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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In Defense of Internet Journalism

Every so often, a spokesman for dead tree journalism points out that most of the raw material of Internet journalism is generated by the print media. Just this Sunday, my local newspaper (The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas) ran an opinion piece by editor Rusty Turner, which included this remark:

A lot of people say they get their news exclusively online, that they no longer rely on the printed word, or even broadcast news, for information. But, when you consider where most original reporting develops (that would be the printed pages and Web sites of newspapers wire services, televisions and other traditional news-gathering operations, then, really, most people still depend on us dinosaurs. They're just consuming our work in a different form.


In general, I don't think anyone will dispute that print journalism has an advantage over Internet journalism, by one or two orders of magnitude, in the number of personnel engaged in shoe-leather reporting. Nobody will dispute that the vast majority of content that appears in online journalistic venues comes from reporters working in traditional print media.


These facts are not in dispute. The problem is with the conclusions people like Mr. Turner draw from them, which manage to miss the fundamental significance of network organization.


The revolutionary significance of Internet journalism lies not in how it generates content, but in the use it makes of existing content. Bloggers make better use of the dead tree media's own content than the dead tree media itself does.


To repeat yet again, nobody disputes that print journalism has an enormous army of reporters on the ground, far beyond the resources online journalism has at its direct disposal. But as Lincoln once said to General McClellan, “If you're not going to use that army, may I borrow it?”


I don't think Mr. Turner and those of like mind fully understand the implications of their own argument. For example, most of what Mr. Turner himself does is not direct reporting, but filtering, selecting, editing and combining the content of reporters working for the Morning News. Aside from the fact that both he and the reporters are within the imaginary walls of the same corporate entity, how is what he does any different from what a blogger does in using content generated by other people, and using his own critical intelligence to decide what is useful and relevant and what is not, and exactly how to combine it? Even worse for Mr. Turner's position, a major part of the content he includes in his newspaper is not generated internally at all, but from reporters working for other organizations. A considerable portion of the state, national and international news that appears in The Morning News is generated by the Associated Press. The phrase “hoist by his own petard” comes to mind. As Matt Yglesias put it:


Convention dictates that if I sit at a desk and read a transcript of what the press secretary said and then write about the transcript, I’m a lowly cheeto-eater. But if I sit in the White House press room and transcribe what the press secretary said, and then write about the transcript then that’s journalism.


Avedon Carol, in less flattering terms, wrote:


Hm, let's see... I can go to whitehouse.gov and read everything administration officials have to say on the record, or I can spend money to buy a newspaper and read a repetition of selected quotes from that said material. What should I do?

If that's all newspapers are good for, what are newspapers good for?


The formal difference between what Mr. Turner does and what a blogger does consists primarily of Mr. Turner's limitation by the legal fiction of corporate boundaries. The blogger or other online journalist is every bit as much an editor as Mr. Turner, in the sense of editing and recombining content generated almost entirely by other people. But while Mr. Turner is limited to the stable of reporters available to him in-house, supplemented by syndicated material from the wire services, for the blogger the entire world of journalism is “in-house.”


More importantly, while both traditional editors and bloggers make use of second-hand material they did not themselves write, bloggers make better use of it.


Bloggers may well be unoriginal, in the sense that they only link to what's already out there rather than reporting new information. But they use what's out there in ways that most traditional newspapers refrain from doing. That is, they put it together. They quote a factual claim from one source, and then immediately provide a hyperlink to information that provides a factual context to the claim. They take bits and pieces of news from different sources, aggregate it, and draw conclusions as to its meaning.


This advantage of networked, online journalism—making better use of traditional journalism's content than traditional journalism itself does—is only one particular illustration of the more general advantage of networked, open-source culture. Open-source culture is about eliminating proprietary boundaries on content, and leaving anyone and everyone free to build on and improve it without regard to organizational boundaries. The main difference between Windows and Linux lies not in what the primary code-writers do, but in what user and developer communities can do with other people's code.


For example, consider proprietary software like Microsoft Office. If you look in the typical office store, the price can run from $100 to $200 or even more. And when you “buy” it, you find you don't really own it at all. The CD is disabled after the first time you install it, and you can't transfer the file from (say) your desktop to your notebook for your own convenience.


On the other hand, I'm writing this piece on the rich text editor that comes with Open Office—installed with a CD that cost me all of ten bucks from an OO distro. And unlike proprietary software, when you buy open-source software like Open Office or Linux, it's really yours. You can transfer it from one machine to another at your convenience. A user with code-writing skills who thinks the software would be better with the addition of some feature or other, or that the user interface needs tweaking, is entirely free to pop the hood and tinker with it, and make the new version freely available to anyone who prefers that. Imagine doing that to MS Vista: Bill Gates and the Justice Department, between them, would have you waterboarded at Gitmo.


Online journalism follows the same open-source model: regardless of who generates content, it “belongs” to anyone who can make better use of it than the original creator.


So far, we've considered mainly the superior use that online journalism makes of the reporting that's out there. But even worse for traditional journalism, traditional reporters themselves make very poor use of the material they themselves are reporting on.


