Saturday, July 31, 2004

Blogging Democrats

Now that the convention is over, I finally got around to noticing that the Montana delegation had its own blog at the Democratic Convention.

Blogging the convention

Here's another pretty negative view of how bloggers covered the convention. An underlying current appears to be that blogging is mostly writing about yourself while journalism is mostly writing about other people.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Blog blah

Charles Cooper doesn't think much of how bloggers covered the Democratic convention. I wouldn't know. So far as I'm concerned, since the invention of C-SPAN, I would never want to watch a convention any other way.

Tet tut

City Lights comments on Rob Natelson's assessment in this week's Outpost of media coverage of the Tet Offensive during the Vietnam. Interesting he should bring that up, since Rob and I have had a fairly long exchange of e-mails on that very topic this week.

To sum up, Rob essentially argues that Tet was a huge setback for North Vietnam. Tactically, the North attained some of its geographic objectives but was unable to hold them. Strategically, the offensive nearly destroyed the guerrilla forces in the South and failed to ignite a revolution against the Americans. U.S. media deliberately distorted the results of the offensive because they had their own cynical agenda and were tired of the war.

I agree with him that coverage at the time wasn't all it could have been, but there were understandable reasons for that. It's pretty hard to hit the ground running covering a massive, wide-ranging assault when you've mostly been following small guerrilla operations and the occasional Khe Sanh siege. It's also true, I think, that the coverage never caught up with the reality of the battle, but there also were good reasons for that. For one thing, the Pentagon's credibility had been pretty well spent earlier in the war. For another, so much began happening on the home front -- mass protests, assassinations, LBJ's withdrawal -- that the followup to Tet got eclipsed.

To me it seems, although I admit I don't have the data to prove it, that media coverage was generally more conservative than public attitudes, and that rather than shape public opinion the media largely lagged behind in reacting to it. Furthermore, while Tet may have failed in conventional military terms, there was nothing conventional about that war. Of all the hard lessons that war taught us, Tet taught us the hardest: No matter how much of an edge one side in a war may have in wealth, logistics and military technology, the side that is willing to pay the heaviest price usually wins. North Vietnam could lose tens of thousands of soldiers and just keep coming. We lost our stomach for it.

But my biggest disagreement with Rob was over his notion that media coverage is much better now than then. This morning, I wrote this response: I wish I could be as sanguine about the breakup of the [media] oligarchy as you are. During the Vietnam War we had three major networks, all of which had greater news resources then than now. I think their reporters would tell you that all those news operations were more independent of corporate concerns then than now, too.

Now we have four networks, but Fox doesn't do news outside of its all-news channel. Of the three all-news channels, one is owned by Rupert Murdoch, one of the biggest oligarchs of them all; one is owned by Time Warner; and one by Microsoft and NBC. This is hardly the burgeoning of independent media.

The situation among newspapers is even worse. Almost across the board, newspapers have scaled back coverage, especially foreign coverage, since Vietnam. While a few new players have arisen -- USA Today, most prominently -- others have died off, including major dailies in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Where multiple dailies survive in the same city, they mostly do so through joint operating agreements.

Of course, there's the internet, but it still provides little original reporting. It does provide access to major foreign news outlets, and that has been extremely valuable. This isn't coverage that didn't exist before, but it is coverage that few Americans got to see.

For my money, talk radio adds almost nothing to the debate. Limbaugh hasn't had a fresh idea in 10 years. Hannity parrots the Republican line. O'Reilly is articulate and nonpartisan, but he's also a bit of a bully and tends to obsess on social issues. Michael Reagan can't get over his childhood. Savage is a wacko. Roth is unlistenable. I would trade the whole batch for one good episode of "Firing Line."

At the same time, the Pentagon has become far more effective at controlling war coverage. While there was good stuff about the Iraq War in newspapers, TV coverage struck me as almost universally prettified. Even the easiest wars are ugly affairs, but very little of that made its way to American viewers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Reader responds

I should have posted this a couple of days ago, but I was busy publishing a newspaper. David Merriman responds to a post below:

I see I need to elaborate :-)

My original comment was (in part) " ... I wonder how much of the
contempt bloggers have toward journalists is because of the _unadmitted_
bias those journalists have, versus the open (even 'in-your-face')
partisanship of bloggers."

