Saturday, May 19, 2007

back in town

Thank you to the two outstanding local bloggers that offered to keep this ship afloat while I study for the Bar. Unfortunately, I only have one of your email addresses (because it was publicly available) so only one of you has been invited to guest blog so far.

I had a great trip and I was amazed I handled my internet withdrawal as well as I did. I would put up pictures but we accidentally left the camera in my parents car when they picked us up from the airport.

Anyway, I wanted to write today about my motto and AW's problems with it. "Truth over balance" is in reference to the fact that many times, in fact most times these days, reporters seek to "balance" their story by giving equal play to two sides, when they instead could easily find an objective reality. Now it is true that the truth is complicated, and some times relative but I would rather delve into that then listen to spin, be it from the left or right. And further, some times there is more than just a left and a right way to view something.

The truth used to come out via balance, but reporters have been slow to adapt to a new no-holds-bar environment that started when Bill Clinton came to the swamp. DC pols became so caught up in winning that they really couldn't care less about lying or distorting facts. In fact, more bold the spin, the better the press secretary was perceived by pols and reporters. Rather than create a era of civility [by "changing the tone in Washington"], the Bush Presidency brought the spin to a high art and new low. Dick Cheney goes on TV and while not literally lying, he creates such a distorted view of reality that you wonder what all those heart medications are doing to him.

Other adversarial system are able to get at the truth much better than the journalistic "balance" story. In a court of law, for example, the rules of evidence don't allow for a simple "he-said-she-said" unless that is all that is there. Perjury, slander, etc. are prosecuted; victim's and defendant's have rights to avoid topics that will bias the jury unfairly; prosecutors and defense attorneys cannot say whatever they want in their opening and closings; and all witnesses are subject to cross examination that they have to answer, not softballs or evasive answers.

Conventional journalism has not adapted to the last 20 years of evolving tactics of public relations. Bloggers like myself have attempted to fill in this void, not by seeking balance, but by seeking the truth. Who leaked Valerie Plame's name to the press? Why? Who is responsible for the WMD's lie? Who is responsible for firing 8-10 US Attorneys? Why were they fired? Why is the government illegally wiretapping our phone calls without a FISA warrant? Why did we go to war with Iraq? Why are we trying to go to war with Iran? Why are we torturing people? Who exactly is in GitMo? Why are we ignoring Afghanistan and Pakistan and Somalia and Sudan and Israel and Palestine? Why are people trying to teach creationism in school? Why are people trying to teach children that America is a Christian nation and that the Bible is as much of a constitutional source as the Federalist Papers?

These are the questions that bloggers have sought to ask and answer. Other bloggers have critiqued articles and stories and headlines of media bias, for and against conservatives. But to say that the current MSM system is working is to ignore objective reality. It took years before the media stopped being afraid of Bush to actually critically examine his policies. It took blogger prodding to get Scooter Libby convicted, and for the US Attorney purge to get investigated by Congress.

I wish I could just go back to dreaming up good policies, debating with people, supporting candidates, and studying law, but the media have gotten too cozy with those in power and as a citizen, I can't stand by and watch the US piss away its prestige and power for the glory and profit of the few. I have to speak up.


Justin said...

If you have not read it already, you might be interested in this editorial from 2005 about the Evolution vs. Intelligent Design debate. It's heavy on biology, but the argument applies to every argument:

"When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong."

Alienated Wannabe said...

Dear Dave,

You have provided an excellent rationale for your motto -- I think you should stick with it.

I also have had very disappointing experiences with the press (as both a consumer of news and as one who's activities have been reported upon) that help me to understand and sympathies with what you are sharing. The current system definitely has problems. Having said that, though, I tend to believe that the overwhelming majority of news reporters, producers, editors, etc. sincerely want to do the right thing. But, doing the job right is incredibly difficult and does not lend itself to the 24 hour news cycle.

To really understand a story, a reporter needs to have time to immerse him or herself into it, to gather all the facts, and to digest all the testimony. Unfortunately, such immersion is currently seen as not being realistic or affordable. Thus, we witness the impossible situation of an abused, fallible, and biased reporter being thrown at a story cold and expected to produce something sexy and ratings generating all by "deadline." The end result is sloppy, inaccurate, and/or un-useful material being published and broadcast everyday.

Added to this is the highly polarized environment you reference, where each week the most extreme voices face-off against one another (in what is essentially a talking heads cock fight) in order to give air to "both sides of a story." At best, this is merely an opportunity to hear the regurgitation of insider talking-points. At worst, it is a shameful and unhealthy spectacle that further erodes civil and constructive discourse in our country.

Because I am older than you, I can assure you that this phenomenon began long before President Clinton's administration. It was actually happening as early as Robert Bork's Supreme Court nomination confirmation hearings during the Reagan administration. ( But, whenever it began, I think we can agree upon the fact that we need to change it. I hope that by civilly discussing the issues, we help to create a different culture, one where true balance and progress can be found.

Thanks, my friend, for all that you do to that end.

God bless,