Saturday, June 26, 2004

Blogging is supposed to provide instant opinionating and fact checking, but misinformation still spreads with amazing ease.

This tale starts at Medienkritik, which accuses the German media of "drawing parallels among the American soldiers’ abuses in Abu Ghraib, Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and the Nazi’s concentration camps." A serious charge, if true.

The evidence? An article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung by feminist critic Alice Schwarzer, who observes that the outstretched arms of a hooded Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib remind us of the crucifixion and that photographs of heaps of naked bodies there remind us of photos of heaps of naked bodies in concentration camps. From which she concludes ... nothing. She doesn't allege that the two events are equivalent. She doesn't excuse German behavior. She doesn't even mention the analogy again. The article is instead about whether women react to and inflict torture in ways different from men (a possibility that right-wing darling Ann Coulter also has raised).

Now some people maintain that the magnitude of horror in the Holocaust was so great that it can't be compared to anything else. I don't agree with that and think it is potentially dangerous because it can make us dismissive of the possibility that such a thing could happen again. But I understand the argument and respect it.

Still, you don't have to read German to notice that Medienkritik is hyperventilating. For one thing, it acknowledges that the article had appeared only in a "low-circulation, leftist, feminist rag" and as an opinion piece in the Frankfurt paper. It takes a mighty broad brush to make a throwaway line in two publications hold up for an indictment of the "German media."

Second, Medienkritik even provides a photo link to prove its point that Schwarzer is ugly. Writing can be a tough racket, but one benefit is that it provides a level playing field for ugly people. Medienkritik clearly has lost all perspective.

Nevertheless, the post got picked up in Jeff Jarvis' Buzzmachine, which quoted it without comment, and in Glenn Reynolds' popular Instapundit, who adds the observation, "This self-serving historical revisionism pretty much explains the German position on the war. Note to Germans: You're not fooling anyone but yourselves."

No, Glenn, you are fooling yourself. A Medienkritik commenter said his posting was "profoundly dishonest and morally corrupt," and that's giving him all the best of it. Even if you put the worst possible face on Schwarzer's allusion, Reynolds' interpretation is wildly irresponsible. He has turned one offhand comment in one opinion piece in one German newspaper into an indictment not only of all German media but of the German people as a whole. If this nonsense had appeared in the mainstream media, bloggers would be all over it.

As it is, the blogging world still has a lot of growing up to do. As this incident demonstrates, simply having the power to link doesn't prevent bad information from spreading. You still have to go read the post.
Mtpolitics says we probably won't be able to agree on whether PETA ads should run. But we may not be as far apart as he thinks.

First, kudos to Craig for (I think) breaking the story about the ads being pulled. Chalk up one for the blogosphere.

Second, I'm not sure the sequence of events suggested in my post is accurate either, and I say so in the post. In my story that will appear in next week's Outpost, station officials specifically deny that they were caving in to Stockgrowers' pressure. They say they were responding to viewer complaints. Outpost readers can swallow this with as many grains of salt as they deem appropriate, but the images in the ad were disturbing enough that it's a credible explanation.

Third, I wouldn't dismiss First Amendment concerns so lightly. Again, the public airwaves are a government-regulated monopoly. Anybody can start a newspaper (I'm Exhibit No. 1) but it takes government permission to own a TV or radio station. So when stations take actions that limit access to the airwaves of people with unpopular views, then that raises a First Amendment concern in my mind. And that's especially true when broadcast stations are increasingly in the hands of an ever-shrinking number of owners.

Fourth, I do, in fact, have serious concerns about McCain-Feingold. I was surprised that the Supreme Court gave it a pass. One of the these days I will get around to reading the decision and trying to figure out why the law passed constitutional muster.

Fifth, appealing as it would be to get rid of the FCC, it's not practical now. So long as the public owns the airwaves, some regulation will be necessary. I would certainly like a better FCC -- one, for example, that was less worried about indecency and more about media conglomerates.

