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Making the world safe for propaganda

More from Farhad Manjoo in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society:

“Investigating the rise of carelessness toward “reality” is, of course, the headlong purpose of this book. But I’ve been driving at a theory more pervasive than the peculiar psychology of one president, the transgressions of a single dominant political machine, or the aims of certain powerful players. The truth about truthiness, I’ve argued, is cognitive: when we strung up the planet in fiber-optic cable, when we dissolved the mainstream media into prickly niches, and when each of us began to create and transmit our own pictures and sounds, we eased the path through which propaganda infects our culture.”

(Photo credit: TJ Morton)



Mac vs. PC

Apparently, according to Farhad Manjoo in True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, journalists live every day with the repercussions of the hostile media effect, where partisans view coverage through a lens that always sees it as unfair to their “side” and fail to notice aspects of the coverage that is favorable to their “side.”

It isn’t just politics that brings this out in us, it’s there with coverage of the world of Mac vs. PC. Alas, even operating systems have gone tribal. You’ve got the Apple devotees and then the people who just can’t stand the perceived snobbery of Apple devotees. David Pogue, who writes technology reviews for the New York Times, wrote a Vista review that brought out the worst in everyone.

According to Pogue: “The Mac people saw it as a rave review for Windows Vista and the Windows people saw it as a vicious slam on Windows.” Apparently Apple fans are consistently prickly about the slightest – well – slight. Over at the Wall Street Journal the technology reviewer Walt Mossberg even coined a term for this: “The Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation.” Read all »



Ross Douthat: It’s all about narcissism

In Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat reminds us that we have a long history of blaming technological innovation for impending moral decline. Like the rampant decay that was imagined to be inevitable if we rode at 30 mph and used a telegraph.

He adds: “Sometimes, though, the pessimists are right to worry. Technology really does affect character. Cultures do change from era to era, sometimes for the worse. Particular vices can be encouraged by particular innovations, and thrive in the new worlds that they create.”

What moral weakness does our current crop of innovations inspire? Narcissism. He uses Rep. Anthony Wiener’s unfathomably adolescent behavior as an example: “[T]here’s no sign that Weiner was particularly interested in the women he communicated with not as human beings, certainly, but not really even as lust objects either…his focus was always squarely on himself.” He also talks about what Facebook is doing to us, especially to the generation raised on it as mother’s milk. Read Douthat’s entire argument online HERE. (Photo credit: Paul Keller.)



Bob Schieffer: We’ve cumulatively gone back to high school

Currently all about Bob Schieffer’s commentary from yesterday’s Face the Nation. He nailed it:

“The author Kurt Vonnegut once observed that life was more or less a replay of high school, and with every passing day, that comparison becomes more apt in describing Washington. The one difference is that high school stays in session most of the time. Yet the parallels with high school are inescapable. Just think about this: Distractions such as vanity and the mania for gossip and the short attention span that prevents focusing on problems even long enough to try to understand them. Unbridled meanness toward those who are not part of your crowd. The cliquishness that requires group think – if you don’t believe exactly what we believe you can’t be part of our crowd. We’re right, you’re always wrong, and don’t confuse us with facts. An inability to act for fear it will cause a loss of popularity…”

Read the whole commentary (Anthony Weiner’s behavior is appropriately up next) HERE.

(Photo credit: Michael Foley Photography)



Best blog comment policy ever…

This by way of Poynter (and Florence):

The Big Picture, a finance blog, offers these guidelines for user comments: “Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.”



Bob Schieffer on David Broder: Talk less, listen more.



Living the narrowcast, baby

Fascinating article in today’s Washington Post that hits on the problem The Village Square is trying to solve:

The increasing polarization of cable news is transforming, and in some ways shrinking, the electoral landscape. What has emerged is a form of narrowcasting, allowing candidates a welcoming platform that helps them avoid hostile press questioning and, in some cases, minimize the slog and the slip-ups of retail campaigning.

“There’s no question it’s contributing to the splintering of the political system and the means by which people get information about that system,” said Robert Thompson, who runs the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “If there’s no standard base line of fact and reporting, where can the conversation go?”

Love to hear what people think, both sides of the aisle. Read the whole article HERE.



Florence Snyder: Shoeleather in the Age of Twitter

BY FLORENCE SNYDER

The year is 2020, and all that remains of print journalism is the New York Times, USATODAY, and the National Enquirer. Google has been broken up into twelve competing companies. 97.9% of all news websites have installed pay walls. All state and local public records are available on-line…for a fee. Vice President Marco Rubio has inherited the Oval Office from President Sarah Palin, who resigned to resume her career as a journalist.

That’s the way it was in a world conceived by Miami First Amendment lawyer Tom Julin for The Florida Bar’s annual Media Law Conference. The Conference dates back to the 1970s when Wall Street was beginning to see journalism as a cash cow, rather than the watchdog the Founding Fathers intended. In the 1980s, as media companies profit margins climbed past 30%,  hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists crowded into hotel ballrooms to hear media A-listers opine on the future of journalism. Times and travel budgets being what they are, the 2010 Conference was a far less lavish affair.  At times, the speakers outnumbered the paying audience.

