Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

(Qualified) Sympathy for the Devils Dummies

      I was reading this post (Hat Tip: Instapundit), and I was reminded of a thought about the Main Stream Media I'd had recently when reading about the 'Blogs and the Media' conferences recently.  The thought: we should have pity on them.

      Ask yourself, what's the job of the MSM?  As far as I can see, something like this:

1) Collect information from all over on what's happening;

2) Collate and create a picture of the state of the world;

3) Pick out the most important items, and present them to their audience, in a clear, interesting, memorable manner.

      Now, change 'MSM' above to 'CIA.'  Hmmm, yes, that also fits pretty well.  And we've seen in recent days, as we hash over the 9/11 failures, just how tough it is for the CIA to figure out what's important.  So we shouldn't be surprised that the MSM find it so difficult.  We should cut them some slack.  They have one of the most difficult jobs in the world.

      But only some slack.  For one thing, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.  For another, they deliberately handicap themselves in the performance of their duties.

      To pick out what's important in the news, you already have to have a model of the world in your head.  You need to know that some things are as expected ('Fifty million people got up and went to work yesterday), and some aren't ('Labor shortages developing in Arizona, surpluses developing in California).  You need to have a feel for whose efforts will change the world, and whose won't.  You need to appreciate the difference between stuff that's dramatic, but expected ('Mudslides in Southern California in Spring'), and stuff that's really novel ('Privately Developed Craft Flies to the Edge of Space').

      Since no one can know everything, and since super geniuses like Robert Oppenheimer are rare, you have to have a lot of people with different abilities working on this.  You also need to have people with different viewpoints in the process, because what you think is important may not be, and vice versa.  You need to step back and check your model against the world regularly, and look for divergences.  When things work out significantly differently than expected, it's a sign your model needs adjustment.

      There's an old joke that the MSM always get everything right, except when they report on a story you already know something about; there they invariably screw up big time.  A proper MSM would have a lot fewer liberal Democrats, and a lot more conservative Republicans.  Hell, a proper MSM would have a lot fewer graduates of journalism school, and more cops, engineers, lawyers and novelists.

      The MSM is largely an ingroup of people with similar backgrounds and ideas.  If they weren't, CBS would have had veterans-turned-journalists at 60 Minutes Wednesday, and they'd have looked at the phony memos and said, 'Hmmm, these don't look right to me.'  Or lawyers-turned-reporter, who would have said 'The source is known to have lied about W. before, there's no chain of evidence, a documents expert thinks they may be fake -- I wouldn't want to go to court with evidence this flimsy.'

      Cromwell once wrote "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."  What has lost the MSM so much of its audience is its arrogant refusal to give a decent respect to those who disagree with them, combined with a huge number of egregious errors and outright lies.  They'll do better when they admit how tough a job they've taken on, and change the way they go about it.



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