03. October 2004 · Comments Off on Memo: The Old Order Changeth · Categories: General, Media Matters Not

To: Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and other Major Media
From: Sgt Mom
Re: Getting With the Program

1. I am so sorry that you are only now coming to realize that James Fallows had a point in his 1996 polemic “Breaking the News”, an exhaustive examination of the manner in which the major news outlets— especially television news— warped the democratic process. Eight years ago, Mr. Fallows’ work included chapters on the isolation of the big media stars from ordinary working Americans, a lengthy exposition on the contempt in which big media was held by much of their audience, and a number of suggestions on how major media could reclaim a degree of respect. For his pains, I have the impression that Mr. Fallows was written off by big media as some sort of cranky iconoclast, but while he did not foresee the explosion of internet blogging that would bring about a sort of citizens’ media which he thought would be necessary, I do not think the debacle of the Killian memos came entirely as a surprise to an otherwise astute and knowledgeable observer such as Mr. Fallows.

2. Gentleman, be assured it is a debacle, and whining about being “demonized” and the “object of a kind of political jihad”, and bitching about the expertise of a bunch of people in their pajamas does not change the fact that technology has given a large number of people the means of subverting your role as gatekeepers, checking out original sources for ourselves, and fact-checking your flaccid chair-born asses from here to the Arctic Circle and back again. The days of being the kindly and benevolent provider of “The News” to the backward and ignorant masses are now officially over. The masses, as befit the free people of a large, technologically sophisticated and prosperous nation, are not in the mood to accept your pronouncements unquestioningly, not when we have alternatives available.

3. Which brings up another point: who the heck died and appointed you all to be media gods, beyond criticism or question? Exactly, what are your qualifications, aside from being able stand in front of a camera with a suitably somber mien, and read broadcast copy at 14 lines per minute? J-school graduate? Well, being basically literate is a good thing, but most English majors can equal that. Research? Original thinking? Oh, please. Until two or three years ago, knowledge of a subject, ability to write in an interesting manner, a wide-ranging intellect, curiosity about the darnedest imaginable topics— until the explosion of the blogosphere, all this had no outlet save for letters to the editor. And now, it is the most marvelous intellectual smorgasbord, available to anyone with internet access. And anyone with the interest can have their own, for not very much at all. Look over your shoulder, gentlemen— they’ve been gaining on you. Why should we pay any mind to you when we have subject-matter experts in all kind of arcane knowledge, and eyewitness on the ground in far distant places?

4. Look, we’ve known for years that there is bias in news: there are some stories and issues that are treated gently, like a pearl of great value, and there are others that receive the inquisitional treatment. If you are truly unbiased, this is something that you will have to address, sooner or later. It’s the pretense of being unbiased that brought down the wrath of the pajamamati on Mr. Rather’s head— that, and basing a political hit-piece in an election season on documents that were so clumsily produced and easily debunked, by a large number of experts. I never like to attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by stupidity, but ummm… which of the two was the reason for this? And why should those responsible expect to have any credibility as news professionals now?

5. We are beginning to wonder what other stories may be, or may have been based on equally spurious documentation, never put out where the mass expertise of the blogosphere could take a good hard analytical look at it. Please don’t piss on the news-consuming audience, and claim that it is raining, not when the blogosphere includes people who have the ability to do all sorts of tests on the moisture falling down. The emperor has, in fact, been promenading though town in his birthday suit; the kindly disposed would hand him a dressing gown, and show him how to do a google search.

6. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am sure; you people really, really need to get out more. Or at least, read Mr. Fallows’ most instructive book.

Sgt Mom

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