June 9, 2004
"Nobody heard what you said." Lesley Stahl's Fable About Reagan and the Press.
They don't care what we say, only what shows on television. Just as Reagan doesn't care if what he says is true. Lost in the visuals, seduced by an actor, the American people don't care about the "tough" reporting we've done. Such was the sense of bafflement in the Washington press corps-- then. But some of the ideas that produced it are still floating around today.
About Ronald Reagan and the press, the story that is told more than any other comes from CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl, who covered the Reagan White House. There are many versions of it floating around because so many different speakers have appropriated the story. (For a sampler, go here… here… here and here .)
A fitting title for Stahl’s tale is, “Nobody heard what you said,” which is also its punchline. The best version I could find online is—no surprise—from Bob Somerby at the Daily Howler, who had occasion to visit with the story in 2000, sixteen years after the events described.
In 1984, Stahl had produced an extended report for CBS trying to document the contradictions between what Reagan said and what he did. It showed him speaking at the Special Olympics and at a nursing home, and reported that Reagan had cut funding to children with disabilities and opposed funding for public health. I’ll let Somerby tell the rest:
Dick Darman clued in Lesley Stahl—it’s all about the pictures. During the 1984 presidential campaign, Stahl aired a lengthy report on the CBS Evening News; it was broadly critical of President Reagan. In her recent book, Reporting Live, Stahl described her thoughts as the piece went to air:
STAHL (page 210): I knew the piece would have an impact, if only because it was so long: five minutes and 40 seconds, practically a documentary in Evening News terms. I worried that my sources at the White House would be angry enough to freeze me out.
But that isn’t what happened, she says. When the piece aired, Darman called from the White House. “Way to go, kiddo,” he said to Stahl. “What a great piece. We loved it.” Stahl replied, “Didn’t you hear what I said [in the broadcast]?” Darman’s answer has been frequently quoted:
STAHL: [Darman replied,] “Nobody heard what you said.”
Did I hear him right? “Come again?”
“You guys in Televisionland haven’t figured it out, have you? When the pictures are powerful and emotional, they override if not completely drown out the sound. I mean it, Lesley. Nobody heard you.”
Stahl’s critical report about President Reagan had been accompanied by generally upbeat visuals. According to Darman’s theory, the pictures registered more with viewers than anything Stahl had said.
And that’s the story, Lesley’s Parable. As the Howler wrote: “The anecdote has become quite famous.” But why? Part of my reason in writing about it is to ask of PressThink readers: what do we think of this story today, during a week when the country looks back across Reagan’s life? And why did you think the story resonated so well? (Hit the comment button if you have an idea.)
When I have heard Stahl rehearse it out loud, she usually says to the White House official who is calling to “congratulate” her, not just “come again?” but, “come on, that was a tough piece.” That little protest, from the self-respecting journalist inside, adds something essential, I feel. So does her fear that White House sources would be so angry with the report they would try to punish her— “freeze me out.”
The image of her unaware self, preparing a report so lengthy, so hard hitting that it might wreck relations with the White House, tells us that the parable is about journalism. In it, the gods of the press, invoked by certain magic words—watchdog reporting, in-depth treatment, and above all toughness—fail the believing journalist. If you could do everything right by the newsroom gods, and it didn’t matter, then how powerful are your gods, really?
The story is famous for many reasons. (There have to be multiple reasons to drive so many different authors to it.) From an amusing anecdote about rivalry among Washington insiders, in which a gotcha story about Reagan becomes a gotcha for the journalist herself, there grew a portrait of press futility during the Reagan years.
And since Reagan was regarded by official Washington as the master of poltical television, the code for which is “Great Communicator,” the parable is also about the power of TV. It’s about the American voter’s seduction by television, and the transformation of politics in the media age. It’s the pictures, stupid. “Nobody heard what you said.”
I was in graduate school when it is said to have happened, and I probably swallowed the common reading at first, but by the end of the 1980s the story looked more suspect. I think far less of it now. Did the events in question occur? They probably did, more or less as Stahl said. But then something else happened. Her story became a way to “explain” Reagan and his political success. But it wasn’t a story about politics at all. It told how pictures had, in a sense, repealed politics, leaving political journalism all but impotent.
The story seemed to explain why the Washington press had such a hard time knocking Reagan off stride by reporting about his vacant style (forgetting the name of a cabinet member), or his abuse of anecdote (taking stories from the movies without realizing it) or the contradictions in his record (cutting the budget for programs he later celebrated.)
“Major newspapers would run stories on all the facts he had mangled, a practice that faded as it became clear that most Americans weren’t terribly concerned,” wrote Howard Kurtz this week, “The media dubbed him the Teflon president, and it was not meant as a compliment.” This is an apt summation of the conventional wisdom captured in Stahl’s “a-ha” moment. A puzzle had been solved. Put crudely (but then it’s a crude story) how could Ronald Reagan, intellectual bumbler and fact fumbler, be so popular?
The Parable gives an answer: They don’t care what we say, only what is shown on television. Just as Reagan doesn’t care if what he says is true, as long as it makes a great story. And by extension the American people don’t care about the “tough,” factual reporting we’ve done on Reagan (“five minutes and 40 seconds, practically a documentary!”) because they are lost in the visuals, seduced by a simpler story line than the press could offer by recounting the facts.
“We had the facts, he had the audience.” This sums up a common view of Reagan in the press at that time. And the visuals: Reagan had those too. The people around him—especially aide Michael Deaver, the one Nancy Reagan trusted, and David Gergen, whom all presidents trust—were said to be masters of the irresistable camera angle, the winning picture that will “stick” in people’s minds. Deaver wrote about it in Behind the Scenes (1987):
When the economy started to pick up toward the end of 1980 we were searching for any development that we could showcase to reflect a good trend. I had the president fly to Fort Worth…and he made an announcement at a housing development there, surrounded by a bunch of construction workers in hard hats. You only get forty to eighty seconds on any given night on the network news, and unless you can find a visual that explains your message you can’t make it stick.
For things like that he was called a wizard by the press, and the Reagan team was said to be super-skilled at controlling the pictures.
“Nobody heard what you said” was, and is still today, one of those television age tales that makes the listener feel smart, knowing, media savvy, up-to-date. And while you’re feeling smart with it, you absorb ideas about Reagan, politics and the media that, over time, make you dumber and likely to be dumbfounded by Reagan’s success— to say nothing of his standing as pivot point in American politics.
The best questioning of Lesley’s Parable comes from press scholar Michael Schudson in his book, The Power of News (1995). “Stahl, on reflection—but not, I think, on very much reflection—came to believe that the White House was probably right: all she had done was to assemble, free of charge, a Republican campaign film, a wonderful montage of Reagan appearing in upbeat scenes.” Schudson was suspicious of the story’s circulation, and of writers who saw in it “powerful evidence of the triumph of pictures over words and emotion over rationality in American politics.”
Like me, he began to see the story everywhere. He writes: “It is a major piece of evidence for New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith’s conclusion that the eye is more powerful than the ear in American politics; it opens journalist Martin Schram’s account of television in the 1984 election; it is cited to similar account by Washington Post columnist David Broder and communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson.”
Schudson calls it “telemythology,” which always involves a will to believe, that “Ronald Reagan’s mastery of television led to his mastery of the American public.” This connected to another strong belief among Washington elites “that the general public can be mesmerized by television images,” which in turn connected to Schudson’s notation: “Many journalists shared a kind of ‘gee whiz’ awe at the media skills of the White House” under Reagan. This is exactly the tone in Stahl’s story.
Worse than that, he wrote, was the “assumption that gullible others, but not one’s own canny self, are slaves to the media.” This belief— the “third person effect,” as scholars call it—“is so widespread that the actions based on it may be one of the mass media’s most powerful creations.” These, then, are some of the ideas-in-waiting that helped turn anecdote into revelation. Part of the “pop” in the story is how its interlocking beliefs snap into place:
- Reagan, the Great Communicator, succeeds politically because he succeeds on television.
- The eye is more powerful than the ear in politics today.
- The public is easily mesmerized by images, by television and thus by Reagan.
- In playing to the cameras and arranging for imagery that TV can’t resist, the Reagan White House showed the skills of a media wizard.
- It’s others that are fooled by all this, not our savvy selves; but the others vote and they strongly approve of the president’s style.
All of which might be termed Reagan’s legacy within press thinking. It led to Stahl’s exasperation: we don’t stand a chance against this! Ted Koppel is quoted in a BBC report this week as having once taken a slightly different tack:
Ronald Reagan has this wonderful communicator’s ability to convey to the public: “I know you’re smarter about some things than I am, and I know there are some things we both perhaps don’t understand as well as we’d like. I know that experts drive you crazy like they sometimes drive me crazy. Let’s see if we can get right to the heart of this issue. We’re talking about freedom, the American way, evil empires, patriotism, some of the old eternal values that seem to have been shunted aside.” Ronald Reagan rarely, if ever, talks over the public’s head. The public clearly responds very positively to that.
Over their heads. Is this not a fear in Washington journalism, especially at the networks? If we do serious, challenging, in-depth reporting; if we explore the connections and complexities of politics; if we try to show what is actually going on rather than the parade of surface events, we may wind up with an account that is “over the public’s head.” Reagan didn’t seem to have that problem.
So when the press called him the Great Communicator, part of what it meant was: greater than us! “The public clearly responds very positively to that.” But think about it: let’s see if we can get right to the heart of this issue—Reagan’s gift, according to Koppel—is exactly what a good journalist is supposed to do. It takes a keen understanding of politics and what’s at stake; it takes a keen understanding of people and what they care about, to do this particular thing well. Maybe Reagan understood more of politics than the press did, even though the press had better facts. Maybe he was a better explainer in some ways, a better broadcaster in others.
Just how much of a puzzle Ronald Reagan—and covering Reagan—was for the news establishment is audible in this passage from Mark Hertsgaard’s 1988 book, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency. (A few excerpts here.)
“I don’t know how to explain why he hasn’t been as vulnerable to the onslaught of the American press as some previous Presidents; it is a hard subject for me,” said ABC News executive vice president David Burke. Agreeing with Ben Bradlee about the extraordinary kindness of Reagan’s press coverage, he continued, “I wonder why. It isn’t because he intimidates us. It isn’t that he blows us away with logic. So what the hell is it?”
Now that’s befuddlement. We don’t have a category for this guy as good press getter, so why he is getting good press?
Burke, a former top aide to Senator Edward Kennedy, finally settled on a variation of the Great Communicator theory, long favored by journalists and White House aides alike for explaining Reagan’s positive public image. The key, in this view, was Reagan himself. His personal gifts-an amiable personality, sincere manner, perfect vocal delivery and photogenic persona-made him the television era equivalent of the Pied Piper of Hamelin; he played a tune so gay and skipped ahead so cheerily that others could not help but trust and follow him. To attack such a man was unthinkable. “You just can’t get the stomach to go after the guy,” explained Burke. “It’s not a popularity thing, it’s not that we’re afraid of getting the public mad at us. I think it is a perception that the press has in general of Reagan, that he is a decent man. He is not driven by insecurities, by venality, by conspiracies and back-room tactics.”
“To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” What the press has to use against presidents is the onslaught of bad news— a wave of critical coverage. In this sense it can “go after the guy,” it can hammer the White House, except when it is unable to go after the guy because he’s either an “amiable dunce,” as Clark Clifford said, or a “decent man,” who is not necessarily aware that what he says isn’t true because…. well, he believes it!
“The reason that Reagan was persuasive, I came to understand, was that he had first persuaded himself of the truth of his utterances,” wrote David Broder on Monday. “Much later, when someone hung the title The Great Communicator on Reagan, I thought to myself, ‘It should be The Great Persuader.’”
Broder’s first thought fits entirely within the universe of Lesley’s Parable. Reagan was convinced he was a big suporter of the Special Olympics, and didn’t care, probably didn’t know, that he had actually tried to cut the budget for such things. The TV pictures show him “caring,” nobody hears the reporter’s words, and the whole package is misleading but highly persuasive. Deception begins with Reagan’s self-deception.
But Broder’s second thought, “not the great communicator, the great persuader,” and not of himself but of others— this points in a different direction. For to persuade is not only a difficult feat, it is in many ways the essence of presidential politics. Certainly it gets to the heart of Reagan’s success. When Bill Clinton, a Democrat, announced in 1996 that “the era of big government is over,” we heard the proof of that success.
Another name for it is rhetoric. But the “rhetorical presidency,” which is a school of thought among political scientists who study presidents, is likely to be among the least well-covered because the journalist’s tacit code of understanding states that “rhetoric” is merely what you put over on people.
“That may be the rhetoric, the reality is…” has a deep foundational hold in the press. After all, it identifies the journalist with truth-telling, and sets out what a “tough” reporter like Lesley Stahl should try to do: contradict the rhetoric with dug-up facts. What could be more common sensical than that? Meanwhile, because Ronald Reagan was so good at persuasion “changes that would otherwise have been impossible to imagine did happen,” Broder wrote. “And the world is profoundly different because of him.”
“Nobody heard the words” is spectacularly wrong about Reagan. His words, and the way they connected, were the source of his power. The eye over the ear is wrong about Reagan. Sure, he always looked good, but compared to his oratorical command his command of imagery—and Michael Deaver’s command of wizardry—are ordinary and nothing more. The public is mesmerized by images… is wrong about the public, and about Reagan. He spoke to the nation about the most basic things in politics, which are also the most profound, without going over its head.
This is far more mesmerizing, as I saw for myself last weekend when C-Span replayed his farewell speech to the 1992 Republican convention. He was saying how Americans must remember that, wherever we come from, “in the eyes of god we are all equal. ” I was about to say to myself, in good liberal fashion, “maybe so, but I would rather it be stressed we are all equal in the eyes of the law,” when Reagan continued his thought.
It’s not enough to be equal in god’s eyes, he said, we must also be equal “in the eyes of each other.” Looking at him, I believed it. That is a very good statement of the democratic creed. It is not necessarily a comforting statement to Republican partisans. And it is a far more interesting and challenging statement than: we need equality before the law. (Although I would not say more important.)
Equal toward each other. This is not a principle the Washington press cared to follow with Reagan himself. The amiable dunce, the Teflon president, the Great Communicator, the cowboy, the lazy and forgetful and quite possibly senile man, the self-deceiver, the decent fellow who doesn’t know much but puts on a great show, the bumbler—- none were at all adequate. They sound even duller now.
Not only did ideas like these under-estimate Reagan, and his political gifts, in almost criminal fashion; they also separated journalists from the majority of the country that eventually warmed to Reagan. Thus, Lesley Stahl with her parable was reckoning at too great a distance from the Americans she herself had tried to persuade in her “documentary in Evening News terms.”
In swallowing, whole, Darman’s cynical and self-serving lesson, “nobody heard what you said,” she was waving bye-bye to her viewers’ intelligence, but then flattering the listeners to her story, with its savvy take on media age politics, its illusion of deep insight, its phony a-ha moment, its superficial tone of despair. It never ocurred to Stahl, I think, that getting her to split the public in her mind—those gullible viewers vs. we savvy listeners to her story—might have served Darman’s purposes all along.
There’s a simpler explanation for all this, and some are content with it. Journalists are east coast establishment, big government liberals. Reagan was a west coast conservative who believed that government was the problem. They couldn’t understand him because they weren’t anything like him in their basic beliefs. So they blamed it on television, and credulous Americans. No doubt this has something to do with it, and one could argue that the birth of Fox News Channel was right there.