Finally, I might still come around to Craig's view if someone can show me that PETA is engaged in or encouraging criminal activity. PETA denies that it does so. David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom (see Craig's links) has plenty of nasty things to say about PETA but stops short of criminal allegations. Until that case is made, I would err on the side of letting PETA have its say.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The "soul-snatching corporate culture" has taken the fun out of newspapering, columnist Kathleen Parker says.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Over at mtpolitics, Craig has turned up a pretty good story. Seems that the KSVI and KHMT TV stations has been broadcasting a controversial PETA ad promoting vegetarianism, then pulled the ads after the Montana Stockgrowers complained.

Craig welcomes this development, since he views PETA as essentially a terrorist group. I'm not sure how true that is, and I don't have time to research it today. PETA's official website does call for nonviolence, and I don't know of any criminal charges pending. So PETA seems to have as much right to a public forum as anybody.

As my comments on his site indicate, I'm uncomfortable with Craig's position for a couple of reasons:

1. It bugs me when powerful economic interests use their clout to force unfriendly messages off the air. If we can hear a hundred commercials a day promoting meat consumption, what shouldn't we hear one or two taking the opposite tack? I don't know this situation well enough to be certain that happened here, but it's worrisome.

2. Commercial broadcasters operate under federal licenses, subject to renewal, so when a station refuses to air a controversial opinion, that comes dangerously close to government censorship. I'm within a hair's breadth of being an absolutist on First Amendment issues. I think it's appalling when American citizens can't use their own money to purchase air time to make political and philosophical arguments on subjects of their choice. That's not how I read the Constitution I promised to protect and defend.
From the Republican Party, this bizarre news release:

Evidence is mounting to indicate that false allegations
against Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg are being coordinated by
Senator Max Baucus.

The false allegations originated in the Washington D.C. periodical Roll
Call and were based on a cryptic, anonymous email that has never been
traced to its original source. Though obviously baseless in content,
Democrat Party Chiarman Bob Ream yesterday threatened to exercise
"freedom of information" rights to "expose" the details of the story.

New evidence suggests that Senator Max Baucus prompted Ream's action.

Two former Baucus staffers are closely involved in the scheme, including
Ryan Seher, the current campaign manager of Tracy Velazquez and former
Baucus staffer; and Bill Lombardi, current communications consultant to
Bob Ream and former Baucus communications director. Further, the story
originated from a Washington D.C. political magazine that Baucus's
current staff has frequent contact with.

"The relationships between all of these individuals seem, well, just a
little too convenient," said MT GOP Executive Director Chuck Denowh.
"Baucus has a history of using Bob Ream to do his dirty work, and
judging by their past actions, there is nothing they won't do to damage
a Republican's reputation."

As no evidence has been proffered to suggest that the false allegations
have any base in reality, the revelation of Baucus's involvement could
have serious repercussions on the elections this November. "The Montana
Democrat rank-and-file are getting pretty tired of Bob Ream's
stranglehold on their party and the persistently negative image he has
concocted for them," said Denowh. "This is one of the reasons that
Rehberg enjoys such strong support among Democrats in our state."
Rehberg's approval rating has been consistently in the 60th percentile;
Baucus has languished with weaker numbers.

"Baucus's fragile ego has been severely damaged recently," said Denowh,
"Not only was his wife Wanda Baucus recently arrested for assault, but
Rehberg has consistently been beating him in Montana approval polls.
This appears to be nothing but a selfish attempt to besmirch our popular
Montana Congressman, Denny Rehberg."

Baucus and Ream have been involved in other smear campaigns, most
recently with the allegations leveled against 2002 US Senate candidate
Mike Taylor. "What we're seeing is nothing new," said Denowh. "Baucus
and Ream know that they can't compete with us on real issues, so they
consistently resort to this sort of negative campaigning. I'd say
enough is enough; let's focus on what really matters to Montana."

