Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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When I first moved to Aberdeen, I purchased a speculation house on Casper Ave. and did all those things one does to customize it. Among those things was the building of a large patio-deck area, a covered barbecue area, and a woodshed where I kept barbecuing and grilling equipment and a good supply of firewood for the two fireplaces in the house. That woodshed was the subject of an angry, raging telephone call from a neighbor woman.
She said my daughter was using the woodshed to contribute to the sexual delinquency of her son, as the child of a professor might be assumed to do, and if I did not do something about my woodshed, she was going to have the police do it.
The problem was that I did not have any children at the time. A neighbor helped me solve what the woman was raging about. There was a group of children in the neighborhood around the age of five. A little girl down the street like to play dolls and the like on my patio. And no, I did not storm out in my pork pie hat and tell the kids to get out of my yard. Apparently, the children started to use my woodshed to play house and such, and, as children tend to do, began their studies of gynecological and genito-urinary phenomena. The little boy whose mother flew into such a hissy fit told of the goings-on, and mama went ballistic.
Other neighbors explained to the woman that I had no children, that I was seldom home during the play-time hours because of my duties as a professor and media advisor, and the household had other problems that diverted attention away from my backyard. The matter was solved with a padlock, which was a damned nuisance. The woman, who would neither speak to me or even look at me, responded to the neighbors that I might not have children but a professor could be expected to maintain a disorderly house of some kind to destroy the social fabric.
Once again, I find I have a virtual woodshed of ill repute. Todd Epp
claims I took him to the woodshed and stuck out my nasty little Ph.D. at him. Here we go again.
Ph.D.s inspire resentful attitudes. They appear to be something one finds in a Crackerjack box. Or ordered from Sears when it was still in the mail-order business. Or obtained by attending three week-end workshops offered by Nova University in Florida. To those of us who obtained them, they were a minimum credential for being a professor. To many folks, Ph.D.s are a contrived, personal affront. Old men in pork pie hats and trench coats stalk the streets and expose them to unwary innocents.
But the post below which moved Todd Epp to such effusive indignation was not, as he claims, a personal attack on him or anyone else. It was a commentary on how denial, denigration, and delusion have become dominant modes of presentation in mass communications. Our own country has assumed the techniques of Baghdad Bob in attempting to control the information the public receives. I noted that it is not only national leaders who use the technique, but that it affects local situations, too.
The South Dakota blogosquare is not exempt from the selective, motive-driven manipulation of facts. Without naming anyone personally, I cited some examples of where information is so wrapped in boastful self-promotion that the information is obscured and, in some cases, smothered by the verbal accoutrement that attends it.
I am not a great admirer of the media. News is seldom written and produced to provide the public with a clear, accurate, and carefully crafted accounting of what is going on in the world. News organizations are in the business of selling advertising and delivering an audience for that advertising. Hard news does not attract audiences. The old criteria of news value has metamorphosed into how stories can be dummied down to appeal to base appetites. Those criteria are audience, impact, proximity, timeliness, prominence, unusualness, and conflict. News production has gone from identifying those elements in individual events to making sure every "reality" occasion is charged with them.
The handling of Sen. Tim Johnson's health was one of those cases where prominence and timeliness would at one time have been the focus of the story. What happened to a prominent man and his progress would have been the emphasis. But today's news coverage requires full titillation of the audience, and that means that impact and conflict will have to be emphasized to raise as much controversy as possible.
I am now going to do the very thing that I find so objectionable. Here goes: what would have been a minor sidebar for the story became its major theme: what would happen to the U.S. Senate if Tim Johnson died or was rendered incapable of serving out his term. A simple little exposition on the procedures would have sufficed. But the buzzards saw that they could speculate about a change in Senate leadership complete with all the mud-wrestling nastiness and they took to circling the patient. Almost every news story took the shape of stating the latest information from the medical authorities and family with the larger part of the story being devoted to a repetition of the process of succession in the event of the Senator's demise. Speculations which were not even a remote eventuality based upon the information available became the news story. And in writing about the speculations, I am reinforcing them.
In decrying the media buzzards, blogs only re-emphasized this morbid ritual in what passes for news. While condemning the buzzard chatter, they reinforced its prominence in the story. I don't think the public has devolved so deeply into media-induced dementia that it needs to be told of the seriousness of Sen. Johnson's episode and the possible outcomes. But the media had its carrion squads standing by.
Blogs on rare occasions review journalism in a way that shows directions for improvement. Some more than others. But in general blogs with news pretenses work the opposite way. They take the failures of journalism and exacerbate them and amplify them. That is what happened with the Sen. Johnson story.
I am sorry. I find it the depth of self-absorbed absurdity to send obligatory best wishes to the Sen. and his family while keeping an overt and offensive death watch because it is more titillating than straigtforward medical reports. The well-wishing may be meant sincerely, but its context calls it into question.
The South Dakota blogs I alluded to--and not by name--happened to offer an occasion for tracing how a spurious speculation by an alleged physician on a very partisan blog got pulled into the "news" and perpetuated.
It would have been one thing for a columnist or blogger to do a piece on the informational dysfunction generated from the Johnson story. It is another to include that as part of the general news about the Senator's recovery.
To assess the real appeal of blogs, one need just review their comments sections. Some edit the comments. Others don't. But the comments illustrate with abundance that blogs do little to increase or enhance the quality of information and thought. The potential of the Internet is being compromised