Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Journalism, Where Art Thou Sting?

There's a fascinating piece on the continued unravelling of the Mainstream Media (MSM) over at Jay Rosen's PressThink blog:
And in fact, they wanted the innocence (we do just the facts journalism) and the power (we do make a difference journalism) but this could never be. We in the J-schools failed to catch that. The people on a mission never got around to justifying their mission in the language of democratic politics. They talked about it as a neutral public service instead, but speaking truth to power isn’t neutral, and making a difference isn’t just a service to others. We in the J-schools didn’t do well with that, either.
I remember the first time I tried to write a magazine article. I was, like, in the 10th grade and I had a charter subscription to Car & Driver, the flashiest car magazine in the world. there was a huge national crackdown on speeders and other traffic miscreants — one of the first big pushes, I believe. I wrote a commentary that, ultimately, rigid enforcement of "minor" traffic laws would have a profound effect on people's relationship with the police. C&D's editor rightly rejected the story — I couldn't write for crap — but said they pretty much agreed with the thesis.

Of course, time bore out this thesis. Officer Friendly was replaced by some mindless functionary with a ticket book and mirror shades, and police are still trying to figure out how to get back to the 1960s — note trend to "outsourcing" minor traffic violations a la cameras at intersections, camera trucks, etc., followed by a ticket by mail, as if traffic tickets were actually forces of nature as opposed revenue generating devices put in place by your friendly local government.

The inverse relationship between strict enforcement of nickel-and-dime laws versus respect for police and policing is an example of "broken windows" thinking, small things that can make a huge difference (I refer you to Malcolm Gladwell's TIPPING POINT book for a full explanation of the theory). I think of this as "driver analysis" — what is the original push, or driver, that make starts a person on another path of thinking?

Coming back around to the original point, I think the demonstrable media "war on guns" has done far more damage to the media than it has on guns. — a point I plan to make in BULLET POINTS, should it find a publisher. Here's my thinking — for the last 40 years, MSM has constantly hammered on how gun control is A HUGE AND GROWING NATIONAL TREND. Except that it wasn't and it isn't. I can make a lucid argument that there is not and never has been a "gun control movement" in the United States. Are there people who believe strongly in gun control? Yes, of course. There are also people — probably many more people — who believe in alien abductions, but that doesn't make alien abductions a major national trend.

As the MSM began to allow their support of gun control to trickle down from the editorial to the news pages, they created a situation where the consumers of their product knew "the emperor hads no clothes." The more MSM insisted that American were clamoring for gun control, the less credibility they had. MSM began flunking the reality check. As MSM moved to second and third generation reporters who came into newsrooms with institutionalized antigun atmospheres, those reporters were allowed factual "latitude" with guns that would get them fired if applied to any other area.

Take our pal Mr. Whipple's story yesterday...how long do you think he'd have his job if he reported that the county was replacing their vehicles because the current county vehicles only had three wheels and were prone to exploding while sitting at stop signs? Even if he quoted local experts on the three wheels and exploding cars, journalistic ethics and procedures would demand — if he wanted to continue his career in journalism — that he make an effort to find out if 1) county cars really only had three wheels, and, 2) they really blew up at stop signs. Yet he was allowed to write that Glocks are "safer" than SIGS, which is demonstrably wrong, and that the .357 was the most powerful police cartridge iever, which it demonstrably isn't. That's not even counting misquoting Dirty Harry!

That's not the onlyl nail in the MSM coffin, but IMO it's one of the biggest!

1 comment:

Patrick Sweeney said...

Mike,

The problems the MSM have on the gun issue are legion. 1) No one can read a story concerning firearms, who knows anything aobut them,without realizing the journalist is uneducated on guns. 2) Decades of shouting that gun control makes us safer, despite statistics to the contrary,have not gone un-noticed. 3) The "problem" of guns is just not felt by most people, who figure gun crimes happen in ghettos. Its like raising a fuss over contaminated water, when most of the readers drink bottled. Who cares? 4) The whole, breathless, "guns are so ickky" approach becomes both tiresome and silly. Readers stop paying attention when they've read that both big guns and little are "the most chosen by criminals."