Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The death cry of education and achievement

I just stumbled across Michelle Malkin's The death cry of snob journalism, referenced on our local radio host Jim Quinn's warroom.com, and it nicely encapsulates the growing contempt Americans have for education, achievement, and professionalism. Not quite what she intended, I hope, but instructive nonetheless. From her article:

Dan Rather, Professional Journalist, and CBS News, Professional News Network, want us to keep believing that they are the ordained purveyors of truth. ... The wall between the self-anointed press protectorate and the unwashed masses has crumbled.

Self-annointed? Journalists work to develop skills collecting, verifying, and analyzing data, and presenting issues clearly. This discipline, however easy to dismiss and difficult to appreciate, is a wall between professional journalists and the unwashed masses, as it is in any field - unless you think Sam the Butcher could do a bang-up job with your next triple-bypass, since he can probably make those cuts just like a surgeon.

In failing to make a distinction between a discipline and practicioners, Malkin falls into knee-jerk anti-elititism appealing to the unaccomplished, underskilled, and undereducated. Apparently in America, it's OK to be studious and learned, just not too much, in case you outgrow yer britches.

Questioning "experts" is fine when one has a basis for questions and critiques, and god knows experts can be arrogant; that has no bearing on their correctness. The growing tendency for slavering masses to dismiss "experts" outright, based on their education and expertise (from which arrogance can now apparently be inferred) rather than a reasonable doubt, is pathetic and frightening. The ability to click a mouse and post a blog entry doesn't mean the post has any value.

Then Malkin launches into a romantic description of blogger derring-do:

Bloggers take orders from no one. But with that irresistible platter of publishing freedom comes a tall glass of responsibility. For serious blogging pundits and news-gatherers and discussion board operators, cyber-cred is everything.

It's far, far easier to spray tripe (even easily-refuted tripe) than to analyze and refute it - especially when you're just one in a sea of sprayers. And for the average person (remember the consumer?), reading a limited number of information sources per week, how are they to decide, track, follow up? Journalistic integrity is what helps us turn a sea of he-said-she-said into something converging on truth.

And it's silly to assume that, because Malkin might be a "serious blogging pundit," that they all are. Malkin would probably admit that blogdom is a heterogeneous stew of personalities, so they also have individual motives. Has no blogger ever been motivated by cash, by notoriety, by ideology, or by party loyalty? "Cyber-cred," whatever that is, isn't everything, and Malkin's implication that CBS and company "spin" while bloggers report only "The Messy Truth" is, if not nonsense, irrefutable spin.

Blogs are a godsend for journalism: hundreds of fact-checkers rabidly attacking news stories can only be an advantage for seekers of truth, as it was in pointing out CBS's severe lapse of judgement. "Relentlessly unmasking the frauds of snob journalism" is a good thing, although her use of "snob" is a bizarre indicator of motive. Fraud is fraud, isn't it? Or is it worse when the perpetrator is a snob? Maybe we oughtta knock them old boys down a peg?

But washing over the puddle of fact-checking bloggers comes a sea of spinners - those with no desire to objectively present facts, including those like Matt Drudge who regurgitate reports with no concern for source or accuracy. Perhaps objectivity is a statistical function of this sea of blogs - but since no one has time to even skim all these sources, professional journalism remains valuable.

With amusement, I have watched my colleagues in the Old Media fight every democratizing and choice-enhancing trend during the dozen years I've spent in the information business.

Choice and "democratization" are good, all other things being equal, but can erode value in favor of palatability. News now competes with entertainment, forcing an evolution into programs that people choose over others - not necessarily that which is informative. And Malkin appears to infer virtue and value in La Resistance (flashy new trends), based purely on her amusement.

They scoffed at Rush Limbaugh as a flash in the pan (and have searched in vain for a commercially viable liberal counterpart for the last 15 years). They sneered at The Drudge Report (then bookmarked his site for hourly reading).
Here Malkin again confuses democracy with demagoguery: Rush Limbaugh, by his own words, is an entertainer. Large chunks of Drudge's spew are refuted daily, some of which are posted quietly on his site days later; do his readers care? While facts can be entertaining, entertainment requires no standards, merely a subjectively rewarding end result. If Malkin believe Limbaugh to be in the "information business," would she deem it as necessary to apply the standards of fact-checking to Limbaugh and Drudge as they were (correctly) to Rather?
They sniped at Fox News (then ripped off every one of Roger Ailes' innovations). They mocked the insurgent New York Post (as their own circulation figures and ad sales tanked).

Surely Malkin doesn't confuse the thirst for circulation and ratings (and hence dollars) with a thirst for the truth? Apparently not; by labeling the Old Media as "frauds" in her article, then pointing to their emulation of "New Media," she indicates that fraud is the future, if not our present.


  1. Anonymous10:33 AM

    Dan Rather is sort of a jerk, though. He had addressed Saddam with more reverence than he did to the first GW.
    He walked off the set during a live broadcast.

    there are reasons OTHER than political ideology as to why most of us cant stand this pompous ass.
    good riddance to him.

    thank you

  2. First of all, before I comment on this, let me risk sounding obsequious by saying: thank you thank you for posting. It's nice to have something resembling a conversation going, since my posts seem to stimulate only crickets. Probably they're too long... character flaw of mine.

    Anyway, agreed - I'm no apologist for Rather. He's certainly been at least sporadically unprofessional. Malkin just seemed to choose the professional failings of CBS staff as some sort of bizarre rallying cry for bloggers who, while valuable, don't in any way negate the value of journalism. Rather was embarassed and ousted precisely because he violated the precepts of the Fourth Estate, not because he adhered to them.

    His interview with Hussein certainly showed at least deference, whether or not Rather had to adjust his technique based on demands from his subject. As for W, Rather has been critical but also had this to say: "George Bush is the President. He makes the decisions. He wants me to line up, just tell me where." So I don't know quite what to think.

    Me, I can't stand TV news in general, so know little about the anchors...

    - erk

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