Tuesday, February 06, 2007

On Calling Bullshit

by Dan Froomkin
from Common Dreams

Mainstream-media political journalism is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant, but not because of the Internet, or even Comedy Central. The threat comes from inside. It comes from journalists being afraid to do what journalists were put on this green earth to do.

What is it about Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that makes them so refreshing and attractive to a wide variety of viewers (including those so-important younger ones)? I would argue that, more than anything else, it is that they enthusiastically call bullshit.

Calling bullshit, of course, used to be central to journalism as well as to comedy. And we happen to be in a period in our history in which the substance in question is running particularly deep. The relentless spinning is enough to make anyone dizzy, and some of our most important political battles are about competing views of reality more than they are about policy choices. Calling bullshit has never been more vital to our democracy.

... increased corporate stultification of our industry, to the point where rocking the boat is seen as threatening rather than invigorating. There’s the intense pressure to maintain access to insider sources, even as those sources become ridiculously unrevealing and oversensitive. There’s the fear of being labeled partisan if one’s bullshit-calling isn’t meted out in precisely equal increments along the political spectrum.

The return of Democrats to political power and relevancy gives us the opportunity to call bullshit in a more bipartisan manner, which is certainly healthy. But there are different kinds of bullshit. Republican political leaders these past six years have built up a massive, unprecedented credibility deficit, such that even their most straightforward assertions invite close bullshit inspection. By contrast, Democratic bullshit tends to center more around hypocrisy and political cowardice. Trying to find equivalency between the two would still be a mistake – and could lead to catty, inside-baseball gotcha journalism rather than genuine bullshit-calling.

If mainstream-media political journalists don’t start calling bullshit more often, then we do risk losing our primacy — if not to the comedians then to the bloggers.

... Because the Internet so values calling bullshit, you are sitting on an as-yet largely untapped gold mine. I still believe that no one is fundamentally more capable of first-rate bullshit-calling than a well-informed beat reporter - whatever their beat...

That's the deal now days. If I want to get the straight scoop, I have to read a lot of sources and find my own truth. Plus there are some outside of the MSM (Stewart, Colbert, Olbermann) that are pretty good at calling bullshit. The problem with FOX News to a great extent and CNN, MSNBC and the networks to a lesser extent is that they have few people that are the slightest bit interested in cutting through all the spin. They are more interested in staying inside the circle and not losing their access. And with FOX, it's not just about not calling bullshit ... it's about actively creating new BS.

I'm not looking for something that is slanted a particular way. I lean left but I'm not interested in journalism that won't call the hypocrisy on both sides. Chuck Hagel may be a Republican but he deserves credit for his honest stance on the war. Joe Biden may be a Democrat but he deserves every bit of the guff that he is getting for the patronizing, borderline racist comments that he made about Barack Obama.

Maybe it's all a moot point. Nobody in my generation goes to the TV to get informed ... unless they have already been brainwashed. I do have some acquaintances that get their line from Hannity and O'Reilly first and then go to Newsmax or The Drudge Report. But it's all extremely incestuous. Each cites the other as a source. The consumer thinks he has two sources, but he really is just seeing two groups pushing the same bullshit info.

It's all enough to make one's head hurt. So, I do not watch any TV news. I will pop the TV on and watch CNN or MSNBC if something major has happened. Usually in the heat of the moment, news organizations haven't had enough time to develop a spin and they inadvertently tell the truth (for ex. Anderson Cooper during Katrina). But give them enough time to be tainted by politicians or by their corporate overlords and the news will be pointless. So, screw them. My CNN is Laura, Cyberkitten, Great White Bear, Jewish Atheist, etc. You are my bullshit detectors.

"Develop a built-in bullshit detector." -- Ernest Hemingway


CyberKitten said...

Thanks for the compliment dbackdad.

As you said, the best way to learn about what's going on is "to read a lot of sources and find my own truth".

I watch the BBC & Channel 4 news but also read a few UK newspapers as well as (excerpts of)5-6 US/Canadian ones... It's a good way of getting a more rounded picture. Being skeptical & a bit cynical always helps too of course.

Anonymous said...

TV is "Satan's push medium," never settle for the crap others would thrust on you. I killed my cable about 8 months ago, and haven't looked back. (Thank god for Netflix though!)

dbackdad said...

CK -- No problem. It's well deserved.

I wish my cable package carried BBC or one of the other international news stations. I know I could probably get them if I picked a little different package. Sometimes it would just be nice to see how decisions over here are viewed outside our little bubble.

Kvatch -- We used to have Netflix and loved it. Now I just buy entirely too many movies. It's funny, but you can often get to more truth with a little bit of fiction. Movies like Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, V for Vendetta, Children of Men, etc. have certainly proven that.

greatwhitebear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
greatwhitebear said...

thanks for the compliment! the feeling is mutual.

I agree with you whole heartedly! Even NPR seems to fall victim to occasional corporate stultification.

btw, just posted some good bullshit calling.

Sadie Lou said...

Blogs have been a Godsend to me and I totally mean that. I don't watch TV news because quite frankly, I can't. It scares the crap out of me. I know that horrible things happen all the live long day but I do not need the details of every horrific incident that happens.
I watch for the big news stories as they appear in my blog-world and as they effect me or my community--after that, it's OLD news.

dbackdad said...

You got that right, Sadie. I was watching the Matrix tonight and couldn't help but compare it to our world. All the time most of us feel like we're in some bizarro world where nothing makes sense. Your guys' blogs are my "desert of the real".

Sadie Lou said...

oooooo...*getting shivers* I like that, dbackdad.

Jewish Atheist said...

That's one of the best compliments I've received. :-) Thanks, dbackdad.

dbackdad said...

S'alright. Thanks to all you guys.