Just back from a wonderful motorcycle ride with Tenacious G and a friend who's moved to New York but is back visiting (we stopped for a long time and enjoyed the incredible, rain-washed views from the intersection of Stunt and Saddle Peak), came home and picked up our L.A. Times. I usually read the funnies first, but media critic Tim Rutten's column (intrusive registration required, use 'laexaminer'/'laexaminer') caught my eye. It is entitled 'Fact or opinion? Yes, it really does matter,' and it's a peach. Here's the money quote:
went by the wayside became central in Western society a number of years ago. Frighteningly, it appears to be coming back.
There is a certain kind of bright but brittle mind that loves this sort of either/or thinking. What such minds cannot accept is the common-sensical notion that real life — including that of the press — is lived mostly in the pragmatic middle. There, experience has demonstrated that intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline enable journalists to gather and report facts with an impartiality that — though sometimes imperfect — is good enough to serve the public's interest in the generality of cases.I have to go do chores, but will comment pretty extensively later in the day; meanwhile I'll toss this out for your review, edification, and amusement. Don't forget to go back and look at this old post of mine when you're thinking about it. [Update: OK, here're my comments on this: Rutten seems to have missed that whole Reformation thing; the notion that truth might not have to be derived from a priesthood - and make no mistake, when he starts talking about 'intellectual rigor and emotional self-discipline ,' he's talking about a priesthood - is something that
What he says has the ring of truth; it describes an attitude which I believe is consistent with the behavior of the media over the last few years. It's certainly consistent with my direct experience with the Man In The Hat at Brian Linse's, and it's consistent with the kind of institutional arrogance that brought Howell Raines down at the NY Times. I share his belief that it's the 'pragmatic middle' where most things happen in societies; like supertankers, they turn slowly. But - I also am convinced that here is some interesting sociology to do in studying how journalism works in this new century; the web of relationships and obligation and even more important the filters that decide who will and who won't get a job at the NY or LA Times. As I've noted before, I think that one of the most important functions of the blogosphere is to provide some public check on journalism, and to do so not because any one blogger is better-informed or smarter, but the because the dialog among blogs can quickly knock down bad facts or unsupported ideas. Rutten, (and his boss Jon Carroll) in closing journalism off from that kind of dialog, are taking the position of Linda Ham, the shuttle manager for Columbia who cut off discussion of the possible damage from the foam strike. (Ironically, the Times just ran a series on Columbia; note that they appear to have joined ProQuest in making all their archival materials only for-pay) Sadly, more than the lives of seven individuals are at risk because of the arrogance of the media. (Corrected dumb error on Howell Raines' name, thanks to Kaus) (Corrected dumb grammar mistake...my editor must have missed it...)