« Spam Filters Run Amok | Main | Turning Junk Into Health Food Through the Magic of Labels »

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Political hit groups and media blowhards dish out lies and misinformation, average people who don't think critically eat it up, and our mainstream media reports the controversy.

It is a pretty ridiculous tempest in a teapot, IMO. I think there is a lot of fear, in some people, that their children will grow up thinking that having a black president is normal, and not some freak anomaly.

I admit that I was initially displeased to hear about the address to students.

The problem, as usual, was that the stories being told were not the entire story. Only the parts that particular people wanted you to hear.

I had not even heard what the content of the address was going to be. Mostly what I heard people being outraged over was the "suggested discussion points" put out by the department of education, which came off as leading/suggestive questions about how the kids would fall in line to support the presidents goals. That aspect didn't seem appropriate to me either.

Later I read that some of the more controversial questions were dropped or modified. I also read, later on, that the content of Obama's address was not going to be about policies and it was going to be more about studying hard, and staying in school. Nothing controversial about that.

So having cleared the bad air around it, if I have any criticisms/questions remaining, they would be whether or not it's a good use of the students' and teachers' time, and even if this is a good use of the president's time given the alternatives he can be working on.

Traveling around the cookouts and weddings this summer, and talking to relatives and friends, I'm dismayed at the appalling level of stupidity amongst people on current events and about problems we face. There is fervent support for causes that are simply bad ideas, and people are outraged about issues based completely on false rumors.

Don't even get me going about my inbox and all of the "Where is the outrage emails" and useless false rumors about Michelle ordering lobsters and $200 bottles of champagne at the hotel, her shopping spree in London and how Obama was actually a shape-shifter born in another galaxy and is preparing us for a takeover by aliens.

AJ, it's true that people don't think critically. Apparently one of the skills that our schools don't bother teaching anymore.

It's the fear factor that I find most concerning. Society cannot function properly if everyone is yelling "fire" in the theater every 12 minutes.

Mark: I apparently missed the shape-shifting thing.

Landismom: After addressing the "ridiculous tempest in a teapot" in your first sentence (which we agree on), you jump right to blaming it on racism in your second sentence. Did I read that right?

Some people are racist, but the criticisms of this school address seem to be based on things having nothing to do with race. Misinformation was a major factor in this case. I know a bunch of people who expressed concern over this. Not a single one that I know was even the least bit racist. And once the full information was out there, not a single one of them remained upset or concerned about it. So how is race an issue?

Brett: OK, I didn't really get an email claiming that he's an alien from another galaxy, but it wouldn't shock me to get making that claim. Some of the emails that people send me are almost that far gone. Lunatics!

Fear-mongering is a huge problem. I can't watch TV news anymore, for this very reason... TV News "spoon feeds" you the fear, and they don't give you any time to reflect before they spoon feed you your next helping of fear. At least when you read something you can stop and reflect and put on your critical thinking cap.

Mark: Do you think part of the problem is the dismantling of the press?

What scares me about the fear-mongering is just how extreme it has become. I've heard such outlandish claims that I actually believed you about the shape-shifting email.

BTW,I stopped watching TV news more than two decades ago.

Sorry, I should have put a smiley next to that "Obama, the alien shape-shifter" thing. Just my exaggeration though of how outlandish people are with their crazy talk. You apparently see lots of crazy stuff like I do. People are nuts.

Not sure what you mean about "dismantling of the press".

My overall impression of the press is that it's been letting itself fall apart for many years.

Two things come to mind: Business Models and Objectivity of Reporting.

Regarding objectivity, there seems to be a lot of trust issues that people have with the MSM. The bias that many of our major newspapers exhibit is pretty serious. At some point, you start to question everything that is written by the papers. Am I getting the truth? Am I getting the whole story?

They have been behaving more like partisan arms of the various parties. They may describe themselves as non-partisan and objective. Give me a break. If I want subjective, opinionated, partisan news, I can find that in plenty of other places for free. Blogs, for example. At least with them wearing their biases on their sleeve, I know what to expect.

Take Rathergate as an example: The press really did themselves some damage and lost respect. That's a great example of our "press" actually manufacturing and promoting bad information (and possibly knowing it was bad information from the start), they put it out there because it fit the agenda they wanted to push.

If people can't trust the press, they'll assume the worse case scenarios about politics and might believe some of the ridiculous stuff that goes around in chain emails.

I think a solid, relatively unbiased, objective press could squelch some of the nonsense, assuming that it could pick up readers that it has lost. But that's a pipe dream, IMHO, because I don't believe that the press as we've known it will every be solid, relatively unbiased or objective.

[ I kind of mix the press and major network news all in one bundle of "the MSM" when I talk about it above. ]

Regarding the question raised about the press, and my response, I just came across this elsewhere:

Press Accuracy Rating Hits Two Decade Low
Public Evaluations of the News Media: 1985-2009

In today's environment, the press is doomed. No one wants to pay for a high-quality press so cutbacks will continue. Plus, everyone sees bias, even when there is none.

In this environment, no one is going to trust the press even if it could be proved objective. The hate is too great.

Brett: "...everyone sees bias, even when there is none."

Me: Brett, I've come to believe that bias is everywhere and you're rarely, if ever, going to find something that is perfectly objective.

Ultimately, reporting involves humans, and they are going to see things through their eyes, and then describe them to us using their words. Even if they try to be objective, I think some amount of bias is going to creep in.

And as long as readers can understand this, then they can read the news and adjust for biases.

But sometimes the bias that comes through is way too much. Some times objectivity is thrown completely out the window. When I hear people saying, "That's it, I'm calling up and canceling right now!" it's never due to subtle biases. It is usually because an article is written that is so blatantly dishonest that it outrages people.

