Saturday, December 04, 2004

 

I Disagree With Everything Frank Rich Writes, Including His Prepositions.

New York Times opinion columnist Frank Rich serves up a doozy in the Saturday Times.

Rich makes the argument that the succession of Brian Williams to the anchor chair of the NBC Nightly News is an attempt to pander to red state voters.

Now, given how the only pandering Brian Williams ever seems to conduct is directed towards folks Rich could comfortably call ideological allies, that charge is curious at best.

While getting your thesis paragraph wrong is usually a good sign to quit writing while you're ahead, Rich continues, expanding his criticism of NBC’s mythical pandering to include any such attempt, by just about anyone in the media, at ever looking at the news without blue state blinders on. Blinders that Rich assumes are, of course, the natural and just state of affairs in the national media.

How dare NBC executives talk about appealing to "Nascar dads," and "moral values.” What gall NBC displays, undertaking even this feeble attempt at outreach to the part of America Frank Rich so strongly disdains.

One nice bit in the essay has Rich criticizing the NBC and ABC Sunday news programs for recently inviting religious figures on their programs to discuss the role of morality in today’s politics. I enjoyed this charge because, if anything, the TV discussions represented a tin-ear display by the networks, particularly NBC. Rather than get someone clearly politically influential, like Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, NBC demonstrates it's ignorance of the modern evangelical Right by dredging up Jerry Falwell as their representative.

Gee, NBC; if you’re going to live in the past and pretend its still 1985, can you at least bring back the The Cosby Show to Thursday nights? It couldn’t do any worse than Joey.

Oh, and I won’t even mention that NBC thinks that the religious equivalent to Falwell is the “Reverend” Al Sharpton. I have my problems with both, to put it very mildly. But I can at least appreciate that Falwell knows his evangelical Christian theology. I think the last time Al read the Bible was the last time I read the Weekly Reader.

I mean, in school. You know, not for fun.

However, my absolute favorite quote in the Rich article has to be this para:
The evening newscasts' ratings have been sinking for years, their budgets slashed, their audience forever slipping into the pharmaceutical demographic. The investigation into Mr. Rather's apparent reliance on forged documents in a "60 Minutes" exposé of President Bush's National Guard record is an added embarrassment, perhaps rivaling Rupert Murdoch's publication of the "authenticated" Hitler diaries two decades ago.
This is preposterous Klein bottle logic at its finest.

Firstly, the phrase “Mr. Rather’s apparent reliance on forged documents.” The word apparent, if it can be used at all in this sentence, is in the wrong place. I guess that a reasonable person—a reasonably wrong person, but reasonable nonetheless—could still believe that these were “apparent” forgeries, at least pending the release of the final results of the CBS investigation. However, no one can say that Rather apparently relied on the documents. He not only relied on them, he defended them far beyond the realm of sensible journalistic integrity. Or was I too drunk on Creme de Menthe at the time to notice otherwise?

Secondly, I just love the bitchy pettiness of the Hitler dig. Sure, Murdoch was hoodwinked; criminally defrauded, actually. Was he eager to believe the diaries were real, to make a buck? Of course. But after the diaries were exposed as a fraud, the case was closed; there was no rearguard action of denial.

Oh, and one more thing: the Hitler Diaries were peddled as historically interesting. The Bush “memos” were peddled as news worthy during a presidential election cycle. I'd say there's a slightly different context at work here.

Frank Rich continues with a series of paras praising the relevance of network news, mostly so he can slam bloggers. It is here that Rich writes this howler:
The dense text in the best blogs often requires as much of a reader's time and concentration as high-end print journalism, itself facing declining circulation.
True; but unlike print journalism, blogging—and the internet as a whole-- allows the reader the option of finding out as much information as they want, or need. The story in Page 3 of the New York Times eventually ends, is delivered in one voice with no opportunity for an alternative viewpoint, and comes for a price. A reader can surf the blogs, or online news sites, for free, and at a far faster speed than he or she can read any paper.

Yes, an argument can be made that such speed of consumption does not contribute to comprehension. But to argue that the problem with internet sources is that there’s *too much* information implicity condemns print journalism, and certainly television journalism, to the conclusion that the traditional media provides too little information.

Yet Rich argues that one reason bloggers are largely irrelevant in comparison to the mainstream media (MSM) is that, unlike the major media organizations, bloggers don’t have a budget to “reliably blanket catastrophic and far-flung breaking news,” such as in Iraq.

Hmmm. Has Frank Rich even used the internet in the last three years? Military blogs like Citizen Smash, Countercolumn, Argggh! and My War all report plenty of news from Iraq; in many cases unfiltered, directly from soldiers on the ground. Even some free Iraqis have their own blogs, like the consistently fascinating Iraq the Model.

And you want on-site coverage of the Ukrainian situation? Sure, you can read that online too.

And does the MSM even know who Theo Van Gogh is, and how important that story is?

Sure, I rely on the MSM to give me the "big picture" news, as casual bloggers don’t have access to the President’s advisors, or the U.N. Security Council. Plus, the MSM video feed is indispensable in coverage of breaking stories.

But the plethora and diversity of viewpoints on the internet permit a reader to acquire information of a vastly superior breadth and depth than if they relied entirely on the MSM as their sole source for news, let alone commentary & analysis. Surely it's no crime to believe that *both* sources are necessary, indeed, even complementary?