I don't propose that ALL journalists have the unadmitted biases I
referred to; but I would hope that you would concede that there are some
who do. Further, I would also hope that you would admit that even in the
most 'enlightened' news outlet (print or broadcast) there is
likely to be a corporate culture that would prefer to see any
given news item in a particular way (glass half full/empty); futher,
that any reporter working for such an organization is - in all
probablility - going to comply with those preferences.
My question, then, was how much of the output of the reporters that
wholeheartedly 'bias' their reports to meet their companies demands
(without understanding what it is they're doing to the profession and
SPIRIT of journalism) are the target of blogger disdain? Who is more
worthy of respect: the person that stands up and says what he thinks
whether you like it or not, or the one that suppresses their own opinion
for fear of 'offending' someone? Yes, I know that reporters have to keep
their jobs by only writing stories that meet their editorial staff's
expectations - and therein lies the problem. No, the blogger doesn't
have as much at stake as the reporter; but then, the blogger probably
doesn't have as much potential influence, either.
As for the rest of the chain from writing to delivery, I would submit
that it is primarily the author and editor that must bear the burden of
any biases - those 'higher up' daren't go TOO far for fear of losing
market, those lower down simply don't have the horsepower to have much
of an effect.
Finally, I'd suggest that the bloggers that kick up the most fuss about
journalists are a relatively small minority; I think that most of us
recognize and understand the constraints that the majority of maintsteam
journalists must work under, and respect their efforts. I, for one,
wouldn't be a reporter in Baghdad right now for ANY amount of money - no
matter what the organization was!

My response to his response: There's more going on here than I have time to deal with in detail. Let me just say this: I think many bloggers would be surprised to discover how little pressure there is on reporters to slant stories in any particular way. Everybody knows a horror story or two, but those stories are horrible precisely because they are rare.

What does happen in modern corporate journalism is that it rewards people who think and act in certain ways. Those ways aren't necessarily, or even usually, liberal. Corporate climbers tend to be cautious, circumspect, sensitive to business concerns, and never too far outside the mainstream. Again, this is all fairly subtle. Malcontents can survive for a pretty long time in corporate journalism; they just tend not to get promoted, which is fine with some reporters.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Full disclosure

In a comment below, David Merriman wonders whether bloggers' contempt for journalists arises from jouralists' failure to acknowledge their biases. That's a common theme in the blogosphere, but I have never heard anyone suggest exactly what journalists should do about it. Most blogs are a one-person show; most newspapers are the result of the work of dozens or hundreds of people.

Maybe some sort of detailed disclaimer could be attached to every story, say, for instance, on an Iraq story: This story was written by a reporter who favored the war in Afghanistan but believes the war in Iraq was unjustified and poorly planned. It is accompanied by photographs from a photographer who opposes the war but hopes it lasts long enough to win him a Pulitzer Prize. It was edited by the city editor, a libertarian who supports the war but doesn't think tax dollars should be used to pay for it. Final editing was by a copy editor who has voted for Democrats in every election since 1960. The headline was written by a news editor who never votes and thinks both parties serve a political system that is fundamentally corrupt. Final responsibility for the placement and editing of the story was in the hands of the managing editor, who never read it because he spent all day in budget meetings. He works for an executive editor who is sympathetic toward moderate Democrats but tries to conceal that from his boss, the publisher, who is a conservative Republican and serves on the board of the Chamber of Commerce. She in turn answers to a chief executive officer and a board of directors who live in another state and don't give a damn what's in the paper, so long as it generates more profits this quarter than last. Finally, the paper was delivered to your doorstep by a carrier who favors the war so long as he doesn't have to fight it.

Would a disclaimer like that satisfy the bloggers? Or perhaps some more generic disclaimer would do: This newspaper was written and edited by journalists who have been trained to observe the world objectively and without bias but whose ability to do so may have been compromised by their professional and personal experiences and their human shortcomings. It is published by an unthinking, heartless corporation that would just as soon be manufacturing crack cocaine if it thought that would make more money.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Sad cow

Wait until PETA gets ahold of this.


When is a fire not a fire? When it's a fish stick.


Paul Stephens of the Montana Green Party seems to be working up the most readable candidate platform I have ever seen. Scroll down to Sex and Drug Workers Protection Act to get started. But don't scroll too fast; he has interesting comments on Martha Stewart along the way.

Montana blogger

Maybe I'm the last guy to notice this, but David Merriman has started a blog.

Are bloggers journalists?

I was glad to see that The Billings Gazette reprinted Alex Jones' piece in the Los Angeles Times about blogging vs. journalism. The column isn't on the Gazette website, apparently, but you can work your way to it by starting with Jay Rosen's excellent discussion.