My reference above to one particular practice of bloggers—aggregating information from disparate sources and drawing conclusions as to its meaning—is anathema to the ethos of mainstream journalism.


In his commentary piece, Mr. Turner presents an idealized version of traditional journalism's function: “objectivity, truth-telling, acting as the community's watchdog....” Unfortunately, the kind of “objectivity” practiced by establishment journalism is eminently deserving of ironic quotation marks.


Mainstream journalism is heavily influenced by Walter Lippman's model of "professional objectivity," which in practice means the journalist pretends to be stupider than he really is. The journalist, in order to project an air of "neutrality," deliberately refrains both from drawing obvious conclusions from factual evidence, and from going beyond quotes from the spokemen for "both sides" to report factual evidence as to who's telling the truth. Fake "objectivity" means not drawing obvious conclusions from the facts, and pretending not to notice facts that reflect on the truth what one side or the other claims. Appealing independently to an objective factual realm, to present information that doesn't come from "either side," would itself be (according to the current institutional mindset) "taking sides." But to the extent that the "two sides" can't both be right at the same time, truth itself is "biased." There is no way to maintain a pose of neutrality except by avoiding independent recourse to the factual realm.


There are serious problems with the “both sides” model of “objective reporting.” As Justin Lewis described it in Project Censored Yearbook 2000,

The norms of “objective reporting” thus involve presenting “both sides” of an issue with very little in the way of independent forms of verification… [A] journalist who systematically attempts to verify facts–to say which set of facts is more accurate–runs the risk of being accused of abandoning their objectivity by favoring one side over another….

….[J]ournalists who try to be faithful to an objective model of reporting are simultaneously distancing themselves from the notion of independently verifiable truth….

The “two sides” model of journalistic objectivity makes news reporting a great deal easier since it requires no recourse to a factual realm. There are no facts to check, no archives of unspoken information to sort through…. If Tweedledum fails to challenge a point made by Tweedledee, the point remains unchallenged.


Former Washington Post assistant managing editor Karen DeYoung (as reported by slactivist):

“We are inevitably the mouthpiece for whatever administration is in power. … If the president stands up and says something, we report what the president said.”
Got that? So if an elected official stands up and says the moon is made out of green cheese, a newspaper is not obliged to challenge this assertion.

That means that when the “opposition” is as gutless and contemptible as the Democrats have been over Iraq these past six years or so, the public is essentially screwed when it comes to information that might challenge the administration’s version of reality.


My favorite exposition of this model of “journalism” was made by The Daily Show’s Rob Corddry:

STEWART: Here’s what puzzles me most, Rob. John Kerry’s record in Vietnam is pretty much right there in the official records of the US military, and haven’t [sic] been disputed for 35 years?
CORDDRY: That’s right, Jon, and that’s certainly the spin you’ll be hearing coming from the Kerry campaign over the next few days.
STEWART: Th-that’s not a spin thing, that’s a fact. That’s established.
CORDDRY: Exactly, Jon, and that established, incontravertible fact is one side of the story.
STEWART: But that should be — isn’t that the end of the story? I mean, you’ve seen the records, haven’t you? What’s your opinion?
CORDDRY: I’m sorry, my opinion? No, I don’t have “o-pin-i-ons”. I’m a reporter, Jon, and my job is to spend half the time repeating what one side says, and half the time repeating the other. Little thing called ‘objectivity’ — might wanna look it up some day.
STEWART: Doesn’t objectivity mean objectively weighing the evidence, and calling out what’s credible and what isn’t?
CORDDRY: Whoa-ho! Well, well, well — sounds like someone wants the media to act as a filter! [high-pitched, effeminate] “Ooh, this allegation is spurious! Upon investigation this claim lacks any basis in reality! Mmm, mmm, mmm.” Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

Rather than simply reporting "he said, she said," journalists should provide the information necessary to evaluate the truthfulness of the competing claims. And although most mainstream journalists don't do this, it's a major part of what blogs are all about. Bloggers do exactly what mainstream journalists should be doing, but aren't. To take one example: When Hillary Clinton or George Bush repeats the canard that Saddam "threw the inspectors out of Iraq" in 1998, a good journalist would mention in the same article the objective fact that the inspectors were not kicked out, but withdrawn. When Dick Cheney denies having said something, a good journalist would need a good five minutes with Google to track down the original quote and include it, with a reference to the source, immediately below Cheney's denial. And Tim Russert, if he'd been doing his job, would have had a video clip all ready to go in case of Cheney's denial. A good reporter would never quote official Israeli statements about Hamas' use of “human shields” without an accompanying quote of credible third-party sources on the lack of any evidence mortars were deployed in schools, or quote official Israeli statements on the avoidance of civilian casualties without reference to the overwhelming evidence that they have used white phosphorous as a deliberate weapon of terror.


It's quite true that many (or even most) bloggers are “one-sided,” or “have an ax to grind,” and that they tend to filter the data to construct an idiosyncratic picture of reality.


But so do mainstream journalists. The difference is that mainstream journalism's biased account, lurking behind the facade of phony “objectivity,” is biased mainly toward an official picture of the world, a picture based on official sources, talking points and press releases.


