Saturday, January 14, 2006

Cathy Young writes to alert me to her post taking issue with the American Thinker piece linked below, Under Clinton, NY Times called surveillance "a necessity" by William Tate. Young's fisking of the piece is here: Playing "gotcha" with the Grey Lady

Young believes the Tate piece is unfair to the MSM both in the way it characterizes MSM reaction to revalations about the Echelon program, and the for what it implies about what was known about Echelon compared to current NSA revelations.

Young makes some good points in a well-researched entry and you'd be well advised to take a look. While Cathy Young does a good job in showing that the Tate piece is at least a bit sloppy and a tad unfair to the Gray Lady, I think that the overall point remains -- MSM reaction and interest to similar revelations in previous administrations has been far more muted compared to the obsessive focus we're witnessing today. As part of her proof of media interest in the story, Young puts her Lexus/Nexus skills to work to list some of the major publications where Echelon revelations and concerns appeared, but frankly, this comes off more as a case of "lying with statistics" (not to imply that Young is lying, but you take the point...) than as reflecting the true degree of media interest in the case. Do you remember anything about this story from years back? I don't, not that I probably would have been overly concerned then, either, but I do not recall anything like the scandal du jour treatment current events are generating. The difference cannot be a difference in public concern that's driving the difference in coverage, since as I understand it, as has often occured with the various -- what would be the Bush equivalent of a "Bimbo Eruption"? -- under GWB, press interest seems once again to be in inverse proportion to public outrage.

While less was known about the details of Echelon at the time, that does not explain, given what was known and the concerns that were voiced (and reported on), why answers were not demanded and more pressure placed if they really believed the issue was an important one -- we've seen the MSM's ability to do this when they deem an issue important enough. Clinton Administration silence was met with movement on to the next issue, while Bush Administration candor has lead to scare and scandal-mongering. The fact that the New York Times piece in question appears in the Science and Technology section and was not bumped to the front page demonstrates how much attention the editors thought the Civil Liberties concerns voiced in the article were worth -- not much. We don't have to speculate where in the paper such revelations printed today would appear.

Anyway, go ahead and check out Cathy's essay. While the Tate piece appears to be on the sloppy side, I'm not sure that Young manages to defoliate it quite as well as she intended.

This brings me around to a tangent...a couple of things I wanted to mention about what has become the editorial standard on this blog. I generally eschew writing on the "philosophy of blogging" as I generally find it one of the most boring and narcissistic things a blogger can do, but maybe a few things do deserve to be said about it from time to time -- an FYI for visitors.

I often find items, or am sent links to items, that are on the surface very much on-topic and linkable for this blog. Sometimes they've been appearing widely in the blogosphere, so other bloggers clearly believe they have value. That's fine for them, but I still have to look at it and put it through my bullshit/fairness filter. If I think an item is pure smear, or way makes a mountain from a mole-hill, I'm not going to post it, or I'll post it with a warning to that effect -- even if I dearly want it to be true, and even if it's being true would be awfully convenient for my worldview.

I don't know about you, but few things make me more angry than having my outrage manipulated. This is one of the primary sins in the past few years committed by MSM outlets like the New York Times and CBS, and some politicians like Al Sharpton, have nothing but outrage manipulation to offer. The least thing I can do on this blog is be honest about my feelings and not offer up as evidence anything I feel to be unfair or incomplete if I know it to be so.

The editorial standard on a blog like this is naturally understood to be lower than what a commercial publication can offer. I obviously don't have the time or interest or resources to check every footnote or assertion before posting. If it passes the smell test, sounds plausible, and carries a viewpoint I think deserves a turn at the microphone, it goes. This is a standard appropriate for honest individual-to-individual discourse. Feedback, correctives, alternative viewpoints or data are always welcome -- that's what comment boxes and email and trackbacks are for.

In the case of the Tate piece, you'll notice not a lot of commentary on my part. This can occur for a couple of different reasons -- maybe time, or the fact that I just have nothing to add, or perhaps, as in this case, because I don't know enough about the subject to know what to say about it -- how much weight it should be given -- but it seems reasonable enough to be offered up as important date, which it remains, with the addition of Cathy Young's commentary.

In my view there are too many blogs out there that just post any sensational thing that comes in front of their faces. In some sectors of the blogosphere, "getting hits" -- however it's done -- becomes it's own justification. Fairness, decent analysis...never let them get in the way of more unique visitors on the hit counter. I saw this in action with a lot of the blog "analysis" following the Rainbow Room launch of a certain large scale blogging venture. Suddenly, getting in on the hits to be had by riding the resulting blog swarm justified writing almost anything, with some "big name" bloggers handing out links to items that wouldn't pass muster -- measured as a matter of smell, fairness, accuracy, or good analysis -- on any other day. Sometimes I think the Weekly World News has higher standards than a lot of bloggers. Yes, the Weekly World News sells a lot of papers, but is that the only standard for success? Not in my view. For this web site that's insufficient. Not with my name and reputation on it.

I think the people who for some strange reason keep clicking in here on a daily basis when there are almost certainly better choices out there deserve something better in return for their time from me.

Will I rant? Will I post things to get others' blood up as they honestly get my blood up? Certainly! But just as important is to pick your head up out of that breathless state from time to time, take a deep lung full of oxygen and self-examination and make sure you're still swimming within sight of the piece of shore-line you thought you were -- that you haven't been swept by the current down to unfamiliar and intellectually dangerous -- and dishonest -- waters.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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