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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Looking the rectum of humanity right in the eye

Folks are standing around the Sen. Tim Johnson-Bob Woodruff story huffing, and puffing, and fanning some puny sparks of anger into a major conflagration. Some members of the press are understandably miffed because the Johnson staff told them he was not granting interviews while it appears that he was cooperating with Bob Woodruff on an in-depth piece about the progress of his recovery. The plaint is that the Senator's staff lied. Some of Sen. Johnson's defenders make a distinction between interviews that will feed speculations about his political plans and his abililty to carry them out and a long-term video production that deals with the process of recovery and rehabilitation of someone who suffered brain damage.

Those who howl with indignation at being rebuffed at their requests for information regarding the Senator's recovery and progress cite the public's right to know. Others think the Senator and his staff acted wisely by keeping any specific information or glimpses of the Senator from feeding those malevolent appetites that would be sure to construe the slightest defect into evidence of a disqualifying disability and a call for his resignation. A California blogger of the regressive persuasion who claims to be a physiatrist called for the Senator's resignation within days after he suffered a brain hemorrhage. A man from Brown County bought an ad in the local newspaper calling for his resignation. And letter writers and bloggers joined in the chorus. Of course, they couched their calls in best wishes for the Senator's recovery, but that did not mask their intent to charge that the medical episode disqualified the Senator from any further service to his state.

And some news media and many bloggers have worked overtime to insure that, even without specific information from the Senator, his recovery and potential re-entry into political life would be done in a dense cloud of doubt and negative speculation. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or much of public information specialist to know that doing anything that contributes to the haze of ill-wishing woud be incredibly stupid.

Bloggers have taken up this story with a vengeance. Part of the problem is ego. They regard themselves as journalists and want the right to pry into family and medical matters in their competition to come up with a story. But a larger part of their motive is to drive a wedge between the Senator and the press. The regressives see that inflating any lingering disabilities that the Senator may display into major disqualifications for office is their best chance to regain a senatorial seat should Tim Johnson run again. One does not have to specialize in the lower reaches of human motives to recognize the political strategy we are sure to witness in the coming year.

Blogs have changed the way the press must be regarded. If the traditional media does not play its stories the way that partisan groups want them, the blogs will attack. Political factions are trying to get control of the editorial voices of the media by putting the traditional media on the defensive and by casting doubt on their integrity and reliability any time a story is run that displeases them. It doesn't take an expert in mass communications to see that the news dissemination system is being challenged in an attempt to divide it into partisan camps.

Ultimately, if journalism is to survive as the Fourth Estate, new rules about the privacy of public figures will have to be established. Until then, savvy media consultants may have to lie a bit. Or have the courage to tell the media when to bug off.

[Simultaneous post at Keloland Blogs.]

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States