Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category


The media is abuzz, and friends have been calling me, about the so-called Super Moon. There’s nothing to get excited about here, folks: the (full) moon will be at perigee (its closest point to the Earth) and about 14% larger in diameter than it is at apogee (its farthest point from the earth), and only about 7% larger than the full moon is on average.

If they didn’t read the hype, and hence didn’t expect to see something, very probably 99% of people wouldn’t notice this rather subtle difference. And the other 1% would be amateur and professional astronomers who’d be aware of it, but wouldn’t get excited about it.

There are lessons to be drawn from this.

As Oscar Wilde put it in The Critic as Artist, “[Journalism] keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

And as Wilde put it so well in The Soul of Man Under Socialism, “[T]he public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.”

There’s very little to add other than that journalism has advanced significantly since Wilde’s day and now manufactures things not worth knowing.


“The only way a reporter should look at a politician is down.”

–Frank Kent, quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations


SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT, n. An oft-used journalistic term. Long-term special assignments typically consist of a five-day stint in detox and a subsequent month in rehab, short-term ones of a bender and subsequent hangover.

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–from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded) the best successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


Here [in the Trump/Ramos incident] we find, yet again, the enforcement of unwritten, very recent, distinctively corporatized rules of supposed “neutrality” and faux objectivity which all Real Journalists must obey, upon pain of being expelled from the profession. A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

What is more noble for a journalist to do: confront a dangerous, powerful billionaire-demagogue spouting hatemongering nonsense about mass deportation, or sit by quietly and pretend to have no opinions on any of it and that “both sides” are equally deserving of respect and have equal claims to validity? . . .

The worst aspect of these [powers-that-be-serving]  journalists’ demands for “neutrality” is the conceit that they are actually neutral, that they are themselves not activists. To be lectured about the need for journalistic neutrality by Politico of all places — the ultimate and most loyal servant of the D.C. political and corporate class — by itself illustrates what a rotten sham this claim is. . . .[A]ll journalism is deeply subjective and serves some group’s interests. All journalists constantly express opinions and present the world in accordance with their deeply subjective biases — and thus constantly serve one agenda or another — whether they honestly admit doing so or dishonestly pretend they don’t.

Ultimately, demands for “neutrality” and “objectivity” are little more than rules designed to shield those with the greatest power from meaningful challenge. . . .  Expressing opinions that are in accord with, and which serve the interests of, those who wield the greatest political and economic power is always acceptable for the journalists who most tightly embrace the pretense of “neutrality”; it’s only when an opinion constitutes dissent or when it’s expressed with too little reverence for the most powerful does it cross the line into “activism” and “bias.”

 

–from “Jorge Ramos Commits Journalism, Gets Immediately Attacked by Journalists,” by Glenn Greenwald

(The full article is well worth reading. It’s the best short explanation I’ve ever seen of what’s wrong with American journalism.)


BAD GUYS, n. pl. A term habitually used by analysts on the Children’s News Network, in deference to the sophistication of their audience. (with a tip of the hat to the anonymous realist who accurately decrypted the acronym “CNN”)

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–from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded) the best successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary


“Among the casualties of war may be justly numbered the diminution of the love of truth by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages. A peace will equally leave the warrior and the relater of wars destitute of employment; and I know not whether more is to be dreaded from streets filled with soldiers accustomed to plunder, or from garrets filled with scribblers accustomed to lie.”

–Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets

Quoted in The Heretic’s Handbook of Quotations

Front cover of "The Heretic's Handbook of Quotations


I wasted a hell of a lot of money for a hell of a lot of years by paying for cable and satellite TV.  When I finally cut the cord, I was paying $75.99 a month for DirecTV, and it’s probably gone up a bit since then. I was also  subscribing to the mlb Extra Innings package (major league baseball, for all you furriners readin’ this), which at the time was $169.95; it’s also probably gone up. So, I was paying nearly eleven hundred bucks a year for satellite TV.

Last summer I finally asked myself, “Why? What am I actually getting for my money?” The answer was “not much.” I had the news (Al Jazeera or MSNBC, which is really more PC opinion than news) on  in the background while I worked, and would actually watch it occasionally–and it was often more of an irritant than entertainment. Beyond that, I usually watched “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” the occasional show on the Science Channel, the very occasional show on the Discover Channel or the Hitler Channel, baseball games, occasionally a football game, and the local news, and that was it. I was paying over a thousand dollars a year for the privilege, so, I canceled my satellite subscription.

The better part of a year later, I barely miss it. I have high speed Internet (which I had anyway), Netflix ($8 a month), and the mlbtv streaming package ($109.95 last year), which provides the same programming at lower cost than the Extra Innings package. (Free sports programming is available via Stream2Watch. Some of the streams Stream2Watch points at aren’t strictly legal, but if God didn’t want us to watch them, why did He create proxies?) I can watch “The Daily Show” on the Comedy Central channel, sans commercials a day after it airs.  For news, I mostly use the Guardian, Al Jazeera, and BBC sites, and occasionally the CNN-for-grownups site.  (Yes, CNN has a kiddie site aimed at the U.S. audience, and an actual news site aimed at the rest of the world. The difference between the two is sometimes jaw dropping. Kiddie CNN seems to think that Idiocracy is a documentary. As I write this, the headline on that site is “Jurors Get Superbowl Talk.”)

But getting back to cutting the cord . . . For the local news, I just watch it over the air. Any flat screen TV will receive digital over-the-air channels, and the only piece of additional gear you need is an antenna. Commercial ones typically cost about $30, but you can easily build a better one in under an hour for no more than $10. I built one entirely from junk in the back room, and all it cost me was about 45 minutes of time.

At the end of all this, I find that the only thing I miss is Al Jazeera, which for those who haven’t seen it (and that includes most U.S. cable and satellite viewers) is, overall, a very good news channel. But it’s not worth a thousand bucks a year.