Mainstream journalism, in a futile attempt to seem “less opinionated,” avoids reporting a great deal of information that is newsworthy in the sense of shedding light on the official version of things.


I say the attempt is “futile” because in practice it amounts to mainstream journalism uncritically promoting an unexamined opinion of its own.


Mainstream journalism is unconsciously biased toward the official version of reality. The “both sides” model, Brent Cunningham wrote,

exacerbates our tendency to rely on official sources, which is the easiest, quickest way to get both the “he said” and the “she said,” and, thus, “balance.” According to numbers from the media analyst Andrew Tyndall, of the 414 stories on Iraq broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS from last September to February, all but thirty-four originated at the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. So we end up with too much of the “official” truth.
More important, objectivity makes us wary of seeming to argue with the president — or the governor, or the CEO — and risk losing our access….
Finally, objectivity makes reporters hesitant to inject issues into the news that aren’t already out there. “News is driven by the zeitgeist,” says Jonathan Weisman, “and if an issue isn’t part of the current zeitgeist then it will be a tough sell to editors.” But who drives the zeitgeist, in Washington at least? The administration.

Some 40% of newspaper column inches, the last I read, are taken up by material generated by public spokesmen, press releases, and PR departments.


Another version of the same phenomenon is wire service reporters writing stories on foreign events from their hotel rooms, using handouts from the U.S. Embassy. A good example is AP coverage of the anti-Chavez coup in Venezuela in the spring of 2002. After the removal of Chavez, the White House stuck to the talking point that he “resigned,” and their doggies at the Associated Press stuck to it faithfully. Indymedia and Narco News Bulletin, meanwhile, reported that Chavez had not resigned, and was being held incommunicado.


When the people of Venezuela, for once, managed to thwart the will of the Killer Klowns and blood money men in Washington and restore Chavez, guess what? It turned out the White House and its AP stooges had been lying, and Indymedia and NarcoNews were telling the truth.


Cunningham’s remarks above on loss of access are far from hypothetical. Consider, for example, the Pentagon’s reaction to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks:

In his more than two decades covering the military, Ricks has developed many sources, from brass to grunts. This, according to the current Pentagon, is a problem.
The Pentagon’s letter of complaint to Post executive editor Leonard Downie had language charging that Ricks casts his net as widely as possible and e-mails many people.
Details of the complaints were hard to come by. One Pentagon official said in private that Ricks did not give enough credence to official, on-the-record comments that ran counter to the angle of his stories.

If you want an indictment of maintream journalism and its stenography for the powerful, you need go no further than establishment journalism's apologetics for Judith Miller.


It is much harder to root out the hidden pro-official bias of mainstream journalism, precisely because of its pretense of objectivity.


Honestly promoting a definite viewpoint is the best way to advance objective truth. This is what blogging and other forms of online journalism do. They are much closer to the adversarial journalistic model of the nineteenth century, the model of Greeley and Godkin—a vast improvement, in my opinion.


Truth advances dialectically. Rather than adopt a pose of fake neutrality, by pretending to be more stupid and gullible than he actually is, it's better that a journalist make the best case that he can for the truth as he sees it, using both evidence and logic, and then allow his case to be subjected to ruthless cross-examination by others either challenging the evidence or providing counter-evidence.


In the nineteenth century, this cross-examination function was exercised by rival newspapers tearing each other's accounts to shreds, exactly like attorneys for two parties tearing each other's briefs apart on grounds of fact and logic for the benefit of a jury.


The Internet makes the dialectical approach far more feasible and effective than ever before. Consider the practice known as “Fisking.” When a blogger presents a one-sided version of reality, guess what happens? He's hyperlinked by an opposing blogger, who then puts his one-sided account into perspective by linking to the information he left out.


Thanks to the Worldwide Web, it's possible to systematically dissect a piece of reporting, subject it to relentless factual evaluation point by point, and post one's criticism with a hyperlink to the object of one's criticism. In making these point-by-point criticisms, one may hyperlink to the entire world of fact available from every online newspaper or wire service in the world, statistics from online government documents, and the like. And if someone else thinks you're attacking a strawman, or misrepresenting the object of your criticism, they can do the same to you. It never stops.


Perhaps we're moving toward an ideal division of labor. The Web seems to be, increasingly, separating the functional task of reporting from the old aggregating roles of newspapers and their editorial staff. Bloggers and other online journalists will probably never duplicate anywhere near the resources traditional journalism has at its disposal. But so long as bloggers can hyperlink to mainstream journalists, and perform the kind of analysis the journalists themselves should be doing but aren't, it doesn't really matter all that much. In other words, blogs are the new newspapers and bloggers the new editors, and the dead tree media's reporters are one big wire service; the old dead tree newspaper organizations just pay the salaries of reporters whose content is better used elsewhere.


In addition, Mr. Turner makes several other points. To take the least substantial one first, he takes a whack at traditional journalism's favorite strawman: the purported anonymity of bloggers and their lack of accountability.


And blogs? Been doing those a while too. We call them columns. The difference is that most columns report the writer's name and identity to the reader (based on the antiquated notion that what's written has more credibility if everyone actually knows who the writer is).