For better or worse, Reagan was a man of large ideas. Ted Kennedy said it: “It would be foolish to deny that his success was fundamentally rooted in a command of public ideas.” But do journalists really believe that big ideas count in politics, and do they know how to cover them? I would say no, in general they don’t. All of Reagan’s skills and strengths were tied up with the rhetorical presidency. But are journalists equipped to even understand what that is— the crafting of virtue, the search for the responsive chord? I would say no again.
Reagan had mastered the symbolic part of politics. And while most journalists know that a peculiarity of the American president is to simultaneously represent the glory of the nation and head the government (two different jobs in most democracies, including the one in Iraq we are trying to create) which of these two do they regard as real, and as their informational quarry? In which realm do you win Pulitizers and Duponts?
Well, it’s the second: head of government. But if you are looking for Ronald Reagan, in particular—his substance, as a politician—then it’s wiser to start with the layered symbols of American democracy, and his mastery of their language for purposes political. The material was all there in Reagan’s America by Garry Wills (1987), published while the Gipper was still in office. Smart journalists read brilliant books like that. But they cannot easily change the press so that it reflects an enlarged understanding.
Along with “yeah, that’s the rhetoric, but the reality is….” the press has a nearly foundational belief that symbols must be opposed to substance. For understanding Ronald Reagan that is a hopeless formula. His greatest words, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” were just words (it was a symbolic request) and yet they shine now as a deed, and reveal for us how an actor-turned-president became president-as-world-actor, making new facts.
Reagan, you see, had great political imagination, something that to this day the press does not see lacking in itself. Lesley’s dim parable is finally about that.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links….
So what do we think
… of Stahl’s story today, in this week where we glance back at Reagan’s life? Hit the comment button if you have thought.
William Powers in the National Journal (June 11):
There’s a part of him that few in the media have ever understood well, and fewer still knew how to cover, though it drove him to the presidency and was responsible for the immense popularity we witnessed this week….I’m talking about Reagan’s charisma… Political reporters are supposed to care about concrete real-world stuff like polls, war chests, swing states, and, of course, the issues. What political reporters are definitely not supposed to care about, not too much anyway, is the charisma of political figures— the strange personal magnetism that allows certain rare people like Ronald Reagan to capture the public’s imagination and affection….That Reagan was a Hollywood celebrity, and had the charisma that goes with that trade, caused a lot of media people to deeply underestimate him, when he was running for president and afterwards.
Michael Schudson wrote this in an e-mail to PressThink:
“Lesley’s Parable.” Exactly. Used to show that a picture’s worth 10,000 words…. There was such a powerful belief that Reagan’s TV magic bowled over the American public that journalists wrote that — over and over — even when (1981-late 1983) his approval ratings were lower than for any other newly elected president since WW2. The press was convinced for various reasons of Reagan’s popularity, but among them the fact that the press had not initially taken him seriously, they thought he was all surface and no substance and so they were willing and eager to believe that surface and glitz is what won him his popularity. Not so. (1) He wasn’t very popular in those first years and (2) He was making REAL headway in his policies.
R.W. Apple in the New York Times (June 11): “It could be argued that Mr. Reagan’s greatest triumphs came in his role as chief of state rather than as chief of government.”
Charles Krauthammer in Time: “The ungenerous would say he had a great presidency but was not a great man. That follows the tradition of his opponents who throughout his career consistently underestimated him, disdaining him as a good actor, a Being There simpleton who could read scripts written for him by others. In fact, Reagan frustrated his biographers because he was so complex — a free-market egalitarian, an intellectually serious nonintellectual, an ideologue with great tactical flexibility.”
I agree about the “so complex” part. Krauthammer also quotes Edward Kennedy: “… Whether we agreed with him or not, Ronald Reagan was a successful candidate and an effective President above all else because he stood for a set of ideas. He stated them in 1980—and it turned out that he meant them—and he wrote most of them not only into public law but into the national consciousness.”
In contrast there is this from former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder in USA Today (June 6): “Americans are optimistic by nature, and they loved that Reagan believed to his core in the American Dream. If someone accused him of hurting college students by cutting loans, President Reagan could be seen on the nightly news writing a personal check to a struggling student.”
That’s Lesley’s Parable, still working.
James Lileks: “We didn’t hate Reagan; we viewed him with indulgent contempt, since he was so obviously out of his depth. I mean, please: an actor? As president?… He was in a movie with a talking monkey, for heaven’s sake. That was all you really needed to know. ‘Bedtime for Bonzo,’ you’d say with a smirk or a conspicuous rolling of the eyes, and everyone would nod. Idiot. Empty-headed grinning high-haired uberdad. Of course he was popular among the groundlings. It would be laughable if it weren’t so typical— he was just the sort of fool the voters could be trusted to elect.”
David Corn of the Nation wrote this “cheat sheet,” as he calls it, for the worst of the Reagan Years.
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 9, 2004 6:57 PM
My experience extends backwards to growing up on Nixon, so my experience of Presidents in general is cynical, skeptical, and mistrusting.
But in Reagan's case, what I saw was one of those pathological liars who changes his past and reinvents his history.
He was fairly blatant about it.
Nobody in the media seemed too worried about it, either, the impression at the time was that they honestly didn't think it would amount to much.
They were probably wrong.
One must regard Reagan's changes in the regulation of mergers and acquisitions as long term, but it certainly fruited into major impact on independence of the press, for instance.
"The media couldn't explain it" is nonsense.
I'll grant you, it's possible that for that generation of reporters, there had to be a learning curve involved.
Later on, Ross Perot was accused of being one of these sorts of people, and nobody in the media seemed to have any trouble explaining that about *him*.
I noticed the symptoms in the first five minutes of a speech the first time I heard Reagan speak at any length, and I loathed it. Before I even heard about the conflicting actions--the words refuting the cute pictures--I was offended by his manner in the pictures. It was in the video itself that I saw it: Liar, liar, liar.
Once I heard reports about the disconnect between his words and actions, I hated the whole hypocrisy even worse.
I *never* heard geneality and good humor in Reagan's presentations.
I was seeing the compartmentalized liar.
I'd think that media people would be very familiar with the symptoms of this malaise in a politician, but they didn't explain it to people then.
If it's a technical failure of tv skills and not a political/editorial/financial one, then I can allow that perhaps media folks have got better at this job: showing video clips of a politician saying a whole series of contradictory items, simply and clearly.
We're seeing criticism of this sort now which certainly weren't explained or shown then.
It made you wonder what the networks were smokin'.
In Reagan's case, as a serious failure of journalism, it's one of the more influential of this century.
I'd think reporters would encounter a *lot* of these liars in public life, but that may just be my cynicism talking. That's what fact-checking is all about, no?
And it's certainly possible to explain it. It's not all that rare an experience, dealing with this kind of personality. Reinventing your history all the time isn't uncommon out there in real life. The rest of us learn what we're dealing with eventually, when you watch one of these people in action and see the results. As an employer or employee of one, you can't count on their word, you must check up after them, you must constantly cover them with outside people offended by unconvered lies, and you must cope with the results when they failed to do what they said they would.
In other words, a major pain.
You get to recognizing the symptoms.
This kind of person so compartmentalizes their memory into separate water-tight boxes that at one moment they can claim they've done something when in fact a videocamera would show that they just did exactly the opposite not five minutes before--and they have so convinced themselves of this as a fact, that they often can't even remember what they did, until they re-enter that compartment in their head with some prompt or other. This could be a physical cue such as going back to the same location, being in the same room, talking to the same person, or repeating the words. This is like being autistic or having ADHD. Outside that narrow box of memory, they honestly cannot remember it, which is what makes them convincing.
With Reagan, I saw people believe something that I perceived as a grotesguely, horribly false signal. It was as if I could make out the blipping, staticky scanlines on a tv and everybody else was seeing a pretty photograph.
But not quite.
The worse the distortions were and the more obvious the disconnect became, the more the conservative commentators raved and cheered about it, the more his approval ratings went up.
I began to think that the very falsity of the signal was more attractive to all these people than anything genuine would have been.
Which was a really horrible thought.
I saw similar compartmentalizing symptoms with other Presidents, of course.
In the case of the current one, the attempts to repeat that public voodoo aren't carrying as well.
The interesting part is to speculate why.
I don't know if it's a relative lack of charm compared to Reagan, a relative lack of skill in his team compared to a more sophisiticated media and older audience (don't forget the aging population relative to Reagan's public) or if Bush is trying to make hoodoo cover more extensive gaping holes between the projected image and known actions. It may be due to seeing very impatient actions with sharp immediate effects compared to the longer term shifts caused by Reagan's actions. It may be that the results are much more serious.
Or it's possible that the reporters are dong a better job now of seeing the symptoms and reporting on the various compartmentalized boxes and pointing out the disconnects, even if they aren't reporting it all that often on major networks.
Or people may be seeing those scan lines for themselves.
I'd like to think so, anyway.
Just my unhumble, biased opinion.
You're welcome to disagree with me.
That's what a free country is *supposed* to be all about.
Fascinating post, Jay.
I want to come at Lesley's Parable from a different angle—the amazing credulity Stahl displays at the end of it, of which nobody seems to have offered an account. Why should she have taken Dick Darman's reaction at face value? Which is more plausible, intuitively: that the White House had no negative reaction to Stahl's reporting, no desire to make her change her tune—or that Darman phoned Stahl exactly in order to set a confidence trap for her?
Credit where it's due, Reagan's guys knew how to play the press. Give Stahl the freeze after her piece, and no matter what pain you cause you've given her, and her colleagues, confirmation that the report drew blood. How much more effective a tactic to stop her in her tracks? "Not only didn't you hurt us, Lesley, you made propaganda for us." And Stahl is deflated, and pre-empted, and the crucial social mechanisms by which reports become stories in the press, with life and momentum, is short-circuited. "You can't win, Lesley, so why put up a fight?"
I've always thought—and this week's hagiographical media orgy tends to confirm it—that the press didn't so much communicate the Reagan mystique (to the electorate), as incorporate it into its own self-understanding. Which I take to be the real burden of Lesley's Parable.
Darman is promoting a potent and debilitating myth in the story: his message is, We own your medium. We understand you better than you understand yourself, and in the service of that understanding we have a weapon you will never be able to counter. The media's myth of Ronald Reagan, which the Reagan operation consciously sold and never stopped selling, was that Reagan possessed some set of ineffable qualities, some mystical ability to manifest through the lens, that made him not just impervious to critique (the Teflon President), but actually able to turn the tools of critique against itself. (It's an explicitly political reappropriation of the myth of the Hollywood star.)
Perhaps nothing in modern American life is more mystified than the relationship between performer and audience in the mass media. The primary target of the Reagan myth was the press itself, which was fed—and swallowed—a story about its own displacement, of its loss of contact with, and sway over, its mass audience.
Reading A1, the NY Times front page project
"Worse than that, he wrote, was the "assumption that gullible others, but not one's own canny self, are slaves to the media."
Jay, one pattern of argument I've seen in several items seems to run like this (forgive a slight parody for effect):
"While more than 50% of people think they're above average, the Egghead says this cannot be so. In making that statement, the Egghead is *anti-democratic*. He thinks he knows more than the population at large, that he has some special knowledge. He then pats himself on the back for his cleverness, for telling himself how much smarter he is than the common man". [etc, etc, and so on]
But in general, more than 50% of the people *can't* be above average. Some are *wrong*. Some of those people have an inflated idea of their own abilities. This is just a fact, regardless of whether or not it is elitist to point it out.
By definition, if there is a difference between what is *popular*, and what is *accurate*, then the people who are accurate are against the crowd and common belief. Attacking this via a pseudopopulist criticism doesn't change it.
I think this piece has actually skirted around the key implication it's trying to engage: Propaganda wins over facts. To wit:
"Nobody heard the words" is spectacularly wrong about Reagan.
No, that's not what it meant. It meant "Nobody heard YOUR message, the boring, dull facts - they heard OUR message, the happy talk, it's morning in America, balloons, children and cute puppies".
Yeah, that's a very large idea. And Reagan was spectacularly good at it. Doesn't make it true, no more than any idea which is emotionally appealing but false.
Now, I *know* the counter-argument, of pointy-headed intellectuals who don't trust The People. Recursively, this is another accurate vs. popular debate ...
Thanks, Jay - I'd never heard Lesley's Parable, but it fits everything else I've heard.
I'd agree with some of the folks above - why take Darman's word? I think the image vs. the reality eventually did catch up to the Reagan presidency in a couple of ways. One was that the stories of people being adversely affected by budget cuts and the like eventually came through, and the second is that everyone became savvier about image projection, and now opposing sides play positive images off against each other. No one side truly dominates now.
I think that's one reason why the Bush presidency - which this week became far more explicitly "like Reagan's" than it had up to this point - doesn't seem to be doing as well with the engineered image. In the Reagan era, people didn't comment on the stagecraft; that was the genius of it. Now, the code-word backdrops, the appearances with black children, the choked up delivery are reviewed as performance first, politics second. Sometimes we view that as being top the detriment of politics; but it may, in fact, be to the benefit of deconstructing performances and taking some of the power away from a simple image.
And, frankly, it may be as well, that what was anomalous about the Reagan team was that they did the image thing better than anyone has before or since. Reagan was a skilled public speaker with a sense of filmic storytelling, aided by a set of disciplined image makers on his communications team. All of that started coming apart unde George H. W. Bush, a weaker speaker, with less flair for images. Clinton, while a great speaker with a sense for the stirring image, was not as controlled in his personal life. And George W. Bush is a poor speaker with a reactive communications team that doesn't put out distracting, pointless positivism to confound negative press.
It just be as simple as Reagan was good at it and no one else is. But I think it's only in the last ten years that the press and the public has caught up to the Regan image makers. Reagan moved us, more than anything, I think, into the modern communication age, for better and for worse. I think we are beginning to figure out how to make the better of it.
Seth: Pseudo-populist criticism? Ouch-a-roo. I'm not a populist, although I think it's important to understand how powerful a force populism is in American politics.
When I criticize someone in the elite reaches of the news media, like Lesley Stahl, for her view of Americans "out there," it's not because I think those Americans, being the mighty populace, must be right, good-hearted, wise or victorious in the end.
"They're entranced by the images," the victims of propaganda, seduced by Republican spin, the unfortunate product of their own shrinking attention span, is just a bad way of looking at the people you are pledged to inform. For one thing, it causes you to be incurious about them. It over-simplifies. And it corrodes a democratic sensibility, which people like Stahl, because they are an elite, badly need.
Populism seeks to mobilize resentment against certain groups of elites; this is not my project as a critic. At least, I don't think it is, despite whatever frustrations I might have, say, with an editor at the Los Angeles Times. I am interested, however, in what a more responsible, responsive, nuanced and creative "craft elite" looks like in journalism. How it might arrive at a more democratic sensibility is one thing PressThink is about.
And this is what leads me to object sometimes to anti-democratic attitudes and habits I spot in the higher reaches of journalism. A craft elite doesn't have to be elitist in its outlook, though many are. It will breed arrogance and become insulated, however, without vigorous criticism. One of the places that kind of critic must reach is into the "democratic imaginary" in Big Journalism--or in a given journalist.
I try to find stories, things that happened in journalism, where the events under scrutiny in the post are some kind of gateway to professional journalism's peculiar ways of imagining--one might also say "imaging"--American politics, democracy and the great public out there. One of the best places to look for that is a journalist's attitudes about the audience.
It is my belief that for a critic of the press, this whole area--the democratic imaginary, both tacit and stated in journalism--is where you start to strike gold.
