May 05, 2012

Saturday Morning Essay: Rise of the Net Jockeys

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I see where Dmitry Orlov has now added "Published On Tuesday" to his masthead, which is a good sign since it probably means that this particularly insightful writer will be seen on a more regular basis.  With

James Kunstler appearing every Monday morning, rain or rain, we now have a powerful one-two punch with which to start the week off all wrong.  Maybe I should add "Published On Wednesday" to my blog and rename the whole thing "Why Go On?" just to finish people off.

One curious thing about the Internet and the accessibility of good writing available on the web in general is that we now can easily find excellent analysis of the world's problems by people who actually know what they're talking about, as opposed to the "columnist" approach to explaining what's happening.  As a result, the major newspapers have a hard time competing and have been relegated, along with almost all TV news, to infotainment and sensationalist, yellow journalism.

Glenn Greenwald, for example, is a constitutional lawyer who actually handled a lot of First Amendment and other civil liberties cases.  As a lawyer, I can tell that Glenn knows what he's talking about.  He knows how to analyze precedents, read statutes, and can describe clearly what is happening to the Bill of Rights on a real-time, case-by-case basis.  By contrast, the editorial pages of the New York Times or worse yet a column by Tom Friedman, one of its Staff Morons, can only flail around with generalities, and the usual on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand bullshit.  A column by Tom Friedman or Maureen Dowd or David Brooks has about the same level of rigor and depth as the social studies essays we used to crib from the World Book Encyclopedia circa 1959.

Worse yet for the newspapers, writers such as Kunstler, Orlov and Greenwald write much better than the columnists.  Not to pick on the New York Times, although I'm clearly picking on it, virtually every writer in its starting lineup is a terrible writer: dull, turgid prose of an almost unreadable sort.  Oddly enough, this is probably the trait that drew these journalists to the profession: they thought they could write well, so writing for a newspaper became the skill they acquired.  However, this is not actually a subject matter skill, like law or science.  So the writing, even if it's belletristic (which it's usually not - work your way through one of Paul Krugman's dirges, with half the sentences beginning with the conjunctions "And" or "But"), it's nevertheless uninformed by any real grasp of the subject about which the writer is writing.

Writing well is not actually that difficult a skill, when you get right down to it.  We don't teach it very well in our schools anymore, and the prevalence of video images as a source of information has debased the art of the written word.  The remaining value of newspapers is that they should be a source of investigative fact-finding; this is expensive, however, and with their declining revenues it is difficult for newspapers to finance such work.  As Glenn Greenwald points out on a frequent basis, most of the "big time" journalism now performed by the Washington press corps is of the "access" variety and is thoroughly corrupted.  If you watched Brian Jennings gee-whiz his way around the Situation Room with President Obama on the anniversary of taking bin Laden out, you could see this type of "reporting" at its worst.  Williams was given a plum assignment, the first reporter ever allowed a tour of this sacred White House tank, and Williams was not going to sully the occasion with a question such as, "Any thought given, Mr. President, to the idea of capturing bin Laden alive and bringing him back to the U.S. for trial?"

That wasn't in the script.  Fawning hagiography over Our Tough & Decisive Leader was the theme of the program.

So for the time being, we have a problem.  We can gain access to subject-matter experts very easily on the Web.  The problem, in terms of current events and politics, is factual investigation; who is doing that, and how does it get paid for?  The absence of an adversarial press, such as in the United States,  means that any kind of government propaganda can now hold unchallenged sway over the largely uninformed populace.  If Watergate happened today, absolutely nothing would change.  Certainly the Valerie Plame scandal was on a par with Watergate, but only one government staffer, Scooter Libby, was sacrificed to hush the whole thing up.  Monumental criminal conspiracies, such as the RICO-level crimes of Wall Street in the mortgage-backed securities frauds leading up to 2008, are forgiven cavalierly with the President's soothing assurance that maybe some bankers "misbehaved," but no crimes were committed.

Well, that's not exactly right.  Read Bill Black - on the Web - and see what I mean.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John9:17 AM

    It seemed as though the success of the Washington Post in pursuing the Watergate scandal scared the Fourth Estate shitless. They sensed that their investigations could actually change history, and they became obsessed with the idea that there were consequences to their writings.

    With the advent of the Reagan administration, they lost whatever gonads they might have discovered during Watergate. There was no real follow through on the vast corruption of the Reagan minions (October Surprise, arming Iraq, Iran-Contra, Clarence Thomas, etc.)

    The dismal lack of vitality continued through the Clinton Administration as the right wing was permitted to wreak whatever disaster they wanted on Clinton without any pushback.

    The performance of the press during the Bush administration needs no further comment.

    And anyway, (starting a sentence with a conjunction, sorry) I learned a lot cribbing Social Studies reports from World Book ca. 1951. I still remember the capital and principal products of Bolivia.