Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fallen powers: on journalism

Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Thaliad

The great powers and we the people

One temptation for great powers like the media is that they become fawning and cease to see what is before their eyes in an accurate way, fail to name what issues are important, and then obfuscate reality for the rest of us. One of the jobs of great powers like media and government is to be vigilant in fighting against a fallen, devilish tendency to align themselves against ordinary people. If journalism ceases to ask penetrating, needful questions and use precise, unbiased language, then it is a fallen power that can do nothing but harm people by throwing veils over our sight. Journalism is then against us and not for us, and that occurs no matter what our politics and opinions are. 

A reality-based fantasy

Picture a country. Beloved Leader goes away to have a vacation with a Renown Instructor in a popular sport and a Famous Celebrity of that sport. The press is disappointed that they are not invited, but they gather for his return. Many matters ought to be addressed--wars and rumors of war, economic crises, and so on--but the press corps shows nothing to the outer world but celebrity-style fan-boy, fan-girl affection for Beloved Leader. In planned and synchronized unison, they chorus, "Who won?"

To the journalists

Take up your homely, needful mantle. Respect language. You are a people anointed to be the arrangers of words and the clarifiers of the Babel-language that comes burbling from congressional offices and ivory towers.

You see, my journalists (you are supposed to be mine, you know, and to belong to us all--this is a glory and burden of your vocation), I am discouraged about the inaccuracy of words and the devaluing of language in our era. In fact, I am back to considering that marvelous William Stringfellow quote about the Powers and their manipulation of language, ending with "diversion and demoralization, and the violence of babel (including verbal inflation, libel, rhetorical wantonness, sophistry, jargon, incoherence, falsehood, and blasphemy.)" The media is, indeed, a "great power," one that appears to have wandered into strange paths of late.

Journalists, help us be a "more perfect union." Give us the gift of clarity. Don't base the news or the choice of what's news on your personal opinions. Avoid the trivial and the trifling. Ask the questions that burn to be asked. Never fawn.

8 comments:

  1. We the people also have choice as to where we read the news, and how much (in fiscal terms) decent reporting is going to cost us.
    Sadly, we have also failed reporters.

    Oh... but I am so with you on this.

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  2. Yes, there is an issue with supporting reportage. I get an awful lot of news off the internet now... One thing I like is being able to see multiple sides of an issue. If one doesn't see many sides, well, it usually means swallowing somebody's bias whole. Alas.

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  3. Aye, aye, Marly! and Paul too.

    One major peeve of mine with online news sites is the level of nasty, racist, spiteful and sometimes semi-illiterate comments. I do not read them. One very intelligent blogger wrote about this a day or two ago, rightly criticizing a well-regarded Canadian (!!) newspaper for not following its own posted rules for monitoring this kind of evil.

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  4. I don't think comments should be allowed if they are not going to be monitored. It freezes the blood to read some of the rants out there. I occasionally look and am almost always sorry. The Golden Rule isn't too popular among those who comment... Nor is courtesy of any kind, it seems. Sad.

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  5. Of course, that sounds like I am in favor of censorship... And I am not. Am in favor of a great deal more self-censorship and less rabid biting than we have at present, at least in comments on large public sites where people can be anonymous.

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  7. In the US it's our own fault.

    We allowed media consolidation, including too many newspapers to be owned by any single corporation, too much spectrum to be controlled by any single media conglomerate, and the essential falling apart of the concept of "the public owns the airways."

    Thank whomever you want, but that is one of the key reasons we are in this pit of media despair.

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  8. Oh, I agree with that. You get no argument from me. All sorts of consolidation (not just in the news) goes on that is bad for us...

    But we all experience rapid change in our fields these days, and we must attempt to be true despite those changes, no? Otherwise we become a joke to ourselves--as the White House press corps became in the moment they greeted the POTUS not with questions we need but with a kind of adoration.

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.