I find it fascinating how many people here think that Reagan fooled the people and the press, but now the press is catching on and can't be fooled that way again.
I see it far differently. The press of Reagan's era was clearly hostile to his policies and desperate to find a handle on him. After all, he was the first interesting Republican president since the press had added Nixon's scalp to their belt. Scalp hunting had become the latest craze - everyone wanted to be a Woodward or Bernstein - at least when the president was Republican.
But Reagan was far smarter than the press - he simply ignored the game. He spoke directly to the people in a way that normal press filtering failed to block. He also had an ability to sense the heart of an issue, and address it, and to hell with the details.
I think this is one of the reason for his mixing of fiction and reality - if one is telling a parable (a Reagan parable), the reality of the story is not interesting - only the state it creates in the mind of the listeners counts. And if one thinks this way, details are not critical to remember, either.
As one so obviously considered by the commenters here still as an amiable dunce or suffering from early Alzheimers, he seems to have been terribly successful. From defeating the Democrats in their effort to prevent his fights against communism in El Salvador and Nicaragua, to destroying the Soviet Union, while having the flexibility to personally propose and get agreement on drastic changes in the cold war nuclear stance, to instituting supply side economics, he was very good at getting what he wanted. And he did this in the face of a press that was out to get him (Leslie Stahl for example, and others according to personal correspondence between a White House press corps member and myself), and a house totally controlled by the Democrats.
So this amiable dunce, with early Alzheimer's, defeated the eastern liberal elite (I use that term advisedly), achieved significant arms reductions by building weapons, defeated the Soviet Union using a variety of coordinated tactics, altered the welfare state in a way that Clinton later followed, and did so while literally sleeping in some cabinet meetings.
This leads to an obvious conclusion - as a president, Reagan was masterful - he was remarkably good at the job.
I realize that many in the press believe their job is to "get" the president - especially if he is Republican. It is a bizarre viewpoint that is very obvious (probably one reason that only about 25% believe the press, according to the latest poll). The focus lately on Abu Ghraib is an example of this - objectively that story is not very important for many reasons. For example, anyone who has served in the American military has suffered worse humiliation (although without the homoerotic imagery that were shown so many times by the media). Those of us who went through SERE school were literally tortured by experts.
Abu Ghraib was a one day event, indicative of a failed military unit, which was already under investigation which had long been known to the press, and which suddenly became a story so important that the New York Times ran it on the front page for 28 days straight - only when those photographs appeared. The complaints voiced this week by major media personalities that Reagan's death is forcing them to stop covering the "important" story of Abu Ghraib are telling. This is a minor story (does anyone doubt that military units occasionally have discipline problems, and in a war situation, that results in actions involving the enemy?) with its only drama being the bizarre photographs.
Reagan was a teflon president because he could simply shrug off these kinds of orchestrated attacks posing as news coverage that the public "has to know" (even though polls show that 3/4ths of the public is utterly fed up with the story). Bush does not have the same gifts, and hence is a better target for such tactics.
Jay: "symbols, images, rituals are part of what we require to know ourselves, to conduct politics democratically, and to call down the better angels of our messy nature."
Love the phrasing. It's a useful point of view.
My thought is process-oriented -- much different than the static stuff that often passes for education in schools. It allows... no, it requires... dynamic thinking about thinking about thinking, where symbols are metaphors that help respond "up one level."
That process is a double-edged sword that is constructive or destructive and you can never guarantee which of the two. When Nietzche said that convictions are a greater threat to truth than lies, he could have had journalists in mind. (But don't suggest that to a journalist, because, as Seneca said, people will concede greater beauty or strength, but never better judgment.)
I don't know Reagan, and don't pretend to, but looking over recent anecdotes, you get the sense that earlier he read widely and well, from Marx on down, to refine his pruning algorithms for sifting out the unprincipled, inappropriate and misdirected. While his administration made mistakes -- handfuls of them pointed to in your links -- and while he did, too, there is enough worthwhile that Kerry, Bush, AND everyone covering them ought to re-examine how they operate.
But why should the current flock of candidates and coverage be any better? They are products of a haphazard education system that sucks because, outside the natural gems, most teachers who teach have the degree and not the skill. They mistake Bill Bennett's virtues for something functional.
Confucius divided people into three groups: 1) Those who intuitively knew "The Way" -- saints; 2) Those who could learn it -- he considered himself one; 3) Those who never would learn and who needed ritualistic rules. [Personally, I hope I'm in group two, from 2500 years of writing by such thinkers, I've distilled a handful of useful "simple wisdoms" to help my decision-making, but that's for other times and places.]
Those who are obliged to live by fixed rules, because they can't see anything more, might not easily understand how to perceive "the way" each step along a life. Reagan did, as evidenced by the particular funeral accolades generally accepted by all (Condeding his administration sometimes misstepped).
Those trying to make sense Reagan -- and their coverage of him -- might more fruitfully look at the core wisdoms that helped his decision-making. They might also fruitfully look at their own, because they seem flummoxed with the unsatisfactory understanding they are able to sift from the evidence using what they've got.
Mark A. York
Perhaps if the story was kept in context, which is the real need for serious interrogation techniques against those who are killing our people, I might believe you. But 28 days of continuous front page stories in the New York Times, with a total of 60 front page stories? Hardly. And if the story was so important, why did it take the release of those photos to make it so – they were taken in November, 2003 and the investigation announced in January, 2004.. Our "investigative" press didn't bother to follow up. Why did this story eclipse the decapitation of Nick Berg?
The main problem in Abu Ghraib was the behavior of a few members of a single unit, and perhaps a few in military intelligence in failing to supervise properly. Since you mentioned legacies, keep in mind that many specialties required to occupy a country were moved to the National Guard under Clinton, specifically to make it more painful to US citizens when the US occupies a country. Do you suppose the requirement to call up the Guard might have resulted in a less disciplined unit? Should we examine why the National Guard rather than the regular army was providing the guards for the wing of the prison reserved for terrorist suspects?
That the President authorized the use of coercive interrogation, including torture where legal, in this level of war, is a story. A reasonable story would examine the rationale, the history, and the context, which includes the probability of mass casualty attacks at any time against the US.
In many ways, this reminds me of the behavior of the press and the Church committee in the ‘70s – hearings which destroyed CIA’s HUMINT capabilities and created incentives for CIA employees to avoid many effective techniques. Clinton made this worth by making it effectively impossible to recruit the kind of agents needed in a terrorist war: those with blood on their hands. Now we are seeing the media run a narrative as if we weren’t in a war, but a kindergarten scandal. Isolated failures of treating our enemy properly eclipse the behavior exhibited by the enemy himself. The focus is on scandal, not the methods and requirements for intelligence in a guerilla war fought by terrorists in some cases armed with weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, the Abu Ghraib case is blurred with overall US response to Al Qaeda in many countries.
Why hasn't there been a recent story on US military training, including SERE school? I put a report on my SERE school experience 37 years ago here, but had to redact the torture and related portions after being informed that the details were still accurate (and hence of use to our enemies) 37 years later. I wish the press were as responsible. Our military training has obvious ties to this. How different would the public opinion be if they knew that we used worse (although not as sexual) techniques on our own soldiers, in boot camp – continuous and often extreme humiliation, and in SERE school, genuine torture?
Why is there an absolute assumption that the use of humiliation prior to interrogation is wrong in a guerilla war? This is only a scandal if one assumes that the high levels of the pentagon did something seriously wrong and will get away with it without the constant drumbeat from the press. I have yet to see evidence of that. There was no cover-up (except that the pictures, properly, were classified SECRET/NOFORN). That members of the press had no problem publishing pictures that put our troops and all of us in greater danger is itself damning.
One could argue that SECRET/NOFORN classification was part of a cover-up. But that would be specious, since there were two legitimate reasons for the classification: The release of those pictures would clearly provide propaganda opportunities for those who would obstruct our war on terror and the terrorists themselves and will do so for years; how many Al Qaeda recruiting sites and samizdat will contain the worst of those photos? The release of those pictures will make it more difficult to prosecute those who committed crimes in that action (there is a military law equivalent to a poisoned jury).
Furthermore, how often does the press report how the story reached 60 Minutes II? The pictures were apparently released by an uncle of one of the accused, since Col. David Hackworth, creator of the notorious Tiger Force, a popular pentagon critic with a huge chip on his shoulder brags on his web site that he facilitated the connection. Is that a story? How often to we hear the motives of the "leakers?” Aren’t the motives of leakers themselves a story?
The public does *not* have the "right to know" anything (check your Constitution), but the press does have a freedom to print what it wants. It is very telling that the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists has not a word about protecting the nation that guarantees that freedom of the press. I'll bet the public would be shocked to know this.
But back to the significance of the story. What is the purpose of repetitive coverage? Does it make journalists happy to know that most viewers and readers don’t want to hear any more, and now only about 25% trust the main stream media? Do you suppose the constant banging away on this story is increasing or decreasing this number?
Can anyone supply the slightest answer to the argument that the media is working actively to prevent the election of George Bush, and this is one of its tactics?
Does the media forget there is another player in this game – John Kerry – whose faults and cover-ups are ignored, no matter how credible the source? That the Boston Globe has yet (as far as I know) retracted its report on Kerry claiming he received an honorable discharge in 1970? How many have reported that he conducted anti-war activities while on active duty (by flying an anti-war activist, Walinski, to rallies)? How many have reported that, contrary to the previous version of his published biography, he was a sworn officer in the Naval Reserves during all of his anti-war activities including his two meetings with the communist Vietnamese? How many have reported or even investigated the charge that his group, the VVAW, actively coordinated with the North Vietnamese while Kerry was still a featured speaker at their rallies? Is this allegation more or less important than one more Abu Ghraib story? Is there just not enough room to report this?
Is one more AG story more important than a Kerry's cover-up of his military record? Without access to lexis/nexis, I believe that has never been reported?
Does anyone believe that Bush quietly changing his military biography would go unreported? How many remember the outrageous and uninformed charges of Deserter and AWOL that were made? How many realize the number of veterans who, knowing the absurdity of the charges and questions, came to the realization that the main stream media was ignorant of military matters and on a witch hunt? I have certainly had a large number contact me because of that behavior.
Kerry has based much of his credibility on his Vietnam "war hero" record, but there are many serious charges about him from former comrades-in-arms and commanders.? Where have these charges been reported or investigated? Is one more Abu Ghriab story more important than investigating and reporting on these allegations? Are the Swift Boat sailors who oppose Kerry (who number far more than those who support him) not worthy of coverage, when there have been a number of stories about the small group who support him? Should AG push all this out of the news?
Is one more AG story more significant than the historic action of Kerry’s entire former commander chain, who unanimously pronounced him unfit to be a Commander in Chief? That story that gained only a few column inches, probably far from the front page. CBS Evening News (May 4, 2004( turned the story into a skillful hit job, painting the veterans as "unleash[ing] decades of bitterness," but painting the organizers as tied to the Bush Campaign. The overall tone of the piece is summed up in the last quote: "It smells like another dirty trick from the Bush-Cheney machine." Overall, the reporting of the event was relatively accurate, but played down the importance and historical significance. Guilt by association was alleged by the Kerry campaign and repeated uncritically (or embellished) by the reporters.
Is one more AG story more important than the surprising charge by one of Kerry's commanders that he and fellow officers manipulated the system to get Kerry out of Vietnam, because they considered him too willing to kill civilians? Could this "manipulating the system" mean giving him his first purple heart - an action which is a mystery to Kerry's commander at the time and the medical report for which was not put on Kerry's web site? Has anybody even checked to find out?
Is one more AG story so important that the fact that over 200 Swift Boat veterans challenged Kerry's fitness to be CIC? Has anyone investigated how many times Vietnam Veterans (other than controversial MIA activist Ted Sampley) have come forward to challenge the qualifications of another Vietnam Veteran. I know of no cases from Vietnam or any other war.
Is one more AG story more important than the fact that Kerry’s picture, as of June 2, 2004, was hanging in a room in the Saigon War Remnants Museum dedicated to those foreigners who helped the communists win the Vietnam War?
Every American knows about Abu Ghraib. I have yet to meet anyone other than fellow veterans who are aware of any of these important stories about Kerry’s chosen campaign theme.
The main stream media should be ashamed. One story is being hyped way beyond its importance, while a number of other significant stories are being ignored or downplayed. Is it unreasonable to suspect that the reason for the hyped story is its potential to harm George Bush (with collateral damage to America ignored ), while the many others are not important because they have the potential to harm John Kerry?
Mark York asks a rather strange question:As for elite reporters, are we saying here that Stahl is elite and Reagan isn't?
No, we are discussing Stahl. The question of whether Reagan was elite is a different issue, and frankly, a fairly complex one. It also is utterly irrelevant. And frankly, I am not particularly interested in discusssing Reagan. A great man is dead. The press was upset that his remembrance took time away from the Abu Ghraib dance. Ronald Reagan will be fondly remembered when everybody now in the press is forgotten. That's enough for me. My only interest is in my question to Jay two paragraphs down.
In a related vein, here is an answer to Dr. Rosen’s comments regarding complaints about News Bias. The fact that he gets approximately equal numbers from left and right complaining about bias is not in any way proof that the media is in the middle of the left/right axis, for two reasons: the result is consistent with the theory that the hard left (who tend to be more politically active than the right) writing letters complaining because the media is only liberal, not hard left, while the totality of the right views the media to be to the left; also, the sample is unscientific.
I would be interested in Dr. Rosen's answer to the following: which of the items in the “cheat sheet” by David Corn are believed by the main stream media (as represented or analyzed by Dr. Rosen) to be negatives? I think it would be an interesting piece of information. I don't ask this to debate, but simply out of curiosity.
Finally, there are many major aspects of the war on terror that need exploring in an honest and investigative way – for example, what is the true policy towards Saudi Arabia and what are the alternatives. I don’t mean silly stories alleging policy formed by relationships between former oilmen and Saudis, but substantive policy analyses. What is the true threat from Iran? What are the scenarios as Iran approaches nuclear capability – what would or could the US do? What would or could Israel do? What would be the repercussions in the War on Terror?
What would happen if an anonymous nuclear weapon suddenly exploded in Washington, DC or Manhattan or Lawrence, Kansas? What are the plans for this sort of event? What do experts think the response of Americans and its government would be? What if this happens when Iran is known to possess nuclear weapons?
Will our ABM system protect us against North Korean ICBMs? Iranian ones 2 or 3 years down the road? If not, why not? Is it possible to do so (including the issue of using nuclear warheads on the system, as the Russians do on their currently operational ABM system surrounding Moscow).
Will we hear any analyses of these issues, or is Abu Ghraib all consuming?
My duplicate blog entry was made as an afterthough - I decided that I wanted to have it as an entry on my site.
If Jay wants me to post short articles, I will do so. An in-line narrative, however, seems much more natural.
I think your problem in understanding Reagan's appeal is that your are trying to fit it into an abstract system that doesn't apply. Furthermore, when a person is operating with natural talent (and with Reagan it was almost a savant level of political talent), they simply don't fit into simple theoretical systems. They are what they are, and they have no need to be consistent to anyone's theory.
The Reagan you saw was the Reagan you had. He also was a genuinely nice and good person (if I am to believe what I have heard this week from many, many people who knew him and serious enough to not just be eulogizing him), something very difficult for a fundamentally leftist press to grasp - that a good man could do so many "bad" things (in the eyes of the left).
Yes, Reagan was political. He understood politics in an intuitive way. His speeches written between his time as Governor and President show that.