Brett: In this environment, no one is going to trust the press even if it could be proved objective. The hate is too great.

Me: That sounds an awful lot like blaming the reader for the newspapers problems. What do you mean by "hate"?

If you say, "The mistrust is too great", then I agree with your point, but how did the papers lose the trust in the first place?

The newspapers like to blame the blogs for ruining things, but I think they're looking for a scapegoat more than anything.

Where was the press on Van Jones? I read that the NYT didn't have a story on him until he resigned. The blogs were all over the story for a month before he resigned. And where has the press been on ACORN?

Jon Stewart has some fun with this and asks where the mainstream press was while this was going down. Good question.

When someone asks where's the mainstream press, I have a very direct answer: unemployed. In fact, more than 13,000 journalists lost their jobs this year and almost 16,000 last year. http://graphicdesignr.net/papercuts/

When the Latimes editorial staff was at its peak, it was around 1,200 journalists. Now it's under 600.

But more than 600 have lost their jobs. Why? Because some were let go to bring in journalists at lower pay.

While the NYT hasn't had as many layoffs, it has suffered as well. (FYI, I haven't been following the ACORN stories.)

And yes, I definitely think the word "hate" applies. Just read the comments on publications around the Internet. (You should see the comment in the Arizona Republic.)

There is an active campaign against mainstream journalism that creates a HUGE bias against all journalism. I''m not saying the MSM is perfect, but until something new arises, we're at the mercy of government and business in the meantime. The problem is especially acute when it comes to small towns and communities that are no longer covered.

Consider this: studies show that if you give the same article to Conservative and Liberal readers, both will complain that the article is unfair. If you show the article placed in a liberal or conservative publication, the cries of bias go up if your beliefs are opposite. Cries of bias go down if the article is in a publication you agree with.

I'm sure that much of that is true Brett, and I sympathize with your plight of being a journalist in this current world.

And I do agree with you that "bias" itself is pretty subjective. (it's not bias if I agree with it)

But if people are boycotting a product for whatever reasons, the company has to take a long hard look at the situation to see how to fix it.

If you assume that, for example, the LATimes is truly unbiased, but people perceive it to be, then something has to be done to address the perceptions.

And going back to my earlier comment, I don't think that the problems are just bias and lack of trust issues.

I think it's about business models too. I'm not very knowledgeable about this, but content delivery on the internet has exploded and changed the way that people get their news. I've seen stories about advertising on the internet and it seems like nobody has really cracked that nut. Where do papers get their revenues from? Advertising and Subscriptions? How's that working out online? This is probably a bigger issue than the bias and trust, IMHO.

You said, "I'm not saying the MSM is perfect, but until something new arises, we're at the mercy of government and business in the meantime."

Are we really waiting for something to arise? Aren't online media sites that cover news, politics, entertainment, tech, fashion, and sports available here and now? Are we really at the mercy of government and big business?

Personally, I've never felt like I've had so much information and news at my fingertips and I'm probably suffering from overload.

MSM popularity: while it's true print had been declining, mainstream publications have more readers than ever online. The problem, as you mentioned, has more to do with the business model.

Good journalism is expensive and online advertising doesn't fully pay for it. And that's where the current problem is. Newspapers cut their journalists because there is not enough revenue to pay real wages.

As you mentioned there is more information online, but there are serious problems with it: some is rehash of work performed by the MSM, some of it is amateur hour and some of it is intentionally misleading.

Plus, weaker organizations have trouble going up against biz and gov. Lack of funds for Freedom Of Information suits is one example. Shortage of experienced, well-paid journalists and researchers to look at deeper issues is another.

And most importantly: too few journalists cover local municipalities, county governments, sate government and local businesses. That means a lot of content is never looked at, much less reported on.

So do you think there is anything good going on out there with the evolution of news and the Internet? Anything positive about blogs that report any kinds of news?

Doesn't the internet bring the power of the press to the masses? $100 video recorders, digital cameras, and the ability to publish online to a huge audience... etc etc.

In addition to amateur hour, intentionally misleading information, and rehashes of MSM work, aren't there some pretty detailed, accurate, and original things being published?

Haven't there been some pretty big scoops that originated on the web with small-time journalists armed with blogging tools?

Is it all bad news? Are the newspapers balking at the change rather than figuring out how they're going to ride the new waves and participate in the evolution?

Oh, I do think a lot of good new things are happening online when it comes to news. Some of it is outstanding, if a bit wonkish or narrowly focused.

It's just that nothing has appeared yet that will fill the huge gaps. It's sort of like turning off 4 of every 5 stoplights in town. The ones working won't prevent a crash.

Interesting analogy.

Though maybe it's like turning out 4 out of every 5 stoplights in town, and then turning on all the other lights like they have in Las Vegas, so that there is no shortage of light, but it's all flashing and colorful, and most of has nothing to do with traffic control. The future is so bright, I have to wear shades! ;-)

It's going to get really bright, too. You should see all the experiments in the pipeline. Too bad none pay.

Briefly back to the topic on bias in the newspapers... I just happened across an interesting writeup on it in this week's Washington Post.

I think Andrew's column does a fairly good job of explaining what happened. BTW, I know him as well as IU Prof. Weaver.

Where is the outcry over our kids getting sick as the Food and Drug Administration let contaminated peanut butter and pistachios hit the market?

The comments to this entry are closed.

Become a Fan

Blog powered by Typepad


  • The opinions expressed on DadTalk are the author(s) and the author(s) alone. We make no warranties on the accuracy of the information. Any personal or financial decisions you make based on the information presented on this website are YOUR SOLE RESPONSIBILITY ONLY.