A few observations:
1. Although the news release never specifies what the "false allegations" are, they presumably involve the widely circulated rumor that Rehberg and Burns got drunk on a trip to Kazakhstan and Rehberg fell off a horse and broke a rib. If so, the rumor isn't entirely baseless. They did make the trip, they did drink, and Rehberg did fall and hurt himself. He denies that he was drunk, and no credible evidence has surfaced that he is lying. So the allegations may not be valid, but they aren't imaginary.

2. The news release alleges that two former Baucus staffers were "closely involved" in the scheme. Evidence for this is even scanter than evidence Rehberg was drunk.

3. "the story originated from a Washington D.C. political magazine that Baucus's
current staff has frequent contact with." The magazine was Rollcall. The list of Washington politicians who don't have frequent contact with Rollcall would be very short.

4. "the revelation of Baucus's involvement could have serious repercussions on the elections this November." Even if that revelation ever surfaces, this proposition sounds like wishful thinking. Baucus isn't even up for re-election. Are people going to vote for Brown or Rehberg because they don't trust Baucus? Or Ream? Does not compute.

5. The rest of the news release is itself a smear. So the Republicans make unsupported allegations that Baucus is to blame for unsupported allegations, then use those allegations as a basis for smearing Baucus and the entire Democratic Party. Now that's politics.
I'm still trying to sort through reading materials for my freshman comp class at Rocky this fall. Lately, I've been rereading George Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London" -- a terrific read, by the way, by an author who is best known for what is not nearly his best work. Orwell describes the world as it existed before governments erected social safety nets. In that world, people who can't get work because they are sick or injured or crazy just slowly starve. It's no surprise that no country that ever gets past that stage ever votes to go back.

Which leaves me thinking that even the most dedicated free-market conservatives don't really want that sort of world again. We're all liberals; we just disagree on the price.
Jay Rosen has another great, but long, piece on media bias (with more than 200 comments and counting).

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

City Lights solicits comments about German attitudes and knowledge about America. I'm no expert, but I did spend a couple of years in Germany and I read a fair amount of German press coverage both immediately following 9-11 and following the start of the Iraq war.

I'm clearly in the camp that says Germans know us better than we know them, although I also agree with some of the commenters that Germans are more ignorant of us than we might imagine. It seems credible that a lot of Germans wouldn't recognize Montana -- but I never met one who hadn't heard of Texas.

One thing about Germany is that the gap between the educated classes and ordinary folks is greater than it is here. Far fewer Germans go to college, and many are directed into technical or vocational classes after a few years of elementary school. Many more Americans fall into the categories some of the commenters describe: a few years of college, a year or two here and there of a foreign language, some overseas travel. So we pick up bits and pieces of what many Germans never really experience at all.

Still, the German press routinely reports about American politics and entertainment in great detail. The reverse isn't true. And Germans are, of course, much more likely to speak English than we are German.

The e-mailer who was mad at Germans ought to have read some of the post-9-11 coverage. The German papers not only treated it as a huge story, the coverage was overwhelmingly supportive and sympathetic. "We're all Americans now" was a common theme.

The contrast with the Iraq War coverage was startling. The German press clearly saw it as a huge mistake and criticized Bush constantly. We weren't all Americans anymore. I encountered some sentiment that Germans shouldn't help America get out of the mess it had placed itself in.

Is it fair to blame, as the City Lights' e-mailer does, this huge change in attitude solely on Germans? I don't think so. If any country in the last century has learned a lesson about the danger of getting into wars you haven't thought through carefully, it's Germany. Sometimes, friends don't let friends start wars.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

The letter here (scroll down to "Corporate influences undermine voters' trust") contains a certain irony. The writer remembers Reagan as the type of president Americans could once trust, but doesn't seem to recall that the path to today's manufactured presidency was paved during the Reagan era. All the hallmarks of the modern presidency -- limited press conferences, staged photo ops, staying on the single message of the day -- were either initiated or perfected during the Reagan presidency. Not to mention the Iran-contra affair, one of the most sweeping instances in history of an administration lying to its constituents.

