Friday, July 11, 2008

The end of a lifelong habit

Your Correspondent has been reading a daily newspaper every single morning for nearly a half-century. Born in part of a habit developed as a paperboy (for the younger person out there, a boy employed by a news agency to deliver newspapers directly to homes) wrapping Tribs and Suns at 5am, and in part from an early-ingrained affection for reading, this habit is as crucial to a day-beginning as coffee or a shower.
But it's no longer the same thing. For most of that time, the words on the papers had a verity. It was non-fiction. It was technical, as might be described by the term "technical writing", a concept that holds much appeal to your correspondent, who would like to aspire to earning a living as such a scribe.
The stuff on the page, now, isn't non-fiction anymore. There may well be real facts, or at least factoids, sprinkled around, and they may indeed serve as legitimate points, topics, and stories.
But there's no way to be sure, not without checking. There may be declarative sentences in those columns of words, but taking them as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, just can't be done.
Marveling at the breadth and depth of the impact of the internet, a favorite pastime here, can never escape the biggest impact of all: the access to information, far, far more than any ordinary citizen could have ever imagined before.
Recall the Tribune's coverage of the spring, 2008 Iraqi offensive against the Sadrist holdouts in Basra. Consistent with the Democratic Party's party line, accepting blindly at face value that the whole enterprise was a smashing failure, the Trib ran two articles by their correspondent Aamer Mahdani depicting the whole effort as a near-catastrophe. There were a few sprinkles of facts, mostly amplified far out of proportion but plausible to a gullible and under-informed readership (and editorial staff), cited to illustrate the failure.Of course, all of that was nonsense; the offensive was a significant success. Like virtually every other military operation in an urban area in the history of humankind, it was fraught with error and misapprehension. That part, though, was all that was reported, by the Democrat partisans and the old time media like Mahdani and the Tribune.If I had a subcontractor or employee working for me, who did two days' worth of work that was so wrong, so far from the correct way to do the job that it was entirely useless, that person would be gone from my employment forever (even not withstanding this reporter's previous egregiously wrong work on world affairs).
Not at the Tribune. A few weeks later, a major, front-page "news" story by this same author, going through the same editors, regarding the Iranian belligerence crisis a-building, began with a full paragraph about the Iraq campaign, and what a failure it was, and capped with citing the AP's faux-combat death toll (it's actually all deaths, including vehicle accidents unrelated to combat, and represents an inflation of nearly a third).
All this comes to mind in preparation for today's Second Amendment Freedom Rally in downtown Chicago, a few hundred yards from Tribune Tower. We wait with bated breath to see what the Trib does with this story. A mass of Brady quotes interrupted by an occasional nugget about the actual event of the day? Sadly, it's what the existing pattern would lead us to expect.

Updated: The event prouduced a turnout of 600 or so, a remarkably diverse group at that. One Tribune reporter was identified by the partisans and was spoken to. Given what ensued, the reporter's comment to the rallygoer, that "this wasn't the crowd we were expecting", was highly appropriate.
What ensued was nothing. The Tribune rigorously avoided mentioning the existence of the rally at all. Buried deep in an article on a completely different topic was a very brief mention of the rally, and that was all.
Contrasted with the paper's lavish coverage of "rallies" set up by causes the Trib chooses to advocate for, such as illegal immigration, the blackout is hardly surprising.
Yet the vaunted Editorial Board insists we readers are the dummies for questioning our intellectual and moral masters in mainstream journalism.
Controlling the message comes close to controlling the history.

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