Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Spin Wars

Two instances of media spin hit me simultaneously yesterday.
  1. My mother-in-law forwarded a vicious slander of Barack Obama that had been forwarded to her. The message tried to paint Obama as a closeted radical Muslim. I suppose it doesn't help that his middle name is "Hussein," which might as well be "Jones" in the Middle East but most American's only hear it as "evil guy." A quick check on snopes.com easily verified the truth: he's been active in a Christian church for the last twenty-five years and never said or did anything to indicate he ever considered himself a Muslim.
  2. The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed from Paul A. Offit, citing a JAMA study that asserted that people who abstained from certain immunizations were putting their communities at much greater risk for certain diseases. I haven't been able to read the full text of the study to decide how much credence to give to it, but I found it rather irresponsible that neither Offit nor the Wall Street Journal disclosed his ties to the pharmaceutical industry -- that he is a consultant to Merck on the production of vaccines, that he has refused to disclose whether he is paid by Merck, and has a financial stake in the production of vaccines in the form of his patents. Of course, I didn't know this off the top of my head -- this basic information was available courtesy of a single Google search.

These two incidents show the acceleration of both knowledge and ignorance in the information age. The basest lies can shoot around the world in days . . . but individuals can validate that information just as easily, too. I am not so much concerned that individuals and media are generating spin; that has always been true and always will be true. What concerns me more is the fact that we are all becoming little publishers ourselves -- our capacity to send information or misinformation has become magnified. Journalists have an accepted standard for fact-checking, validation, and full-disclosure . . . but those standards have not disseminated to the broader culture.

I know journalists are often slamming the blogosphere for playing fast and loose with standards of reporting, but I am not just echoing the "you're not journalists so just shut up and listen to us" argument. I don't believe that a blogger, or even a person who innocently forwards an email to their friends, has to meet the same journalistic standards as CNN. But I wish the popular culture recognized that they ought to have some standard . . . and hold them responsible for it.

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1 Comments:

Blogger Ed Sonny said...

Your articles are always a pleasure to read.

2:16 PM  

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