I can assure you that Reagan wasn't thinking about symbols, signifiers and signified. He didn't need such abstractions to be smarter in practice than his opponents, regardless of their theoretical systems and analyses.
There is a classic usage: "paralysis by analysis" - I would change it to "psychosis by analysis." It is possible to go way too deep into subjects which are not that deep.
After all, the 20th century tradition of literary criticism (even before deconstructionism) was all about reading meaning that wasn't there. The use of Freud's elegant but false systems of analysis exacerbated that trend - you could read the mind of the author. I would suggest that your analysis follows in that same tradition. My wife, a student of English Literature and a several times published novelist, found this most amusing. As someone who was able to get outstanding grades in English Lit without even reading the books, I find it amusing also.
Sit back, sip some wine, and try to "feel" the world the way Ronald Reagan did. You might learn something, and it is in any case a pleasant way to spend a little time.
"Why did this story eclipse the decapitation of Nick Berg?"
It didn't. The memo: it's the memo for context.
Huh? Many Americans have been asking why the Nick Berg story received little treatment while Abu Ghraib seems to be a fetish of the press. But they are just ordinary folk, not elite members of the left, so I guess they need not be answered.
A clear path to abuse dictated from on high by the president's lawyers. Read it and weep. What the hell do you think those techniques will get us?
The naivette of the left has always been stunning. In the hands of proper people, those techniques might get us information that will save your life. I know everyone likes to imagine that somehow we can combat suicidal religious fanatics armed with weapons of mass destruction by following Roberts Rules of Order or playing tiddly-winks with the enemy.
Those people are fools, and to the extentthey have influence, dangerous fools.
Then we have people who want to believe that we are somehow better than the rest of humanity, and should not stoop to such practices. Well, I am proud of our soldiers because they are the most humane and yet deadly force ever fielded. And they don't get much credit for it. But there are extreme circumstances that require extreme actions. In polite society, one tries to hide this. It is left up to people like Special Forces personnel and military intelligence people to do the dirty work and live with having to do so, and if it comes out, then people like you will condemn them.
War is dirty and brutal. We didn't start this war and we are at grave risk of having it last the rest of our lives (which might not be as long as nature would intend).
Meanwhile, significant forces in the country are instead playing the same old political games as if there weren't a bunch of suicidal fanatics right now planning to kill a whole bunch of innocent Americans.
Wholesale torture would be both criminal and fruitless. But the use of torture has long been recognized by people grounded in the reality of war as appropriate in certain circumstances. When you are fighting an enemy which has no respect for any rules, which has declared war on all of our citizens, and which celebrates deaths of innocents, you may have to be a little tougher than if you are fighting a more respectable outfit, for example, the non-SS German army of World War II - the last enemy we faced that pretty much obeyed Geneva conventions.
There are proper and improper ways to do this sort of thing. If torture is used only in special cases where the intelligence value is very high and the prisoner is clearly an enemy and illegal combatant, it can be moral. Distasteful, but moral. If it is used as a matter of common practice, without producing results, against people who are mere suspects, or by people who derive pleasure from doing it, it is both immoral and ineffective.
As one who has been tortured and trained in resistance to torture, I would suggest that my knowledge (classified as it apparently still is) just might be a bit more accurate and grounded in reality than yours.
To imagine that the abuses at Abu Ghraib follow directly from the lawyer letter is connecting non-existent dots. Abu Ghraib was a result of poor military discipline and supervision. The female soldier with the leash was not even authorized to be there, as far as I know. The unit essentially had a party - a sick and perverted party. They will be punished, unless the poisoned atmosphere ("Command Influence") allows some of the perpetrators to get off.
Apparently you (and the press) has a value system in which the deaths of innocent Americans are acceptable if the alternative is to occasionally use torture. I would suggest that the attitude is appropriate for a society that does not plan to survive.
0 that's what and negative numbers, but then your crowd is used to those aren't they?
As a mathematician, yeah, I know about negative numbers and imaginary numbers and all sort of other esoterica you will never understand. What negative numbers are you talking about? Polls? Your crowd tries hard to produce negative poll numbers for Bush, that's for sure, but frankly, your meaning is not clear.
As to the NG and I don't know, blaming the use of those forces on Clinton, how original. I deny it flat out.
For that particular unit, you may or may not be right. Military Police were obviously not put completely into Guards units. But many were - I know a Guardsman on the way to Iraq right now - specialty? MP.
Clinton did put entire occupation specialties into the Guards (when the congress was still Democrat controlled), and the stated purpose was to make it politically more difficult for a President to occupy territory. Well, it worked. Guardsmen are having their lives seriously disrupted as a result. Rumsfeld, who actually understands the issue, is trying to rebalance the forces to address this inanity. Having been a member of the reserves, I would suggest that perhaps I have a closer insight into that issue also, and I can tell you that I was angered when Clinton started calling up Reserve and Guards units for his various "peacekeeping" efforts.
How about privatizing the security forces? Who's bright idea was that.
Beats me. To a large part, presumably it was the idea of the private organizations who needed additional security. It makes a lot of sense in such a situation. There may be inadequate supervision of those groups, in which case something needs to be done about it, but in fact they are security professionals for the most part and provide a force multiplier.
Listen here buddy my ancestors fought in the American Revolution and I'm the son of a man who liberated Buchenwald after landing at Utah Beach.\
Ohhh... color me impressed! I mean I cannot possibly abase myself another to a person of your obvious heroism. Oops, that was your father.
That means you are probably of the baby boom Vietnam generation. What did *you* do for your country? I volunteered for and served in Vietnam, temporarily interrupting my university studies. I put my life on the line for your freedoms, and I didn't have to do it. I lost dear friends for your freedom, one of whose sacrifice was smeared by Terry McCauliffe's characterization of Naitonal Guardsmen (my friend was killed flying a fighter in the national guard).
Where were you? We had plenty of wars you could have helped out in. And for that matter, why the sudden descent into ad hominem? Did you run out of arguments?
What kind of turnip truck did you fall off? Blog it yourself like the Pan man said. That's intrusive and rude.
Turnip truck. How trite. I've never seen a turnup truck, but I do have to admit having lived most of my life in flyover country. It turns out that flyover country and especially the south provide more soldiers to defend the country than blue state elitists. ... [comments removed at John Moore's request]
As to rude, you are hardly one to be throwing turnips. Your response rapidly degenerated from issues to personal attacks.
I will leave it to Doctor Rosen to decide what he wants to do. I'm not going to leave this blog because a rude person, so short of logic that he has to stoop to ad hominem name calling (what does a turnip taste like? I don't know), asks me to.
It may surprise you to consider this, but one need not be a liberal to have opinions and observations. One need not be either a liberal or a member of the mainstream media to uncover facts and know things, either. Did you actually follow any of my links? Were they all to irrelevant issues that should not be news?
Mark A. York
The right doesn't know science at all. In fact they oppose it. To them, it may as well be 1542. Ouside of the mainstream, that is why the "left" bias affects them so. That and they get bad grades in college even at Ivy League Gucci schools thus hate elites who do. "Overthinking" I believe is the way you put it John.
Oh my... now the real attitudes come out. The right are dummies. It's right there in your words. You know, I'm beginning to believe that you are not up to the quality of the posters I usually find on this blog. I usually disagree with them, but they don't seem to have the propensity for idiotic stereotyping that you show.
....[comments removed at John Moore's request]
I also thank you because this is the first time I have encountered the naked elitism of the left, in its pure form. I've always known it was there, but most lefties are too smart to just lay it out there.
Now, I’m through with the bragging and the ad homina. It is truly a waste of Jay’s bandwidth and shame on you for tempting me into it.
Reagan was a Bel Air rich man. That's the way he lived, governed and died. That's elitism. What he wasn't was "Old Money" like the Bushes, but he took to fast. These aren't populists like Kerry by any stretch. How sweet it will be.
That's amusing. Reagan was just more competent than Kerry. Reagan didn't start out rich. He got that way through his talents. The true elite would consider him beneath them. My wife's LA Bluebook relatives would feel that way - they owned Santa Monica a long time ago, and if you got your money after 1900, you are a newcomer. There's the elite, and then there's the elite. Kerry, who hung around with the elite (especially the Kennedy’s), got his money the leftist way - by marrying it.
George W. Bush indeed could have been one of the elite, but that isn't the way he chose to live his life. Sure, he got a MBA at an Ivy League school (the first president to do so), and he was the best poker player there (which is an important thing to know if you really want to understand his unusual political style) but he went back to Midland, where real people live. His father shows the characteristics of the elite. Not the son. Both of them were fighter pilots, of course, a highly dangerous profession. W went through a couple of decades of a not very impressive lifestyle, until a religious conversion changed his character radically. Too bad Kerry, after his treachery of 1970 and 1971 never changed his character. I hear rebirthing is popular with the left - maybe he should try it.
... [comments removed at John Moore's request]
Sounds pretty good to me.
First, I don't have any problem with John posting his extended commentary here, where the thoughts originated. And I appreciate that a lot of work went into it. I could do with a little less personal invective--whether it's provoked or unprovoked--but, hey, this is the Internet so my expectations have adjusted.
John asks: "Which of the items in the 'cheat sheet' by David Corn are believed by the main stream media (as represented or analyzed by Dr. Rosen) to be negatives?" Perhaps you do, John, but I do not think the mainstream media, as a unit, has uniform or coherent beliefs on, say, whether the firing of the air traffic controllers was a good thing or a bad thing. What is has is the luxury of never developing such beliefs.
Reporters would recognize this list, however, as a handy summation of what "critics of Reagan" point to. (That's why I linked to it.) The attitude of most journalists is aptly summarized in this remark from Tom Brokaw. Reagan, he said, "was a beloved American leader, but at the same time our journalistic obligation is to put his whole life and his political career in context. The Reagan legacy has some scandals -- Iran-Contra, his failure to recognize early on the AIDS epidemic. It's a very delicate balancing act."
Here we come closer to the political thinking of our press, the part that is actionable for journalists: Praise for a beloved leader, plus "some scandals" gives a balanced view, a political life placed in context. This feels unsatisfactory to both Reagan supporters and doubters, and, in turn, that reaction is satisfying to most journalists.
Finally, John writes: "The fact that he gets approximately equal numbers from left and right complaining about bias is not in any way proof that the media is in the middle of the left/right axis." I am not sure what comments of mine you are referring to, but let me be clear: I do not think howls of protest from Left and Right prove anything about the balance, fairness, truthfulness or "middleness" of press performance.
I do think this is a complacent and mechanical response to bias criticism. But it is popular among journalists because it produces the illusion of innocence and requires almost no thought. I have specifically criticized this attitude as non-responsive-- deaf and dumb. In fact, I wrote a whole post about it, The View from Nowhere.
I also agree with this from Mark's pen: "It seems to me that Reagan was a political man in the fullest sense, and that the error in focusing on his personal, private authenticity in contrast to his public role and his symbolic role, is essentially an anti-political perspective."
That's why, in my post, I highlighted David Broder's comment, shifting the interpretative principle from Reagan "the great communicator"--which flows effortlessly into "he's just an actor" in the Hollywood sense--to Reagan "the great persuader," or in other words an actor in the historical sense, a figure who, using his powers, makes new facts.
Broder, I believe, was shifting to a less anti-political view, if that makes any sense. In general, I think the Washington press was baffled by Reagan and his form of politics; that he got relatively positive coverage up to the Iran-contra scandal; and that we cannot underestimate, in this connection, how successful he and Nancy were at returning glamour to Washington, which in turn makes the capital press corps feel better about itself.
Finally, I have a strange view of the whole media bias discourse. In general, I agree with nobody. On specific charges, I might find myself thinking, "well, he has a point," and that person with the point could come from Left, Right, fringe, middle, or from the press as it rejects bias charges. This "debate," I think, is best understood as an instance of the culture wars extended to the mainstream press.
Thanks for your comments. I am trying to tone down the ad homina. I certainly felt a need to respond to it in this thread, and the result was surprisingly interesting ( I would love to know how many have the remarkably elitist attitude that was expressed by Mr. York.), but as I said at the end, that’s the end of it in dealing with that attacker. Some of what you perceive as personal invective may be my use of strong labels (leftist, etc) which are meant just as label and not condemnation. But I will try to avoid the invective.
I took the argument you wondered about from #2 in http://archive.pressthink.org/2003/10/24/bias_questions.htm. However, reading your subsequent comments in that respect, I understand that it isn’t correct to single it out – its interpretation is clearly tied to the many more words you describe. For that misinterpretation, I apologize. I was arguing with a strawman.
And of course, thank you for your forum. I found it as a result of links from Roger Simon, and since for many years the anti-conservative attitudes I perceive in the national press have been an object of concern to me, and an object of study by observation, this is a place that, among other things, offers an opportunity to discuss the issue. As I have mentioned in the past, I started listening to propaganda as a kid, monitoring Radio Moscow and Radio Havana. I did that off and on for years, and found that in the early ‘80s, CBS (in particular and at that time) had exceeded Radio Moscow in their ration of propaganda to reporting (which was partly due to increased sophistication at Radio Moscow, by the way).
As an aside, the best news on shortwave was BBC (sadly, now taken over by ideologues again, as it was before World War II), and the most fair from the Beeb and VOA, which in my mind was too fair - it wasn't adequately representing American interests - RFE and related did better. I once visited a US propaganda station (RFE, CIA - I don't know, I just remember the guys with the submachine guns appearing as we walked up to it) in West Berlin in 1966; The fact that it had, for that time a highly sophisticated technology to allow it quickly change frequencies to avoid jamming indicated its importance to its listeners. As another interesting aside, at least for those who have been broadcast engineers, it had two AM transmitters in parallel on the same antenna, one of which had been Goebbels eastern front mobile 100kW transmitter - still in the old Wehrmacht trucks. I believe the Bush Administration is remiss in doing a poor job of fighting the information/propaganda war.
I am a passionate person and partisan as you can tell, and I do have some strong negative feelings about the behavior of the Main Stream Press (abbreviated MSM on Roger Simon’s fine blog, where much of the discussion has taken place). I am especially empassioned this year by the contemporaneous attacks on George Bush’s service (which brought up sad memories of, and slandered, my best friend, who died doing what Bush was criticized for doing); the campaign of John Kerry as a Vietnam Hero when I, as do many Vietnam veterans, view him as a vile individual; and the consequent re-awakening of my feelings and memories of my military service, including that in Vietnam. The connection of this to your blog is my strong conclusion that Kerry is anappropriately being given great favors by the MSM, and that W is being improperly attacked, starting with the press hysteria (I mean that word almost literally) over his National Guard service (which was of little interest to the press when Bill Clinton was running against an even greater war hero – GHWB). It is my considered opinion that the MSM has a near universal, significant and very influential "Anybody But Bush" attitude, which significantly affects its editorial judgement. It is also my considered opinion that the MSM has a similarly near universal agreement about the War on Iraq, to the point where lies - literally and trivially checked lies - from the Democrats on the subject are reported without qualification, while Republican statements are routinely dissected and contradicted by the same press.
One other important factor in my motivation this year is the War on Terror, which I believe (based in part on my knowledge of WMDs, and my long held understanding that mass casualty attacks were an Islamist goal - it should have been obvious to everyone after the 1993 WTC attack) is far more dangerous than either the Administration, the opposition or the Press is emphasizing. In that sense, I believe that the President was wrong in calling for America to defeat the terrorists by carrying on as usual - because that has led to populace into complacency, an attitude that will probably be shocked again shortly.
