Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I call it the "jump to conclusions" mat...

More hype about fragmentation and blogs:

"One of the consequences is that, increasingly, citizens can no longer agree on basic facts because everyone is consuming their own kind of personal mix of media. The chance that we know the same thing, even if we're sitting in an office in a cubicle next to each other, is less than it used to be."

Right--increasingly, citizens can no longer agree on basic facts. So, today's situation is thus unlike Iran-Contra, or the Iran hostage crisis, or the energy crisis, or the Vietnam war, or the Civil Rights era, or the McCarthy hearings, or the Korean War, or World War II, when we could, and did, agree on basic facts. And it's all because of blogs and cable news. Sweet.


At 6:55 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

If he's right, what's the point in talking about it? If we can't argree on basic facts, then could we agree that his opinion is worth reading, or worth writing?

Our ability to agree on basic facts is only influenced by the media to the extent that we believe everything we read. If people injest their information critically, we're bound to disagree, which probably leads to discussion and communication and connection between people anyway. The only way we'll ever agree on the "basic facts" as they relate to news media is when we stop questioning the validity, relevancy or spin put on the facts they give us.

I disagree with the basic fact that we cannot agree on basic facts.

At 3:07 PM, Blogger J. Morgan Caler said...

Charles, here is my thing: I grant to you that it is a compete reductionist account to say that there was a consensus about "the basic facts" starting in 1941, but then in 1996 someone invented a thing called cable news and the blog and destroyed that consensus. It is also a gross simplification, however, to say that things have always been as they are now in American public discourse and media and that the advent of new technologies, derisive politics, etc. have, along with the fog of time, only made it SEEM like things are more fragmented. Look, there are huge social changes taking place that have redefined for most Americans the concepts of news, validity, political identity, etc. as well as a redefinition of the goals and means of civic society. It should be noted that changes like this have happened several times in the history of America and studying them have all proved useful in understanding what the hell was going on in the collective American mind. The profession of journalism itself has also been changed dramatically (in terms of the content reported, the method/venue of reporting, and the presentation of that information). I think most
Americans (a consensus you might say) had a sense of consensus concern WWII or the threat of Communism, even if, in fact, there was no consensus. That in itself is a big change. If Americans used to think there was consensus, but do not now, then something has changed that is significant at least for how Americans think of the socio/cultural/political landscape and the presentation thereof. It also has a profound impact on their approach to discourse. If Americans have a perception of fragmentation now (as opposed to 50 years ago), that is bound to affect the language they use to communication their ideas, the tenacity to which they will cling to "facts," and the community to whom they feel it prudent to voice those views. In terms of analysis, we all tend to reduce what is going on. Understanding what is happening isn't just measuring fragmentation in terms of how many views of "the basic facts" are out there, but, also the strength/adherence to those views, the means of communicating those views, the level of vehemence with which a group holding a particular view approaches competing views, those beliefs that make an individual part of that group as opposed to another, etc. Simply announcing that Americans held disparate notions of "the basic facts" of Pearl Harbor just like they do now about Iraq will do nothing to promote cohesive, meaningful discourse. I don't know what the answer is, but dismissing the current cultural rift(s) as par for the course or understanding identity politics as inevitable and necessary doesn't seem to accomplish much. Neither does redhurt's suggestion that incredulity (which I guess is an unquestioned good) necessarily compromises consensus (which I guess is an unfortunate casualty). Satisfaction with the current means of information distribution or the culture that produced it (and is produced by it) isn't going to cut. Unfortunately, I don't know what will.
Sorry about that....

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous dadman said...

Let's just jump back to WW2 for a moment, which you used in your sarcastic list of times people agreed on basic facts. Hitler invaded Poland, right? People disagreed about what to do about it. But it happened, it was plain as day it had happened. Now, today, 40% of the American public thinks Saddam Hussein was behind September 11. It's plain as day to them. But he wasn't. President Bush, whom many folks would cite as their source for knowing Saddam was behind 9/11, has never said Saddam was behind 9/11. In fact, he has said something close to the opposite, if not the direct opposite--I'm not going to interrupt my typing to go look it up. But, to 40% of the American public, it is a "fact" that Saddam was behind 9/11. Something has in fact changed since the middle of the last century. Something in America, I mean. There have always been countries where the news was so heavily filtered by state media that the people had no access to facts, and there are such countries today; countries where even something like Germany's invasion of Poland would not have been known. But the way, shape and form in which American citizens don't have the facts today is different from what it used to be. My sense is that it has to do with the current administration's genius at disseminating half truths and lies, and with the complicity of major, so called "liberal" media like CNN and the New York Times, not to mention the cheerleading of Fox News. There was a smidgeon of hype in the USA Today article to which your post responded, but overall it was, uh, how should I put it--"fair and balanced."

