journalism, politics

The only words you need to know for the campaign: Tell the truth

At the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, comedian Wanda Sykes had some simple advice for the president: Stick with your lie.

Ah, the good old days. Back when the country was running relatively smoothly, so we filled the 24-hour news void with the Starr Report.

But the rough part is that “Stick with your lie” has become the prevailing campaign philosophy.

Jay Rosen, a frequent critic of journalists passing off the “view from nowhere” as objectivity, sums up the problem.

Suppose a major party candidate for president believed we were in a “post-truth” era and actually campaigned that way. Would political reporters in the mainstream press figure it out and tell us?

I say no. They would not tell us. Not in any clear way.

Why not? Rosen continues:

Exposes the press to criticism in too clear a fashion. Messes with the “both sides do it”/we’re impartial narrative that political journalists have mastered: and deeply believe in. Romney will be fact checked, his campaign will push back from time to time, the fact checkers will argue among themselves, and the post-truth premise will sneak into common practice without penalty or recognition, even though there is nothing covert about it.

Depressing thought.

To be sure, “both sides do it” to some extent. You can find people of all political stripes who’ve decided the ends justify the means. (I’d call it Machiavellian if Cracked hadn’t showed that we’ve all been misusing the term.)

But sometimes, when the fact-checkers try to grab one from the “other” side to balance things out, they overreach. “Both sides” is NOT objectivity. (Sometimes, as in the current outsourcing debate, everyone is indeed lying.)

So let’s get back to Rosen’s post, in which he sums up a few campaign tactics: keep repeating lies until people believe them (climate change and “death panels” would be good examples), build your own facts and history, etc.

We should be demanding better. Instead, we write off the fact-checkers as partisan. If Jon Stewart and Andrew Sullivan raise the same complaint, we label Stewart as “liberal” and Sullivan as “not really conservative.” People write off Politifact as partisan even though their current home page is rather evenly split between parties. (Nice of MoveOn to provide so much material for them!)

We’ve got four more months of this garbage. I think the only way to get through it isn’t to heat up the rhetoric. It’s not to seek phony “balance.” It’s to demand the truth. Period.



Hey, reporters! Slow down, you move too fast …

Reporter!So says Amy Sullivan at The New Republic, drawing heavily upon the CNN/Fox “oopsie” with the health care verdict:

I know I’m often out-of-the-loop when it comes to journalism norms and conventions, but this one honestly confounds me. Has any publication ever received a Pulitzer for being the first to report a major announcement? Is there some secret reward at stake—free cookies for a year? A trip to Hawaii? Do colleagues buy you a drink to congratulate you on beating the other networks by ten seconds?

Sullivan quite rightly distinguishes between a “scoop” in the sense of “the money trail that connected the Watergate break-ins to the White House” and a “scoop” in the sense of “hey, I learned 10 seconds before this other dude that Romney is picking Ross Perot to be his running mate.”*

To which Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith tells AdWeek

Scoops matter, in part, because they are typically a product of being deeply sourced in your beat, and good beat reporters get them almost as a by-product of good beat reporting.

To which someone who warned about the dangers of hyperspeed many years ago said:

Bullshit. Scoops are just as often a product of being in tight with your source, either through careful psychological maneuvers or being completely biased toward their point of view. 

But that’s a little off-topic. Sullivan has responded to the critics (all of whom are apparently journalists who take a lot of pride in being “first”):

It was obviously once a matter of pride that has now become the expectation for every story, big and small. That may be good for business, but I still say it’s not good for journalism. And I still don’t care who yells “first!” in the giant comments section that is modern journalism.

Jeff Jarvis, someone with whom I don’t always agree, came up with a quote worth remembering in the wake of the original crisis:

Journalists must think how they can best add value to information, not how they can most rapidly repeat it.

Andrew Sullivan was quick to criticize Sullivan, but as he so often does, he has continued into a reasonable discussion. (You know, the sort of thing we don’t get in “news” these days.)

* As far as I know, Romney is NOT picking Ross Perot to be his running mate. This is a hypothetical. You didn’t just Tweet otherwise, did you?

journalism, music

Reviews in which not even the reviewer knows what he’s talking about …

Neil Peart’s dragon-tailed paradiddles and Alex Lifeson’s helix solos make the koanic hokum of Peart’s lyrics …

via Clockwork Angels | Album Reviews | Rolling Stone.

A paradiddle is a snare drum fundamental: Left-right-left-left, right-left-right-right. Peart may or may not use it in some of his drum fills, but you really have no way of knowing unless you watch him in slow motion.

Koanic? Wait — is Neil writing paradoxical questions here to free his mind for meditation? What?

Helix? Is Alex spiraling upward as he plays? I can’t picture him figure skating.

Hmmmm …

I’m reminded of Robin Williams reviewing wine: “Absurd, yet flaccid.”

Or Peter Griffin: “I find this meatloaf shallow and pedantic.”

Or Inigo Montoya:


cynicism, web

Want to get famous? Sue The Oatmeal!

It’s an old story:

1. Lawyer reviews Aggregation Site, finds that Creative Site has complained about Aggregation Site’s copyright infringement.

2. Lawyer demands Creative Site send Aggregation Site $20,000, or else we’ll all to court.

3. Creative Site tells lawyer to stuff it, deciding instead that he’s going to raise $20,000 for charity. He ends up raising 10-11 times that much.

4. Lawyer sues Creative Site, not on behalf of Aggregation Site but on his own accord, claiming “cyber-vandalism.”

5. Entire Internet convulses with laughter.

6. Lawyer drops suit. (Ars Technica | TechCrunch)

7. Lawyer claims victory, saying he’s now famous. (By that standard, Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton worked extremely hard to gain their places in the public eye.)

There was a hint of Lawyer Charles Carreon’s strategy in this Washington Post blog post June 18: “Carreon tells Comic Riffs one of his goals is to become the go-to attorney for people who feel they have been cyber-vandalized or similarly wronged on the Internet.”

As we’ve seen in the media, it doesn’t matter if 98% of the people who know your name think ill of you. As long as the other 2% give you money.

So should we mention that Carreon’s site includes a questionable framing of the Mercury News site?