The last president who truly tried to be the people's president was, for all his faults, Jimmy Carter. Remember him walking to the White House on inauguration day, the cardigan sweaters, the fireside chats (with no actual fire)? Even the infamous "malaise" speech was a failed attempt to connect to Americans at a personal level, like a preacher exhorting the congregation as the sermon winds down. Carter's attempts to humanize the presidency probably helped get him elected, and probably helped get him defeated, and nobody since then has had the courage to try to govern that way.

Ever since Carter, the presidency has been just another p.r. job.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

My column about The Outpost's recent successes, and its draconian personnel policies, is up.
Has anybody noticed that Bob Brown's proposed clean campaign pledge doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense?

As reported in the GOP E-brief, the pledge reads:

"On television, radio ads, newspaper ads, direct mail, and in phone calls all parties agree not to criticize, attack, condemn or characterize in any way any of their opponents in the 2004 election. Instead, all candidates agree to only use paid communication to highlight their own views on the issues of importance to Montana voters. Issues associated with governing the state of Montana ought to be the focus of this campaign.

"Should any party break the pledge the other party shall be released from the conditions of the pledge."

As I read this, Brown would violate the pledge if he said, "Brian Schweitzer is a fine fellow, and I think he would make an excellent governor." Wouldn't that statement violate the "characterize in any way" provision of the pledge?

Then there's the misplaced "only." As I read the pledge, candidates agree not to say anything about issues of importance unless they are paying to say it. If the pledge said what I suspect Brown meant to say, the "only" would have gone after "communication."

Schweitzer's version makes more sense, but I can't say that I like it much better. I don't think much of clean campaign pledges. They always have a provision canceling the agreement if either party violates it, so all a pledge really means is that the candidates agree to run a clean campaign for as long as they run a clean campaign.

If candidates want to pledge a clean campaign, they should pledge it to themselves, as a matter of conscience; or to God, as a matter of morality; or to the voters, as a matter of honor. The one person to whom no pledge is owed is the opponent.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

I wear my cynicism like a cheap coat, so patriotic stirrings are rare. Last week I had two patriotic impulses, and neither was Reagan-related.

The first was familiar and came as I walked out of American Lutheran Church after voting. Happens every time. I always get this vague good feeling about myself and my country and the whole world every time I vote. It's such a good, cheap high that it amazes me that most people don't bother.

The second came as I sat through plank committee meetings at the Democratic convention. I know politics is corrupt and tainted by money and ultimately run by the big boys. But there's something about that grassroots effort, citizens working out their political philosophy with each other, with everybody welcome and everybody getting a chance to speak -- well, it just got to me.

Damn, I love this country.
Pulled an all-nighter getting out the Classified section yesterday and today. No big deal there, but it was the second all-nighter of the week -- and it's only Wednesday. I was at the office for 25 hours straight starting early Sunday morning after covering the Democratic convention most of Friday and Saturday.

And I feel pretty good. My goal is by September to have gotten over this sleep thing altogether. Then I can create my "Sleep is for losers" bumper sticker. Every entrepreneur will want one.
In a comment below, Ed Kemmick wonders why I bother to respond to some of the more idiotic blogger attacks on "mainstream media." It's a good question, especially since I'm not even part of mainstream media, and especially since I quit the mainstream media in part because of the same complaints bloggers have.

Some of it is sheer laziness. Since I keep my own hours, and work a lot of them, I'm always looking for excuses to do things that are vaguely work-related without requiring much actual work. What would you rather do, edit your eighth obit of the day or sound off on some unsuspecting bloggers' website?

Some of it is sheer frustration. I didn't want to educate Mr. Porretto, I wanted to spank him. I know lots of good, honest journalists who have devoted their lives to high-quality, fair reporting and writing. To see some jerk put them down just sets me off sometimes. Maybe if I hadn't devoted so much of my own life to this business, and if I got paid better for it, I wouldn't mind so much.

