Monday, August 13, 2007

Loose Facts

In the outstanding documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, much praise is given by marketing directors to the Fox News network's advertising slogan, "Fair and Balanced". After all, who doesn't want a fair and balanced news source? It's important to hear both sides, no?

Of course, anyone with eyes and ears can see that if it is one thing Fox News is not, it is neither "fair" or "balanced." However, neither is the rest of the media. And what a horrible thing the media would be if that was its sole aim.

The problem with being fair and balanced is that those words are very subjective. Fair to whom? How do you measure "fair"? And should one really be fair to a side that has less evidence?

In the frequently revised volume Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenthal hold that "journalism's first obligation is to the truth." And they aren't alone. Kovach and Rosenthal found that nearly 8 out of 10 journalists consider the truth to be the most important aspect of their profession. However, in a media where being balanced is held above being accurate and factual, this obligation is subverted.

Let's use a fictional example involving the semi-recent bridge collapse in Minneapolis. Let's say that, in the investigation, the overwhelming majority of the evidence found would seem to blame the collapse on internal water damage, a sad reality of leaving pot holes and cracks open on bridges.

In an quick effort to cover their ass, the folks in charge of Minnesota infrastructure claim that water damage is a ridiculous reason, it's more likely that an earthquake caused the collapse. They have several witnesses that claim to have felt an earthquake around the time of the collapse. However, their evidence is minute.

In our fictional example, it seems obvious which side is true. However, as Winston Churchill once said, "a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."
This sentiment is only given more ground by a media that worships "fairness" and being "balanced" over the truth.

Well, but what truth? Albert Einstein used to teach that the goal of all research and learning should not be to know the "truth", but to make everything we do know less false.

Their seems to be a schism in what Americans want from their news corps. They are quick to blame journalists for not digging deeper and halting such practices as bombing the wrong country. This puts the media's job as "sense-maker", the defender of the truth in a world that is frequently trying to subvert it. CNN has recently tried to market on this demand with their "Keeping Them Honest" campaign, where authorities of all nature are investigated for fraud or trickery. In the same way, The O'Reilly Factor often totes that it is "looking out for you."

However, their is also the demand of the American people that journalists stick to the facts and nothing but them. Let's use another example to show how this might contradict the previous demand. If Tony Snow says that we are giving $13 billion in aid to Saudi Arabia, then a journalist might write "the US is giving $13 billion in aid to Saudi Arabia, White House spokesperson Tony Snow told a crowd of reporters Tuesday." In that one sentence, we have a "who", "what", "when", and "where". This kind of empty reporting lead us into war. But, if the journalist pursues the "why", a much shadier area, he may be open to criticism for not accepting the facts.

Of course, it is possible to ask "why" and stick to the facts. Newsweek had a very interesting piece on global warming deniers and who funds them (energy companies, unsurprisingly). Any journalist can tell you what global warming deniers say, but it takes more work and effort to find out why they might say it. None of the things within the Newsweek article are lies. However, global warming deniers might call it "unfair" or "unbalanced". And citizens might believe this claim.

It is time to drop the holy cow of being balanced in the media. I want the truth and the best version of it. I don't just want to know that things happened, but why they happen. Don't just tell me that there's mercury in my salmon; tell me what the hell it's doing there!

These things will not be seen until critics of the media drop the "fairness" standard or, the less-likely occurrence, journalists grow some balls. All it takes to lose a large portion of your readership as a journalist is Bill O'Reilly or the nuts on Digg saying you lean too much in one direction or another. Many journalist make avoiding criticism their primary goal. This is safe journalism. I want journalists that get their hands filthy in criticism because, if both sides of an argument hate you, you're doing something right.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I'm Mad As Hell

Here's a powerfully made video endorsing impeachment. Definitely suggest giving it a view.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rudy Macht Frie!

The 2008 election will be the first presidential campaign to sit through the torment of Web 2.0. And by torment, I mean that candidates' every word, flap, mistake, and action will enter Digg/Youtube/Reddit, causing immense popularity on the New Media, only to have it move over to the Old Media when they feel that it has gained enough popularity that they can make a profit.

However, even in our "advanced age", people still seem to be falling to old propaganda tricks. Proof of this is Fred Thompson's popularity, despite his lack of a campaign. All it took was a few people in Congress mentioning his possible run (and his career similarities to Ronald Reagan), and he was conservative America's Golden Child (despite the fact that he lobbied for Planned Parenthood in 1992 and he has a severe record of laziness).

