, it can be used to spread propaganda by selectively choosing facts that support a particular bias in the first paragraph. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a red flag.

As I stated, carefully choosing facts is not a new phenomena. What is new is the extent at which commentary is replacing news. I think part of the reason is we are more accepting of having OpEd in the news section. Another part is the way “news” is treated in popular forms, like newsgroups and blogs.

The Forums and Blogasphere

The forums and blogs are helping fuel this push to regard commentary as news. When we begin to see bloggers as a definitive source for the truth, we blur the lines between commentary and news. Nowhere is this more evident that Matt Drudge. A week ago, Drudge reported that Palin was set to appear on Oprah’s show, which was quickly shown to be false.

The problem is the main news outlets, in their quest to scoop other news outlets, have tried to extend this to the blogs. This leads to the news media’s presentation of false facts. We saw this with the Blair scandals at the New York Times, where he had often not even interviewed a single person before running stories with quotes.

On September 7, CNN’s Lola Ogunnaike stated the following over a faked picture of Palin:

OGUNNAIKE: And that’s what she is going to have to guard against. I mean, McCain has been really good about painting Obama as this lightweight, using the word "celebrity" as a pejorative. They don’t want to have a boomerang effect. They don’t want that to come back on Sarah Palin, and people say, yes, she looks good in a bikini clutching an AK-47, but is she equipped to run the country?

In case you wonder if the picture was a fake, examine it here:

PalinBikini

Clue: If the neck looks a bit longer than normal and the face is lighter than the arms (both which would get the same amount of sunlight if the person wore a shirt, it is probably a fake.  In case you are still wondering if it is a fake, here is the original picture.

208036176_05fcaef86c

I have not, to date, seen an explanation from CNN. As Ogunnaike is the entertainment correspondent for CNN, I guess we know how to classify her reports. Unfortunately, there are some that see this as real news.

Retorts

As I write this, perhaps I will get a few nasty comments like this one (actually one of the nice ones, in comparison to some I have received).

OK. Piss off then.

Nice start …

Like most self-styled "centrists", you are just as certain of the
correctness of your political position as those on the left or right and
just as contemptuous of those who disagree with you.

You consider it almost the definition of wisdom to regard both sides as
about as bad as each other. You cling to this dogma no matter how much
evidence piles up that one side is reckless, lawless, incompetent and
corrupt to a degree unprecedented since WWII at least. When historians are
actively debating whether George Bush is the worst President in US history,
you think he’s just average — because, of course, every President always
is.

Stick to your comforting dogmas Gregory. To do otherwise would require
coming to grips with the evidence.

Reading this, you probably think I wrote some lengthy rant about how both sides suck. Or perhaps a diatribe about how Bush was a great, or even average President. You would be wrong. Here is what I wrote.

I decided I had some time to kill and decided to lurk. And, you all have
convinced me that there is no reason to spend any time in here until after
the election.

I am now thoroughly convinced that elections make people idiots. Rather than
talking about issues or substance, all we have in here is a bunch of people
drinking kool aid and jumping on anything that fits their side, no matter
how inane it is.

Come on people! You are all, at least those of you I have met, very
intelligent people. Can’t anyone in here come up with something that shows
intelligent thought rather than simply jumping at the next media article
that fits your side of things?

The crux here is I have written posts about Bush in the past. I have also defended Conservatism. In general, I have focused on the complete lack of evidence behind many statements made by posters or the resorting to labels and epithets rather than facts.

This is the typical timbre of the posts I responded to in the past (having given them up for next year’s Lent).

The Republicans are Nazis.

I bet he suffers from dementia or something similar. A perfect Conservative Republican candidate.

Why is dumbness glorified as if its an asset?

Another patriot is going toto white heterosexual heaven

Conservatives have been brain dead forever

When I see one of them [sic, Conservatives], I think “why isn’t that mother f**ker dead

I have attacked stupidity from both sides in the past. But when you enter a group where there are only a few token Conservatives, there is far more stupid material from the Left. This is not stating there are more stupid people on the Left, just the sheer number of Left-leaning posts. Of course, this brands me a wing nut, as only a wing nut would not drink moonbat kool aid. As I am trying to rid my diet of sugars and artificial sweeteners, all kool aid is out.

Final Thoughts

When I ranted about this earlier to a co-worker, he stated that the half-truths and outright attacks were a good thing because they were increasing McCain’s lead in the polls. While I am leaning toward McCain right now, I don’t want him to win because someone said something nasty about someone else. I would like each side to come out and play a fair game and have the winner decided by his merits rather than how much mud is slung.

I would also like to see people turn off the talking heads that are feeding, or feeding off of, this insanity. Oberman, Nancy Grace, O’Reilly, Hannity, etc. Turn them all off. Hit their ratings hard and when they start polling to determine why nobody is watching any of them, answer you are sick of the divisive nature of their shows. I know this is a pipe dream, as there are too many wing nuts and moonbats out there, feeding off these shows and feeding them by their patronage. But, I can dream.

It has to happen eventually. A seriously divided nation cannot continue to stand. While we are still the strongest nation in many ways, there have been previous nations and Empires that held that title. And many of them fell … completely.

I am not sure who will be the next President. I am not 100% sure which way I will vote, although I have an idea now. I am sure that we need to find a way to stop the madness and start letting decency be our guide to interacting with others, especially those with whom we disagree. We need to become a solutions oriented nation and stop focusing on the problems.

Peace and Grace,
Greg

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