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The Problem Isn't Fast News, It's Dumb News

by danps Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 04:37:32 AM EST

An analyst has called for a more deliberate pace in the production and consumption of news.  He could have demonstrated his commitment to such improvement by shelving yet another exercise in media self-mortification and spending time with some primary sources.

For more on pruning back executive power see Pruning Shears.


No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post

Walter Shapiro picked this week to lament the sorry state of the media.  He believes we have become ignorant and easily distracted by an Internet-bred culture that cultivates short attention spans.  There have always been good and bad news sources, though, and that continues to be true on the Internet (which after all is just a technology).  Shapiro, however, seems to believe we should trust - or at least privilege - the institutions that have been around longest; presumably they will have the best practices.

He characterizes NPR and PBS' NewsHour as "laudable enterprises," but let me tell you:  When the Justice Department was melting down under Alberto Gonzales' disastrous tenure, I listened in vain to NPR for ongoing, in depth coverage of the slow motion train wreck.  Instead there were brief recitations of conventional wisdom at the top of the news followed by unending doses of human interest pabulum.  I stopped listening entirely in the summer of 2007 out of sheer disgust with how poorly it was covering one of the biggest stories of the time.  Know who was prioritizing it?  Marcy Wheeler, Raw Story and other Internet outlets.  Does Shapiro recommend checking with them before NPR?  They certainly did a better job prioritizing on that issue.

Also consider NPR's shameful coverage of torture, the New York Times' failures on Iraq, or the Washington Post's repackaging of Salon.com's scoops as their own.  There are valid reasons for being deeply skeptical of the biggest outlets.  They have misled their audience on some of the most important issues of the last decade, and more often than not never correct themselves.  (They will do so in a smug, self satisfied no-error-is-too-small kind of way: "Ms. Smith received a Bachelor of Science degree and not a Bachelor of Arts as reported," but not on fundamental failures: "We repeatedly hyped a non-existent link between Iraq and the anthrax attacks, thus playing a vital role in advancing the Bush administration's relentless march to war.  ABC News regrets the error.")

Most astonishing is this:

We have lost sight of so many significant aspects of our age because they cannot be boiled down to bite-sized news nuggets. It is more than combat fatigue that produces the bizarre reality that -- military families aside -- most Americans appear to have almost forgotten that we are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are wars that defy easy answers, and the latest updates from the ever-shifting battlefields cannot be encapsulated in 140-character tweets.
He published this two days after the biggest wartime document dump ever!  He had just had laid out before him a trove of papers that might have allowed him to make sense of some of that complexity for his readers.  Instead he wrote about the media equivalent of a carny barker.  (Let's not even go into the perversity of bemoaning the rise of such a creature while devoting a column to him, or launching a withering attack on the culture that glamorizes such a scumbag while approvingly linking to an interview of him in Shapiro's own publication.)

The Wikileaks memos were immediately declared old news (sound familiar?) but you know what?  There's a lot of data there!  Perhaps a reporter could look into that and see if such a vast store of data really is as mundane as is claimed by those with a vested interest in not talking about it!  I downloaded it myself (did Shapiro?) and picked a random document from the "sectarian violence" section:

INSURGENTS IN KABUL
Organization(s) Involved: HEZB E ISLAMI GULBUDDIN
21 NOV 2006- CJ2X INTSUM- N/I S
DOI: 21 Nov 06; OHR: IT CI FHT/1074
(N/I C) At the end of October, the following insurgents moved to KABUL from the village of QARIA TABLAH, PAKTIA province, near the village of ALI KHEYL (GRID: 42S YD 109 838) IOT carry out suicide attacks:
- AMER ZABET;
- NAZER.
They have been trained in the area of CHORAT (PAKISTAN) adjacent to PESHAWAR and at this time, they might live in the vicinity of the bazaar of POL-E CHARKHI (around 20 km to the east of KABUL). They are receiving information about the targets from the following insurgents belonging to HIG:
- SAME, native of QARIA BAND NAGHLO (KABUL province, SUROBI district);  
- ZANULDEN, native of ANIF KHIL JORJE (SUROBI district),  
Currently, SAME and ZANULDEN are living in the SHINAH area (GRID: 42s WD 272 203).
This information MAY NOT be released to any portion of the Afghan Government
How does anyone know that is old news, or that it represents a situation that has vastly changed since president Obama claimed to have switched tactics?  "INSURGENTS IN KABUL"?  I thought they were in the tribal areas.  Are there lots in the capitol as well?  And what is that "HEZB" listed in the Organization(s) Involved?  As in, Hezbollah - the political/paramilitary organization funded by Iran?  Sounds like news to me!  