At 4:17 PM, Anonymous dadman said...

In the USA Today article there is this, which, I will say before I paste it in, has the whole deal backwards:

[paste-in begins] Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs says that those who blame this new form of journalism on technology — the Internet — ignore misgivings about traditional media that the public has harbored for years.

It started in the '60s and '70s with Vietnam and Watergate, when journalists "decided they had a larger role to play in politics and society," he says. "They weren't just telling people what was going on. They were refereeing among the various contenders for influence by telling us who is telling the truth, who is lying and what the truth is. Once you start doing that, you have created journalism of assertion."

Lichter says traditional media were able to operate that way for decades because "they had no competition. The politicians could yell and scream, but journalists could say, 'We're the public tribunes. We have the constitutional right to tell the public that you are lying.'

"Now the 'right' that professional journalists asserted in the '60s is being claimed by bloggers. Journalistic arrogance is coming back to roost." [paste-in ends]

This dude is wrong. It is NOT "journalism of assertion" to say that a lie is a lie. It was NOT "journalistic arrogance" that brought down Nixon. It is NOT "journalistic arrogance" to point out a lie, it is a journalistic obligation.

The great flaw with major media today is often the refusal to point out lies. Administration spokespeople are quoted, someone who disagrees with them is quoted, and CNN does not dare to say that the administration spokesperson was the one lying.

SOME journalists (most? who knows; leave that for another time), before the end of the 60s and the early 70s, were tiptoeing through a room full of houses of cards, careful not to touch them or breathe on them too hard. Woodward and Bernstein with the Washington Post, the New York Times with the leak of the Pentagon Papers from Daniel Ellsberg, knocked some houses of cards down. Lots of folks were dismayed at the chaos this caused in the room full of houses of cards, and in response to that, many journalists have gone back to tiptoeing and holding their breath. But a house of cards is a house of cards. You can't lean on it, you can't live in it, you shouldn't send people to die because of it. The messiness of a house of cards that has fallen down doesn't compare to the messiness of a battlefield. The "misgivings... that the public has harbored for years" seem to have more to do with the mess in a room full of knocked-down houses of cards than with the horrors of the battlefield, and my word to "the public" about that is: tough luck.

At 3:30 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

I can't disagree with anything JMorgan said because it's so well written that my mind is too awe-struck by the quality of his language to consider the content. It sounds good to me.

Dadman's points are excellently made, but I guess I'd like to bring the conversation back towards whether or not Blogs are contributing to people's ability to understand their world, and whether or not they're helping to destroy our ability to agree on "basic facts".

From this bit of Dadman:

This dude is wrong. It is NOT "journalism of assertion" to say that a lie is a lie. It was NOT "journalistic arrogance" that brought down Nixon. It is NOT "journalistic arrogance" to point out a lie, it is a journalistic obligation.

I agree - and so I'd say it's journalistic obligation of the bloggers to continue knocking down those houses of cards by keeping the media accountable. Calling "Rathergate" a lie is not contributing to our inability to agree on basic facts - it's the simple truth. Same goes for the recent media scandals at NYT and CNN. Bloggers are helping bring bad news to light, and the journalistic community will benefit from it.

I think blogs are enjoy a surge right now due to their novelty, but while they represent a new form of media which will be instrumental in shaping the way we get our information, I think the independent blogs run out of basements, like this one, will eventually die down. I think network news is more entertaining and more convenient, and as soon as the current ferment over media bias dies down we'll see people moving back towards those sources.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger RedHurt said...

And it's funny that Dadman's last post came at 4:17pm, and my reply at 3:30pm.


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