Just two observations:
1. The blogging world bubbles over with contempt for conventional journalism, routinely challenging reporters' competence, integrity and even patriotism. But when a journalist mildly fires back, some bloggers go nuts.

2. Bloggers often mistake contempt from mainstream reporters for the last gasps of a dying, obsolete and elitist breed. Some of that may be fair, but there's at least one other reason for it. Reporters as a species always have carried around buckets of contempt for those who sit around critiquing the work of others instead of burning shoe leather and phone lines: editorial page editors, the copy desk, bureaucrats, academics, thumb-sucking think-piece writers of all sorts. It's a working-class mentality that dates back to the days when reporters were hired off the street and changed jobs as often as they emptied the fifths of whiskey in their desks. To working reporters, most bloggers are just parasites riding on the backs of those who do the real work. Until more real reporting goes on in the blogosphere, that attitude probably won't change.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Dear God

Here's one way to keep up the troops' morale.

Power of protest

This is nicely said, even if a bit too optimistic, and relevant to some of the discussion below.

Abe Lincoln, trial lawyer

The Montana GOP E-Brief says "a lot of Montanans just aren’t comfortable with Trial Lawyers running the state," which is true, but it set me wondering why no Republicans have disowned the party's greatest trial lawyer, Abe Lincoln. That set me off wandering until I found this, which is Lincoln on the Mexican War (spelling and punctuation from the original):

Again, it is a singular omission in this message, that it, no where intimates when the President expects the war to terminate. At it's beginning, Genl. Scott was, by this same President, driven into disfavor, if not disgrace, for intimating that peace could not be conquered in less than three or four months. But now, at the end of about twenty months, during which time our arms have given us the most splendid successes--every department, and every part, land and water, officers and privates, regulars and volunteers, doing all that men could do, and hundreds of things which it had ever before been thought men could not do,--after all this, this same President gives us a long message, without showing us, that, as to the end, he himself, has, even an imaginary conception. As I have before said, he knows not where he is. He is a bewildered, confounded, and miserably perplexed man. God grant he may be able to show, there is not something about his conscious, more painful than all his mental perplexity!"

"The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln," Volume 1, Edited by Roy P. Basler, Rutgers University Presss, New Brunswich, New Jersey, 1953, pages 431-42

The man was not only a lawyer but a traitor!

Brown out

Jan Falstad wrote a great story about NorthWestern Energy bonuses today, and Republican governor candidate Bob Brown already has latched onto it, saying he was "angered and astounded" by the bonuses.

His news release goes on, "Brown said the Northwestern situation is just another unintended consequence of deregulation, which Brian Schweitzer's running mate, then-Rep. John Bohlinger, voted for as a member of the Legislature in 1997."

Neither Brown nor his running mate, Dave Lewis, was in the Legislature then. Now he is asking us to believe that he would have been the voice of courage and conscience standing up against the forces of dereg, if only he had been there. OK, Bob, we're trying.

Hot sauce

The more you read of this, the funnier it gets.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Response here

Mtpolitics has a long response to the post below, but I am having a bit of trouble getting a handle on it. He seems to think I said some things that I didn't say, and he responds with hypothetical examples that aren't strictly on point.

Let's begin with things on which we agree. We agree that this is not fundamentally a First Amendment issue. However, with respect to radio play, which Mtpolitics mentioned in his first post on this topic, I would make the same argument that I made about PETA's TV ads. When a broadcast outlet operating on publicly owned airwaves bans a performer for purely political reasons, then that action does have First Amendment implications and could appropriately be raised at a license renewal hearing.

Mtpolitics and I further agree that the owners of the Aladdin have the right to engage whatever performers they choose. The owners' actions in this case appears to have been excessive and foolish, but the owners have a right to be excessive and foolish.

We agree that people have a right to boycott. I have been boycotting Charmin toilet tissue for better than 30 years now, all because of those annoying Mr. Whipple ads. I listen to Rush Limbaugh occasionally, but I don't buy Snapple because Snapple tried to use Rush's celebrity status to sell its product. When you invite consumers to judge your product by the status of those who endorse it, then you have to live with all the implications of that endorsement.

Finally, we agree that words have consequences. My point was that punishing those who say words you disagree with also has consequences, and those consequences have dangerous implications for a political system that depends for its survival upon citizens who freely and frankly exchange political views.

