Friday, November 19, 2010

On False Equivalencies, Dichotomies, and Golden Ages in the Media

Still taking a much needed break from the behemoth in the room that is corporate influence. . .

When I first heard about plans for The Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, it kind of annoyed me. What's it about? What's Jon Stewart trying to do? Do we really need another rally? Mobilizing thousands of people--for what? The explanation that it was going to be a "festival" didn't squelch my grumpiness, either. Then why call it a rally?

Upon my neighbor's recommendation,  I watched Jon Stewart's speech and I thought: Okay, he did a good job with that; I enjoyed hearing what he had to say. I liked what I saw and what I heard from folks who had gone. But still something nagged at me about it. Although his speech was stirring, he looked rather undignified. I know, I know, when does Jon Stewart actually look dignified? But there is an authoritative dignity in how he metes out criticism, regardless of party affiliation or views, of those he satires, and I admire him for that. His rally undermined my high estimation of him. To me, he's not the guy who is supposed to organize or host the rallies; rather, he's the guy who is supposed to critique them.

When the more lefty pundits responded to his rally and the statements he made with the criticism that he was making false equivalencies between the right-wing television media, such as Fox News, and the left-wing television media, such as MSNBC, although it was not my particular quibble, I thought they had a legitimate point. As Bill Maher said, "two opposing sides don't necessarily have two compelling arguments."

After defending himself against the criticism, Stewart agreed to an interview with Rachel Maddow, which was quite lengthy, so I won't reflect on all of it, but one thing he did say was that he organized the rally in response to what he sees as the false dichotomy the media portrays between, for example, red states and blue states, and that what he hoped to bring attention to were the real problems, for example, of corruption and of deception. This is exactly what I like about his show and what I think he compromised--he should have known better than to expect to maintain that message during and after such a rally. Of course, then Stewart went on to make more false equivalents, this time between Republicans' seeing President Clinton through rose colored glasses and the Democrats' viewing Reagan much the same way. "Come on, you hated these guys," Stewart chided. No you come on, Jon, were the Iran-Contra hearings really the same as those of impeachment?

As  I was pondering the death of journalism and my own role as a blogger and writer after reading this article in The New York Times Magazine and this one in the Columbia Journalism Review, this op-ed by Ted Koppel came out in The Washington Post, entitled, "Olbermann, O'Reilly, and the death of real news." I think I was kind of bemoaning the same thing in this post about the death of true print journalism. But I realized after watching Olbermann's response that just as there was no golden era of television journalism, there probably was no golden era of print journalism, either.

Come to think of it, as I explained in my comment (scroll all the way down) on Ted Genoways's "Death of Fiction" piece in Mother Jones, I'm usually suspicious of false golden era claims or what I sometimes call "the kids today. . ." complaint. Conditions change, perspectives change, technology innovates, and transitions occur, but human nature and the need to write and report stay the same. In his response to Koppel's piece, wise lowkell over at Blue Virginia was able to express way better than I could, especially at 9:21 on a Friday night, how this is all coming together here and now.

On that note, good night and good luck.

UPDATE I: I forgot to mention this excellent article in the Atlantic by Michael Hirschorn about what happens to facts as they go through internet reports and social media.

UPDATE II: I'm waaay too sleepy to write coherently about this seven-year-old article in the Columbia Journalism Review that I just read about journalism and objectivity, but I will say for now that man, is it good and man, is it still relevant. If only anyone had or would follow author Brent Cunningham's proposals. Unfortunately, we're more entrenched than ever in a journalistic culture that includes major holes in coverage, lazy reporting, balancing coverage (as opposed to truthful coverage), and dearth of varied perspectives, aka, economic diversity, in newsrooms. But, hey, that's what happens when investigative journalism is not funded or valued as an integral part of a healthy democracy. 

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