A Straight Shot of Politics

A blog from a gentleman of the Liberal political persuasion dedicated to right reason, clear thinking, cogent argument, and the public good.

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Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

I have returned from darkness and quiet. I used to style myself as "Joe Claus", Santa Claus’ younger brother because that is what I still look like. I wrote my heart out about liberal politics until June of 2006, when all that could be said had been said. I wrote until I could write no more and I wrote what I best liked to read when I was young and hopeful: the short familiar essays in Engish and American periodicals of 50 to 100 years ago. The archetype of them were those of G.K. Chesterton, written in newspapers and gathered into numerous small books. I am ready to write them again. I am ready to write about life as seen by the impoverished, by the mentally ill, by the thirty years and more of American Buddhist converts, and by the sharp eyed people [so few now in number] with the watcher's disease, the people who watch and watch and watch. I am all of these.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

In Lieu Of Evidence

I believe it was Goethe who remarked, "Thinking is better than writing but looking is better than thinking." To this I would add that writing is better than reading, and by "reading" I mean something very precise, and very superficial--the reading of other people's opinions and the use of other people's opinions as a substitute for thought.

As political blogging as evolved into a sub-species of 21st century journalism, it has taken on some of the flaws of the older forms of journalism. Most prominently, it has run up against the fact that we can now consume more breaking news than we can normally produce. Human affairs have been considerably speeded up over the last two centuries, but they have been speeded up far less than our capacity to disseminate journalism about them has been speeded up over the past three decades.

I remember the launch of the first communications satellite. It was called Telstar. And I think sometime around the launch of Telstar, and for perhaps a decade after, roughly the period of the Vietnam War, the business of reporting news finally was able to actually keep pace with events around the world at roughly the speed with which they happened. The speed of doing things since has not increased nearly as fast as the speed of talking about them.

Consequently most journalism is literally contentless because only so much news can actually occur in a day. This is roughly the amount, under circumstances short of a major invasion of another country, with multiple pitched battles, that can be stuffed into a morning paper with a decent sized news hole, or the Google News Homepage of headlines and lead paragraphs.

When journalists have nothing to talk about, they are forced to fall back on talking, either covertly or overtly, about their own opinions. Most of these opinions are not very interesting. There's an ad campaign, which I still see occasionally on television, for LendingTree.com, which has as its slogan, "When banks compete you win." Well, when journalists compete, you lose. We all lose. The message is supposed to be more important than the messenger. More and more journalism is all messenger and no message.

Why? Most of what we all complain about as "bias" in American news coverage comes from there being only so much real news to cover, and with so little news to cover compared to our capacity to cover it, the coverage has to start covering the coverage itself, or, even worse, manufacturing more news itself.

The most recent scandals about "bias" in the news business: Jason Blair and the New York Times, the Bush national guard memos and CBS News, and Easton Jordon and CNN, have generally been about attempting to manufacture news where no news was there: in the first two cases, the attempt ultimately failed; in the last case, the attempt succeeded. And the "news event" that succeeded was largely manufactured by the conservative blogosphere.

Before our day, an offhand, and probably incorrect, remark in a speech by a newsroom producer, a man who had absolutely no public character whatever, and whose private opinions, wrong or right, were of no conceivable news interest whatever, would never have even penetrated the public consciousness, let alone forced a man's professional resignation merely because he had an incorrect opinion about something.

Political bloggers are not reporters. Bloggers do not cover the news. They largely have no access to the actual news. They are not in Beruit, or Bejing, or Boston, or Bombay. Bloggers cover the coverage. And when they don't cover the coverage, they cover the opinions of other bloggers covering the coverage.

In other words, they are literary critics, not newspeople.

Most of them are bad literary critics.

The reason for this harks back to the hierarchy of importance Goethe suggests: reading other peoples opinions is lowest, writing comes next, thinking after that, and, finally, looking. In other words, real contact with real evidence is what is most important. In the case of a literary critic, the evidence is the text and not its content.

A good literary critic knows what text to select as the primary linchpin of thought. Most bloggers are bad literary critics because they have not developed this skill of looking at texts rather than merely absorbing their content.

The best bloggers are the best quoters, directly or indirectly, with an eye for genuine relevance and central argument in what they quote, because it is genuine relevance and central argument that form the basis of serious thought about any literary text, as well as the basis for any serious literary text worth thinking about.

James Joyner, Kevin Drum, Steve Soto, and Donald Sensing are some of the best, good blogging is not confined to one set of political or religious opinions, and in good blogging you always know what the blogger means and even if you disagree with what they say. And the hyperlinks make no difference to this.

The worst bloggers write this sort of thing ad nauseum:

Today Groucho Marx had some interesting things to say about elephants in Tuscaloosa, Alabama [link] while Harpo Marx was tooting his own horn throughout the blogosphere [link] and Chico Marx spread his remarks far and wide about Karl Marx [link] while at the same time keeping himself under his own hat.

Wouldn't you really rather just spend your time watching Animal Crackers?

And if you had been sensible enough to do so, you would discover that the presence of Karl Marx in the movie dialog is a total fabrication on my part, or as my good friends the conservative bloggers might say, at best, liberal bias, and at worst, a Marxist Conspiracy.

This is why looking--really looking--is better than thinking, better than writing, and better than reading someone who has never looked at any primary evidence in the first place.

This is why blogging occurs, in large measure, in lieu of evidence.

2 Comments:

Blogger Dave Schuler said...

Great post, Joseph. I'll include it in my weekend run-down.

Bloggers do not cover the news. They largely have no access to the actual news. They are not in Beruit, or Bejing, or Boston, or Bombay.

That's the wrong metric. Most newspapers (even big newspapers) don't have reporters in Beirut, Beijing, or Bombay. They use wire services and bloggers have access to the same wire services as the newspapers do. So either most newspapers don't cover the news (which I suspect would surprise them) or some bloggers do, too.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Joseph Marshall said...

The wire services do have reporters there, and most newspapers largely print them straight, cutting only for length. Any blogger who did this would soon lose readers. It is what we do with the texts we find that makes us distinctive.

3:21 PM  

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