So much for agreement. Mtpolitics' hypotheticals seem to miss the point, including the one in his first post that involved punching a performer in the nose. Physical assault is a crime, not a form of political expression. An employee who badgers customers would indeed be terminated, but that is strictly a job performance issue. I might conceivably abandon a mechanic who attempted unremittingly to impose his views on me, but it has never happened, and I suspect I will go to my grave without having experienced it. The country is at far greater risk from those who are afraid to express their political opinions than from those who refuse to stop.

Mtpolitics also dismisses my reference to the Dixie Chicks as a red herring because, after all, the effort to ruin their careers apparently has failed. That failure is good news, but it doesn't render the effort irrelevant.

The risk of losing advertisers because of my opinions is a risk I am willing to take. For evidence, guess how this affected our advertising relationship with the Billings Outlaws (actually, they were pretty good sports about it, once they cooled down). But in a world in which people are increasingly willing to use their power as consumers and advertisers to stamp out views with which they disagree, much more than my business is at risk.

The strangest part of this exchange has been the comment to Mtpolitics' website that dismissed my position as "leftist blather." If concerns about the health of democratic debate trouble only leftists, then let's hope there is no right wing in this country.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Freedom ain't free

Jackie Corr sends along this link about the perils of celebrity political activism. This sort of thing doesn't seem to bother mtpolitics, but it makes me nervous.

I would never argue that anybody should be forced to listen to any particular music, watch any movie or read any book (unless you are taking one of my classes). If you can't stand the Dixie Chicks, for whatever reason, fine.

Just remember that the whole concept of self rule is built around the principle that people who disagree on politics can still get along in everyday life. When I get my car repaired, I don't ask the mechanic his position on the war. When I buy a hamburger, I don't check first to see how the patty flipper voted on Cobb Field. None of my business, and it makes no difference.

Increasingly, however, it seems that people want to punish those they disagree with. People don't want to just criticize the Dixie Chicks' politics, they want to keep the Dixie Chicks from ever working again. That makes no sense to me.

If we're going to start choosing artists on the basis of their presidential politics, where does it end? Do I boycott Bob Dylan because he stole records from his friends when he was a kid? Hank Williams because he was a drunk? Frank Zappa because he gave his daughter a funny name?

I figure that if I am going to tolerate Ezra Pound and Leni Riefenstahl, which I do, then there really is no place to draw a line, so I don't.

Obviously, this is an issue with personal implications. I'm no artist, and certainly no celebrity, but as a newspaper publisher I know what it's like to lose business because you print something somebody doesn't like.

In one memorable case, an advertiser told us he wouldn't do business with The Outpost because we were too liberal. Our alert ad rep pointed out that he bought ads from The Gazette and asked if it wasn't too liberal for his tastes. It was, the advertiser said, but The Gazette is owned by an out-of-state corporation. He was willing to let the corporate drones off the hook, but he was determined to punish a local business he disagreed with.

It may not be easy to be a politically active celebrity these days, but it isn't easy being the little guy either.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

News loses

Daschle vs. Thune has thoughts on the status of monopoly news coverage in the Dakotas.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Fahrenheit heat

Ed Kemmick is pretty tough on Fahrenheit 9/11. While what Ed says is right as far as it goes, the movie left me feeling much better than it apparently left him feeling.

Does anybody really think that the public debate over Iraq would be enhanced by additional facts? I've had about as many facts as I can stand. Moore could have made a judicious, balanced, factually rigorous film about Iraq - and 11 people would have seen it. He's a polemicist, not Frederick Wiseman. It made me feel good to see such a rank piece of propaganda getting full commercial film treatment. And I suspect Moore, perhaps despite himself, has done more to spark healthy public debate than any other American.

I was thinking about this topic anyway after again seeing "The Last Detail" on TV last night. This is a great movie, a gritty, blindingly realistic view of life as an enlisted man in the Navy. Dissing the military has fallen so badly out of style that when the movie ended, I wondered whether such a movie could be made today. "Fahrenheit 9/11" gives me hope that it could.

Saturday, July 17, 2004


Paul Whiting sends along this article, which supports my ongoing contention that conservatives and liberals are on the wrong sides on Iraq: Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.) gave a speech saying, 'The true conservative position, the traditional conservative position, is against this war.' He pointed out, 'It is very much against every conservative tradition to support preemptive war.'”

New blogger

Chuck Rightmire, a frequent commenter here and elsewhere, has started his own blog.

Brian's blog

The Montana GOP E-brief says that Brian Schweitzer's blog has been dropped from his website. I checked the site and found the blog, but it hasn't been updated since May 20 - which makes his posting record worse even than mine. Also, the blog doesn't appear to be linked to the home page.
The GOP's dubious interpretation is that Schweitzer couldn't take the heat in his comments section. My guess is that Schweitzer, like this editor, has trouble finding the time to keep up with it.