What made him so popular so quickly? I have no doubt it is not only name recognition, but the obvious comparison to Ronald Reagan. Both strong "conservatives", both had acting careers. Must mean Thompson is Reagan incarnate, right?

Wrong. This is an old Propaganda technique known as "False Causation". People strongly associated Reagan with his acting career, and now people are expecting to do the same with Thompson. Mediocre acting+some political experience does not a president make.

All of the candidates have abused propaganda techniques. Here's a quick list of some of the candidates and their most-used persuasion tactic.
  • Barack Obama: A tried but true propaganda technique is to gain public trust, only to abuse it. Barack Obama, with his "Politics of Hope" campaign in 2006, worked hard to gain the public's trust. He denounced lobbyists and pork-barrel politics, and vehemently mentioned how much he was against the war in Iraq. Many Americans drooled, thinking this was the revolutionary they'd been waiting for. However, in talking about his campaign contributions recently, he has touted that he receives no money from lobbyists or special-interest groups. However he is guilty of receiving money from lobbyists' families, business partners, and children (and even ex-lobbyists, some who turned away registration for the sole purpose of donating to Obama). Is this an act of the ObamaNation? I imagine some of those people will want something in return, and it ain't hope. The tactic was also utilized by Stalin, who employed himself as the protector of Russia from fascism (which he was, for a short time) only to become their fascists leader.
  • Hillary Clinton: And if you didn't think a whole campaign could be run on name recognition, here's your proof otherwise. Hillary Clinton fools the public by Ignoring Things, a tactic employed by the simple-minded for the simple-minded. Ronald Reagan enjoyed this one when he ran to repair the tarnished image of Republicans that Nixon left. Since the campaign was his publicity blitz (and his time in the White House his, let's say, Summer re-run), no one seemed to care about the Iran-Contra scandal. A scandal worst than Watergate (both in severity and danger), he managed to erase it from the current public image by...pretending it didn't happen! Mrs. Clinton also likes to Ignore Things. For example, she may try to reach out to the blue-collar and appear less "feminine", but she fails to account for her time at Wal-Mart. Why would she ignore the fact that she was on the Board of the anti-union behemoth for six years? To persuade and deceive, of course! Why, if the Unions that chant her name and the "New Progressives" found out that she spent her time not fixing how Wal-Mart treats their unions and the environment but trying to improve the image of women at Wal-Mart, there would be riots in the AFL-CIO meeting halls (from 6-8 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays). But, alas, we as humans never learn, and fall to it again.
  • Rudy Giuliani: Jingoism is very dangerous. Through the dust of Sept. 11, we as Americans found common ground in our heroes. And, like heroes past, they abused it. Rudy Giuliani being the prime example. Rudy has nearly no foreign policy experience. He was the first mayor to speak at the UN, but this does not qualify him for leader of the Free World. He clearly has no idea how to handle terrorism, why terrorism against the US exists, and what the terrorists are thinking. He even turned down a chance to serve on the Iraq Study Group because he was too busy making money by talking about Iraq (with big words like "freedom" and "liberty"). How then, is he the leading "Tough Guy" candidate? I point to his words during the May 15 GOP debate: "That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq." That quote is the epitome of public persuasion and treachery. He has done a classic technique known as "Transfer". He attached his view to an emotional topic, putting it in a positive light. Living through 9/11 gives Mr. Giuliani no more knowledge of terrorism than living through a thunderstorm gives me about meteorology.
  • Tom Tancredo: Mr. Tancredo, a third-tier Republican candidate, did something extraordinary at the first Republican debate. He was given a Doomsday scenario of terrorists ready to strike America. The only way to find out where is from a terrorist currently in custody. Do we torture this man, Mr. Tancredo? "I'm looking for Jack Bauer at that time! ... We are the last best hope of Western Civilization. When we go under, Western Civilization goes under." Well, as Jon Stewart once put it, "the problem with the Republicans is that the country they want to run is fictional." In any case, what Mr. Tancredo has done is another case of "Transfer" speaking. He associated the complex issue of torture and promoted such an ugly practice by associating it with a well-known action hero. This practice is no better than those that vilified slavery by using the Bible. They appeal to whatever the audience will smile at and force their view by abusing that object.