I read it. I got annoyed.
Then, because I'm just old enough to begin losing it, I fell asleep.
With the television on.
Well, kind of asleep.
Actually I drifted in and out. I would wake up, get dimly conscious of a comedian on late night. I'd remember what I was reading, get annoyed, then drift off again.
I have to tell you, there is very little to recommend getting old. Well ... there is survival. Not much else.
Ron White was on stage. At least I think it was Ron White. He was talking about three dogs. He housebroke them in the traditional way, the way PETA would protest. He would rub their noses in it. After two or three times, two of the dogs would get the idea. Don't go there.
The third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. The audience laughed. I thought about what I read and got irritated and drifted off.
At one point I think I dreamed about people getting naked to protest dog training. I'm not sure. I can say I wasn't one of the dream protesters, if that was the dream. That's because nobody would get much from seeing me naked. Believe me, I know. There is a huge mirror next to the shower and I've seen enough to testify that my disrobed image does little to interest me.
I do know I drifted in and out. It wasn't like Groundhog Day. More like Groundhog Hour. Continuous repetition. Déjà vu come alive. It might have been one of those "Can't get enough of Blue Collar Comedy" or something. You know. Where a television station will put one thing on and repeat it all night long. Just so you have the opportunity not to miss anything at all.
Because I woke up three times, maybe, in about the same place in the on stage routine. The third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. The audience laughed. I'd get annoyed at what I had read. I'd go to sleep.
What's disheartening is that you'd think I'd get who the guy on stage was. Memory goes, you know. I think it was Ron White. Maybe. All I really know for sure is that the third dog got the wrong message. Don't go ANYwhere. Also that the story was pretty funny, because the audience laughed. Everytime.
Also I remember the article, so there is hope.
The article is online. It's in Slate Magazine. It's by Ron Rosenbaum. He's an author. A successful author. I try to forgive him for that. I explain to my conservative friends that liberals don't demonize success. Except people like me who hate other writers who manage to make a good living at it.
Ron Rosenbaum writes mostly about political type history. Watergate, Ralph Nader, Chris Christie. You know, conspiracies. Sometimes he goes on about science and the universe, but mostly it's about something with a political edge to it. He is really attracted to a contrarian point of view.
So this time, he wrote about racism in the Republican Party. Except that isn't really what he was writing about. He's often a little sneaky. He devoted a paragraph to the Fox News sponsored charge against President Obama. Seems that a few years ago, before he became President, Barack Obama spoke to a black audience about the Bush administration's approach to Hurricane Karina. And ... and this one of the things that was supposed to hit Obama where he lives ... he spoke in an accent that is different than the "proper" way he speaks as President. And there was incriminating video that proved ... something. That he was black?
The racial makeup of the victims of the hurricane was not a fact that only occurred to black people, regardless of how Fox viewed it. I remember a friend from church who hadn't voted for a Democrat for President in decades reacting to Katrina. His voice spoke for many. "If it had been young white cheerleaders trapped in that stadium, there would have been help right away." He later voted for Obama, his first Democrat since about forever.
So is the Republican Party racist? In his second paragraph, Rosenbaum makes an abrupt transition to his real topic. The segue is Henny Youngman-like in it's whiplash change of subject:
I bring up the matter in part because it relates to the discussion lately about how journalism must do more than present false equivalency, treating the two sides of any debate as though they are equally valid.
Is THAT what we're discussing? Well, yes, actually.
Those who dismiss “he said, she said” journalism—the tendency to present both sides of any story without judgment—make the arrogant assumption that they can do better, present the truth, the absolute truth on any given contested issue.
And how does racism get into the mix?
I present, as a test case, the issue of whether the Republican Party should be identified as a “neo-racist” entity. Could the press present this judgment as a fact?
Then, with a journalist's penetrating inquisitiveness, he delves into the evidence. He really does. He interviews. He reviews history, statistical evidence, and polling. He really does his homework.
He is armed with a lot of careful research as he misses the point.
He eventually concludes that, yes, the Republican Party is pretty much, you know, based on white hatred toward black people. And, he says, news reporting should include this fact.
In a way mainstream media outlets who promote a false equivalency between the two parties by failing to note at the very least the neo-racist supporters of the Republican Party are themselves complicit in the charade that the GOP is a morally legitimate entity. Not that racists don’t vote Democratic, and yes I know the GOP was, was, the party of Lincoln, but that was long ago in another country.
Let's help out a little here.
The Republican Party is indeed the party of racism. That's my opinion, and it is a legitimate opinion. It is not THE legitimate opinion. It is not a statement of fact.
Here is a statement of fact:
The Obama administration, following in a practice that has been around since Ronald Reagan, made a series of start-up investments in green energy companies. About 5 percent of those companies went bankrupt.
See? It's fact. It can be looked up.
The GOP is racist. That's opinion. It's a solid opinion and you can find evidence for it. But it isn't something that you can document as true or disprove as false. It is opinion.
The idea of journalistic integrity, the reporting of the truth when the truth is unambiguous and factually documented, is a surprisingly controversial idea. In the bizarro world of contemporary reporting, it is thought to be kind of ... well ... impolite to say that someone is telling a lie.
Early this year, the Public Editor of the New York Times actually posed the question. Should the Times go so far as to fact check statements made by politicians? Should reporters tell the public when prospective representatives say things that are not matters of opinion, well founded or not, but are verified falsehoods? The title was Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?
Many readers were incredulous. I confess to wondering if this was a well deserved satire, an Onion piece, the sort of which sometimes fools Iran's religious autocracy. Is an editor wondering aloud if reporting should deal with facts?
But this is the form that modern journalism takes. Balance, the carefully divided critique of both sides of any issue, is considered the only legitimate departure from he said/she said reporting. Which is to say that false equivalency has supplanted reporting.
It is partly sloppy thinking, partly laziness, partly cowardice. It does not recognize the difference between advocacy, which is to say actively taking sides, and reporting, which is letting facts take sides. Opinions should be reported as opinions. Put them in quotes and attribute them or put them on the editorial page. But verifiable facts should be reported. Up front. Right there next to a quoted falsehood.
It would be a statement of fact if the New York Times printed this:
While speaking of Obama administration investments in green energy producers, Mr. Romney said, "I think about half of them, of the ones have been invested in, they've gone out of business." Records show this is not true. The figure is actually five percent.
Readers could react in many ways, but they would at least have a means of knowing that a documented falsehood had been uttered. Even if it wasn't mentioned that a five percent failure rate is a better record than that of Bain Capital, a source of real information would be in every reader's hands.
On the other hand, it would be wrong of the New York Times, or any legitimate reporting outlet to report opinion as if it was fact. That is something best left to Fox News.
In an opposite example, Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan have written that slavery was, in part, an unintentional blessing to black people, an accidental gift from their white owners that continues to produce a continuous bounty of blessings to their descendants, even today.
It would be a statement of opinion, published as fact, if the New York Times printed this:
Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan are racists.
And it would be wrong to print it. Opinions, even if sound, should be printed on an editorial page or in attribution. For instance:
"Michael Medved and Pat Buchanan," said Burr Deming, "are racists."
If the Times were to print that, people would legitimately react with "Burr who?"
You see, very few journalists learn simply to avoid reporting opinion as fact or as falsehood if it is a simple matter of opinion.
Instead, they have learned not to report falsehoods as falsehoods at all.
Journalists are, for the most part, kind of like Ron White's overly housebroken dog.
Now I'm getting sleepy again.
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