One reason I've been ignoring this blog is that I had to get my course syllabus nailed down for the English 119 course I'm teaching at Rocky this fall. Finally got that e-mailed off. All the readings I came up with (except one) are work related:
1. Bartleby the Scrivener, Herman Melville.
2. Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell.
3. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, Barbara Ehrenreich.
4. Working, Studs Terkel.
I'm also having them read a long article from Harper's magazine by David Foster Wallace on prescriptivist vs. descriptivist language. It's a bit dense, but well thought out and pretty darn funny, too.

Back up

I installed Site Meter here for a while, and it stopped the page from scrolling -- a definite defect in a blog. I think it's fixed now.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Alabaster cities

Finally got around to reading the Missoula Independent's roundup of Montana cities that have adopted resolutions opposing the Patriot Act. Made me wonder why the issue hasn't come before the Billings City Council.

Silly question, I suppose.

Fair's fair

Every time I blog about not blogging (see below) I get the urge to blog. Can't pass up pointing to this article, which makes an argument that I have been making for several years: Computer hackers ought to be executed. Not all of them - just a few, to provide instructive examples to the rest.

Capital punishment is largely wasted on murderers, who as a class value life less than most people and who often act out of short-term motivations that aren't easily deterred by the prospect of distant and uncertain punishment. But hackers -- a couple of executions there would really get their attention. And be good for the economy, too.

Blogging lag

Sorry about the lack of blogging. I'm just way, way too busy these days, and it's going to get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, if you aren't totally burned out on Wal-Mart stories, you can find interesting ones here, here and here.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

I'm having trouble generating any sympathy for Greyhound's declining ridership. I haven't ridden a bus in a couple of decades and hope to hold out for a couple more. Three incidents drove me to the decision.

1. My brother was looking for a bus schedule from Memphis, Tenn., to Victoria, Texas, and called Greyhound. The attendant read off the itinerary: "... Leave Nacogdoches, 11:40; arrive Houston, 11:45 ... ."

Wait a minute, my brother said. It's 140 miles from Nacogdoches to Houston.

Oh, yeah, said the attendant, that can't be right. It's got a layover in Corrigan.

2. I visited my brother and rode the bus from Memphis to Nacogdoches. As we were pulling out of the Memphis station, the driver said, "Well, this bus never has been on time, and I guess it probably won't be today."

This elicited a good-natured chuckle from riders, except me. I had a tight connection in Jackson, Miss. Sure enough, we pulled into Jackson a couple of hours late, I missed the connection, and arrived home 24 hours late after spending a night roaming the streets of Shreveport, La.

3. When my daughter was a little tyke, my wife took her on a bus ride to East Texas to see the grandparents. This time the bus pulled into Waco with plenty of time to make the connection to Longview. Except for one thing: The bus to Longview left early. It was pulling out of the station just as their bus pulled in.

That's it, I said when I got the news. Never again. And that still holds.

Interesting comments over at the Outpost website on this week's PETA story. One comment that doesn't show up there is a letter to the editor from the Northern Plains Resource Council complaining that the story provided no rebuttal to the Center for Consumer Freedom's characterization of NPRC as an "East Coast propaganda machine."

That's probably a fair criticism. I included the remark in the story to give readers some perspective on where the Center for Consumer Freedom is coming from. Juxtaposing its views of PETA against the views of an organization familiar to many Outpost readers, I thought, would give a sense of its ideology and tactics. But I can see why NPRC would resent the comparison without further elaboration.

Friday, July 02, 2004

P.J. O'Rourke can't find any conservatives to argue with. But he says so hilariously.
The U.S. Senate is preparing to apologize to Indian tribes for, you know, trying to kill them off and stuff.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mtpolitics takes note of the news story about a Kalispell auto dealer complaining that Brian Schweitzer bought vehicles out of state. The dealer describes himself as a conservative Republican.

Time was, buying local was the theme of dependable Chamber of Commerce sermonizing. In recent years, supporting local businesses seems to have become a liberal issue -- for reasons I have never fathomed. If the governor candidates get into a "more local than you are" debate, then I'm all for it.
The Medienkritik distortion of German media comparisons between Abu Ghraib and Auschwitz is getting some well deserved attention.
Rob Natelson's complaint against the University of Montana law school is drawing some attention in the blogosphere. Also here.