Now, it's true that many bloggers are anonymous. But there are countless bloggers, many of them prominent figures with roots in academia, politics, and even (gasp) traditional journalism, who blog under their own names. The big names, with readerships in the hundreds of thousands, include Matt Yglesias, Markos Moulitsas, Duncan Black, Arianna Huffington, Glenn Reynolds, Alex Tabarrok, Paul Krugman, Dean Baker, and Josh Marshall. There are online organizations like Democracy Now, Counterpunch and Alternet with entire stables of online writers. And one evaluates the credibility of one's news sources, anonymous or not, the same as one evaluates print sources—through one's experience, over time, of who's dependable and who's not.


His other major point involves blogging's alleged reinvention of the wheel.


And here's another little secret: News executives have asked all those questions about engaging the general public before. They've tried everything, from “citizen” journalism to increased use of graphics to interactivity. Only, in the old days, it was called soliciting news tips... and accepting letters to the editor.


Again, this misses the most revolutionary aspect of network culture: the replacement of an old broadcast, gatekeeper-controlled model of journalism with a many-to-many model.


The problem with the old model of “soliciting news tips” and “accepting letters to the editor” is that you needed the gatekeepers' permission to talk back to them. Those terms “soliciting” and “accepting” say it all.


My own experience with letters to the editor is instructive. Time and again, I have spent hours painstakingly poring over a draft letter, paring off a bit here and a bit there to get within the newspaper's word-count requirements, while tweaking the wording to get the precise effect I was aiming at. After all that effort I submitted the letter, only to have the wording gratuitously changed by the letters editor—not because of obscenity, potential libel, or length constraints, but only because the wording violated the editor's personal stylistic sensibilities. In some cases, the changes did violence to the meaning I had carefully attempted to construct, and undone hours of my work.


I have not had a letter published in the Morning News since December 2003, when I complained of such alterations to a letter they had published. Anyone who's interested can read an online version of the letter here, with careful indications of the specific changes the editor made, and judge for himself whether it did violence to the message I attempted to convey in the original version. Since my rather angry complaint on that occasion, my subsequent letters have been rejected without comment. I have not even attempted to submit a letter in two or three years.


The whole point of a letter to the editor, supposedly, is to reflect the autonomous voice of the community. It's not supposed to reflect the stylistic sensibilities of the editorial staff. It's entirely understandable (even if frequently done in an arbitrary way and with unnecessary lack of courtesy) for the editors to gratuitously alter the language that appears over a reporter's or op-ed writer's byline, because he is presumed to represent their organization and anything he writes reflects on it. But (aside from a limited set of cases like potential libel or obscenity—and even then brackets and ellipses should be used, as a matter of simple honesty, to indicate changes) changing the wording and import of a letter to the editor violates the supposed purpose of such letters: to provide the public with a forum to express their opinions in their own words. After all, the writer is not working for the newspaper The whole point of a letter to the editor is precisely that it doesn't represent the viewpoint of the newspaper or its staff. To cross that boundary, in a gratuitous and arbitrary manner, displays a fundamental lack of respect for the readers. It's pretty hard to “engage a general public” that not only requires your permission to talk back, but finds that you wind up putting your words in their mouths even when you allow the pretense of backtalk.


The network revolution changed this state of affairs beyond recognition. As described by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Network, the broadcast model of journalism and entertainment followed, as a matter of necessity, from the enormous capitalization requirements to enter the market. The conventional business model in the music, newspaper and radio industries required, at a bare minimum, capital outlays of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The main function of the large business firms that controlled the media was to govern those big concentrations of capital; their gatekeeping function, and the one-to-many broadcast model, followed from the technical necessities of the case.


As some wag said, freedom of the press is great, as long as you own a press. But guess what? Now more than half the households in America do own a press. The desktop computer, the main item of capital equipment required to be an Internet journalist, costs maybe $1000—compared to the outlays of hundreds of thousands of dollars required to start a newspaper in the old days. And the combination of digital reproduction and the Worldwide Web makes it possible to distribute one's writing, at zero marginal cost, to anyone with a computer and Internet connection. For the first time ever, anyone can write for an audience of millions at almost no cost. We can not only talk back to the traditional media without the permission of the Letters page editor, but we can talk to each other about the dead tree media, and criticize its product, in ways that the traditional media doesn't always like.


Finally, although I conceded Mr. Turner's point about the total resources devoted to print vs. online media, in general terms, it's a concession that must be qualified in many particular cases. In many cases, the network culture's alternative means of generating content has been useful for bypassing the “professionalization of everything” and the institutional culture of the establishment media.


The traditional print media, as watchdogs, have become increasingly toothless over the years. Even at the largest newspapers of record, traditionally home to the largest concentrations of investigative talents, the corporate bean counters in the boardrooms have discovered that stenography and celebrity gossip are far less expensive, and far less irritating both to advertisers and the parent conglomerate.


What original reporting does get done, increasingly, is the preserve of either small radical periodicals like Mother Jones, In These Times, and Z Magazine, or of Internet journalism. The Internet has become home to some of the best investigative journalists, like Robert Parry, Robert Fiske, for whom there is little place in the old world of the print media.