One can only wonder how 20th century Conference speakers like Katharine Graham, Abe Rosenthal and Fred Friendly would have responded as Julin prodded veteran reporters, academics and fellow media lawyers to answer questions which have, for decades, vexed journalism think-tanks in 140 characters or less. Julin lightened the mood with James Cameron-level audio visual references to narcissistic presidential hopefuls and their tango-dancing soulmates. Still, it was a sobering picture he painted of a not-too-distant future where the body politic has the attention span of a goldfish.

Some think that day has already arrived, but Conference-goers found reason to be hopeful that real news and well-reasoned commentary will adapt to the new and much leaner environment.

Some of the 21st century’s best explanatory journalism is happening on Comedy Central; Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and South Park’s Trey Parker and Matt Stone have the Peabody awards to prove it. These modern-day Mark Twains provide a national audience the kind of fact-based, impossible-to-ignore editorial voices that Florida used to take for granted.

Howard Troxler and Carl Hiaasen are, thank God, still with us.  But Florida’s increasingly anemic editorial pages are no match for state government’s standing army of flacks and flunkies who pay lip-service to transparency while actively obstructing reporters in pursuit of stories their bosses don’t want told.

It’s always cause for celebration when front-page news slips past the government’s spinmeisters and makes it to the front page, and Conference-goers were spellbound as Gina Smith of the State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. described the combination of luck, instinct and shoeleather involved in her pursuit of Gov. Mark Sanford down the “Appalachian Trail” to the Atlanta airport.

To a roomful of reporters who are expected to do impactful investigations while blogging at 20 minute intervals, it was a cheering reminder that one reporter can change the course of history.

A reminder of another kind was delivered by the Miami Herald’s former general counsel Richard Ovelmen. In a moving tribute to his friend and mentor, legendary First Amendment lawyer Dan Paul, who died this year at age 85, Ovelmen recalled how Paul leveraged his bulging Rolodex in the service of all of Florida’s journalists—not just the ones who worked for Knight Newspapers and the New York Times Company in the decades when they could afford Paul’s eye-popping hourly rates.

Under Paul’s direction, Ovelmen recalled, Florida’s media lawyers took up the cause of reporters in places they could barely pronounce.

If a city clerk in Opa Locka withheld public records, or a judge in Palatka threw a reporter out of a courtroom, publishers of mom-and-pop newspapers could count on Paul to declare a constitutional crisis and dispatch an army of lawyers bearing briefs that argued, “News delayed is news denied.”

With 20th century media on life support, displaced journalists are bringing their craft to cyberspace.  The lonely pamphleteer is on-line at places like Broward Bulldog, Health News Florida, and FloridaThinks, looking for a business model that will support the never-ending mission of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.”

There’s a lot at stake, and The Florida Bar deserves thanks for reminding us that failure is not an option.

——

Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com.

Parody photo courtesy of Random Pixels. Tom Julin’s “Journalism and Other Financial Disasters” was presented at The Florida Bar’s Media Law Conference, March 26, 2010.



Michael Smerconish nails it: The world of “media fiction”

Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia Talk Radio show host, who just made what seems to have been a tormented decision to change his political affiliation from Republican to Independent, talked to Chris Matthews last night on Hardball:

“We live in a world of media fiction. Where talk radio and your business everything gets presented in black/white red state/blue state left/right terms. And I don’t think that’s the way the real world is. It’s not the way I carry about my life as exemplified by people I meet on a day to day basis. It only exists in the world in which you and I work. And I, frankly, have had enough of it. I frankly think that stirring the pot at the ends of the political spectrum as been terrible for the country and I want no more of it.”

“People in the middle need a voice. We’re underrepresented in the world of talk radio and on cable stations because the bookers they only look for those who they can introduce as a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat. That’s not the bulk of America right now. What about the folks in the middle?”

Smerconish wrote about his decision to register as an Independent: “Collegiality is nonexistent today, and any outreach across an aisle is castigated as weakness by the talking heads who constantly stir a pot of discontent.”



Walter Cronkite, the bowling league and us.

Walter CronkiteSoon we lay to rest Walter Cronkite, “the most trusted man in America.”

Its no use trying to separate Cronkite’s history from America’s history, him being right there with so many of us during the moments we’ve marked our lives by. The glowing eulogies are deserved and they are far more equipped than I to capture the measure of the man. In their remembrances there’s a melancholy that says we think Cronkite’s brand of journalism has forever died with him. Surely, he will not be at peace with that epitaph.

It is odd that Cronkite is still unmatched in our esteem, because since his heyday, we’ve experienced technology’s jaw-dropping explosion that beams images across the globe near instantaneously – surely a leg up for today’s press corps to achieve. We now have 24-hour cable news, which (if nothing else) provides journalists with many, many hours of practicing their trade. Yet in our estimation this man working with near stone-age tools, relatively speaking, beats our current crop of journalists hands-down.

Suppose that says far more about us than it does about Cronkite or journalists? More specifically, maybe it speaks to who we were as a society when we tuned into Walter Cronkite. And boy do we ever miss the old us.