The problem Shapiro is attempting to describe is not one of unprincipled propagandists driving coverage, or a shallow populace dumbly mesmerized by sensationalists, or a chaotic and incomprehensible media environment in which a cacophony of bursts and links prevent the development of thoughtful understanding.  The problem is with media outlets so terrified of being accused of liberal bias that they reflexively blurt "how high?" whenever a sufficiently well placed wingnut starts shrieking for them to jump.  That, and reporters and commentators more concerned with lazy, rote jeremiads on our sadly fallen state than on challenging received talking points or breaking a sweat trying to make sense of complex issues.  Fix those and you'll be amazed at how the discourse elevates.

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by danps (dan at pruningshears (dot) us) on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 04:37:51 AM EST
I did a quick survey re Wikileaks at about 5 pm Eastern one day last week. A small story at the top on the NYTimes page, some mention at Talking Points, nothing at MSNBC (their real news coverage is so dismal they really should be in lower-case letters, msnbc), nothing in my local paper.

The Guardian, however, had a column listing several stories, links to the docs, at least one video, maybe some other things.

The American public is not only ignorant of what's happening in its government and the world, it is singularly ill-informed.

by Mnemosyne on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 02:00:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Or take the NYT. they actually did apaolgise for their hype about the Iraq war, yet within a month they were publishing hype about Iran's nuclear capability to prove that they were unwilling to learn any lesson in fact-checking in order to gain a headline.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 07:21:49 AM EST
A large problem, though not the only one, is that the media simply lies, presents as truth information that is "false to fact." Is there a way to maintain "freedom of the press" while ensuring that only the "pravda," the truth, is presented as news.
by US Blues on Sat Jul 31st, 2010 at 02:01:05 PM EST
A large problem... is that the media simply lies, presents as truth information that is "false to fact.

For example?

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 01:17:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.
by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 01:19:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not certain that I would use that as an example. The news people should report what an administration says (perhaps with qualifiers after the 3rd or 300th lie, with previous examples of lies.) In that example as well, although it was somewhat obviously dubious, there was evidence presented by a respected liar. My point being that the press had to report what was presented. The fact that they then became part of the percussion section was their failing.

But, I would like to hear what the new poster, US Blues would answer.

PS - Welcome, US Blues.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 04:04:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In that example as well, although it was somewhat obviously dubious, there was evidence presented by a respected liar. My point being that the press had to report what was presented.

There are ways to report what was presented, and then there are ways to report what was presented.

"Senator says that 'the jury is still out on evolution.'"

"Senator supports discredited pseudoscience."

Compare and contrast.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 04:54:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm at the narrow end of an almost indefensible position, but would submit the headline should be:

"Senator comments on evolution"

and then the author should point out the different aspects to educate the reader (complete with links on the back of the 8 x 10 glossies) enough to allow logic to enter the scene.

But, I must admit, I was fishing for more participation from US Blues.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Sun Aug 1st, 2010 at 06:27:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The recent events surrounding Shirley Sherrod here in the US are a current example, information was intentionally distorted. Of course, the response of the Obama admin was utterly foolish. Another example would be stories about Obama not being a US citizens, and so forth.

I also disagree that the media should simply report what the administration says without doing their own fact-checking. The de facto role of the press is the be the fourth branch of the government, providing checks and balances, no matter who is in power.

I also agree with Jake that the manner in which stories are worded create false impressions.

PS- I'm a relatively older member here, but took a long hiatus from political conversations for my own mental health, and am a generally inconsistent poster. Thank you for your greetings, though, it is nice to be recognized. :-)

by US Blues on Mon Aug 2nd, 2010 at 11:18:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I was offline for the days of the Sherrod incident. Did that get picked up by an actual news source first, Fox News or the internet. It seems that part of the reporting on that issue was because it was, upon inspection, purposely manipulated.

I didn't make myself clear if you think that I mean for the media to "simply report what the administration says without...fact-checking." I intended to emphasize that they bring history and knowledge of an issue as part of the reporting.

I also don't disagree that stories are manipulated, with buried ledes and missing data. And though I am the first to complain of the immaturity of the press (as thus perhaps, the democracy) I don't know if the outright lies by the press are more than anecdotal.

Never underestimate their intelligence, always underestimate their knowledge.

Frank Delaney ~ Ireland

by siegestate (siegestate or beyondwarispeace.com) on Wed Aug 4th, 2010 at 07:28:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess the point is if the media is purposefully manipulating facts and images to present a certain message, then they are lying. At least in my view.

A piece of my personal history is that I was a kid during the Vietnam War, and would hear stories on the radio reporting casualty numbers. Even at age 8, 9 , 10, I was wondering why, if "we" were killing so many of "their" troops the war kept dragging on. Years later it was revealed that those numbers were complete fabrications- fool me once, shame on you.

by US Blues on Thu Aug 5th, 2010 at 09:48:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh the Sunday times coverage of  Gibraltar killings, there the management was pushing out a version of the news that agreed with MOD press releases, but was at complete variance to what their own reporters on the ground were saying

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Wed Aug 4th, 2010 at 09:11:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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