Some stories wouldn't have been stories at all if it weren't for the Internet. The Sinclair Media boycott and the Diebold files stories would barely have been blips on the mainstream media's radar, had it not been for their propagation online.


Indymedia's network approach to journalism has allowed local activists to report first-hand accounts of police riots at anti-globalization protests, bypassing the sanitized versions published by the local press and wire services (often based on uncritical regurgitations of official accounts by the police). I already mentioned the value of Giordano's Narco News Network in reporting what's really going on in areas like Venezuela, Chiapas and Oaxaca, while AP reporters wrote stories from U.S. Embassy handouts.


At the local level, the print media's watchdog role was a lot more credible when there were several small, independent newspapers in each town. Most people today are lucky even to live in a one-newspaper town. Most of the local newspapers in Northwest Arkansas, including the former Springdale News, have been consolidated into a single regional paper—the aforementioned Morning News. And the Morning News itself is owned by the Donrey Media chain. In most communities, the one big newspaper tends to be a part of the very power structure over which it is expected to exercise its watchdog functions.


In the colorful language of Michael Bates, of Batesline Blog, the Tulsa World is part of Tulsa's Cockroach Caucus:


The World is more than just an observer of the local scene. It is an integral part of the tight social network that has run local politics for as long as anyone can remember. This network... has pursued its own selfish interests under the name of civic progress, with disastrous results for the ordinary citizens of Tulsa and its metropolitan area....

The same small number of connected insiders circulates from one city authority, board, or commission to another, controlling city policy, but beyond the reach of the democratic process.


Like most communities in America, we have our own Cockroach Caucus here in Northwest Arkansas. Besides the usual suspects in the city councils and chambers of commerce, its centerpiece is the Northwest Arkansas Council, a nominally private organization formed by local government and business elites to lobby for highway and airport pork and other corporate welfare (ahem, excuse me, “infrastructure funding to benefit the local economy”). Its chief personages are ex-officio representatives of Tyson, Wal-Mart, J.B. Hunt trucking, and the Jim Lindsey real estate empire. I believe most metropolitan areas have a similar organization running things behind the scenes.


Any time the usual suspects in the Cockroach Caucus, the local Rotary Club yahoos and suchlike, attempt to railroad through another initiative with mass-distributed yard signs and all the rest of their prefab propaganda campaign, you can pretty safely lay money that the Morning News will come out in favor of it.


If the Morning News has an editorial philosophy, it can be summed up as managerialism. It channels the mindset of Herbert Croly, spiritual father of the Progressive Movement of a century ago, essentially the worldview of the New Middle Class of managers and professionals that had sprung up to control the new large organizations, the corporations and government agencies, that came to dominate American society in the late 19th century. Its central theme was the replacement of politics with ideologically neutral expertise: in FDR's memorable phrase, the era of the politician had been succeeded by the era of the enlightened administrator. This was the ideological foundation of the consensus capitalism, or corporate liberalism, that dominated American society for most of the 20th century. The Morning News's approach to everything is to oppose controversy and division, to promote consensus, to stand back and let the proper authorities do their work. The Morning News never met a regional commission or intergovernmental authority it didn't like. The Morning News, for one, welcomes our new David Gergen overlords.


The last and best bastion of independent news was an alternative biweekly newspaper in Fayetteville: the Grapevine. It regularly printed its own investigative reporting on the less savory doings of the Cockroach Caucus. Among other things, it carried numerous articles on the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Northwest Arkansas Council to railroad through a regional airport behind the public's back (I described them at considerable length myself here). Most of the shady machinations of the NWA Council and the rest of the local good ol' boy network was reported only in the Grapevine. And it's been gone since the early '90s, due in large part to those high capital outlays required to operate an old-style newspaper.

19 Comments:

Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

'But as Lincoln once said to General McClellan, "If you're not going to use that army, may I borrow it?"'

Thats a very dangerous analogy. To this day most people, since they lack knowledge of military matters, suppose that Lincoln was right and McClellan was wrong, militarily speaking. But it was the other way around. It actually takes two years to train soldiers fully from scratch, i.e. if they aren't already somewhat prepared by their culture or reserve traing (which can reduce it to six months), although six months can train them enough for useful roles (if those are the ones that happen to come up); a lot of that takes place "on the job", in their units. McClellan didn't have a proper army, he was making one. Of course, Lincoln was right politically, so he may have been well aware of what he was doing - but that wasn't where the analogy was going with this.

By the way, does "biweekly" mean twice a week or fortnightly? It's ambiguous.

January 22, 2009 4:03 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

PML: As with your previous critique of my misuse of "feudalism," I bow to your superior erudition. But it's such a great quote I couldn't resist.

And it's fortnightly--another one of those usages from the Queen's English that's become less current over here.

January 22, 2009 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Araglin said...

Excellent post, Kevin. It's wonderful to see you generating such regular, substantive content in the last couple of weeks. Keep up the good work!

January 22, 2009 5:35 PM  
Blogger TGGP said...

Philip Weiss mentioned the "stable of bloggers" model here, which I hadn't really thought of before and don't think his site qualifies as (and I hope Jack Ross starts back up his old blog).

