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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sleight of Hand

So, I just read the article "...And Nothing but the Truth" by Farhad Manjoo. In it, Manjoo discusses the state of the modern news media as they relate to truth. He discusses studies in which people (unsurprisingly) tend toward media outlets which are friendly to their pre-existing views. No big surprise there. He then discusses how our news sources also affect our opinions on matters. NPR listeners for example were outraged by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth's scurrilous attacks on John Kerry's war record; while, Fox News watchers thought of them as revelations from on high.

So far, I'm not surprised by Manjoo's findings, but I was dissapointed that Manjoo didn't take the article where I would have taken it, and that is to draw the cross-hairs on the "Mainstream Media," "Drive-by Media", "Corporate Media", "Traditional Media" or whatever your preferred term is for CBS, NBC and ABC (from left to right) along with what's left of the major daily newspapers. The problem with these outlets is the idea of impartiality. I love impariality in the news media, and I believe that along with a healthy selection of openly biased media, there should be a selection of ostensibly impartial media as well. My problem is that the traditional news media have taken impartiality to mean that there are two eaqual sides to any argument. That is bullshit.

John Kerry was a rich kid, who after graduating from Yale VOLUNTEERED for military service in Vietnam, where he killed people and took pieces of metal into his body on multiple occasions. There are piles of documents to corroborate this, and dozens of witnesses. The swiftboaters found a couple of people who were in roughly the same area of Vietnam at roughly the same time, to spread rumors that he might not have been wounded as badly as some of his records state. Really? No legitimate news organization should have let this stand for a second. It is not impartiality to give a nut job equal time. It is not impartiality to let a nut job go unchallenged when attacking a wounded veteran's war record. It is impartiality to call "bullshit."

So what's a Tim Russert or Charlie Gibson to do? As they see it, it's their job as an impartial observer to change the debate. The debate is no longer a cut and dry one. It's no longer, "is John Kerry a legitimate war hero?", because the answer is "hell yes." The narrative now becomes, "is John Kerry responding to the Swift Boaters effectively?" This is a question to which there is legitimate debate. In a place with a functioningly impartial news media, his decision to stand aloof of the mud would have been a wise one, but instead of a legitimately impartial news media, John Kerry, and America had Tim Russert and Charlie Gibson, and Barbara Walters, and The New York Times changing the question from heroism to effective message control.

I bring up the Swift Boaters only because A. It was discussed in the article, and B. it's something that really still gets me piqued. But the issue of impartiality still stands today. Is Sarah Palin the best person in the Republican party to be Vice President of the United States? The answer is a cut-and-dry equivocal "no." So, the news media change the question: "Is Sarah Palin qualified to be Vice-President?" There can be debate on that subject. Sara Palin is a natural-born US citizen; she is older than 35. She has a pulse. She fits the legal requirements to serve as Vice President. She's also been the mayor of a small town. She's been governor of a small state for two years. That makes her more qualified than a lot of people, I guess. She is probably in the 80th percentile of people qualified to be Vice President. So Democrats look like asses for saying she's not qualified, when she clearly has a list (albeit ridiculously weak) of qualifications. Is she qualified? I guess so. Is she the most qualified? Hell no!

Don't even get me started on how sexist it is for me to call her unqualified either....

1 comment:

JS said...

I also read that article in the most recent edition of Cornell Magazine...I agree with your analysis...
As for the Bills, they very well make a run at the AFC East this year, and wouldn't be surprised if the Pats and Bills meet in a wildcard playoff match-up later on this year...
Looking forward to more Sasiadizzle in the future!
- Jew