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 MinneKota@gmail.com

Monday, September 9, 2013

Of lickspittles and playground bullies

Politics is all about competition.  Competition to claim the stupid vote by seeing how stupid we can become.  Equal opportunity in politics means dummying down the electorate so that it creates a constituency of idiots who can be governed by imbeciles.   Morons are considered elitists.  

What is currently tolerated in political discussions is preposterous.  South Dakota has assumed more than its share of the burden in making people stupid.  The plan seems to be establishing villages of idiots in which a person of some education and intelligence is the one who will be regarded as having special needs. 

The epitome of this movement  is the blog South Dakota War College, which claims to be "South Dakota's #1 Political Website."   That rather spurious claim comes from the fact that The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza takes a poll on the most popular blogs in the states and has indicated that Madville Times and South Dakota War College are the most popular in South Dakota.  But the two blogs are hugely different in ways much more significant than political orientation.  Madville Times is liberal, but it is also a thoughtful blog that assembles facts in support of its positions and shows the basis for its opinions.   War College is the most abject kind of political hackery, and it has accrued a long list of credentials in that regard.   Truth and accuracy are not in the blog's vocabulary.  Perhaps it knows the words but hasn't the vaguest idea of what they mean. 

There are other blogs that represent some factions within the GOP, but readily fall into the category of batshit crazy and are quickly dismissed.   SDWC, however, has the endorsement of the party.   In fact, it has been used for some time as its official internet communication outlet.  

When War College first started up, it appeared to be a blog

O, the humanity!
for the discussion of political strategies.  However, it soon developed into a highly partisan blog that was virulent in its denunciation of anything Democratic.  It abandoned discussion about political strategies and took up personal, libelous  attacks against Democrats as its main function.  The South Dakota GOP uses SDWC as its official Internet outlet.    That fact became apparent during the campaign preceding the 2010 election when the War College published GOP press releases before any of the legacy news media got them.  

During that period there was a flurry of posts which stated things that were quickly changed or deleted altogether, as the blog engaged in a frenzy of maligning and libeling Democrats.  Suddenly, as the blog's author took a job in the secretary of state's office, the blog was totally eliminated from the Internet,  although it was revived in an enfeebled form by some pseudonymous individuals somewhere.  When Pat Powers was caught  in a conflict of  interest by trying to peddle his malign campaign wares while being an employee of that office,  he resigned and returned to his blogging activities.

Most of the posts on South Dakota War College are profoundly unintelligent.  They either dutifully reproduce the partisan cant of the Republican Party or they take on the guffawing  belligerence of the perennial fifth-grade bully, who stands in the playground shouting insults and abuse to those he chooses to demean, while his buddies lurk about chortling and snickering at the witless, petty malevolence.  If South Dakota War College is a leading place for political news in the state, that is a devastating statement about the intellectual level on which the state operates.  

The social media technology has given the ignorant, the illiterate, and the ill-willed a voice that is often loud enough to shout down the educated and considered. The fact that SDWC gets the attention that it does is an indicator of the intellectual climate of the state.  As is true with global warming, human activity influences the public mentality.  There is much celebration of technology and its use as a medium for communication.  Popular culture is overwhelmed by technology and fixates on the gimmickry of the technology, not the content of what the technology transmits. For many, the medium is the message.  And the message is to play the gimmick games if you want to be with it.  Content and mastery of the language which it transmits have been eclipsed into oblivion by the obsessions with the virtual.

Those who preside over the legacy media which claim stewardship of  carefully chosen and deftly used language as their function share a responsibility in the loss of language.  When newspapers lost advertisers because they were losing their readership to the new media, they attempted to gain a foot in the media door by emulating what is called its "interactive" feature by allowing unmoderated and unedited comments on its news stories.  Instead of attracting readers, the practice drove away the literate who were looking for considered presentations of facts.  Even those publications which once prided themselves on the highest level of writing, such as The New Yorker, permitted the crude and trite responses from the knee-jerks in the name of free expression and robust dialogue.  Little intelligible or worthy of consideration comes out of the ensuing sound and fury.  

It has become a convention that Twitter is a means to reaching a massive audience.  It, like Facebook and other social media, does reach millions and millions of people.  But it also demonstrates how actual communication is sacrificed to mere noise.  A Twitter-user is limited to responses of 140 characters or less.  It poses the same problem that headline writers have in fitting a coherent and accurate summary into a limited number of characters,  Or the problem faced by the writer of haiku  who is limited to 17 syllables.  How many people have the verbal command and the desire to write a credible, intelligible, and engaging haiku?  How many people have the verbal command and desire to put an intelligible, coherent, and engaging statement into 140 characters?


Most of the tweets registered on Twitter are sentence fragments or unpredicated attempts at a sentence.  They are signals like cat hisses and dog growls, which express some emotive force at work on the tweeter, but cannot penetrate into those areas of human understanding that communication is supposed to reach.

The great failure of the legacy press is that it has never critically examined the limitations of the new media, but instead allowed itself to be cowed into accepting it as an irresistible force that it must reshape itself to accommodate.  Journalism is essentially literary.  It depends upon writing talent, broadly educated practitioners, and a firm grasp of how language and story are the tools we human use to record and transmit our experience and accumulated knowledge.  Journalism incorporates the narrative and expository aspects of literature.  It tries to leave the argumentative--the rhetorical---for specialized editorial sections.  Most of what is posted on the Internet has an argumentative intent.  There is little interest in finding, examining, verifying facts and presenting them in a narrative context with the confluence of human history.  

That is why nearly all of what is posted on line cannot be regarded as journalism.  And that gets to an issue regarding the South Dakota War College.  Its author was   recently called up in a court case to reveal some anonymous source who he said told him information that he posted on his blog.  He claimed that he should not need to testify because he is a journalist who has the right to protect his sources.  Circuit Judge Vince Foley pronounced,  “I am of the opinion that ... bloggers in their vein are journalists in the modern sense of the word,” Foley said.  However, he also said that he would not exempt Powers from testifying.  

It is a sad blow to journalism when a judge decides who is a journalist and what journalism actually is.  But it is evidence of what journalism has come to mean "in the modern sense of the word."  Not all bloggers, as explained by Scott Ehrisman out of Sioux Falls, have such an inflated notion of what blogging is. 

The issue is not whether the public should be denied any avenue of expression and free speech.  It is whether there are any professions that stand for the integrity and power of language and are willing to serve those people who hunger for carefully explained facts and the intellectual and aesthetic experience of vigorous thought and fine writing. 

South Dakota War College stands in refutation of what once comprised the important function and purpose of journalism.  It is the work of lickspittles and playground bullies. 





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2 comments:

Douglas said...

I am aware of your apparent contempt for blogging as anything warranting general serious attention.

However, despite the judge looking at DWC and deciding it has been committing high journalism, there is a case that there are probably as many bloggers doing real journalism as there are self-defined real journalists actually being journalists. The medium is not necessarily the message.

Anyway, I like reading your posts and appreciate the time and work you put into writing intelligent prose.

David Newquist said...

I have been careful to acknowledge that there are some bloggers who, if they don't do the investigating, verifying, and editorial reviewing that real, working journalists do, their work does rise to those standards. In trying to compete with the Internet, news organizations have adopted the slovenliness and attention-getting tactics of bloggers. Kevin Woster has listed what some of those practices entail. However, I cannot fathom how anyone who has read real journalism or consulted a book on journalism can say War College is in any way or form journalism. It is crass propaganda, much of it hate propaganda. The real indication of the failures of education are that so few people know the difference.

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