Tags: media

Fear and Loathing on the Internets

Jim Brady writes this...
Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected. Part of the explanation may be the extremely partisan times we live in. For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

Background -- Jim Brady runs the "Post.blog" weblog on WashingtonPost.com which was the scene of a maelstrom that erupted over a inaccurate article written by Deborah Howell involving Jack Abramoff... That article was inaccurate, but it lead to becoming proof by many that the Washington Post is colluding with the Republican Party in deceiving the public, and so on, and when the Brady shut down comments, it proved the Post hates the blogosphere, are tools for the administration and many other ridiculous thoughts. Funny as when the Post prints an article bad for the administration, the same actors will add the piece to their arsenal, while not conceding that such behavior would be bad for a party organ. Likewise, actors on the other side behave in exactly the same way.

That said, I disagree with the belief that this is a function of increased political partisanship, as similar reactions can be see in many other fields. Just ask anyone who writes something disparaging about Apple, or the Macintosh.

I'd like to expand on this later...

Because it still needs to be asked...

There is no bigger story than war. And a war whose major premise -- the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- turned out to be unsupported is an even bigger story. That the administration presented this threat to the public with such a strong, yet false, sense of certainty -- including the imagery of mushroom clouds -- is an even more important lesson for all of us about big but not well-examined decisions. How did a country on the leading edge of the information age get this so wrong and express so little skepticism and challenge? How did an entire system of government and a free press set out on a search for something and fail to notice, or even warn us in a timely or prominent way, that it wasn't or might not be there?
---Michael Getler, the departing ombudsman for the Washington Post (who is, by the way, the incoming ombudsman for PBS)

This is a question all American journalists should tack on a wall, a computer monitor, a bathroom mirror, or any place they're going to stare at all day.

Find the Bootleg

The New York Times, yesterday, published an article on why Time Warner has decided to keep its AOL division (funny turn of events considering AOL bought Time Warner, but that is all dot-com history). The second paragraph reads:

"Today, though smaller, AOL is not merely alive but defiantly healthy--especially when it needs to be, having recently taken a terrifying but necessary strategic step: making virtually all of its content available free at AOL.com, no subscription required."

Ironic, actually since this was the day the New York Times locked much of its editorial content behind a paid firewall called "Times Select". Times Select is a service where for $50/year you get exclusive online access to opinion columns that were free prior to September 25th. This presumes that people don't view opinion columnists as interchangeable, and that there is value in their name, rather than their opinion. I don't think that's really the case. No Paul Krugman? There's economist Brad DeLong over at Berkeley giving his say on politics away for free. Can't read David Brooks? You have Andrew Sullivan as the conservative pissed off at Bush, who is syndicating his musings to the Washington Post opinion section (for a while, anyway). That said, this is the marketplace of ideas, and the question is if nobody can read your ideas, do they make an impact?

Though webloggers, in their incredible antipathy to giving up a buck for information, has turned it into a game of distribute the bootleg. Thanks to Google, Technorati,  and a couple of moles with access, there's now an underground market for NYTimes columns that would have gone unread earlier. That might please the NY Times  now that they can point to this and say, our brands are so vaunted, they will be pirated. Of course, it won't please the Times that they will now lose out the money from the ad views of these cheapskates, and of course, they won't pay the $50 for the stories.

I'm going to bet that Select won't last. AOL couldn't use the exclusive content to get new subscribers. And their content really was exclusive. (Deductive and/or specious reasoning of general knowledge isn't really exclusive. And "news" really isn't either.)

Today's Paul Krugman article is titled "Find the Brownie". It's one of the top searches of Technorati. Other top searches are of other NY Times columnists where webloggers are ..um infringing copyright.. in what they see as a protest.

Anyway, in "Find the Brownie" PK creates a new game inspired by "Six Degrees of Separation", where you try to link someone to Kevin Bacon. In this case, it's not casual acquaintances, but people who got connected to important government jobs but without having those important government qualifications. Actually it probably should be called "Six Degrees of Jack Abramoff". Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist who is basically connected to every sleazy happening by the Republican Party.

A very related article is Frank Rich's "Bring Back Warren Harding" in which he likens the corruption of today to that of Harding's day... remember Harding's stewardship of the country helped his friends to the detriment to almost everyone else. It was one of the most scandal plagued of administrations, remarkable as it was only a two year administration. (Harding died.)

On that score today, in addition of the continuing DeLay-Abramoff saga, David Safavian was arrested recently for his role in helping Abramoff. Safavian was the Chief of Staff at the GSA, and he was helping Abramoff get a meeting with the GSA to get some good deals on property the GSA was selling. He forgot to mention that to prosecutors.

Also on the sandal beat, Bill Frist may have pulled a "Martha Stewart" with his stock sell in HCA Inc, just before the stock tanked. Though it probably was bad enough when he held ownership of hospital stock while voting on bills like the Medicare prescription drug plan and other health care legislation.
Huey Freeman

The End of Context

In jest, Tom Heald of TVBarn commented that " President Bush will now have the chance to appoint at least three network news anchors." Not funny if you think of the reports that the White House has let it been known that they prefer that Bob Schieffer is now anchoring the CBS Evening News. But that is less worrying to me as Schieffer is still the same species of newsman that Jennings et al were. However, that species is going the way of the Wooly Mammoth, to be replaced by CNN & Fox News, or the mighty blogosphere.

Quite frankly, with the blogosphere taking the example from cable news to be First, Fast and Opinionated, and well, if accuracy falls by the wayside so be it... it's already old news and it's already been processed and discarded.

Frankly, this seems to be the affliction that has affected the White House press corps. They actually seem to be people who are trapped in a "Groundhog's Day" existence where information learned and stories written days or weeks ago are simply forgotten. (My favorite instance of this occurred several months back in the Washington Post. After several months where Bush got nowhere with his signature push for social security privatization, the Post posted this article asking "Was the Bush mandate was oversold?" Unmentioned was that the Post was there selling the mandate back in November.)

Generally, back in the day when network news was king, in the environment Jennings was educated, there was the attempt to always bring context to the story, to report why someone should care about something happening in, say, Lebanon.

Today, Lebanon wouldn't be in the news unless a pretty white girl got lost there on vacation, but if somehow if Lebanon did make the news, it would be the subject for about 12 hours before moving on to the next circus, or if there's no circus we'll go on to the political gasbag sideshow. This is the end of deliberation, I fear, in favor for shallow political posturing and voyeuristic peep-shows and the nutball crime story best suited for Fark.

Goodnight, Peter Jennings.