Still, Ed's right. It's not my job to defend the New York Times. It's a poor use of my time, and it doesn't help the Times. But even as I was thinking that very thought after reading Ed's comment yesterday, I was already firing off another round of comments on yet another website. I'm a hopeless case.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I have at last achieved some notoriety in the blogosphere. Francis W. Porretto has banned me from his blog.

My offense? I was guilty of the rather pedestrian observation that it was dishonest of him to willfully mischaracterize the New York Times obituary of Ronald Reagan as an "undisguised hit piece," then to use that mischaracterization as the basis of an attack on the integrity of the reporter who wrote the obit and on the journalistic profession in general. As it turns out, Mr. Porretto's blog tolerates attacks on the integrity of others but not on his own integrity. That's his prerogative, but isn't it the sort of policy that, if it were adopted by the mainstream media, would be assaulted in the blogosphere as -- dare I say the word? -- arrogant?

Note to Mr. Porretto: To bone up on the meaning of "undisguised hit piece," read this column by Christopher Hitchens. No Mafia hit man ever pulled off a neater job. Mr. Hitchens is unfair and intemperate -- and possibly not even sober; on the one occasion when I heard him speak, he acknowledged that he had fortified himself with a drink or two too many before facing a presumably hostile Texas A&M audience.

But unlike Mr. Porretto, Mr. Hitchens retains his integrity. Not only does he back his accusations with facts and examples (something Mr. Porretto doesn't deign to do) but he willingly battles the aspersions on his integrity that inevitably follow such a piece. On MSNBC, Mr. Hitchens' unrestrained attack on Reagan reduced Joe Scarborough and Ken Adelman to sputtering rage, demonstrating that even a week of national mourning can be relieved by moments of unintentional hilarity.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Democracy in Idaho is officially dead.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Friday is Ronald Reagan Day in Montana, Gov. Judy Martz has proclaimed. So party hearty.

"The passing of President Reagan marks the end of great era in American
history," Gov. Martz stated. "President Reagan made whole an America
that had been fractured by war, Watergate, and economic downturn. He wanted
America to thrive. His eternal optimism and courageous leadership created
hope and promise in a nation that had gone too long without encouragement."

Maybe my memory's going the way of Reagan's, but I don't recall 1980 as such a grim time. 1972 was worse. 1968 was definitely worse. Even 1964 was worse.

1980? We had inflation, of course. And Carter made his infamous "malaise" speech. But the speech didn't prove that malaise existed; in fact, the voters' rejection of Carter demonstrated that they weren't buying that kind of talk. I always took the whole "Morning in America" spiel as just campaign blabber. Maybe I missed it.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Nearly everybody I talked to about the Lee Enterprises poll that showed the Republican gubernatorial primary in a dead heat just a couple of weeks before the election was skeptical. Virtually without exception, people said:

1. Bob Brown would do better than the poll showed.

2. Ken Miller would do better than the poll showed.

3. Pat Davison would do worse than the poll showed.

Guess what? Conventional wisdom was right on all three counts. Of course, none of that proves the poll was wrong. Sentiments can change rapidly right before an election, especially one as negative as this one was. Next time, though, I will pay closer attention to conventional wisdom and less to the polls.

The defeat of the Cobb Field and Heights pool proposals raises this question: Is there any proposal that could pass in this town right now?

Tuesday night's vote was only the latest in a string of bond issue defeats. A new high school was beaten down. Voters rejected a new library. They turned down a cultural mill levy. But there were problems with each of those proposals.

The school district was hurt by the plan to build on the West End, as well as by internal dissension and aftereffects of the stike. The library, I'm convinced, was a worthy proposal, but it wasn't obviously worthy without a fair amount of study, and most people won't study. The cultural mill levy probably looked too much like socialism for this town.

