Do we view ourselves as political beings? Would we say our minds are bound by cultural cords? I don’t think most of us would describe ourselves in these ways. We think of ourselves as independently minded and capable of standing on our own, but if we allow our attention to be directed by the popular press, we are training ourselves in groupthink and tweaking our moral compasses.
Not long ago, the media was celebrating the suicide of a terminally ill woman. They repeated uncritically the ridiculous arguments for suicide being a matter of dignity and honor. How long will it be before they celebrate someone making public arguments about the right to suicide without illness? “Ask not for whom the bell tolls,” he’ll say, “so I wanted to die on my own terms.” Doesn’t the press already support this the line of thought?
This week, they have celebrated another vein of self-destruction, and I’m troubled by the many people have said it’s none of their business. It is your business. It’s just as harmful as celebrating suicide. We are not islands. When others buy and sell vanity in the marketplace, we can’t just ignore it or many more will be hurt by it.
Take the idea that some people don’t believe they should live without disability. Does the press celebrate this yet? Is any form of identity up for grabs?
I think we need to reject the popular press at large. Many individuals already have, but I want to encourage select business leaders to take this up.
Grocers who are willing to sell the regular line of magazines everyone else sells should reconsider what I assume are practical reasons for selling what they would not want their families to read. It doesn’t matter if all the publications are bundled together by the vendor. Insist on being allowed to sell only what you want to sell. Make noise about wanting a choice in the titles you offer, and don’t surrender to the bad logic that says someone is going to sell it, so it might as well be you. A vendor can’t force you to make immoral choices. By refusing to offer pop culture and other immoral magazines, you help others avoid buying them. You encourage them to think independently, as they already believe they do.
It feels like a throwback idea from the ’80s, but is it not still a fair idea?
There’s an old theological term, “an occasion of sin,” which (if I understand it correctly) means to place temptation in someone’s path. I hope I haven’t been an occasion of crime in this blog.
Last month I posted a story, and a picture, about my visit with the Viking Age Club to historic Ness Church, Litchfield, Minnesota. I told how the first victims of the Dakota War of 1862 are buried there, and that local legend says the place is haunted.
Hannah Arendt’s reportage on the Eichmann trial was published in October 1963, and Iain Hamilton agreed that I should review it. It took a very special type of intellectual to hold that banality was a word applicable to this man’s commitment to mass-murder. Cross-questioning had brought out his singular and sinister absence of human feelings. When she blamed Jewish officials for carrying out orders given by Eichmann and his staff, she revealed her inability to imagine the reality of Nazism. She excelled in passing moral judgments about events too frightful to be so simplified, and which in any case she had not lived through herself.
The Spectator’s owner, Ian Gilmour, had been in Oliver Van Oss’s house at Eton, though he had left before I arrived. A member of parliament, he was supposed to be an open-minded progressive Conservative, eventually earning the sobriquet “wet” when he was in Mrs. Thatcher’s cabinet. His resentment of Jews was obsessive, ignorant, and snobbish. I heard him inveighing against the Gaon of Vilna about whom he knew nothing, and he had an obsessive wish to attack the writings of James Parkes, a clergyman with a scholarly interest in Judaism and Israel. Jews, Gilmour believed like any Blackshirt or Islamist, by their nature conspire to do harm to other people, and to Palestinian Arabs in particular. A day was to come when he would post bail for two Palestinians who had tried to blow up the Israeli embassy. The strain of talking to me drained the blood from his face, tightening muscular striations and grimaces in his cheeks that became suddenly chalk-white.
This low-level distaste runs down many channels, poisoning writers and readers alike, calling for an adequate answer. Why do so many dislike, if not openly hate, the Jews? I can only think of a theological answer, that mankind, having been born in a state of rebellion against God, naturally rejects the mark of God still apparent on the Jewish people.
Anti-Semitism, like racism and other forms of hatred for our fellow men, never go away completely. Pryce-Jones asks, “Who knows how many millions like [Harold Pinter] did not have the information or the intelligence to realize that they were caught by propaganda, repeating smears that other more artful people wanted them to repeat?” (via Prufrock News)
Alex Carp chips in. “What is going to come back, in my view, is the importance of sector expertise, on-scene reporting, and enterprise journalism. I saw a poster in Times Square the other day for the new season of HBO’s Vice magazine show. You know what the tagline is? ‘We go there.’ It’s a sad day when a newsmagazine can use ‘we go there’ as a distinctive selling point.”
“Don’t Sweat the Details. Is there a difference between an Evangelical and an evangelist? Who cares?”