That one factor makes me a single issue voter – which I have never been in the past. As an aside, it is interesting to watch Hillary Clinton, an very smart individual, and how she has positioned herself much better than Kerry to be in the right position when the inevitable happens.
Regarding the press, I see an extraordinary lack of balance, which angers me and almost all Vietnam veterans I have talked to. Most Vietnam Vets are not surprised, we went through much worse in the ‘70s, although many didn't realize how much of the responsibility fell on Walter Cronkite and John Kerry, whom we had never heard of. I have tried to document the lack of balance in the press (and at the same time document Kerry's failings) by providing examples of information that is being ignored.
My passion also leads to two additional desires: a desire to debate intelligent, well informed serious people (and hopefully to win the debate on grounds other than rhetorical – not likely, but at least my side gets exposure :-), and an interest in what those people believe and why, which in an optimal debate can be elicited.
I am both encouraged and worried by the ever greater level of disconnect between the MSM and what the population considers to be important. Encouraged because perhaps the dysfunction will be reduced as customers drop away and members of the press become disturbed that three quarters of the population consider them to be at best incompetent and at worst, liars.
I am worried because the current situation is unhealthy for our democracy, at one of the most critical times in our history. We need popular press that informs national discussions on issues of great import (a few candidate issues were suggested above), but in a more effective way. Since we agree that bias cannot be eliminated, diversity is required.
But diversity, especially in the age of the internet, enables the human impulse of reinforcing one’s own opinion by only using sources that confirm that world view.
I find the network TV news part of the MSM to be so objectionable that the only times I watch their evening news is to see what their agenda (yes, agenda) is, or late at night when Fox is into re-runs of its earlier shows and I peek at CNN (ugh) or MSNBC. The major networks (with the exception of PBS) no longer report news, but rather a mix of "it bleeds, it leads" and propaganda (editorials disguised as news). I read the online New York Times when I have time (which is becoming less frequent as I get drawn into more direct Veteran Groups activism against John Kerry), and the WAPO. The LA Times is so far gone that I only look there for local stories, since I used to live in Santa Monica and neighboring areas. My local Arizona Republic, which used to be at least interesting, has not only turned ideologically against positions I favor (which may surprise Easterners), but has lost much of the most interesting content (such as science coverage). I wonder if Dan Quayle’s family still owns it.
Regarding your observation that you don’t regard the MSM as a unit, I suspect that observation is more correct at the micro than the macro level. I don’t consider it an organized unit, but it projects, at least to the conservative, and especially the social conservative, a strongly consistent viewpoint across the board. In that sense, it behaves as a unit . Sure, there are variances in coverage – the story about the Swift Boat Veterans attacking Kerry as an unsuitable commander-in-chief is an example.
The universal judgment of the MSM, as indicated by the length and follow-on stories (none) was that it was a minor story about the election. But the individual members of the MSM reported it differently, from outrageously biased propaganda by CBS to a more balanced story by UPI (unfortunately, it cost me some bucks to find this, as I don’t have any professional access to lexisnexis, and had to buy the stories $3 at a time without knowing what was in them).
Using this story as one example, a strong uniformity does exist on the importance of this story (and of course, others), which is one of my primary criticisms of the MSM. That this is also an example of a uniformity of bias follows because I doubt (and opinions here would be of interest) that this same classification as a minor story not worthy of follow-up would be radically different if George Bush were substituted for John Kerry. I deduce this from the kinds of coverage applied to Bush’s service record, which was remarkable from the lack of equivalent skepticism of Kerry’s, its incompetence, and for its appearance this year at a much greater level of intensity than in 2000, when Bush’s opponent had a service record that was less impressive than Bush's.
If one goes back to 1992, the bias in this area is even more significant. I didn’t even know until today that GHW Bush was awarded a higher decoration than John Kerry, and that when he got an opportunity to stay out of combat for two weeks, he rejected it and hitched a ride to get back to his unit. I offer this link not for argumentation but because it was so surprising to me that others might be interested also.
So getting to the list, I would strongly suspect that a properly executed academic study of journalists (hard to do in this case, since humans are for the most part not happy to admit bias and journalists to even having opinions – at least to the public) would find a substantial uniformity of belief on items in the list, with, of course, much greater variance on some subjects than others. In other words, of course reporters form opinions. They would have to be robots or Heinlein’s fictional Fair Witnesses not to. Nobody truly has the luxury of not forming opinions, except those who never perceive information about which an opinion could be formed. All of us have the capability, rarely used, of changing opinions, however.
As to the comment about "culture wars" – I believe that to be true. Unfortunately, I think one side of the wars dominates the MSM. For an extreme example, the abortion issue receives remarkably biased coverage (but I don’t want to get into that one here) – I know that from family members who have been participants and observers of reported events, and samizdat. I wonder if the MSM has even one pro-life member. We could list many other areas.
As an aside, there is a fascinating cultural divide forming which is not congruent with the left-right axis – with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s politics representing one side of it. Subject for another time.
Anna asks, "if you were Lesley Stahl, with 20-20 hindsight, how would you have reported on Reagan?"
Good question. I'm not sure I would have done any better. For one thing, I have never been a television reporter. They work under enormous constraints.
For example, the requirement that there be "good" visuals-- whether than means attractive scenery, artfully staged rituals, dramatic confrontation, patriotic display, gut-wrenching violence, or your basic watching-a-train-wreck thrillride. This adds a wildly arbitrary and often irresponsible factor to television news. It almost guarantees that a given report will "over-signify," which is sort of the opposite problem from over-simplifying. (The words do that.) This accounts for the schizoid quality of many TV news packages. They are over-messaged and yet say so little.
Lesley Stahl long ago accepted this requirement, however, as must anyone who succeeds in TV news. You need good visuals. What could be more obvious? That is how she wound up in the trap memorialized in her story. "Nobody heard what you said."
If I were in her position what would I do? If before I ever started my story, I had to have good visuals, and the White House supplied 'em, and therefore I had to run with the White House's scripted scenes a priori, as it were, I probably would have tried the journalist's equivalent of walking off the set. But then if I were unwilling to abide by this "rule," I wouldn't be on the set in the first place.
Stahl wanted things both ways. She was willing to add an abitrary element of good visuals (never asking, why should the truth come with pretty pictures?) and then willing to be shocked when they overwhelmed her "story."
Part of the system that enables this loop of self-deception involves the way a journalist names and frames the alternative to... "good visuals; must have 'em or there's no story." The alternative is, of course, held to be miserable: if you don't accept the system, you would bore people to death, drive away the audience with a "lecture," a talking head droning on.
Framed that way, all becomes clear: are you gonna try good visuals with voiceover narration that tries to debunk them (Stahl's approach with Reagan, labeled "tough" reporting), or will you bore people to death?
Irony: John Moore's inability to understand the symbolic importance of Abu Ghraib in contrast to its "objective" importance mirrors the inability of the press to understand Reagan's symbolic power as opposed to his objective condition (red-crested reptilian liar).
Actually, I misunderstood your language.
That Abu Ghraib is a powerful symbol (strictly because of the photographs) is beyond doubt. But what is it symbolic of? I argue that it is symbolic of little of importance, except for those who are willingly blind to the real necessities of warfare, and those who are searching for powerful symbols to use as propaganda. It has served well in the latter usage, both for the ABB crowd and those who have sworn to kill as many of our civilians as possible.
I’m not gonna rise to the bait on Reagan. Besides, I enjoy watching real lizards as they wander through the desert around my house, except the darned road runners ate my carport and front gate guard lizards (collared lizards, or for Mark, Crotaphytus collaris).
There are many reasons that Freud is discredited, and your ad hominem paragraphs are an example of one of them. As to the resume, I really didn’t want to do that, because I don’t like putting that much personal information on the net. But this was the provocation:
Of course it is. The right doesn't know science at all. In fact they oppose it. To them, it may as well be 1542. Ouside of the mainstream, that is why the "left" bias affects them so. That and they get bad grades in college even at Ivy League Gucci schools thus hate elites who do. "Overthinking" I believe is the way you put it John.
It seemed appropriate that a strong counter-example might be useful, since I know that the view of conservatives as dumb rubes is strong in some “intellectual” circles.
Now Mark is continuing to make his charges, and I am biting my tongue. Rather than respond in kind…
The charge of “a classic ideologue” is an ad homenem attempt to discredit arguments. Not very sophisticated. Mark, who takes credit for ending half the clear cut logging on the national forests wouldn’t be an ideologue, would he?
As far as constant assault by right wingers, Mark would get less assault and more reasonable argumentation if he refrained from ad hominem attacks. They do not adhere to his credit. Here is my last ad hominem comment on our resident book writer, Mark. Damn... it just slipped out.
I was going to answer the rest of the personal attacks, but I realize that it really is off topic – easy to answer, but not related to journalism at all. If it lights anyone's fire to imagine me hiding in a bunker with an AK-47 and 1000 rounds of ammunition, that’s cool. Actually, though, I don’t have the bunker and the only "militia" I was a member of was the Anasazi/Mensa Paint Ball team.
Oh, about Kerry. I never painted him as a communist and I don’t believe he ever was a communist. I believe he was an opportunist who coordinated his propaganda with the enemy (who I identified as communist to distinguish them from our allies) for mutual benefit. That there were communists active in the anti-war movement is beyond dispute – heck, one of them was my economics professor, and former KGB officers have written extensively on this. Of the founding members of the SDS at the University of Kansas (you know, Bible Belt), all but one were members of CPUSA. That the VVAW actively worked with the enemy is a fact. Whether the members were communists or not, I don’t know and frankly don’t care. My view of American Communists is the same as Lenin’s: “Useful Idiots” – for whom I named my blog (except I had to settle for an alternate translation because Useful Idiots was already taken).
As to Kerry’s medals, it is clear(possibly contrary to an account circulating in the veteran’s samizdat) that he got all but two of his medals properly. In fact, some of the same commanders who signed the letter and spoke to the press calling him unqualified to be the Commander in Chief helped him in his 1996 Senate race when his opponent challenged the circumstances of his Silver Star. These two acts were treated as inconsistent by the Kerry campaign (they are not – see quote below) and by many in the MSM.
Regarding his Silver Star: The article I found is worded in a way that it is not clear if they [other veterans] are defending all of the circumstances of the award or just the war crimes charge. I will find out shortly. In any case, I tentatively assume that the Silver Star was awarded properly and that his supporting veterans are telling the truth about it.
If the MSM enjoyed more respect by veterans, that controversial samizdat about Kerry’s Silver Star wouldn’t get very far. But it has, because most veterans know, from watching the silliness this year, that the MSM is biased, ignorant (about military affairs) and not to be trusted – especially on partisan and military issues. Hence truth and falsehood (or conjecture or fact – I don’t know) are mixed in the samizdat, as one would expect.
From the Boston Globe:
''I find a couple of things ironic. I stood alongside John Kerry along with Admiral Zumwalt and Adrian Lonsdale in 1996 to defend him against the false accusation of -- Guess what? -- atrocities and war crimes," Elliott said. ''That wasn't true then; that's why I stood with him. The second irony is, in 1971 . . . he claimed that the 500,000 men in Vietnam in combat were all villains. There were no heroes. In 2004, one hero from the Vietnam War has appeared running for president."
''It galls one to think about it," Elliott [Swift Boat Veteran] said.
The award of Kerry’s first Purple Heart is a matter of serious dispute (not that one would know from MSM coverage), and if you go to his military records, you will discover that the medical record for that award is not available, although the one for the third is present. The other sources I gave show why there is so much concern in the veteran’s world about the first Purple Heart, and why his fellow swift boat veterans asked that he release the associated records to the general public. We know that it was a minor wound (described by the treating doctor as a scratch) on his arm, so what is there to cover up?
I believe the records were shown to the press, but not to any veterans. The press failed completely (as far as I can tell) to report that his fellow veterans had asked in a letter that he release those records to the public. The first part of the record, challenging his competence to be CIC was reported on, but as far as I know, not the second, where they ask for the records release.
I would suggest you look here and ask why he gives no dates of his service in Vietnam. They were there (and on his press releases – those with lexisnexis should be able to find them) before his partial military records were published.
JayI would ask your view of the press coverage of these two “cover-ups” or whatever one wants to call them, especially in light of the press treatment of Bush regarding his military records. I’ve brought them up before, but I don't remember asking for you comment (not that that means I didn't :-).
Also, Jay, as an aside, have you or others investigated or discussed the role of alternate news sources as samizdat in the original Soviet sense?
I have no idea if we are in agreement on anything else, but thank you for your logical analyses. I am not going to waste more bandwidth bantering with Mark about superficial issues. You did a fine job exposing his confusion between academic credentials and and competent use of the knowledge they are supposed to represent. I too have hired many non-college graduates as highly paid professionals, and I have fired some with impressive academic credentials.
Saying that Reagan's actions didn't always support his photo ops is a far cry from the character assassination Mr. Moore et al is using on John Kerry.
The problem with your characterization of "character assasination" is that everthing I have provided is based on facts. I have even qualified those items that I am not certain of, and provided references so that those whose minds aren't to rigid to change can find primary source material. So while it is true that I am attacking John Kerry's character, "character assassination" is an incorrect and pejorative description.
I have yet to see you challenge any of the facts - instead resorting (yet again - its getting boring) to ad hominem attacks or in this case using pejorative code words instead.
It is pathetic that the left is usually the first to use charges of "politics of personal destruction" or "character assassination," given their own contributions to advancing the state of the art of such tactics (remember Borking? how about getting Clarence Thomases porn movie rental records - something you folks seem to think is just fine as long as it isn't a terrorists' records). It is more pathetic (and this is back on topic in a sense) that the MSM lets the left get away with it, while always labeling conservative criticisms of their opponents as "personal attacks" or using some other symbolic phrase that means "unfair."
I'm not going to take you on regarding stem cells, because it is utterly off topic. Just be assured that I know more than you might think about the subject, specifically in their relationship to brain disorders. Some day you are going to be surprised in that exact area. So will Nancy Reagan. I'm trying to figure out how to make money off of the disinformation that forms common opinion on the subject.
By the way, it is the fact that you actually believe the slurs you made on conservatives that makes you interesting to me - sort of like a planarian worm on a slide. You never ad hom'd anyone here? You ad hom'd half of the whole country:
Of course it is. The right doesn't know science at all. In fact they oppose it. To them, it may as well be 1542. Ouside of the mainstream, that is why the "left" bias affects them so. That and they get bad grades in college even at Ivy League Gucci schools thus hate elites who do. "Overthinking" I believe is the way you put it John.
I rest my case.
To be fair, of course, many on the right, just as many on the left are quite ignorant of science. I blame a lot of that on our pathetic education system, which absorbs more money per pupil than almost any other country in the world, and delivers results below almost any other country in the world.
The most eggregious use of false science that I see is in the area of environmentalism, where ecology (a fascinating and important field of study) has become a religion to many in the environmental movement. A sad observation is that you can get a Masters in Journalism from Columbia without ever taking a science course requiring numeracy and in which falsifiable hypotheses are possible.
But conservatives certainly have their share of scientific illiterates. For example, Rush Limbaugh, a smart political analyst, doesn't, in Rumsfeld's famous line, know what he doesn't know. Hence he emits nonsense on scientific subjects.