But the baseball bond issue seemed to have everything going for it. Even the proposal's strongest critics seeemed to agree that something had to be done. Bond supporters raised better than $100,000 and spent it wisely. They lined up lots of support from business and nonprofits. They tried to answer every question anybody raised. But again the voters said no.

Here's my question: Did the bond supporters make some simple error that doomed this proposal? Or have we reached a point in Billings where nothing outside of a sewer or a city street will ever get built unless a philanthropist or private enterprise builds it?

If the latter is true, then I fear we are on our way to destroying the system that built 20th century America.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Got back late yesterday from the Butte Press Club's annual meeting. More on that later, but I've got to get a paper out today.
Will Pat Davison ever learn how to run a political campaign? Perhaps, but not in time for this election. His news release on Saturday noting the passing of Ronald Reagan misspelled the former president's name -- three times.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

This letter arrived too late to make The Outpost before the election, but it's worth a read:

Just read the "Cobb Field Strikes Out" article [Outpost, May 27]. It brought up a number of "whys" for me also.

Why is it when the city needs something, we can't get what we need, without it being a monument to someone's ego?

We need a better ball park! No question about that. The Mustangs, Scarlets, Royals, fans and yes the city deserve something better.
Why can't we have a new ball park, in the same configuration as we currently have, and not move all the major lighting? Tom Llewlyn made a good point.

Why do we have to have a field eight feet deeper, unless it is to accommodate the underground batting cage? That might be OK if additional seating goes down another eight feet, but expecting people to sit on a grassy hillside, in our Montana sun and/or "rain", come on get real! The stampede to cover will be worse than it currently is.
And why stop with only 4000 "real live" seats. I have seen Downtown Billings Night, and other special nights exceed 4000 many times over the years.
If there are skyboxes, why not have them be part of a roof, or cover, that can extend over the majority of the seats behind home plate like it now does?

Do you think the neighbors are going to like the diagonal (and dangerous if I might add) parking? What do you gain? Two or three spaces on one side of a block?
This also, in essence, makes the diagonal parking street a "One Way Street."
Did anyone consider that the number of vehicles probably will be multiplied with the splash park families in addition to the ball game fans. Will they shut down the splash park during games like they now close the pool? Just picture the number of vehicles backing into traffic after a game. You think there is traffic problems now? Just wait.

Speaking of parking. Why does the parking have to be in the back of the outfield instead of closer to the ticket booths and front gate? It will be almost a "two block walk" from the center of the proposed parking area, as illustrated, to the ticket booth and front gate. Why not take a note from the Metra handicapped parking and ticket booths? With the field in the same approximate position, and if the splash park was on the Northwest corner, the parking could be where it is now and extend up N. 27th Street for one-quarter to one-half block. Why not make it as easy as possible for your customers to do business with you? We "seasoned citizens" would appreciate a little consideration in the parking. Most of us don't have the young legs and/or the wind that young survey takers and planners of ball parks have.

The "plaza" looks nice, but serves little or no useful purpose. Are trees mandatory? Put them in some parking dividers and let the rest of the area be for vehicles.

I agree, the new ball park idea is great. I also agree, the proposed plan, as advertised, needs work.

Mustangs start June 18. Lets all go out to the ball game.

Harold Kelso

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

In the weekly Montana Green Party Bulletin, Paul Stephens is upset about a Lee Newspapers poll that asked opinions on a Schweitzer vs. Brown and Schweitzer vs. Davison gubernatorial matchup but not on a Vincent vs. Brown or Davison matchup.

He writes:

"Like all polls based on commercial media "spin" and advertising, it is necessary that the polls reflect the amount of money spent on advertising. Because Schweitzer has raised and is spending about 20 times what Vincent has, he is clearly the "frontrunner" and must win the primary election. If he didn't, and wasn't portrayed in this light, why would any candidate want to pay the same commercial media which commissions and publicizes the polls?

