Monday, May 23, 2005

The Adult Table

A clever fellow named George Simpson is gloating over a Pew study that suggests bloggers had little influence on the 2004 presidential elections.

This makes Simpson happy, because he thinks people should get their news from Trained Professionals.

We tend to undervalue the job that news organizations do, especially when they pull a Janet Cooke or Jayson Blair. But god help us if the Fourth Estate was not there to keep the other three (Kings, Lords, and Commons) in check, and keep us informed.
God help us, indeed. We might start believing in manufactured crises, and disbelieving in real ones. In a worst-case scenario, we might even end up going to war under false pretences.
Isn't that why we read newspapers and watch TV news, so that somebody with some professional judgment can search through all the chaff and find the grains of wheat?
Well, the media made professional judgments in regards to the Iraq War; unfortunately, the "grains of wheat" turned out to be forgeries and lies. Tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis are dead and dying because a majority of media outlets chose to act as sedulous apes for BushCo, instead of keeping its creatures "in check."

Nonetheless, Simpson - who obviously has no close relatives deployed in Iraq - finds it pleasant to sit amid the smoking ruins of representative democracy, and enjoy the droll spectacle of the "Bursting Blog Bubble."
With all the press screw-ups with which we are all now too familiar, I still tend to trust the AP over some guy who sits around all day banging out his thoughts--presumably for posterity (or bragging rights).
You have to love the term "some guy." Many blogs - this one, for instance - are indeed the work of "some guy." But blogs like Arms Control Wonk and Effect Measure and Defense Tech and Informed Comment are the work of acknowledged experts in their respective fields; surely the fact that they work in a medium Simpson despises doesn't make their insights irrelevant. If the media had given real consideration to voices like these, instead of culling repeatedly from the same tiny herd of Bush-allied thinktank alumni, America would be a very different place today.

But to Simpson, everything in Blogistan is a matter of "posterity" and "bragging rights"; we're not to assume that anyone's motivations are better than that, nor are we to take bloggers seriously even when they can actually prove the facts of a case. A mainstream reporter for AP can be trusted by default, even when he or she uses blind quotes, or presents fact as opinion, or opinion as fact. But a blogger can't be trusted, even when he or she links directly to reams of evidence from reputable sources so that you can check facts as you go.

What makes Simpson's piece particularly grating is that while he sings his song of love to the mass media, newspapers like the Christian Science Monitor are soberly wondering why the Downing Street memo didn't cause a splash in the United States:
There may have been a point at which the US news media would have been all over a story about a British official's report that the Bush administration appeared intent on invading Iraq long before it sought Congress' approval – and that it "fixed" intelligence to fit its intention. But May 2005 is apparently way past that point.
One possible reason the story didn't make a big splash is that virtually no American newspaper chose to put the story on its front page. Many never carried it at all; many others waited for a week or two and then buried it in the back pages. To be fair, some of them may've assumed that the memo was a fake designed to boomerang on them. Still, the story could just as easily have been covered from that perspective: "News outlets wary of memo purporting to show that Bush fixed intelligence." There's always a way to cover a story, if it's really important to you.

Anyway, get a load of Simpson's gasping, shuddering climax:
When bloggers start schlepping down to check the police blotter at 3 a.m. just to make sure the victim's name is spelled correctly, then they can pull up a chair to the adult table.
One of the nice things about blogging is that in addition to dissecting Simpson's article, I can indulge in the luxury of saying that he's making a complete fucking asshole of himself here. At the risk of being redundant, "the adult table" to which Simpson refers comprises a gaggle of bloodstained popinjays and cowards who allowed the Bush Administration to take us to war on false pretences, and who believe that they've served the public interest whenever they present us with two sides to a matter how cartoonish, nonsensical, or cynical one or both of those sides may be.

Blogging may indeed be ineffectual; I'm quite sure that mine is. But at its best, blogging is informed by a certain moral seriousness about matters of life and death. That's in short supply these days, and some people aren't willing to trade it for a seat with the self-satisfied martinets at Simpson's "adult table."


Eli said...

I spilled my jello.

- Some Guy

Eli said...

Anyway, when the media starts covering *all* the stories, then maybe they can start bagging on all us "some guys".

Although, if we're so lame & irrelevant, why worry about us at all?

Anonymous said...

logical fallacies 101, for all you kids who never went to college:


Premise X is true, because Trained Expert Y says so.

RRRRRRRRRRNK, sorry, I'm afraid that's not correct, and so the $64000 goes instead to...Mrs. Agatha Malmsbury of Dayton, Ohio for answering the question correctly: "When their lips are moving!"

@whut said...

Blogging ineffectual? I think we need to put this on a sliding scale. Certainly more effectual than completing a jigsaw puzzle or shooting pigeons in the backyard.

Seriously, Phila's blog informs me, and that's all that matters from a selfish point-of-view. To that I say Thanks.

Phila said...

Thanks, WHT! But I have no illusions about affecting anyone on the grand level that appeals to a guy like George Simpson.

Then again, that's exactly what's so aggravating about his claptrap. He's so focused on the big picture that he ignores the ability of dispersed people to form these small circles of mutual influence, encouragement, or what have you. What it amounts to is utter patrician contempt for ordinary citizens, whether right or left, professional or lay, honest or dishonest. Apparently, it's not the quality of the work that bothers Simpson; it's the fact that it's being attempted at all.

Anonymous said...


Simpson's is an interesting example of how many in the mainstream media dismiss this interesting new blogging phenomenon by portraying it as an adversarial, either-or struggle in which the MSM is clearly the guaranteed victor. They rely on traditional bases of power (establishment, supposed authority, presumed validity), usually in some fairly inauthentic ways, and then bring the dismissiveness and condescension. What do the media defenders get out of this?

I don't believe the MSM is in any great jeopardy at all, except perhaps that of sharing the stage and being held accountable more often. The "either MSM - or bloggers" construct is particularly silly in that it looks only to the past and cannot imagine a future in which both coexist in a much more complex, interesting system than the one we've had. I cannot imagine in future in which that's not the case.

By the way, no newspaper, magazine, or cable news show ever bothered to explain to me what a nudibranch is, let alone to provide beautiful, weekly examples. You're at the grown-ups' table, Phila; now be a sport and pass me a roll.

Anonymous said...

The MSM are scared, as well they should be. They did a piss-poor job in the run-up to the Iraq war, as they did during the Bush first term and the election. No calling the Bushies on their lies. They are still not covering the death and destruction in the Middle East as it should be covered.

The bloggers are generally not reporters but bounce off the MSM and hold their feet to the fire. They can call attention to buried stories that would otherwise be missed.

Bloggers with comments give the rabble an outlet, and lots of folks don't like that.

I have to agree with eli, if you're all so lame and irrelevant, why worry?

GrrlScientist said...

I agree with JaneBoatloader on this. Bloggers generally do an outstanding job by ensuring that important stories that are buried below the fold on page 26 are brought out into the brilliant light of public scrutiny. We the public, do care about our country and our world, but we often don't pay attention to the media, or maybe not as much attention as we should, so bloggers are great watchdogs to make sure that we are made truly aware of stories that could affect us.

I also am a huge fan of Nudibranch Blogging, as you well know. Since when has the NYTimes had a regular fun, educational public-interest photo-column such as that?


Anonymous said...

Phila, there are many of us who are very grateful for the fact that you bring to our attention the news that the corporate media does not. If the corporate media were in fact "mainstream", they would not be kowtowing to Bush&Co.

I also look forward to the Friday nudibranch postings; where would we go if you did not provide these?
Many thanks, Phila Marilyn