Robert Fisk works for the Independent, which is a pulp paper from what I understand (I'm an American). Parry (who I hadn't heard of before) seems to be an example of an independent reporter, but I can't think of too many others. I remember Mencius Moldbug trying to point to Michael Totten as an example of a really independent reporter and I later had to point out that he's written for all sorts of establishment publications, including no less than the WSJ and NYT.

I was surprised you named Tabarrok rather than Cowen (who is more well known).

At the Mises blog they attack the notion of private tyranny in megacorporations. Their target is Noam Chomsky, but I thought you might be interested as well.

January 22, 2009 6:13 PM  
Blogger rmangum said...

This is really an excellent post, and clarifies a number of thoughts I've had about the media in this country. I've always had a problem with what I saw as a phony notion of "objectivity". I mean, we all know the politics of Fox News and NPR, right? And for years I've heard dyed-in-the-wool Republicans (like my Dad) foam at the mouth at the "liberal media", and for a time I actually believed this, too. But it's clear that the media is biased toward the Statist center. Even if the majority of journalists are liberal (likely), management are probably more conservative. There is a "respectable" version of right and left, that appear in mainstream media, neither particularly opposed to state power per se.

This is only tangentially related, but the last season of The Wire (5, I think) chronicles the decadence of print media in this country, the last stage of which is simply lying and not only getting away with it, but being promoted.

January 23, 2009 4:28 PM  
Blogger littlehorn said...

Alright. Enough. I'm translating this post.

January 26, 2009 12:58 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Dobbs said...

One point I'd like to make is that "objectivity" is a liberal value. If liberalism is to have any coherent meaning it has to have a definition that can extend across space and time--one that includes liberals in Europe and the US as well as from the past and present (and presumably into the future). The best basis for such a consistent definition would be, I think, to identify liberalism as the political movement that arose from the Enlightenment and which embraces their values: empiricism, the "rights of man," constitutionalism, secularism, parliamentary power over that of the executive, the inherent good of "progress" and innovation and internationalism. Conservatives arose from thinkers skeptical of these claims and their claimants, most notably and earliest Edmund Burke. They value authority, tradition, reverence, the power of the elites and the king, caution when it comes to changing the established order of things and nationalism. This makes for a reasonable definition.

The reason this is germane to this piece is the fact that the very notion that one can be "objective" and that this objectivity was inherently a good thing comes from the Francis Bacon/Enlightenment empirical school of thought. It is a thoroughly liberal value. As a result media sources which really are attempting to be objective (not Fox News' "fair and balanced" notions which everyone knows is a slogan over their conservatism) are necessarily biased toward the liberal view of things. NPR, CNN, the New York Times--they are liberal BECAUSE they are objective.

This is not a repetition of Stephen Colbert's quip that "reality has a well known liberal bias." I tend to agree with those postmodern and other thinkers who question whether there really is such a thing as an objective viewpoint. These outlets do not represent reality any more accurately than their more ideological competitors--the Corddry piece is a perfect example of this. Their kowtowing to Bush and Co. until roughly late 2005 (Katrina time or so) was less a product of their rightward shift as it was the Bushies' adept manipulation of these media outlets.

But it was a great post. We don't have any media commentary stuff up yet, but you should check out my and my friends' new blog, The Deliverators. I am a post left anarchist and the admin is a libertarian leaning cat himself. This blog of yours is great and I'd love to have your thoughts on things and your support as we build up content.

January 30, 2009 11:16 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

Two chapters in Drexler's Engines of Creation might make for a good re-read, or first read if one has not done so yet. All net-people need to read these chapters as they'll help make obvious some things that should be obvious yet aren't obvious unless somebody points them out.

Chp13 - Finding the Facts
http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Chapter_13.html
Chp14 - The Network of Knowledge
http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Chapter_14.html

Free online version of the whole book.
http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/EOC/EOC_Table_of_Contents.html

January 31, 2009 5:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another problem with the media is that they don’t want to take responsibility for what they write and say. So they like to quote sources and especially authoritative sources and authorities sources means someone with at title.

Which is why most of the news ends up being the press release of governments, corporations or some other bureaucracy like the universities or foundations. The fact that all these groups are tied into the present power system means that the media rarely questions that system.

They ask the National Association of REALTORS about the present housing problems and keep on getting the story that Real Estate is about to turn around. They ignore the fact that these “experts” are really part of a saleman organization who live off of commissions and so every day is a good day to buy RE since everyday is a good day for a Realtor to get a commission.

They ask the “experts” at Standard and Poor’s rating agency their opinion on the various banker bailouts and get the same answer that its good for the economy. They ignore the fact that Standard and Poor’s is the agency who rated many of the items which are now proving to be worthless so any bailout of the banks is also a bailout of Standard and Poor’s.

They ask the “experts” at the National Education Association what should be done about education and every time the answer is more teacher pay, less teacher work and more money for the education system. They ignore the fact that the National Education Association is a labor union and that more money and less work is what every union wants.

They will go after some members and groups of the present power system but only if they think they are moving the system in the wrong direction or have moved outside the group consensus. What they very rarely do is bring someone from outside the group to bring in questions or comments that are outside the group consensus.