“Don’t question authority. … if a politician suggests that the reports of scandal surrounding his administration are overblown, leave him alone already. Would he lie?”
A journalist’s job is to advance his ideological narrative. “CNBC’s John Harwood said recently, ‘Those of us in political-media world should just shut up about “narratives” and focus on what’s true.’ Spoken like a real nobody.”
She’s got a good piece. I recommend it too all non-fiction writers. Of course, all of it could be summarized by quoting Henry Kissinger, who said, “Allow me to be the first to say that what we have done here is not a good thing. It’s definitely not a good thing. But it was, given the circumstances, the smart play.”
Reuters recently removed its comment section, saying self-policing social networks were already handling lively discussion well so they didn’t need to duplicate the effort. Ingram says by doing this, Reuters is handing a large slice of market value to Facebook and Twitter (among other networks) as well as move any arguments over an article onto other venues where Reuters’ writers will have to decide how to respond on their own. He explains:
Is moderation a pain, and an expensive proposition? Sure it is. Lots of things that matter to your business are expensive. And if you have an engaged community, they can become your moderators, as successful online communities like Slashdot and Metafilter have shown — which in turn helps strengthen your community. Ending comments means removing any chance that this will ever happen.
A news service probably needs all the love it can get. Does Reuters really want their writers to tweet their defense of contentious reports or take the debate to Medium?
“Many in the media,” Attkisson writes, “are wrestling with their own souls: They know that ObamaCare is in serious trouble, but they’re conflicted about reporting that. Some worry that the news coverage will hurt a cause that they personally believe in. They’re all too eager to dismiss damaging documentary evidence while embracing, sometimes unquestioningly, the Obama administration’s ever-evolving and unproven explanations.”
One of her bosses had a rule that conservative analysts must always be labeled conservatives, but liberal analysts were simply “analysts.” “And if a conservative analyst’s opinion really rubbed the supervisor the wrong way,” says Attkisson, “she might rewrite the script to label him a ‘right-wing’ analyst.”
She says she asked by Katie Couric about a possible interview with Attorney General Eric Holder on the Fast and Furious scandal. Attkisson, who had done many reports on that subject, said it should be a relevant interview, but after that weekend (without a Couric interview on air) the network began cancelling her stories, saying she had reported everything already. Attkisson wonders if Holder ordered CBS to stop talking about it.
Columnist Chris Hedges, who wrote such pieces as “We All Must Become Zapatistas” “Thomas Paine, Our Contemporary,” has been accused of plagiarism by Harper’s and others. The New Republic spells it out:
The plagiarism at Harper’s was not an isolated incident. Hedges has a history of lifting material from other writers that goes back at least to his first book, War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, published in 2002. He has echoed language from Nation author Naomi Klein. He has lifted lines from radical social critic Neil Postman. He has even purloined lines from Ernest Hemingway.
Editors at Harper’s were surprised. “A leading moralist of the left, however, had now been caught plagiarizing at one of the oldest magazines of the left,” Christopher Ketcham explains. “These examples suggest not inadvertent plagiarism,” Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute tells him, “but carefully thought out plagiarism meant to skirt the most liberal definition of plagiarism.”
Professor D.G. Myers comments on Twitter, “The case of Chris Hedges teaches a basic truth about literature: every fraud will be unmasked eventually.”
This is where we are in the world today. We self-publish our own books. We can solicit our own funds for movies. We can circumvent the nightly news, if it still exists.
Here’s a trio, who have made award-winning documentaries in the past, wanting to blow the lid off the media silence on the man they call the most prolific serial killer in America.
There are at least two angles on the media silence on this case. The biggest one is that Gosnell is an abortionist operating within the scope allowed by those who have argued they want abortions in our country to be safe and rare. This man’s clinic was nowhere near safe, so the political agenda doesn’t support exposing him at the risk of undermining the most scared battleground for the political left.
The second angle is not as politically defined as the first. It’s what Ann McElhinney describes in the video below. The women who were murdered were poor, unseemly, and minority–the kind that gets killed everyday in some cities, so what’s the news? You might think those who cry loudly about the rights of woman and minorities would cry out about this too, but perhaps their classism gets in the way. Maybe it just doesn’t trump the first angle. Abortionists are priests in the Church of Ne’re Do Ill. The blood on their hands is only red fruit punch.
If you have the funds to contribute to this, I encourage you to consider it.