On the other hand, press coverage of Global Warming and especially Kyoto was just as bad. The fact that, using the standard ICC model (on which the treaty was based), Kyoto would make no measurable difference in surface temperatures by 2100 has been ignored. Likewise the terrible quality of paleoclimatic data is not well known, and the fact that the whole area of climatology is in rapid flux is also not well known. As just one example, the prohibitions against flights after 9-11 allowed for comparative albedo measurments to be made between contrail-free times and jet contrail times. The result of those measures shows that the "hockey stick" temperature record of the US can be completely explained by the albedo changes from jet contrails. My point is not to attempt to destroy the antropogenic global warming hypothesis (which is probably true at some level) but to show that the MSM has accepted as solid truth the results of a field in which the understanding of major parameters (natural carbon cycle is another one) is poor and changing rapidly.
In any case, your assertion about conservatives is properly described as ignorant, characteristic of unnuanced stereotypical thinking.
"The right doesn't know science at all. In fact they oppose it."
However, just for fun, let me drop a few more facts on you that are guaranteed to annoy you. I hope Jay doesn't mind the distraction. The purpose is to show, with contradictory evidence, the persistence of certain myths which are probably held by almost all members of the MSM, or put another way, the lack of factual knowledge about significant historical facts:
1) The Catholic Church invented science
2) The Cahotlic Church invented scholasticism
3) The Catholic Church invented the concept of academic independence
4) The Catholic Church invented the concept of secular government
5) Scholasticism and later science was actively progressing throughout the dark ages - in Europe, not just Arabia, although they had a few contributions (zero comes in handy).
6) Galileo was not persecuted for showing that the Earth revolves around the sun.
7) The founder of the Vatican Academy of Sciences was Galileo.
8) Science cannot answer the question of what gestational or post-natal age should be the limit in destroying the product of conception.
It is apparent that you will continue baiting me, calling me names, and generally behaving very badly as long as I keep responding. So I'll keep this short.
You have failed to respond substantively to any of my arguments throughout this thread. That means there is nothing to be gained by dealing with you any longer.
I do have a challenge for you, though. Drop by Roger Simon's blog and try the same techniques of argumentation on the same subjects, if you dare.
I apologize for allowing myself to be baited. I wasted way too much time today that could have been better spent, and reading today's comment thread is not a pretty sight.
Frankly, I'd like a chance to discuss some of the issues I raised about the coverage of Kerry here, hopefully in the aftermath of musings by you on the subject - i.e. in a thread where the subject is appropriate.
The issue is contemporary and important to a lot of people, and the allegations are being under-reported or simply suppressed by the press, in my opinion and the opinion of many.
There are many, many veterans (and family members) in this country. They are Kerry's claimed constituency, and indeed they are more likely to vote than non-veterans. As veterans, they have a genuine interest in Kerry's activities related to war and defense.
Some think that the purpose of my references to Kerry issues is to attack Kerry on this forum. In fact, that in general is not true (although in the rough and tumble I may have made attacks that weren't truly germane to press issues). I raise them because I feel that there needs to be a discussion about the current press treatment (or lack thereof) of these accusations. That I ended up doing so on this particular topic is inappropriate.
I can assure you that I have observed many very, very angry discussions about this in other forums. But what I am looking for is both an exploration of the issue, and quite frankly, a chance to debate that issue in a forum where my viewpoint might make a difference - might cause some readers to re-evaluate some assumptions or ideas, or to look into these charges, or to even consider the possibility that there is an imbalance that could and should be corrected.
In an earlier post, "The News from Iraq is Not Too Negative. It is Too Narrow," I quoted Sig Christenson, military reporter at the San Antonio Express-News:
"People are filtering this through their political views," Christenson argued. "People ought to be thinking about what is the truth." There is a "real danger when people deny the truth," he added.
I have facts and evidence--proof--on my side. You have belief, ideology, a political cause on your side. Who you gonna believe?
That is the charge Mark York is making about John Moore.
That is the charge John Moore is making about Mark.
It's the same charge journalist Christenson makes toward critics like John, and--who knows?--on some future occasion, perhaps, toward a critic like Mark.
Interesting? To me, yes.
Do I hereby equate their arguments or declare them equally suspect? I DO NOT. I make no statement at all about their relative validity or the ease of documenting who is right.
However, I cannot be the only one who finds more significance in this pattern of absolutism than in the particular details of each participant's case, as it is built against the other.
If all three participants, at least on some level, argue in the same scorched earth fashion, then I would say they have something in common-- which none is thinking too hard about. But what do we make of this common element?
Mark York writes:
John Kerry doesn't list the exact years he served while stating he served and how. How does this omission amount to anything let alone a negative conspiratorial conclusion? Only if you're hoping to find one. Moore has found one and the evidence for him is everywhere. And guess what? Those with like minds find the same plot and say so, so why doesn't the mainstream media latch on to this special knowledge?
Since this is finally a response to a substantive issue, it deserves a substantive response:
Out of context, the omission of dates of service is merely odd. I suspect that if Bush had done so, it would have resulted in some stories. But of course I cannot prove that, so it is merely conjecture on my part.
Taking a single fact out of context is common for propagandists and political spinmeisters - which is one reason that Senators and Representatives often have difficulty in presidential elections - their record is easily distorted by that tactic. The Bush administration has been accused of using the tactic with Kerry's voting record, and I would be surprised if they do not.
However, I gave the facts with context, and explained the situation clearly, although my personal opinions about the facts were included. In other words, I wrote an editorial which revealed unreported facts in appropriate context.
There are two issues of valid news interest here:
1)John Kerry attempted to conceal his status as a Naval Officer during those two years, while promoting it in the years before and after that period.
2)John Kerry was a major figure in the anti-war movement, whose personal actions included at least one, and almost certainly two meetings with enemy officials, while an officer in the US Naval Reserve. The fact that he was still a Naval Officer is one the public deserves to know, if for no reason other than the clear indication that his campaign considers that to be damaging information, as indicated by their attempts to hide that fact.
To answer Mark, the fact that John Kerry doesn't show the dates is not an important issue, but the fact that he or his campaign removed the dates when forced to publish his service record is. That record contradicted the deceptive impression given by the dates - specifically that he was not a US Naval Officer while participating in his anti-war activities.
Furthermore, the fact that the service record on his page for veterans used to show service only from 1966-1970 is also suspicious, because veterans, unlike non-veterans, would be very suspicious (as we were) of a two year gap.
Finally, as far as I can tell, the Boston Globe has not reacted to the fact that there was a major error in their important multipart biographical series on Kerry which showed him to be "honorably discharged" in 1970 and "Out of the Navy" by May, 1970:
[emphasis added] "I just said to the admiral: `I've got to get out. I've got to go do what I came back here to do, which is, end this thing,'" Kerry recalled, referring to the war. The request was approved, and Kerry was honorably discharged, which he said shaved six months from his commitment.
[2 irrelevant paragraphs removed]
Out of the Navy and with a political failure behind him, Kerry refocused on his personal life. In May 1970, he married [...]
The Boston Globe story is twice inaccurate - Kerry was not honorably discharged in 1970, and hence Kerry was not out of the Navy until 1978, when he finally was honorably discharged. Presented with these facts (which are undeniable unless one believes that Kerry's web site has posted false copies of his official service records), Michael Kranish, the Globe writer, did nothing (as far as I can tell - he certainly did not respond to my email).
Kerry's service record on his site shows continuous service from 18 February 1966 to 16 February 1978.
Further information from his site. His Release from Active Duty states:
While on inactive duty you are subject to involuntary recall to active duty to the extent authorized by federal statute. Inform the command having custody of your service record, in accordance with paragraph 5 above, of any change of health which might prevent active service in time of war. You shall promptly answer all official correspondence addressed to you as such and shall promptly comply with instructions contained therein.
7. In the event that you plan travel or residence in foreign countries for a period in excess of 30 days, notice of intent will be submitted to the command having custody of your service record. Such notice should include destination, expected duration of travel or residency, and forwarding address.
Civilians are not subject to such requirements, but Naval Officers on inactive duty are.
I would like to emphasize that for some time, a number of us were trying to determine Kerry's service status in the two year period of his anti-war activities. The record, especially the version with the 2 year gap, was not consistent with our understanding of Naval service obligations of the time. We were especially puzzled by the Boston Globe article because it seemed to be a solid report that Kerry had been honorably discharged in 1970. We were suspicious, but (naively) did not expect such an obvious falsehood to appear in a major article in a major newspaper.
I discovered the cover-up when I read that Kerry's records had been released, and went to his site to find out the answer to that mystery. In the process I found both his true status over that period, and a cover-up in process. At that time, the dates had been removed from the primary biography, but were still present on the Veteran's page (from which they have since been removed). Furthermore, a press release from that day had, apparently as standard boilerplate, the misleading service dates with the two year gap.
Finally, one could argue that inactive status meant that Kerry was not in the Navy (more accurately, the Naval Reserve) during that time, but this interpretation is contradicted by the orders quoted above, by the fact that release from active duty does not relieve one of his Officer's oath, and the fact that he showed his service in the inactive reserve from 1972 to 1978, but not 1970 to 1972, even though his 1970-1972 service was in the Active Reserve (inactive status) while his 1972-1978 service was in the Inactive Reserve, a looser relationship with the Navy.
I have provided this information before, but in light of Mark's failure to consider the context, felt it appropriate to provide it again.
That the main stream media would not cover (or at least investigate) facts that a presidential candidate's campaign considers damaging is primae face evidence of favoritism, especially in a year where every tiny detail of that candidate's opponent's military service was subject to intense press scrutiny.
Veterans are not monolithic, but many are likely to be swayed by the truth about Kerry's anti-war activities and concurrent military status. But certainly not all - my friend who joined the Navy with me, for example, is a Kerry partisan (for environmentalist reasons, as far as I can tell) and is not interested in the issue.
I do not consider Mark to be representative of the left - at least in my experience.
I have encountered, both in person and in cyberspace, the following general categories of people from the "left:"
1) Complete moonbats (in blogspeak) - generally hard left ideologues who are merely spouting cant which they have picked up. They don't last long in serious forums like Roger Simon's.
2) People who debate using facts and logic, and who rarely descend into ad hominem.
3) Blogroaches - those who drop an opinion, again often standard hard left cant, and run - these people in their behavior, use of language and choice of argument seem to be very immature, and I suspect most are college students.
4) People who have strong opinions but few facts, and who generally leave a debate when confronted with strong, fact-based counter-arguments.
I would guess that somebody arguing from a viewpoint opposed to mine would find more or less the same set from the right, except for the number of blogroaches, which seems to be primarily a leftist phenomenon. They might also encounter right-wing religious bigots, while from the left (and libertarians) I encounter anti-religious bigotry at times.
I have done much posting on Roger Simon's fine blog. While I would say the majority sentiment there is anti-Kerry, I believe I am significantly in the minority in areas of social issues - especially issue like gay marriage, abortion and church and state. Certainly Roger and I disagree on those three issues, and if the comment section has a majority position, it would be primarily be that ranging from leftist for Bush to neocons. However, most discussions on thoses subjects have been, in my opinion, of pretty high quality and much more decorous than this thread.
I want to add that this should not be construed as any sort of attack on Professor Rosen's forum. Different blogs have different purposes and styles, and that is part of the wonderful experiment we are all part of. Dr. Rosen, who disagrees with me on almost everything as far as I can tell, has been a gracious host and provides an important forum.
I have never (since usenet) encountered an ideological opponent who lasted as long and yet who engendered less respect in me for both his character and his logical abilities than Mark (at least since my days on Usenet, where all kinds of characters and argumentation styles were common).
In summary, while there might be many like Mark, I have not encountered many of them. The left has many people who respect facts and reasonable debate. So does the right.
That economic assessment of Clinton's role may or may not have legs. Some say nothing presidents do matters in econimics. I'm not one of those.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "nothing presidents do matters" in our national economics, but I do think they receive credit/blame for existing economic conditions they do not control, and really should not try to control.
This one ran us into the ground in record time, but I'm sure you look at it differently.
Well, here, and here are data about recessions since the end of WWII. I think trying to argue we ran into the ground in record time is dumb.
The most recent numbers show the economy creating record GDP growth, rising employment, a bullish stock market and strong economic indicators. Tourism is back to pre-9/11 numbers and the economic discussion is when will the Fed raise rates and how much.
So, as screwed up as Bush's flattening of the tax rate tax cuts were and as unstimulating as his government deficit spending was, the economic "news" is increasingly positive.
Why was the economy so slow to turn around? Was this a moderate recesssion compared to other recessions? How much of a role did the 9/11 attack, scandals, wars, economic policies, bailouts, blah, blah, blah, play in the slopes and durations of the curves?
I leave it to the partisans to debate for now.
But, will the images on the economy leading up to the election be positive? Probably.
Jay: One of the best places to look for that is a journalist's attitudes about the audience.
My exchange with Mark provides me an opportunity to examine the attitudes of a middle-aged(+) environmentalist/author turned journalism student toward a segment of the population he disagrees with ideologically. Although he may not be representative of the profession as a whole, or the "big media" brand names like Koppel, Brokaw, etc., he does freely express how he views his success at J-school courses and his personalized application of the scientific method to issues. Why moderate closure to a window of opportunity to examine these attitudes?
I can think of three reasons:
1. You are uncomfortable with the representation of the profession by this journalism student.
2. You find the exchange hollow or lacking in informative value or insight.
3. You find the examination off-topic to the thread analyzing Stahl's parable.
I leave open the possiblity there are others.
Jay: I think this is a political argument best left for other sites where that is the main concern of the readers and writers. This is a press site, and while there is no easy separation between the two-journalism and politics--we seem to have left all press questions behind.
I disagree, and not only because Mark represents a window of opportunity to examine an educated journalist student's attitudes toward a segment of the population.
For example, H gladney, Mark and others have presented their reactions and insights to press provided images, audio and analysis of Reagan - inspired by your analysis of Stahl's parable. But Reagan's charisma and media presence differed little from Clinton's in effect. The media characterized the two personalities differently, but even then, their audience had similar reactions of credulity and disgust to what was being presented. It is the selective filtering of the information being presented that, IMO, plays a more important role from a political/PR POV than the power of the imagery or audio in a multimedia/TV presentation. Stahl's segment provided a dichotomy of information, allowing the consumer to choose which carried more weight. Mark's responses provide insight into his filters, some of which he justifies based on his experience as a government empolyed environmentalist, and some based on his academic education.
I have no doubt that Mark sees and (eventually) reports based on his filtered reactions. My exchange with him here has confirmed common filtering methods I have experienced with other journalists in the weighting of data, analysis and "facts".
The opinions Mark has expressed about conservatives are also not unique among liberals, a significant percentage of the self-identified press, which was recently considered newsworthy when "confirmed" by a "scientific study". It seems this also plays an important filtering role in Mark's pressthink and again feeds back into his attitudes about the audience.
Perhaps your point is there is sufficient evidence already available to come to a conclusion?
I said I wasn't going to comment again on this thread, but since it has moved to a non-political area it shouldn't be a problem.
One valuable feature of MT is the ability to do trackbacks, which creates another fabric of connectivity. I don't know what other blog software has the full trackback technology, but I haven't searched for any in a while. My site runs on Linux, MT is in Perl (ugh), and I'll be interested to see what comes along.
I have to decide on my own blog whether to buy the new MT or move to something else. The ability to have permalinks on comments (Anna's idea) sounds very useful. But if you can do that, having trackbacks on them would also be handy. If all blog software honored the trackback convention, blogspace would likely be more interesting. Some level of automated notification better than RSS aggregators also would be handy, Perhaps a transitive trackback approach would do that.
I haven't looked at available open source software, although I would comment that GPL is not the only useful open source licensing scheme. If this blog ends up with a better solution, I would be interested.