And what is extremely rare is to bring in outsiders when it comes to an critique of the medias performance. I have lost count of the times when I have seen a round table on TV about journalism and yet I have never seen anyone outside of the media being part of this critique. Instead they all sit around the table telling each other how professional and objective they are

DJF

January 31, 2009 2:16 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Andrew Dobbs wrote "Conservatives arose from thinkers skeptical of these claims and their claimants, most notably and earliest Edmund Burke".

Wrong. If that's using the narrow definition, the earliest was probably Disraeli, when the term was coined. If that's referring more broadly to people with that general approach, it was probably Viscount Falkland in the Civil War, who worked out a succinct formulation of the approach: "when it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change".

February 02, 2009 2:58 PM  
Blogger littlehorn said...

They ask the “experts” at the National Education Association what should be done about education and every time the answer is more teacher pay, less teacher work and more money for the education system. They ignore the fact that the National Education Association is a labor union and that more money and less work is what every union wants.
The question then is, are they paid enough, and how hard is it working as a teacher. Somehow, I don't feel that teachers are treated as good as they should, and that is not something you take into account, when you're putting the coverage of teachers on the same level as the coverage of RE agents, etc.

Remember the first are treated like welfare parasites, whereas the second are treated like heroes of capitalism.

February 06, 2009 5:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“The question then is, are they paid enough, and how hard is it working as a teacher”

And the question should be asked of more then just their union representative. Or do you think that the union reprehensive is an impartial expert on the subject of teaching as the journalists often imply.

And I don’t consider the representative of the realtors to be either a hero of capitalism nor an impartial expert. And I have never heard any main stream journalist ever refer to teachers as welfare parasites. In fact they are the ones often referred to as heroes of society

As to working as a teacher I found it pretty easy once I did the prep work and learned the subject matter and got the hang of it. However I was teaching adults so that might be different from teaching children

DJF

February 06, 2009 2:50 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

"The question then is, are they paid enough, and how hard is it working as a teacher. Somehow, I don't feel that teachers are treated as good [sic] as they should [be]".

No, that is not the question, it is just part of it. It leaves out the insight in "the worst form of waste is to do efficiently that which should not be done at all". Just like politicians who routinely cite how hard they are working as justification for paying them more, to the extent that they are doing harm they should actually be paid less.

February 06, 2009 8:11 PM  
Blogger littlehorn said...

And the question should be asked of more then just their union representative. Or do you think that the union reprehensive is an impartial expert on the subject of teaching as the journalists often imply.

I can't argue with what the journalists "imply." This is all empirical knowledge, and I don't have enough of it. Are you saying that every single union representative is a liar and there's nothing true that can come out of his mouth ? Mind you, I'm not telling you the reverse is true.

Surely if all union representatives lied, we'd know from the teachers themselves.

No, that is not the question, it is just part of it. It leaves out the insight in "the worst form of waste is to do efficiently that which should not be done at all". Just like politicians who routinely cite how hard they are working as justification for paying them more, to the extent that they are doing harm they should actually be paid less.

Yes yes, I enjoy this very deep analysis. But this is beside the point. How hard do they work and are they living comfortably enough. That's how you should judge the demands of a union representative. I agree with your points, but they belong in a discussion on a revolution in the system; not in an assessment of how to treat those working in the system at this moment. If you want to prove that teachers are worthless, their work a waste, you don't simply make a hell out of their lives.

February 07, 2009 6:47 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

No, Littlehorn, my point was of immediate and specific relevance. You shouldn't "judge the demands of a union representative" on their own, ever, but weigh them against the opposite case, the case against. If the teaching is misdirected, it greatly affects teachers' bargaining power. Do they threaten a strike? If they're causing more harm than good, then that would actually be an improvement, so it is no threat at all. If they are doing net benefit but some harm, which they are in pushing false history and in using poor literacy and numeracy training methods, then they only have a weak threat. It's not a matter of proving anything, it's the correct reaction to an empty or near empty threat - within the system as it is.

As for their own personal suffering, that is one of the deeper areas, because the proper response to that suffering is "good! that should be telling many of you to get out of teaching and go and do something else". Fixing the wider structure so that there really are better career choices available is the deeper problem to be addressed.

February 07, 2009 9:54 PM  
Blogger littlehorn said...

As for their own personal suffering, that is one of the deeper areas, because the proper response to that suffering is "good! that should be telling many of you to get out of teaching and go and do something else".

Kah ! Thus speaks a supposed opponent of forced indoctrination, seeking to instill obedience through suffering. How ironic. "You suffer ? Good, you deserve it. Now do what I say." is a good summary of the above paragraph.

Do they threaten a strike? If they're causing more harm than good, then that would actually be an improvement, so it is no threat at all. If they are doing net benefit but some harm, which they are in pushing false history and in using poor literacy and numeracy training methods, then they only have a weak threat. It's not a matter of proving anything, it's the correct reaction to an empty or near empty threat - within the system as it is.

And the correct reaction to the harm they do, as a matter of their very method of teaching, as a matter of the very propaganda that people beat over their head all their freaking life, the correct reaction is not a reduced salary, or whatever the government has them go through. Do you really imagine they are going to think: "Geez, they cut my pay, I now see that my ways were fascistic and useless. I will stop teaching."

