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

Monday, April 16, 2007

It's like a friggin' earth worm colony out there

We annoy the heck out of a lot of people because we think most blogs, at least those which presume political commentary, are dumber than fence posts. What the people who take the most offense at our contention fail to notice is that we are just as critical and dismissive of the more traditional news media.

This morning was a good example of cable television news being hopelessly inane. The channel was MSNBC and I did not catch the name of the news "host," but she is a pretty lady who smiles into the camera a lot and asks kind of dumb questions. This morning she was discussing with two other women of opposing viewpoints, who also possessed the requisite prettiness for cable news, a study on teaching abstinence to kids. Apparently, the study showed that teenage kids who have been exposed to abstinence indoctrination are as likely to screw as those who have not endured advocacy not to screw. One woman who was a pro-abstinence-advocate said the study was flawed because the control groups and target groups who were interviewed came from the same high schools.

I don't know what the other woman said. She was on the side of the screwers, but she responded to a question from the news host by calling the host a liar, and all of the sudden three pretty women were yelling and chattering like sex-starved chimpanzees and they were so pissed off and their faces so screwed-up (yes, I intend that) that they weren't pretty anymore. However, the host kept yelling at the screwing-advocate that she resented being called a liar and if the bitch (she didn't really use that word but it is precisely what she conveyed with her screwed-up face) didn't shut up, she was going to end the interview. She ended the interview, and the weather reporter or someone like that came on and saved the day by reporting that some folks on Long Island got doused with seven inches of rain and then showed a Lincoln Town Car that had been submerged up to its roof. Boy, was that a memorable image.

I am old man and, so, I recall some of my past fondly. And I am not speaking of teenage screwing or not-screwing. I am speaking of being a young print journalist at a time when television and radio began to compete with newspapers. Right off the bat, we noticed something that electronic folks did. While we were out hunting news sources and checking out the facts of what news sources told us, the people with microphones and cameras were lining up people of opposing viewpoints on topics at hand and getting their opinions--whether their opinions lent any information or insight to the topic or not. You see, one of the criteria for what has news value is conflict. And when you get two people who oppose each other and might even start yelling and fighting with each other, you've got good conflict going. Their yelling and pissing at each other might not have anything to contribute to the ostensible topic, but, by God, you've got good radio or television.

When you ask electronic journalists what journalistic principle is at work, they answer "balance." You've got two opposing viewpoints and, therefore, you've got balance.

We have often thought that electronic journalists do this because they do not know what journalism is. And because they are lazy. What I fondly remember is that an essential part of journalism was verifying any information that was published, even if it was contained in a quotation. I recall that fondly because people could trust the information and it was presented with full qualifications and context for the most part. It was sometimes not immediate, because it takes time to search out and verify facts. If you get two yo-yos on microphone or camera pissing in opposition to each other, the news gets lost in the heated and sometimes abusive exchange of opinions. The audience tends to get more interested in the conflict than the facts. And it is much easier to provoke a couple of yo-yos into abusing each other than it is to go out and dig up facts and verifications of those facts.

Another point that we have made--it is not original with us--is that with all the words and ostensible information flying through the air and over the wires, people get lost and disoriented and nothing much registers.

Well, Pew Research survey just released makes that point. In fact, it shows that people are dumber about what is going on than they were twenty years ago. Here is the opening paragraph of their report:

Since the late 1980s, the emergence of 24-hour cable news as a dominant news source and the explosive growth of the internet have led to major changes in the American public's news habits. But a new nationwide survey finds that the coaxial and digital revolutions and attendant changes in news audience behaviors have had little impact on how much Americans know about national and international affairs.

You can read the entire report at this link.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States