News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

PBS offers a critical series on the "new media"

Tuesday night, the PBS news show Frontline aired the first in a four-part series of shows on what is taking place with the news media. Frontline broadcasts on South Dakota SDPB stations Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

The entire series can be viewed online at It gives an abundantly documented explanation of how America became Orwell's Oceania.

The series chronicles in detail how the Bush administration manipulated and appropriated the news media to launch its war on Iraq. Reporters such as Bob Woodward are interviewed and explain the lapses in journalistic procedure that made the misinformation and the deception possible. Web logs played a significant part in spreading the misinformation and misdirecting attention away from the essential facts. Even on those occasions when blog posts purport to offer a perspective that goes beyond the mantra of pack journalists, the information is obscured by incoherence, intellectual clutter, and verbal deficiencies. Rather than amplify the reporting, blogs tend to merely repeat the misinformation and misdirect attention to the motives and mindsets of their authors.

The major criticism made by commentators in the series is that the "new media" invests almost nothing in original reporting.

There are a few online sources, including web logs, that follow the principles and process of gathering and reporting accurate and significant information. But the new media, including the internet versions, are largely devoted to extending the rituals of popular culture that subvert genuine communication. Probably because they are closer to the grounding of the English language, British writers have portrayed the causes of that subversion with particular intensity. The portrayals are, of course, in Orwell's work, but also in works such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange.

I note that my own blogging tends to cause a bunching of the panties that, in turn, produces great hows of pain and indignation. The use of computers is, as I have stated before, probably the most significant development in human communication since the invention of the lead pencil. It makes the production of communication much easier, and it makes possible a concentration on content rather than the mechanics of transmission. If the Internet is not to devolve into the kind of exercise in scurrility and stupidity that characterizes so many discussion boards, it needs constant criticism and reminders that some people are trying to undo what centuries of human endeavor in thought and expression have produced. So, let the panties bunch up.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States