Cronkite’s America found us sitting around one television set, watching one of two newscasts, distinguished from each other more by personal preference than by ideology. Things didn’t change as fast in the days we spent our evenings with Cronkite, so I suppose there really wasn’t as much to disagree about. But back then we still made lots of room in our lives for people who differed from us politically because they were our neighbors, they were in our bowling league or in our garden club. Heck, we even married them.

Today the bowling league is gone and we’ve got little tolerance for just how wrong we think other people are. Our every information wish is our command as we flit around the dial finding our tribe, and then settle into our favorite armchairs with our favorite beverage to sing an alleluia chorus, free from pesky facts that might soften our views. We have so much comfort in our lives; the discomfort inherent in the disagreement of good citizenship that keeps democracy’s marketplace of ideas alive is just so been-there-done-that. It is just so Walter Cronkite.

There’s always been fighting in democracy. But now when we do it, we fight as if we’ll never need each other.

Even as we step inevitably into smaller and smaller hermetically sealed echo chambers of complete agreement, at some intuitive level we know it was our better selves who showed up to sit down in the living room to watch Cronkite together.

Bill Bishop writes about this phenomenon in “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart,” documenting demographic trends that have found us increasingly segregated by ideology since the mid-sixties. “As the nation grows more politically segregated,” writes Bishop, “the benefit that ought to come with having a variety of opinions is lost to the righteousness that is the special entitlement of homogeneous groups.”

And we are nothing if not self-righteous. A hundred years of social science research confirms that like-minded groups grow more extreme in the direction of the majority.

Witness where we are.

If we’re honest enough with ourselves to realize the mucky stall we’ve found ourselves in, the remedy is oddly simple, requiring only the mildest of human effort to reach out and remember how much we still have in common. While we’re at it, America is plunk in the middle of a world that really needs us to lead in the kind of civil citizenship that is wonderfully and uniquely in our very DNA as a country. One wonders what can be achieved without a single shot fired if we only steadfastly live up to our very own ideals, the kind of ideals that by their nature quietly shine a light into the darkest corners of the globe saying, “this is democracy, this is what free people can do together.”

We will miss Walter Cronkite badly. Maybe the most fitting eulogy to Cronkite might be to simply remember who it is we were when we were last with him.



“Find the truth and print it.”

— John S. Knight, from The Knight Foundation website

That’s all.



I believe in journalism and journalists (one in particular)

A dear friend of mine just turned 50. She has a big job at a major daily. I want you to think about the last time you said something snippy about the media, and I want you to consider it while I tell you about my friend.

First, she comes from a solidly conservative family, despite the fact that she has to regularly field many complaints about liberal bias and probably a few about conservative bias, and lets just say some of the complaints aren’t polite. She takes them very seriously though. Her vision in assessing the complaints has to be wide, not tunnel (as you and I have the luxury to have when we’ve got a bone to pick).

There wasn’t ever a time when I went to her house as a child when there weren’t ideas being flung back and forth at 100 miles an hour. I credit our friendship and my semi-child status with her parents for my interest in the public square, in the business of America. These people were real citizens of this country, and they had the rolled-up sleeves to prove it.

They were also real writers. They sometimes kept a manual typewriter (yes, this was a looong time ago) sitting with a sheet of paper in it with a couple of seed sentences to start a story. Someone else would come along and add a couple sentences of their own, and so on.

She is smart as a whip and somehow manages to put up with my trailing a few seconds (ok… sadly, minutes) behind her.

Please think of something you know about recent events. Did you learn it because of journalists like her? Some of them put themselves in harm’s way just so you can know.

This business of journalism annoys people. It kind of has to. This business of journalism has a lot to do with keeping us a free country, of keeping the powerful accountable to us little citizens. Sure, at times they do it imperfectly (a little thing we humans bring to everything we undertake). But look at where there isn’t an independent press to rankle and I’ll show you people who “yearn to breathe free.”

Journalists are the unsung heroes of democracy, in a business that’s tougher today than it was yesterday. And despite all that, they’ll get up again tomorrow and take your abuse and mine because they believe deeply in free speech, a free press and this little thing called democracy.

Thanks to my friend for spending her years doing something really really important. And Happy Birthday.



Kathleen Hall Jamieson: Hunkering down in ideology

In discussing one deceptive ad from each of our presidential campaigns, Kathleen Hall Jamieson was asked by host Bill Moyers “how is the audience to catch up to the truth of this?” Jamieson:

“The audience has to break out of the partisan media context that reinforces the belief that these ads are accurate… you hope that that partisan audience has enough exposure to places that give you both sides so they’re able to hear the other side and is able to hear credible sources… to indicate when their side is wrong and when the other side is wrong. It’s easy to hear those times when the other side is wrong, it’s much harder to be in places to hear that your side is wrong. First, because increasingly we’re not going to those kinds of places, it’s also difficult – because of the way we hunker down in our own ideology – for us to hear when our own side is actually not telling us the truth.

Paraphrasing, Jameson said “buy Village Square tickets.”