Our friend Anthony Sacramone sends a link to a snarky column at Intercollegiate Review: “How to Be a Really Lousy Journalist for Fun and Profit”:
Start with the assumption that your own views are moderate. Within your newsroom, they probably are, even if last night at a colleague’s dinner party you argued for single-payer health care and mandatory re-education camps for homeschoolers. Then, instead of describing the views of people outside your newsroom, just label them “right-wing,” “anti-abortion,” or “extremely conservative.” You might be wondering if, finding rational argument too burdensome, you can just resort to calling the people you disagree with bigots and dismiss them. Turns out you can!
If you need to beef up your word count, throw in a few stereotypes and clichés about backwoods believers. Be careful even here, though, as you don’t want to showcase views that might catch on.
Joe Carter asks whether our daily news is making us dumb. For instance, Dan Rather “spent roughly 75,000 hours reporting, researching, or reading about current events,” so why isn’t he considered to be one of the wisest or most knowledgable men in America?
Clearly, daily news will not make us wise, but can be very useful. A report I caught by chance (if chance means anything) the other day warned of frost that night, so my wife and I covered up our newly planted herbs, spinach, okra, and tomatoes. Had I not had that news, I would have been very frustrated. I haven’t had much success with our backyard garden over the years, and it’s not supposed to frost after April 15 in the contented pastures neighboring the Chattanooga valley. The news of anticipated frost did not make me wise, and it won’t be relevant to any other day in my entire life, but it was relevant to me on that day.
Of course, how much of what is sold as news is relavent even in this way? Carter closes his piece with this from Muggeridge: “Events that are truly important are rarely those captured on the front page of a daily paper. As Malcolm Muggeridge, himself a journalist, admitted, ‘I’ve often thought that if I’d been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord’s ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod’s court. I’d be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and—I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was.’
I haven’t been taking in much news lately, and I can’t see the reason I need to return to it. I’m fairly fed up with my life at the moment. I don’t think the news will help me with that at all.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the abortionist must be portrayed as a victim of hate and intolerance, not a perpetrator of violence. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortionist” separate from testimony about dead women and children.
2. The Gosnell case involves an unregulated abortion clinic.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the clinic must be portrayed as a “refuge” for women in distress, not a “house of horrors” where women are taken advantage of. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps “abortion clinic” away from negative connotations.
3. The Gosnell case involves protestors who, for years, stood outside 3801 Lancaster and prayed, warning people about what was taking place inside.
Whenever we see news stories about abortion, the protestors must be portrayed as agitators and extremists, not peaceful people who urge mothers to treasure the miracle inside them. But it is impossible to spin this story in a way that keeps the abortion protestors from looking like heroes.
Keep reading. One reason Trevin doesn’t give is that a 15-year-old girl helped kill babies too.
A reader told me today that a bookseller had told her that the TV series Vikings was based on my novel West Oversea.
I hadn’t heard about this, but if I’ve got money coming, I hereby retract all my hard words and declare that Vikings is the greatest depiction of the Viking Age ever depicted. (I think the episode where the de-Pict Scotland is yet to be aired.)
Today my essay on Christian Fantasy, entitled The Christian Fantasy, appears at The Intercollegiate Review‘s web page. Thanks to Anthony Sacramone for the invitation.
I think that gives you enough to read this evening.
AP Deputy Standards Editor Dave Minthorn explains the move:
“Homophobia especially — it’s just off the mark. It’s ascribing a mental disability to someone, and suggests a knowledge that we don’t have. It seems inaccurate. Instead, we would use something more neutral: anti-gay, or some such, if we had reason to believe that was the case.”
“We want to be precise and accurate and neutral in our phrasing,” he said.
If current argumentative trends apply here, this move will be described as homophobic.
Twenty years ago, as the advent of talk radio left many conservatives thinking they had a weapon adequate to overcome the influences of liberal newspapers and news magazines. That proved untrue, because those print publications still do the original reporting and storytelling that frames national debates.
That’s what we see in the current reporting on what happened in Benghazi and everything related to Muslims in the news. That’s what we see in the established process for candidate debates (“Mr. Ryan, should women be afraid of your election?”). That’s what we see in the reporting on government spending, budget modifications, fiscal cliff, etc.
I stopped listening to NPR over the summer when they used the news on Pixar’s Brave to deride the idea of princesses and ask a homosexual entertainer, who I think goes by the name Princess, to expand on being a princess means. I turned it on the other day to hear them pass lightly over a colonel’s criticism of the grossly irresponsible handling of our Libyan embassy’s defenses to focus on what he believed was miscommunication from the Marines on the ground.
We live in an infoworld today. Our kings or kingmakers are the information keepers.