Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dereliction Of Duty, The Grey Lady Goes AWOL

I  usually look forward to Fridays, they are my only real off day. I get to sleep in, lounge about, or get stuff done. So imagine my dismay when Taylor Marsh pointed out an epically egregious Op-Ed in the New York Times “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?” It took all my limited amounts of self control and self restraint to avoid picking up a verbal flamethrower and fricasseeing Mr. Arthur S. Brisbane to charcoal perfection. This is the great great lady’s “readers' representative”? Things have seemed to have only gotten worse since Judith Miller lowered the TImes to the level of over-priced fish wrap.

Sorry, let me try to dial this back a bit. If I don’t regain some composure, this posting won’t be readable in any kind of family setting.  It is going to be difficult because the article begins wrong right at the title and keeps right on digging a deeper hole until the final coda.

Let us look at the title gentle reader, let us drill down to the singular word that causes your faithful reporter to set his phasers to “vaporize.” Exactly how does telling the truth make one a vigilante? Tell me, how does that happen? How can one point out the truth “violently and summarily, without recourse to lawful procedures”? The very use of the word vigilante smacks of rude frontier justice and more darkly; lynch mobs with murder in their hearts. To my eyes this reads like arrogance mixed with condescension. “Do you readers really expect us to get our hands dirty by calling out the lies of politicians? How unseemly” is message bleeding out from the very beginning. 

That the “readers’ representative” should spend so much time, effort, ink and electrons wringing his hands over what should be the core competency and responsibility of a reporting,  ie. reporting the facts, is beyond depressing. From the article itself :

“readers... look to The Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.

Is that the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another?”
I have never seen so many fails power-packed into two paragraphs in a long time.  Sorry, there is no objective and fair as far as facts are concerned. There is no fair and balanced way to point out a lie. Their is no way to balance out the big fat lie of President Obama having an “apology tour” or the myriad of other falsehoods spewed out by the Republican Party. 

This is where PolitiFact got in such serious trouble. By trying to “balance out” big fat Republican lies with a big fat Democratic lie, PolitiFact jumped the shark with its claim that Obama “lied” when he claimed that Republicans voted to end Medicare. PolitiFact then doubled down on that goof when they made the Obama claim “Lie of the year.” In a foolish attempt to balance out Democratic Party lies with Republican lies PolitiFact managed to construct is own whopper of misstatement. 

Like it or not, quite often the truth, the summation of data, the results of the real world, are neither fair nor balanced. Quite often you can be fair or objective; but not both.

For example if you are objective, ei reality based, evidence driven, and results oriented, then you have to admit that climate change is real. Global CO2 poisoning, its deleterious effects, and its acceleration are no longer a subject of debate. There is the fact that climbing CO2 levels in the atmosphere are having an effect; they are changing the environment of the entire globe in ways that are both dangerous and harmful. The science is sold, unbending and inescapable. There is no real debate, there is the truth, and then there is the big fat lie of denial. For any media outlet to speak of a debate, or to attempt to be ‘fair” in providing “both sides of the story,” is to participate in an abject abandonment of their public trust. There are no two sides, there is only a rise to CO2 levels last seen when T-Rex was alive and kicking. There is only human actions that threaten to catastrophically alter the very earth we depend on for subsistence. 

I could give example after example that once you become actually objective, based in results, fairness becomes moot. Ideologies, both left and right, sink once they strike the unforgiving rocks of reality. Results matter, gentle reader, and sooner or later the onrushing flood of results, the accumulation of stubborn facts, will sink many a grand ideology. You can twist words into any type of pretzel you wish. You can change the optics anyway you please. Sooner or later the facts will out, sooner or later the barbarians arrive at the gates, sooner or later the ivory castle will fall.

I have no idea when the great grey lady lost this simple truth. It has been a long, slow, torturous process; the death of a thousand cuts. The media of today is a shadow of itself; a dim reflection of the glory days of the late 40’s to late 60’s. Granted the media never really lived up to its self-proclaimed position of the forth estate, at least not in the U.S. If you look at the history of journalism, at the real dirty, nasty underbelly of a press that was scurrilous and highly partisan, the idea of an unbiased, fair, balanced, objective press is a fairly new institution. The idea of an unbiased truth teller is a work in process at best, and perhaps a deception-- a bit of self delusion.

Still as Rachel Maddow proves again and again, you can have a point of view without sinking into the fetid waters of propaganda. You can do journalism that is both factually correct and advances a particular political philosophy. In other words, it is quite possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. 

The hand wringing by Mr. Bisbane is what the Filipinos call “maarte.” Literally maarte means “full of art” but is better translated as being a drama queen. Reporters do have a responsibility, if they want to be more than stenographers, to point out when a source is telling a fabrication, a  misstatement, a misdirection, a lie. Reporters can research, test case when conflicting statements are made. They need not default to he-said, she-said reporting. The data are out there, the published, peer reviewed papers are out their, the history is out there, do the work. 

And that is the real issue here. At the end of the day it is all about the refusal of Corporate Media to do the work of journalism. It is about how reporters, who once were, at their best,  barely on the outside fringes of respectability, got utterly co-opted and corrupted by becoming part of the establishment. It is about how reporters abandoned their readers to become the hand maids of the political and economic elites. It is about how the Media abandoned its post and let the barbarians overrun our political process.
 The OpEd from the Times is admission that the great grey lady is still non compos mentis; unable and unwilling to do the work of reporting. It is a response of nolo contendere to the charges of gross neglect and gross incompetence by the Times. Well, at least we have it writing; that’s a start. 
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