More importantly, with respect to Iraq, the MSM has in many instances abandoned any desire they may have had to cover more than a few select angles of the story. Who would I rather trust for an objective knowledge of events in Ramadi? Lt. Jason Van Steenwyk, who intimately knows Ramadi because he served there for a year, or the CNN journalist on a two-month rotation to Baghdad, who never has to leave his Green Zone hotel to file his report?

Again, I'm not trying to portray this as an either/or proposition. That’s where Frank Rich, and other condescending critics of “alternative” sources of media go wrong. They think the main thrust of Right-wing blogger criticism of the MSM is aimed at supplanting the MSM with a Right-wing monopoly of news and views.

I can’t speak for every Right-wing blogger, but I feel comfortable aguing that this is unlikely to be the case. We criticize because, in many cases, we love. We want the MSM to be better than it is, unbiased in reporting facts and forthright in acknowledging opinion when it is aired, because that improves the state of our national discourse. And we recognize that bloggers can't do it all, and that most Americans will continue to get their news via the MSM, whatever that is. Many on the Right, while criticizing the MSM for their bias, have expressed how important it is to have a fair MSM vice abandoning it entirely. You can see that philosophy, which I happen to share, summed up well in this piece by Jonah Goldberg.

I don’t think many Right-wing bloggers would be terribly upset if the New York Times announced that it was going to openly identify itself as a liberal newspaper. For many, such a step would only acknowledge the obvious. Yet, such honesty would purchase the Times credibility as it reinforced the distinction between facts, and opinions.

You can be a liberal media outlet and separate reporting of facts and opinion, just as you can be conservative media outlet and maintain that divide. As long as you have the integrity to announce this separation in advance, empowering the reader to exercise caveat emptor, it’s okay to have a biased opinion. The greatest insult on the part of the MSM is their insinuation that they don’t need to do this, because everything they report is undeniably objective.

I have a bridge to sell you for that one.

Before I end this, I must comment on one final, funny bit from the Rich article:
Bloggers can fact-check documents (as in the Rather case), opine, organize, talk back, leak early exit polls and publish multimedia outings of the seemingly endless supply of closeted gay Republican officials.
Where did this meme come from, that all bloggers were equally responsible for leaking the early exit polls favorable to Senator Kerry on 2 November, and claiming those polls represented an inevitable trend? Because the not all bloggers were guilty.

The bloggers at fault were mostly left-of-center bloggers, like Wonkette, Josh Marshall, and Oliver “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” Willis-- not to mention the liberal website Slate-- all of whom were cheerleading for Kerry that day, and grasping at the early (yet flawed) exit polls showing Kerry in the lead. But hey, as long as Frank Rich is bashing Right-wing bloggers, he might as well tar and feather them with the sins of the Left-wing bloggers too.

Finally, outing closeted gay Republican officials? Did I miss a story here? Which gay Republican was outed recently? Jim McGreevey?

Oops, sorry, I forgot—the former New Jersey Governor is a Democrat, and he was outed when his ethical corruption could no longer continue. Different story altogether, and not applicable here.

Anyways. That’s enough beating up on Frank Rich for now. I need my beauty sleep.

---
UPDATE: A regular reader of Garfield Ridge emailed to inform me who the "mystery gay Republican" mentioned above is. A few clicks later, and I discovered that Larry Flynt (of course) was behind this latest muckracking. Oh, and you wanna know which blogger came up first on Google when I searched for the story? Surprise, surprise: Wonkette.

She's just a miserable excuse for a human being, isn't she?

Comments:
"Finally, outing closeted gay Republican officials? Did I miss a story here? Which gay Republican was outed recently?" The outing is most likely the story of the Repub field director who won't discuss his private life and has been "outed" on several "progressive" sites like Blue Lemur. It's vile demo-lib hypocrisy at its' worst, be glad you missed it. And thank you for shredding Rich, a truly loathsome creature.
 
Oh what the hell – have some Joseph Epstein too. These guys should all get together in a bar and clink their triple-scotches in a haze of fraternal backslapping while the world passes by the door.
 
Regarding the closet gay Republican who was outed by Larry Flynt - there are two Los Angeles talk radio show hosts who were (and are) opposed to this particular Republican because of his lukewarm (cold) stance on illegal immigration. When the outing story was about to break in LA Weekly, they had the LA Weekly story author on for one half hour exactly, then dropped the story, never to mention it again. It wasn't important to their political position, so there was no need to cover it further.

The one problem that I have with MSM is that they are locked into the dual left-right blue-red struggle. This has been true at least since the days of Point-Counterpoint (which Dan Aykroyd parodied with his famous phrase "Jane, you ignorant slut!"). The world doesn't work that way. For example, the two talk show hosts above were perceived by some opponents as right wing because of their opposition to illegal immigration, but then people didn't know what to do when they (a) opposed a position taken by President Bush, and (b) endorsed a Democrat who demanded that employers who hire illegal aliens be punished. The MSMs, at a loss because these talk radio show hosts didn't fit into their neat simple little model, simply gave up. There are all sorts of views in the Republican Party; there are all sorts of views in the Democratic party; there are all sorts of views in the other parties. Media outlets who reduce the whole thing to simple red vs. blue are doing a disservice to their readers/listeners.
 
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