Sunday, January 18, 2004

Can we do it right this time?
Ever since the conservative strategy makers discovered how effective demonizing the liberal media was for rallying the faithful and extracting concessions from that same liberal media, news junkies and amateur politicos of both sides have spent more and more of their time analyzing news coverage for signs of bias against their position. Of course, during those same years the now famous American cultural trait of regarding victimhood as a highly desired status was developing. Whatever it’s origins, the art of hunting for media hostility has reached its fullest flower here in the blogosphere. To be aware of authorial bias and agendas is a sign of a sophisticated reader or viewer and Americans as a whole have become very sophisticated readers and viewers. And keeping the pressure on our major information sources keeps them honest (though in most cases laziness and gullibility are bigger problems than genuine dishonesty).

With that in mind and with the full knowledge that my request will have no effect at all, I’m going to ask that we all lighten up a little. Too often our media watching comes across as a childish game of gotcha. This is going to be a long emotional year for most of us; we need to conserve our strength and focus our energy where it will have the best results.

Writing to editors, producers, and owners over every tiny issue of nuance, interpretation, and detail produces bad results. We create so much white noise that the really serious complaints of misrepresentation and partisanship are lost in the shuffle. We make ourselves too easy to dismiss as “mere” bloggers.

Starting at the top produces bad results. When Michael Savage was on MSNBC many bloggers went right after Bill Gates. Gates was not Savage’s producer. He was not the program director of MSNBC or the president of MSNBC. He was the primary stockholder in one of the parent companies of MSNBC. Do we really want the stockholders of media companies dictating programming? Trust me, had he reacted, we would not have been happy with the precedent.

Complaining to the powers that be at Fox is a waste of time. They want to offend us.

On the other hand, biding our time, collecting our facts, and choosing our battles will produce the best results. If we organize our massive responses, that are respectful, well thought out, focused on facts rather than opinions, and directed toward outlets that really do want to do more than preach to the right-wing choir, we can have a real effect on the way news is reported.

Blogging has the potential to add something new and valuable to the way news is disseminated and interpreted. It also has the potential to become just another pointless source of noise in our lives. Remember, TV was originally hailed as a great educational tool. The way Kos and others are going into the guts of the nominating process is the best way to use this new tool. Filling comment strings, regardless of the original topic, with whines of “I want to talk about how the media is misrepresenting my candidate” is the wrong way to use it. Bring the best blogging voices together the way group blos like American Street do is the best way to use it. Laying siege to the New York Times over every Maureen Dowd opinion piece is the wrong way to use it.

This is not to say that hard political news is the only legitimate use of blogging. Gossip, community building, satire, stupid criminal stories, and science trivia also have a place in the blogosphere (and in archy). I’m just feeling cranky about some of the wasted political energy that I see. I’d rather see that energy focused on the most efficient action to make George Bush unemployed a year from Tuesday.

Update: Corrected wrong first name for Savage and some sloppy punctuation.

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