I don't think that a BBS is as good as a blog for editorials with comments - such as this blog. Perhaps that opinion comes from the unaesthetic and space wasting formatting of most BBS software. The appearance of a blog is more like that of a newspaper, and I find that attractive. Adding the permalinks and trackback to comments (which makes them first class objects like the original posting) would be most interesting.
The issue of thread hijacking, as I unfortunately participated in here is an interesting one. It often happens quite naturally - thread drift might be a better term, except when a commenter parachutes in and drops a whole new subject into the comment thread. The image of some sort of tree structure for the threads comes to mind, but doesn't feel quite right.
Indented comments a la slashdot.org is a another way to deal with some thread drift, as is the slashdot moderation scheme. Unfortunately, I think slashdot-like moderation doesn't work very well unless there is a large reader base, and even on slashdot generates certain predictable biases.
I suspect that we will either see a breakthrough technology, a sudden new idea as unique as blogs, or a drift towards some of these ideas. One thing that seems pretty likely is that the concept of blogs - of individual publishing (with a number of unique species), blog comments, and the concept of a blog comment community of regulars are all going to hang around in some form.
In any case, there's a lot of creativity in the area, and folks are experimenting all over the place. It's an exciting time.
Jay brings up sbw's conclusion that, paraphrasing, the parable is unsucessful (because) it doesn't lead to better understanding.
Jay disagrees that the parable is unsucessful because it is frequently cited, and from an academic view I can understand why. Often a published explanation that is cited frequently in academia is considered a success, even if it is misleading, hollow, or later proven wrong. It is a success because it struck an intuitive chord among the cohort group and incited the flowing of juicy thoughts. For example, there were many pre-Baconian explanations that were successful in that they had elite, if not large, cohorts that defended them as axiomatic and frequently cited them in thoughtful, even intellectual discussion. Jay simply points out that sbw may be correct, but he's a heretic. But our heretic uses a fine example in deflating the discussion: as if dollars are the yardstick by which caring must be measured. Reagan's dichotomies (cut taxes/increase revenue, spend less/get more) were counter-intuitive to a certain cohort at the time, Stahl among them. One thing Reagan is credited with is persuading many that his intuition had merit and to leave that cohort.
But Reagan's rhetoric was not new, nor went away when he left office, which makes him an important marker - the conservative rhetorical rival to Wilson's Internationalism, FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society. Anyone notice that the Universal Health proponents are now using the same "cost savings" rhetoric that Reagan used concerning Social Services and Public Education? That it is now acceptable to discuss if there is a Laffer's curve of diminishing, if not negative, returns.
For if one cohort finds it offensive that the military is buying $600 toilet seats, another finds it offensive if Medicare is buying the $600 toilet seats - and if you buy cheaper seats, and as a result spend less, you're cutting funding.
Such is the dichotomy of politics. Imagine doing a 5+ minute nightly news "documentary" pointing out dichotomies in political rhetoric and deeds. One might describe it as flip-flopping on the issues, unless of course there is a general "feeling", or actual results, in forward movement toward a larger goal.
Which leads to these nasty, persistent, stupid things called facts. Dr. Cline addresses the issue in such a superior way:
A proper understanding of rhetoric demonstrates that the apparent common sense of digging past it to some mother lode of contradicting facts is actually nonsense. Facts are weak things indeed in a rhetorical battle to establish truth. Ronald Reagan was the great communicator (or persuader) because he sold it and we bought it. The facts? Ha! Just try whipping out the facts this week.
Reagan was hardly alone in treating facts as lesser than the cause of truth among men in history, distant or present. Stahl failed to properly measure the gap tolerance between rhetoric and deed, then grasped the straw offered by Darman that (positive) rhetorical images are more powerful than (negative) rhetorical audio. The cohort that is enamored with the technology to persuade have consistently repeated the parable, which could be more accurately described as folklore.
One last point, Jay points to Corn's list as something journalists would recognize as a handy summation of what "critics of Reagan" point to. The tone of the list taken as a whole could lead to that conclusion (or perhaps its origination alone), but as a list, it contains the weakness of lacking context. So an item on the list may be seen as a good/right thing by Reagan's supporters and bad/wrong thing by his critics. Jay points this out saying, Perhaps you do, John, but I do not think the mainstream media, as a unit, has uniform or coherent beliefs on, say, whether the firing of the air traffic controllers was a good thing or a bad thing. What it has is the luxury of never developing such beliefs.
That's any interesting statement. The media, as a unit, has the luxury of never developing a uniform/coherent belief that the firing of the air traffic controllers was a good or bad thing, a litmus test if you will. However, the media as smaller groups or individuals may certainly hold a belief about that issue and operate on it. Same with school vouchers, abortion, gay rights, etc. Since Reagan, these groups can increasingly point to each other and cry bias in their media productions, differentiating their cohort's pressthink from the other's.
The fact that Stahl's cohort doesn't "get" Reagan, is using ill-conceived models (parables, folklore) to explain Reagan, and attracts another cohort that denies the phenomenon of Reagan as "smoke and mirrors" (as if Wilson, FDR, JFK and LBJ would fare better), seems to me to be part of the problem PressThink is trying to address.
"Can you tell me about the kind of bias the mainstream press should have, in your considered view? "
how about a bias toward accuracy, facts, truth, fairnesss, and the sweet light of reason?
ok then, I wonder if "approach" == "bias" (because bias _is_ how you approach your study of the outside world) - in which case -
In their writing, reporters should apply the Clinton test for fairness.
In cases where a little bit of research will clarify who's telling the truth, they should do it (e.g. SF Chronicle crowd estimates). In other words, inject more science (Richard Feynman: "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself.") into reporting, and be willing to report results you didn't expect.
The paper should make clear - online, at least, where space is cheap - what its structural biases are, by what standards it measures its reporting, and what its management & reporters believe are the most important things to inform their readers about. (if we don't agree with their approach, we can go read or make something else; if we do agree, we have standards to hold them to. But at least we'll know.)
Even if not in the article itself, there should be an Analysis section where the reporter (or another otherwise-impartial observer, i.e. not someone with financial, political or personal ties) can clarify what seems to be going on. (or, if ties exist, at least clarify what they are.)
In short, the desired bias is an explicitly acknowledged bias, coupled with a willingness to subject one's preconceptions and prejudices to test (thus ensuring accuracy, facts, truth, fairnesss, and the sweet light of reason)
Tim suggests that the mainstream press should have all biases, worn proudly. Sources of known bias, especially admitted bias, are useful if there is a variety of biases around. Such a situation is far preferable to the current situation where the MSM has a pretty consistent bias (set of beliefs and values that influence their selection and reporting of stories).
However, there is a danger in such an approach: it allows people to only receive news from sources that they already agree with. Commentators about the rise of Internet News and universal publishing have raised this issue in the past – if there are lots of sources of news, many people will tend to pick one they are comfortable with and never be exposed to contradictory information. On the other hand, in the US for much of its existence, and in many foreign countries today , there is a wide breadth of news sources, and the citizens quickly learn (without having it spelled out), which paper has which viewpoint (and in England, which has the best internal T&A picture – a trick Murdoch has used to his advantage at Fox News, if one looks closely, which it is hard not to do for a normal male). Iraq is an especially good example at the moment, and when I was last in Mexico City, it had a wide variety of uncensored press, ranging from communist to fascist to tin foil hat crowd to serious reporting and analysis.
As I have argued before, the success of conservative talk radio (and the failure of liberal talk radio), and the remarkable ratings conquest by FOX news both show an unmet desire for either unbiased news or conservative news. I attribute this to cognitive dissonance felt by ordinary citizens as they sit down to half an hour of Dan Rather or equivalent, and come away feeling that something just isn’t right – what they see and hear does not jibe with their common sense, things they have heard from others, or their own experiences. Hence liberal talk radio fails because liberals do not experience this unpleasant feeling with the regular news, because it is liberal and hence consistent with their viewpoint. This is, of course, full of gross overgeneralizations, but I believe it to be a valuable indicator – people are voting with their viewing and listening habits.
However, while this hints that there are consistent biases in the MSM, and a desire for something else, it still doesn’t inform us of “the solution.”
One very important reason this is an issue is that many people do not avail themselves of alternate news sources – such as internet sites of all shades and stripes of opinions, sliced multi-dimensionally, or even cable news networks – CNN vs FOX, although I suspect the amount of opinion formed by interpersonal contact is high among that cohort. As far as I can tell from polls, the average American is not a news junky or a policy wonk, and just wants a bit of news to know what’s going on. And yet, this American is likely to form opinions, maybe advocate verbally to his friends and coworkers, and vote on many complex and vital subjects (which brings to mind an aside – political and war reporting is biased, but science reporting is almost always totally ignorant and often biased on political issues such as anthropogenic global warming, nuclear power and disposal, environmental toxins, and many other scientifically related issues– topic for another discussion sometime, perhaps).
Reading the Hannity and Colmes transcript about the anti-Kerry Swift Boat press conference caused me to realize that a show like that, while full of a lot of posturing (and too often, rudeness and interruptions) still offers a way to get balance in a single place. It is often far superior to CNN’s Crossfire (or at least what CNN’s Crossfire used to be before I switched to Fox). Fox invited effective spokespeople from the Swift Boat group and the Kerry campaign, and (unlike the frequent free-for-all), subject each to friendly questioning from the host who was politically aligned with that particular guest. This produced not a bad view of the position of both sides, although the addition of aggressive “cross examination” might have been helpful. That particular show has a lower level of shouting and interrupting that Crossfire had, and most annoyingly, has a leftist host whom I like more and who is smarter than the rightist host. In other words, given a choice, I’d take dinner with Alan Colmes over Shawn Hannity, even though I am far more likely to agree with Hannity!
So that is another model for dealing with bias. Unfortunately, there are ways that this approach can be biased also. I have often been upset with Ted Koppel for using a weak conservative for the conservative side of his panel, while using a strong liberal. A practice of doing this consistently will of course favor one side. Obviously a conservative host or network could do the equivalent.
Anna’s suggestion of the “Clinton test” for fairness is a good one, but I fear not enough. However, I have spent some time doing a bit of research and preparing an essay on one event of what I consider press bias (not the most egregious), and anyone who wants to examine it and try the “Clinton test” can do so at this article in my blog. I put it there so if it spins off into inappropriate threads for Jay’s blog, we wont have another thread hijacking. Comments are enabled and inline on my blog also.
Anna has a number of other good suggestions, but I am a bit skeptical. One of the biggest problems related to bias that I perceive is that of institutional bias and group-think.
The New York Times has its own institutional bias. This has led to such absurdities as repeatedly reporting on a non-existent controversy (something about a golf tournament that didn’t allow women, or some such) in an obvious attempt to create a controversy, presumably so that the Times could inject it’s viewpoint (which is opposed to the existence of such events) and pressure the tournament (or club) into changing. I have no idea if I agree or disagree with the Times’ position, because I wasn’t even slightly interested in the actual event, as compared to the blatant effort to manufacture a controversy. Likewise, it’s insistence on 28 days in a row of Abu Ghraib coverage would seem to be agenda (bias) driven rather than news driven.
It takes a good organization to fight institutional bias, it requires intellectual honesty and self-criticism (and Clinton tests – hat tip to Anna). Sustaining this in most real world organizations is likely to be impossible, as natural organizational behaviors tend towards developing a common viewpoint (which in an institution becomes institutional bias), and personnel changes and organizational politics make it hard to prevent various organizational pathologies over the long term.
But the more dangerous bias is group-think. It is self-reinforcing, career enhancing, and often undetectable by its practitioners. It is a common human activity – every relatively closed group does this, and the MSM is such a group. It can have the effect of a conspiracy, without there actually being any conspiring.
And since I mentioned conspiracies, here is an observation: in my conversations recently with people who are not news junkies/intellectuals/activists, I have found a number of people convinced of various conspiracy theories and other bizarre ideas about how society works (akin to the old “Rockefellers own everything” or the CFR runs the world). I find this mostly among blue-collar folks who probably don’t have time to do anything but watch the evening TV news, but don’t believe what they are hearing or seeing.
This seems a natural consequence of having a press with a low credibility rating. Iraq under Saddam had an amazing rumor system, with the wildest rumors floating around – because everyone knew that the press was feeding them nonsense. I don’t think this is healthy to our democracy, so one goal needs to be to make the press more accurate, and get people to not believe the Art Bell sorts of fantasies.
It is also important to recognize that any profession will have dishonest, manipulative and sociopathic individuals in it. These people will use the organization for themselves, and if they have a political agenda, they will attempt to use the organization for that agenda (and perhaps, depending on their skills and the management, convince others in the organization to follow). Hence, without knowing any, I’m sure there are people in the news profession who have strong political agendas (say, Deep Ecology, or anti-Bush, or antisemitic or anti-Muslim or whatever) and who will not have qualms about using the organization to promote those goals. This means that any organization needs to have checks and balances regardless of other practices.
Another problem is lazy reporters – those who take a well written press release and run it as fact. I have a good (well actually, a really pathetic) example of an Arizona case of this at ”Environmental Racism” in the Desert?.
Thus while I think some of Anna’s approaches may improve news organizations, and she has provided by far the best list, they are unlikely to make a significant difference unless they enjoy widespread acceptance, and are enforced.
The example of SF crowd estimates is a good one – in that case, some of the information in the story can be independently determined using procedural methods that (if chosen and executed correctly) preclude bias. Of course, whether to use those figures requires editorial judgment, which is a place that bias can easily sneak in.
I think another approach that is a bit indirect might help reduce bias and group thinking: using non-journalists. Just as schools are finding that a subject expert may be better than an education major for teaching some things, a person with significant experience and knowledge in non-journalist areas, coupled with some journalistic training or working with a journalist, could greatly improve coverage in some areas – especially those where science impacts a controversy. Likewise, having such people on the “inside” is likely to be antithetical to group think, and also create an environment with more curiosity and a broader world view.
As far as I can tell, it is possible to get a journalism degree (or masters) without ever taking a numerate course in a hard science. Often a peudo-science like anthropology (a field of study that has some science and lots of nonsense dressed up as science) is sufficient to fulfill the curriculum. Hence we get people who are wordsmiths, maybe good people-people, but innumerate and so weak in their understanding of science that they don’t understand the basic concepts. By the way, I would rather have someone who truly understand the scientific method (and the way it works in the real world – the sociology of science) than someone who remembers a physics course but doesn’t understand the methodology of science.
Many times I see stories where the issue of scale, a fundamental characteristic of numeracy, is clearly not understood by the reporter (or editor who butchered the words, or whomever). The result can be very bad reporting. Human beings are naturally poor at scale. We tend to have logarithmic intuitions, which leads to a compression of scales in their impact, compared to their true differences.
This is most visible in the area of relative risk reporting. Human beings have been shown to have very poor instincts regarding relative levels of risk, and also to have highly irrational differences in perceived risk depending on factors unrelated to the actual risk. Hence someone may be scared to death to fly on an airliner, when the much greater risk is the trip to the airport – in fact, I tend to have those feelings, even knowing the risks, having been a military air crew member and a private pilot! Similarly we get some pretty silly reporting on issues like nuclear power waste disposal, as an example, or environmental toxicities. The combination of a lack of understanding of the scientific method (and its weaknesses and areas of inapplicability) and an innumerate treatment of issues leads to widespread misunderstandings. Of course, if the issue has any political content, it is much worse because a battle of the experts ensues – you have no idea who to believe without your own background in science, or somebody you have very good reason to trust.
