Blogging Founding Fathers and "Objective" Journalism
A great passage from Von Drehle's magazine article on political bloggers:
The fact is, Americans have always loved to argue. For every adventurer and striver who settled the New World there was a disputant and a critic. The entire expanse of Europe was not large enough to contain the dissenting spirit of William Bradford and his band of Mayflower pilgrims. Better to crowd into a leaky wooden boat, brave the Atlantic and scratch a living from the frozen, rocky wilderness than to stifle their disagreements with the Church of England. And no sooner had they built Plymouth Plantation but they were arguing among themselves. By 1624, just four years after stepping onto its famous rock, the little colony was riven by "private meetings and whisperings" and "a spirit of great malignancy," according to Bradford's history of those years.
Vintage Von Drehle. I also like his notion that the Federalist Papers were one of the first American blogs -- complete with pseudonyms.
His article is simultaneously about blogs and the polarized political environment in America. Blogs obviously have a way of contributing to that polarization, as the Left Blogosphere and the Right Blogosphere function as distinct echo chambers. But DVD argues persuasively that political disputation (disputatiousness?) is endemic to the republic; the technological anomaly is not Blogworld, but the "mainstream" news media, shaped by network mandarins in the mid-20th century.
I want to put in a good word, however, for mainstream, objective journalism, which lately has been getting bashed from every direction, and which has done a pretty good job of undermining itself with fabrications and scandals and getting things wrong and missing the big stories and getting used by political hacks and not having good hygiene and so on. Surely there is still a place in American society for journalists who try to present the facts as best as they can be ascertained, and let the readers and viewers make up their own minds. Crazy as that sounds.
The two bloggers in the DVD story strike me as intellectually rigid, mere spouters of dogma, and with every utterance provide a vivid reminder of why so many blogs are a drag. Political blogs too often are mires of political fundamentalism. A fundamentalist, whether political or religious, has a hard time being a good storyteller, because every story ends the same. You know how it's going to turn out! Look at all that Karl Rove stuff from the Right and the Left: The analysis of his actions precisely tracks the pre-existing political bias. [Except when I write about Rove, in which case you learn amazing stuff, like the fact that he was once in the cast of Spanky and Our Gang.]
Obviously no human being on the planet is truly objective about anything. We all have opinions, biases, and, in my case, grudges that will not be satisfied until my enemies suffer Eternal Damnation. But if your goal is to get it right and be fair -- noble aspirations -- you have to be open to potential falsification of your views. A journalist ought to view his or her opinions as potential agents of misperception. Journalism isn't an exact science, but like scientists, journalists have to be careful that they don't see only those things they want to see or expect to see. You know the saying: "Believing is Seeing."
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