Monday, November 21, 2016

I'm Back

First there was the election.  Then I had to drag the shattered pieces of  myself up out of the pit of despair and glue them back together so I could go on a vacation that had been arranged before we even realized it was going to take place the weekend after the election (and of course, before we realized--because we never could have conceived of it--that Cheeto Jesus was going to win the election.)  Once I actually applied myself to the vacation, it seemed...easier?  wiser? just shove the whole mess into the back of my mind and deal with it after we got home.   Net result being, among other things, that I have fallen seriously behind on my challenge to reach 1300 posts by the end of the year.

But never fear, invisible audience!  I'm back, and ready to make it happen. 

This morning, a Facebook friend linked to this New York Times article; which, given the undeniable culpability of the mainstream media in the "surprise" triumph of Donald Trump, struck a nerve with me:


In it, the Times goes about putting together a fine little bit of investigative journalism, in true Monday-morning-quarterbacking tradition, in which it follows the genesis of a tidbit of "fake news" from the account of a twitter user with forty followers, to a re-tweeted, linked-to and overblown erroneous report seized upon by right-wing outlets and blasted across the internet.  It seemed typical that a venerable MSM outlet like the Times would prefer to scapegoat "citizen journalists" for the insane explosion of false news stories surrounding the candidates of our late presidential election,  racing around the globe at the speed of light.  So much easier than shining the light of culpability on their own weak, erratic and blatantly partial performance.  And I indicated as much to my friend.    

So rather than try to keep my sleepy eyes open long enough to turn the following comment thread into a decent essay, I'm going to reproduce said thread here, verbatim.    

Me:  It's interesting that the Times chose to perform this little bit of (highly unusual for these days) investigative reporting based on a private citizen's erroneous tweet.

I get that fake news burning across social media like wildfire is a problem. But perhaps the Times might also write an expose on how live reporting on major stories by mainstream media outlets like the Times itself becomes perverted and jumbled by this "need for speed" that seems to be the main priority in 21st-century journalism. Reports on breaking news have become an agonizing process of "react and retract."

I remember being frustrated as hell trying to glean the actual stories from the 24-hour garbage stream generated by the media during events like the Boston Marathon bombing and Newtown. In both those cases, the lives of innocent men were nearly ruined when the MSM circulated erroneous identifications of possible suspects based on...what?

The point I'm trying to make (badly) is that the mainstream media are every bit as culpable as what they condescendingly refer to as "the blogosphere" for the genesis and spread of "fake news." They simply prefer to scapegoat the non-professionals rather than address their own sins.

Friend:  There's a very significant difference between professional news organizations which try to live up to their long-standing reputations for reliable reporting (and sometimes fail), and bullshit purveyors. The NY Times and Washington Post have had to publicly apologize for such failures, but I would not compare them with the likes of Breitbart, Infowars, AddictingInfo and Occupy Democrats, to name a few of the worst.

Me:  I disagree. I no longer see a SIGNIFICANT difference between "professional" news organizations and what you call "bullshit purveyors." If the difference was black and white, we wouldn't need an agency like snopes to discern what is real and what is false. There would be such an obvious difference between truth and bullshit that we could simply turn to our favorite news organizations with their "long-standing reputations" to get the real story. You and I both know this is no longer the case.

The model of careful, well-researched factual reporting has been completely scrapped by the 21st-century MSM. In video journalism, because news is no longer public service information, it is entertainment; and in print media because they have bowed to the immediacy of the internet. Most daily newspapers are no longer any more than human interest magazines. They don't report the news, because by the time a newspaper can research and print a story, it's no longer "news." And when a story is so huge they are compelled to report--such as Newtown or Boston--they fall into the same trap of hurry-up hearsay as the citizen bloggers and bullshit rags. Sure, the reputable news agencies might go back and retract misinformation, but the problem is, in this day of tweet and retweet, link and re-link, it's impossible to unring the bell of bad reporting. As this NYT article aptly demonstrated.

Perhaps the debacle of this election cycle can regenerate a market for "slow," factual news. Perhaps we are learning that REAL reporting takes time, and we can...we MUST...refine the art of PATIENCE while waiting for the truth.

Friend:  You don't see much of a difference. We will have to disagree on that. Even my local papers are more reliable than many of the websites that end up in my FB newsfeed. In this post-truth era, with a President-elect who is infamous for making stuff up and for re-tweeting nonsense with no basis in fact, we are going to need reliable news sources, and a healthy dose of skepticism is going to be required too - even when reading the NY Times. And we all need to pause before we pass along what could be fake news to our FB friends. When a bell cannot be un-rung, it is important not to ring it in error.

Me:   I think the difference between you and me on this question lies in location, location, location. You basically live in New of the largest and most diverse cities in the world. I live in the sticks. And yet, even out here in the sticks, we USED to have decent news. Both the Oregonian and the Eugene Register Guard were award-winning newspapers in their heyday. Both have been reduced to what amounts to daily versions of "Parade" magazine. They don't even bother reporting on national or international news to any extent at all. Newspapers all over the country have suffered the same fate. Possibly NYC is one of the last bastions of worthwhile print reporting...I don't know. I don't live there. I could subscribe to the New York Times...but I'm of the opinion that even that venerable paper has succumbed to the realities of 21st-century media, and relies more on its reputation than on any actual prize-winning reporting being done today.

And, trust me, I'm not defending the crap websites like Occupy Democrats or AddictingInfo. I realized a long time ago that they were simply left-wing versions of shit like Breitbart or the Free Republic. They are no less guilty of the crime against humanity that IS the election of DJT to the Presidency than the alt-rightest of "news" outlets. My general method is to discount anything that is obvious incitement, and fact check the rest. Can't say I was never guilty of "sharing" bullshit during this past election cycle...but I will be MUCH more cautious in future.

I feel strongly that the media played a H.U.G.E. role in the national tragedy unfolding before our eyes this sad November.   Social media and the blogosphere were a disaster, yes.  But the mainstream media completely bungled everything about this election, from soup to nuts.  Their new mission statement of news media as entertainment rather than information has served the American people a great big shit sandwich.  If we can't figure out how to drag the news media back to truth and public service, kicking and screaming though that will surely be, we will not only continue to be stuck with the political monstrosity we now have, but it will get much, much worse.  Hard to know how much farther down there is to go...but if we don't make some drastic changes NOW, we're going to find out. 


  1. I agree, the MSM has definitely failed us by working to get stories out there before the facts are fully vetted. In addition, too many "stories" belonged on the editorial pages at best. I also think the news was spun for circulation purposes or we would not have heard about it every time DJT belched a scrap of bull. But I also find it mortifying that the majority of the population gets their "news" from Facebook where pure fiction is circulated as "news". These are the masses that can't be bothered to look for the truth but accepts anything that supports their views. I didn't go down the road of sharing "news" on FB because I just had this feeling in my gut that everything I read should be taken with a huge grain of salt. I found myself doing some fact checking on things that I hoped would be true but could find no substantiating evidence. YES....the media has a huge responsibility, FB does as well. We need to demand that the MSM are held to high journalistic standards and put facts abvet profit margins .But the American citizens also have a responsibility to educate themselves to the truth, even if it takes some effort. Unfortunately, there are too many who will always take what is spoon fed to them as inarguable truth and spread it as widely as they can.

    1. I agree that people need to take responsibility for informing themselves...but most people are just...LAZY. Much easier to just absorb what is put in front of them...they're not going to go looking for truth. What we have to do is make sure that what is put in front of them IS truth, or at least un-spun facts from which they can then draw their own opinions. Difficult, yes. Impossible...maybe. But that's the kind of challenge we like, isn't it?