"So it is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. And the media can make sure it happens by not even considering how the better Democrat might do against the Republicans. For all we know, Vincent might beat both Republicans by a larger margin than Schweitzer. And we have no idea what will happen when
the Republicans start in on Schweitzer's career in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that he has made a fortune, indirectly, from the same oil imperialism which is killing American soldiers on a daily basis. He might end up with 20% of the vote, whereas Vincent, probably the best-prepared governor
candidate we have ever had, would easily win against any Republican if people knew who he is and what he stands for. But the corporate media will heavily bias their coverage of his campaign for the simple reason that he isn't paying them enough to help their bottom line."

I'm not quite sure how this meshes with the Gazette's endorsement of Vincent.
What should the tax rate on rich people be during time of war? Would you believe 100 percent?
Still trying to decide who should be governor? Here's your instant voters' guide:

You should vote for Bob Brown if you think government should be run by people who have devoted their lives to it.

You should vote for Pat Davison if you think the absolute worst thing that anybody could ever do to you is raise your taxes.

You should vote for Ken Miller if you think that governors should look as much like Abraham Lincoln as possible.

You should vote for John Vincent if you think Democrats have had the right answers all along.

You should vote for Brian Schweitzer if think the second-best choice for governor is a Republican.

You should vote for Tom Keating if you think that 19th-century solutions will solve 21st-century problems.

You should vote for Stan Jones if you think that libertarian ideology trumps competence and experience.

You should vote for Bob Kelleher if you think the Revolutionary War was a bad idea.
This commentary on the new Pew Research Center poll on journalists is well worth reading. The discussion I've read in the blogosphere (for example, here) has nearly all focused on the liberal vs. conservative aspects of the poll. The blogosphere's fascination with this feature of mainstream journalism continues to astonish me. The poll covers vital issues with broad implications for the health of American democracy: the extent to which the media are influenced by bottom-line pressures, concerns over quality, concerns over the relationship between journalists and readers, the general sense that journalism is headed in the wrong direction. Yet all anybody wants to talk about is the liberal vs. conservative divide. I don't get it.

I suspect the public's growing distrust of journalists also influences journalists' growing distrust of the public. If the public thinks I'm corrupt and incompetent, and I know I'm not, then the public has no clue, does it? It becomes a self-reinforcing -- and widening -- divide.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The highlight of my Memorial Day was watching the national lacrosse championship game on ESPN. Syracuse held off Navy, 14-13, in what was the most thrilling sports event I have seen in years. Even my wife got caught up in it, and, trust me, that almost never happens.

Since it was Memorial Day, I think everybody was sort of rooting for Navy, which had a Cinderella year and had several players preparing for active duty practically as soon as the game ended. A half-time feature showed a former player who lost both legs in the war. But Syracuse was a worthy champion, with a proud lacrosse history and one of the best players in the business in Mike Powell.

What amazed me was that the game drew 44,000 people (mostly Navy fans) to the Baltimore Ravens stadium. 44,000! I always thought I could be a lacrosse fan if I got the chance, but I have rarely even seen a game, much less had a chance to play. It's a sport with the contact of rugby, the teamwork of basketball, the speed (almost) of hockey and the grace of throwing and catching that distinguishes baseball. And it's an authentic American game. You can't beat it.

In response to comments to the post below:

Craig, Ayn Rand is indeed tempting but, as you indicate, probably too much to take on, both for the class and for me. Thanks for the suggestion.

Eric, Thurber is wonderful but probably doesn't fit. He did, however, have one of my all-time favorite lines about the working life: "There is, of course, a certain amount of drudgery in newspaper work, just as there is in teaching classes, tunnelling into a bank, or being President of the United States. I suppose that even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on." Perhaps "The Catbird Seat" would work?

JR, I have operated my own business for seven years. Contempt? No way. But I do think a certain contempt for business runs through the literary crowd -- probably because writers are so often underpaid. As my post indicated, I would welcome suggestions on material that gives a more positive view. Got any?