Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Moronic Inferno

A word on these daily titles: today's is from Saul Bellow by way of Martin Amis; yesterday's is from William Morris; and the first is from The Marx Brothers movie Animal Crackers, and is a song sung by Groucho (as Captain Jeffrey Spaulding, the African Explorer). I don't know if I can or will keep up this sort of thing, but I wanted to extend credit where credit's due.

How Many Columnists Does It Take to Balance a Magazine?

Over at The Nation, Ari Melber comments on Newsweek's taking on Karl Rove to "balance" Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos blog fame, whom they recently added. His chief point is that it is no "balance" at all, in that Rove delivers a straight-out 127% Republican line, whereas Moulitsas is occasionally confrontational with Democrats. True enough, but, as Melber eventually gets round to noting, where did this "balance" nonsense come from to begin with? He quotes Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici:

Is that what it's about? Balance? So you have a liberal shouting on one side, and a conservative shouting on the other side, and if their voices exactly cancel each other out, you've done your job?
So most "journalists" seem to think nowadays, if think isn't stretching the definition of the word. No matter what the topic, what the expertise of the source, every news medium around seems to find it mandatory to present a roughly equal-length comment from someone who disagrees, no matter their expertise or the zaniness of their view. Talking of NASA's space program? Be sure to also give an extensive quotation from the President (and sole member) of the Don't Let Them Tell You The Moon Is Not Green Cheese Society, LLC.

This is, I suppose, part and parcel of what long ago now became known as "political correctness", but that's another tale for another time. More to the point, is it not supposed to be the task of journalism to not only present bare facts, but also to place those facts in a meaningful context that relates them to the concerns of whatever segment of the public the medium purports to address? Is that not the very definition of journalism? No more. Now, it suffices to present two screaming heads of opposing views, with the readers or listeners left to their own devices as to extracting sense from all that screaming--in effect, outsourcing the journalist's job to his or her readership/audience. Still (with a nod to Jack Vance), by and large it is an easier job than digging a ditch.

Read It and Weep

Time has some extremely depressing statistics on worldwide public understanding of AIDS--or, more correctly, non-understanding. Some of the lowlights:
  • Nearly half of the survey respondents thought that AIDS was not fatal.
  • In India, 59% of respondents believed that HIV is a curable disease.
  • Overall, 50% of people believed that most patients diagnosed with HIV are currently receiving treatment (it's about 20%).


Presumably almost everyone knows the initialism "RTFM", meaning Read the F(ine) Manual. For those who get their news partly or wholly on line, may I suggest they RTFArticle? Do not, that is, rely on the posted headlines to give you any least glimmer of what the actual content of the headlined article may be. Case in point, these two headlines running simultaneously:
  • The Washington Post: IAEA: Iran Providing 'Diminishing' Data on Nuclear Program
  • The Associated Press: IAEA: Iran generally truthful on nukes
You have been warned.

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