What you ask them to realize takes time, and the attitude you display towards them ensures that they will not listen for one second, when we would need them to listen for an hour.

February 08, 2009 4:35 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Littlehorn, somewhere along the line you've got it into your head that I am interested in what is going on inside teachers' heads, as such. No, I am only interested in whether the teachers - as means - are helping the wider system. That is because my only proper concern on these salary issues is what happens to funds taken from me, and what people who emerge from all that will ultimately do to me - the bang for the buck. Wider points come later, but those wider points have not been made my business in the same way.

So, I am not "seeking to instill obedience through suffering". Read what I wrote again, and remember that you edited out the rest just there. By itself, it's not someone seeking obedience, it's someone not giving a damn and throwing the empty threats and pleas for pity back in the faces of those making them - what a "Vulgar Libertarian" would do, rather along the lines of let them eat cake. With the next sentence that you cut, it makes sense. It's telling teachers that they are like a dog sitting on a thistle howling. Their remedy is obvious and in their own hands - once we make sure that the world isn't thistles everywhere. But nobody is going to make them get off that thistle, or take the trouble to remove it - nobody is going to care.

"And the correct reaction to the harm they do... is not a reduced salary...".

Of course it bloody is, just as the correct reaction to someone selling bad food is to buy elsewhere. It's not the way to change their thinking, of course not - but changing their thinking is unnecessary and intrusive. I don't give a damn about that as such, and in fact I have enough respect for their integrity not to want to remake them. I just want them not to do harm, and I want not to pay for the harm if there is any. I want to walk away from them when things are like that, not stay and fight to alter them and destroy their integrity.

So, yes - none of this would change them. Not only do I not care about that anyway, I respect them too much to find that pressure acceptable.

February 08, 2009 5:22 PM  
Blogger littlehorn said...

Read what I wrote again, and remember that you edited out the rest just there.

[...] the proper response to that suffering is "good! that should be telling many of you to get out of teaching and go and do something else".

And you want me to balance this with:

Fixing the wider structure so that there really are better career choices available is the deeper problem to be addressed.

Oh. So in addition to telling them to go fuck themselves, you also portray them as mere opportunists, as if in truth, they didn't really want to teach. That sure balances it all.

Of course it bloody is, just as the correct reaction to someone selling bad food is to buy elsewhere. It's not the way to change their thinking, of course not - but changing their thinking is unnecessary and intrusive. I don't give a damn about that as such, and in fact I have enough respect for their integrity not to want to remake them.

And so, convincing someone through free speech is more intrusive than reducing his salary and making his life difficult, in the hope that he'll simply "go do something else." Sorry. I mean, in the hope that he'll pick up a "better career."

Also, while I understand that people here like to conflate everything with shopping, I don't think you can compare having the government reduce its employees' salary with not buying bad food anymore. There's a few things that don't add up. Like, almost no one knows education is bad food. So it can't be construed as making the rational choice; more probably, it's out of teacher hatred.

February 10, 2009 2:07 AM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

Littlehorn, you keep getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.

"Oh. So in addition to telling them to go fuck themselves, you also portray them as mere opportunists, as if in truth, they didn't really want to teach. That sure balances it all."

Not only did I not recommend such a discourteous reply, I did not represent them as opportunists. If any really do want to teach, let them - so long as someone is willing to pay for it and someone is willing to be on the receiving end. If not, that's the would be teachers' problem.

'And so, convincing someone through free speech is more intrusive than reducing his salary and making his life difficult, in the hope that he'll simply "go do something else." Sorry. I mean, in the hope that he'll pick up a "better career."'

That's completely missing the point. of course convincing someone through free speech is less intrusive than that - but I wasn't recommending that either, precisely because both are intrusive. I do not hope for them to change their thinking and plans at all. I am perfectly happy for them to stay just that way, I just want them not fastened onto me or anyone else. The less intrusive thing I do want is to leave them to it - on their own. I really have no objection to them staying teachers, so long as they don't draw pay from me or have anyone as a captive audience to teach. I don't want them to have better careers, it's just that if one of them asked me for a response based solely on how badly off teachers were becoming, I would tell him or her that the message from life was clear - quit doing it and do something else. But I don't give a rat's as long as the teachers are kept from parasitising. That's subject to the reservation that it would be unjust to keep them from having alternatives to keep them going, of course. With alternatives, their suffering is their own damned fault as the remedy is in their own hands, but if they are fenced in then telling them it's their problem is the "Vulgar Libertarian" version of let them eat cake.

"Also, while I understand that people here like to conflate everything with shopping, I don't think you can compare having the government reduce its employees' salary with not buying bad food anymore. There's a few things that don't add up. Like, almost no one knows education is bad food. So it can't be construed as making the rational choice; more probably, it's out of teacher hatred."

Don't be ridiculous. Cast your attention back to where I said that what counted was the extent to which they are actually harmful. They may well do some good. The moral claim and negotiating power they have depends on the net good they do - which isn't much if anything these days (and a lot of people do know it, e.g. Jerry Pournelle).

February 10, 2009 6:32 PM  

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