As a simple example, consider the concept that the radiation from a full scale nuclear war would kill all humans (or all life on earth – take your pick). It is trivial to show numerically that this is not even a close race – such a war, horrible as it would be, would leave a large numbers of survivors – at least from the radiation - and not even increase their cancer risk that much (I am ignoring issues like nuclear winter for this example). And yet it is assumed by many people, including journalists, that nuclear war is not survivable because of the radiation burden. In this case, one ends up with a bias (not a particular objectionable one – who wants a nuclear war?), but an incorrect one about the effects of that radiation. There are many fallacies floating around, especially related to mysterious but perceived dangerous fields. Another example is the belief that many people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki from fallout. In fact, nobody died from fallout there because there was no localized fallout, the highly radioactive material was all lofted into the stratosphere (this is normal with an air burst nuke) and distributed fairly evenly across the entire northern hemisphere (at very low levels, and slowly enough that many of the hotter isotopes were transmuted by the time they came back to hearth)..
Taking all of this stuff and putting it together yields the following thoughts:
1) Take whatever you can of Anna’s suggestions and try to make them work.
2) (contradictory to 1) Use Tim’s approach – let the biases of a news outlet be part of its image. In the US, consolidation has made this much more difficult, but the consequences of near-universal high speed connectivity, and the (always just beyond reach) promise of convergence of television and the internet may substantially shake up the way news is investigated and produced.
3) Use outside specialists as part of the news staff. Have a real scientist in the staff – not just someone with a degree in science who has done some fieldwork or whatever, but someone who has done actual research – the work, peer reviewed papers, etc. Use the person as a scientific ombudsman or in house evangelist for scientific thinking. At the same time, recognize that scientists usually have their own political biases – their training works relatively well in scientific endeavors but isn’t that useful for non-truth testable fields like politics.
4) Watch the reader/viewer market. Understand their opinions on bias. If they perceive biases, maybe they are right. Especially keep an eye out for future phenomenon with as powerful implications as the dramatically different success of right-wing vs. left-wing radio. It tells you something about the kind of information sought but not provided – it shows an information deficit that wants to be filled.
5) Be creative – does news have to be separate from entertainment? What does Fox’s approach of using lawyers instead of journalists as many of its anchors mean, and its approach of using military people as war reporters? Where does Geraldo Rivera fit into all of this – is he just a clown, or is he a different but useful form of new reporting (I think I have mentioned before that when I watch Geraldo, I think of his activities as a series: Geraldo’s Greatest Adventures – a reality series Walter-Mitty me want’s to do what he is doing (although a few weeks ago I drove through a tornado, which is now one of John’s greatest adventures).
I don’t think it is possible for a profession or a subset of it in an institution to not develop biases. Hence the mainstream is inherently biased. While as one with a scientific background, I recognize that in some fields truth is not a matter of idle conjecture, there are many important areas involving human behavior and organizations, where the data is sparse and falsifiable hypotheses are impossible, (which is to say most political areas, much of human behavior that is cannot be well studied using scientific methodology, humanistic areas such a literary criticism, and journalism). Hence a particular truth will always be debatable.
Even in science, personal prejudices, pride and ambition often lead to disruptions in the theoretical feedback process which is designed for truth seeking. There have been many cases of this – for example the resistance of physicians to treating ulcers with antibiotics, for years after the cause of most ulcers was scientifically shown to be infection with helicobacter pylori.
Finally, I do believe that there is a reasonably coherent mainstream media entity. Put in blunt terms, it is all those people who misreport my world day and night, always from the same angle. There is a coherent belief system that is extremely obvious, and it is tied to (among other groups), the mainstream media. It is obviously not a perfect fit – not a total congruence, but it is clearly there.
Now you stepped in it ;-)
Seriously, I think that “knee-jerk” reactions are simply a result of being human beings. People engage in stereotypical thinking because it is part of the human process of generalization, which is one things that allows us to deal better than apes with abstractions.
I agree that editorial pages should be illuminating. I am a fan of the WSJ editorial page (hey, I’m a conservative, so that’s an obvious choice). But I have seen editorialists (and much worse, political cartoonists) who seem to be focusing more on raising a stir than teaching something. WSJ, in addition to reinforcing my beliefs (see warning far above about selecting news sources that do that), also provides a lot of genuinely useful information in it’s editorials, and most of its editorials are not incendiary.
If you want to see a well regarded, talented but really obnoxious and (IMHO odious) editorial cartoonist, check out the Arizona Republic's Steve Benson.
I have a working definition of MSM, although I’m a little unsure of whether to toss PBS into it. Basically I say the main news shows (especially those that non-news junkies watch), and newspapers that tend to be agenda setters (New York Times in particular).
So off the top of my head, I would say that the MSM which has the relatively consistent left-of-center group think is: CNN/CBS/NBC/ABC/NPR/PBS? NYT, BG, WAPO (some), LAT (especially).
The conservative branch seems to be only FOX News, Washington Times, and New York Post. I don’t know of any others. Of course, there is conservative talk radio, but that is not a news function (although many people get news from there), but rather a talking editorial page with feedback.
It’s getting late and this has gotten long. Hopefully it is coherent [Mark… don’t even think it]
I wish I knew a simple answer to this stuff… but then it wouldn’t be so interesting. I’m torn between the intellectual challenge of how to deal with this, and my personal frustration as an anti-Kerry activist who just wants that damned Iron Curtain of the MSM to be torn down so we can get our message out. But for the latter… my blog, not Jay’s.
panopticon > did you know Fred Exley?
No, but you are not the first person to ask.
Anna > Richard Feynman: "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself."
Thanks for the wonderful quote. It meshes wonderfully with ideas I've been working with for the last quarter century or so, that people ought to learn in school and usually don't. One of those ideas (which I call Simple Wisdoms) is that frequently people think they are right, not because they are right, but simply because they think they are right. This then begs the question, if you think you are right and might not be, how are you going to find out?
Anna > The paper should make clear - online, at least [what its biases are]
Fat chance! Admirable, well intentioned, but fat chance.
The best college course I ever took was Historiography - the history of the study of history. Everyone ought to take it and journalists ought to take it twice.
Reviewing American historical writing since the Pilgrims, each generation operated under preconceptions it believed did not exist. Bias. In other words, each generation appeared to itself to see more clearly than those who have gone before. Since the 1600s interpretations have skipped along including such things as "God's will", "Great Men", "Manifest Destiny", "Social Economics", and "Chaos".
If previous generations could not see their bias, what hubris it must take to presume that we'll see ours. Furthermore, how do we presume that we are right and the guy (country) next door is wrong? These questions tip-toe around the slippery slope of relativism that risks making G. Gordon Liddy (Youngsters: Google +Nixon +Watergate +Liddy) a role model.
The race toward civilization is about fashioning for ourselves cultural practices that allows us to bypass the negative spiral of moral relativism.
So, while we can't know our bias, we can know how to discover our bias.
This discussion looks to address a systemic problem by treating the media which, really, are only a symptom. This gets back to Feynman and the simple wisdom above. As Emerson wrote: "For every thousand people willing to hack at the branches of evil, only one will hack at the root." When Anna quotes Rhetorica's "While there is no such thing as an objective point of view, there is such a thing as an objective procedure.", she puts her thumb on an important lesson. Schools, while they might be well-served by more money, need to reallocate some of what they have to convey that, while facts are important, facts work best as part of a process of continuous improvement.
Interestingly, when blogs pass out of their youthful, fulminating phase, they will be part of a constructive feedback system for professional media. And, along that line, I've suggested that for comments, either threading is important, or the ability for the moderator to color or shade particular entries that may address different levels of conversation that might interest only a subset of readers.
No, because the question is not about a coherent media entity or organization; it's about a coherent belief--or professional norm--across pros in the mainstream media. For example, the press could have a coherent belief in the watchdog role and find it applies in different ways in different newsrooms with different beliefs and local priorities.
Jay, let's digress for the moment and restate that two primary roles of 'the press', coherently believed, are first _witness_ and second _watchdog_.
To be effective, it must also communicate its witness/watchdog reports - using a simplex/broadcast channel or ideally using a duplex channel - between governed/governors, employed/employers, audience/artisans, ....
To function fully duplex, the press must witness/watchdog not only the "news makers" but also the needs and responses of the "news recipients". Filters are chosen for, and imposed by, the channel.
But more of a personal concern, and interest to me, is the "objective process" that Anna cites from Dr. Cline's site. I happen to think that you can objectively describe the process, but that the news cycle pressthink process is formidably, hopelessly, unchangeably, subjective.
For example, I believe the cyclic, increasingly rapid, news cycle (with smaller 24/7 update cycles inside of larger temperol cycles) could be described objectively using Boyd's Observe-Orient-Decide-Act process model. When I see MSM bias, it presents itself in the commonality of pressAct and I begin to dig backwards into the process, through conjecture unfortunately, to find commonalities in what lead to that action.
Much of the attention has been, I think logically, placed on the lack of diversity in the orient process/loop that may be resulting in commonality of action. Perhaps Jay views PressThink as the embodiment of the entire process, but does bias reside in one loop segment more than another?
So, when Jay asks what bias should there be, and I respond all of them, it is from the POV that the process is subjective and the greatest amount of diversity in the orientation would have a spreading effect on the range of actions in the "MSM".
Now, sbw may be correct, and our crypto-preconceptions cloud our ability to identify missing diversity in newsroom orienting, as well as a blindness to how outside groups influence pressthink orienting. I'm optimistic it could be better. I think Jayson Blair is an example of exactly how not to try.
(Thanks sbw for the subtle HT)
Kaplan does a great job, and demonstrates why Yen got it wrong.
Noah just gets it wrong by taking it out of context. Kaplan would simply point out that the context of the letter when read entirely is much larger than the 9/11 terrorists, and where terrorism is addressed it uses the larger umbrella of "international terrorists and terrorist organizations, [pause] including those nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
But if that's the assertion Yen had in mind she should have quoted it. Really, this is more gotcha/stiffed ya "journalism" and you're picking sides.
The other aspect of the reporting that I find interesting is this obsession with the poll finding Saddam had some responsibility to 9/11 and/or was a threat.
Saddam had been sold in numerous press reports as a threat for 10 years before 9/11. One of my favorites is Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on PBS NewsHour, February 9, 1998:
Most Americans were fully prepared to accept the proposition that Saddam Hussein is a very bad actor, and news accounts about his possibly having stockpiles of biological weapons have been running for months. So I believe that the American people have a very cursory knowledge, at least, of the need for some limited action against Iraq. And I don't think that they would be taken aback by limited military action. After all, we've done it before in 1993 and 1996. I don't think the Clinton administration, as some of my colleagues have already pointed out, has done an effective job first of all of preparing the American people for a more substantive military action if, in fact, that is necessary, but, more to the point, I don't think the Clinton administration has prepared the American people for the fact that we might have to go after Saddam Hussein again and again and again. They don't understand why, in fact, if this guy is such a bad actor, we don't just go in and take him out once and for all.
The idea that the public needed to be "sold" a product they had already bought numerous times is a self-serving story line by the press. In addition, other stories were run by the press supportive of the idea that Saddam was somehow culpable, not least a $100 million court decision. Maybe we'll see other mea culpas from ombudsmen/editors for their contribution. Doubt it.
In addition, there is a fascinating disparity in the poll numbers between Saddam's involvement in 9/11 and the threat Iraq posed to the US.
For example, in a Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor poll conducted by TIPP in Sep and Oct 2002, 60% "believe Saddam Hussein is an IMMEDIATE THREAT to the US". But within months CNN/USA Today/Gallup polls in Jan, Feb and Mar 2003 only found 30% thought Iraq was an immediate threat with 60% or less thinking Iraq was a long term threat.
So again, where Kaplan does a good job of being a Bush rhetoric watchdog, it is historically shallow and selective in crediting Bush (and his less careful rhetors) solely for a public belief they've held for years before 9/11 or Bush's election.
The poll you cited only shows how duped the readers were. They bought a propaganda campaign led by the administration. Many of us didn't buy it, were right then and now.
Mark, what were the readers reading?
Who was in the propaganda campaign the administration was leading?
What exactly didn't you believe that you feel you were right about then and now? (Not we, you.)
The letter as as stated is a catch basin for anything, regardless of evidence, which was Bush's intention in writing it.
The letter, as stated, was NOT a catch basin for anything, but a legal requirement of the congressional use of force act signed into law by the President. That's were the wording comes from.
The fact that editorial writers beleived Hussein to be a problem at sometime in the future back in the '90s before much of the recent closer looking took place is immaterial to the case.
Is the case still that the press is misrepresenting the conclusions of the commission to play gotcha journalism? Or is the case that there has been a long running "propaganda" campaign vilifying Saddam, the villian. That the Bush administration's propaganda was consistent with the previous line and dutifully promulgated by the MSM as it had been previously? That the MSM is beating the same dead horse it beat back in Sep 2003?
They didn't think that based on the evidence as we knew it in 2002 and said so.
OK, where did Cynthia Tucker, or "they" say in 2002 that Saddam would not be a "problem at sometime in the future."
We've moved on Tim I suggest you do so too, lest you appear desperate to be right when the opposite is true based on fatcs, not innuendo.
God forbid, and whose we?
What a nice link. As one who works out of his home, I see lots of White House press briefings. The most inane was when the gotcha folks were going after Bush's National Guard record, without a clue about how the NG worked - apparently no interest at all.
It was a pack of hyenas with a wildebeast, but there wasn't a lion around, so they came away hungry.
Of course, now that Kerry's military and post-military activites come under attack, the whole subject is now not so interesting.
I suspect that "gotcha" journalism tracks back to Watergate. How many journalists don't envy Woodward and Bernstein, and want to achieve the same results? That factor, plus their obvious ABB bias is probably why the Abu Ghraib story became the spring news for the country.
I suspect that this nation cannot successfully fight a war on terrorism with a press as biased as it is, unless the people just ignore them - which, of course, they are doing more and more.
Abu Ghraib showed that the media and the democrats were quite willing to tie the hands of our interrogators - not the out of control orgiastic soldiers on that one day in November - but in future cases. Thanks, guys and gals, I hope your kids or mine don't die as a result of your efforts.
The unwillingness to directly show blood and gore consequences of the actions of our enemies - such as the actual beheading of Berg and now Johnson, or the trips to the ground of the civilians descending from the WTC at terminal velocity was an editorial judgement that helps prevent Americans from emotionally accepting the reality of what we are up against. I guess none of the media have watched Victory At Sea, or perhaps they consider it bad journalism.
One difference between today and World War II is that people had fewer illusions back then. We weren't a nation of psychological basket cases who would be freaked out if we saw people being killed (other than fictionally). Apparently today we are considered that by the media - or is the reasoning that we shouldn't inflame our people against the people and movements who would happily kill all of us. Certainly there was more racism in the news - specifically anti-Japanese, and we don't need to repeat that.
How about putting some people in the news room to counter the anti-violence bias? After the TV network national news, the same networks broadcast sex and violence and sex and sex and violence. Pretend violence (which tends to teach that violence isn't that bad) doesn't teach the lessons of real violence.
Schindler's list taught many things, and I think our media should learn from that. Victory at Sea likewise showed that in the real world, when bad things happen, the result isn't someone just dropping dead. It is somebody writhing in pain with her guts hanging out; it is a kid whose head has been blown away; it is a person reduced to raw meat. Take off the filters that obscure the nature of the enemy we face and the human tragedies resulting from their actions.
Maybe Spielberg is needed in the newsrooms.