April 30, 2004

Fun with semantics…

Vice President Dick Cheney likes FOX News. And he told a gathering of Republicans during a conference call (from the Washington Post):

“It’s easy to complain about the press — I’ve been doing it for a good part of my career…It’s part of what goes with a free society. What I do is try to focus upon those elements of the press that I think do an effective job and try to be accurate in their portrayal of events. For example, I end up spending a lot of time watching Fox News, because they’re more accurate in my experience, in those events that I’m personally involved in, than many of the other outlets.”

Am I shocked, SHOCKED to discover such pandering going on at the White House? Not really. This seems to be part of a larger propaganda effort to marginalize the press. The President has said that he doesn’t consider the press a representative of the people (and a lot of Americans agree). Further, Bush considers the press a “special interest.” While I’m uncomfortable with this tactic, the fact of the matter is it’s working.

I like the fact that Cheney defines his key adjective: accurate. He’s not using its standard denotation. He’s quite clear about equating accuracy with a portrayal of events that corresponds to his “experience” of events, not with “conforming exactly to fact,” which would be the journalistic ideal.

April 30, 2004

On the road…

I talked a bit about change in my Contemporary Issues class on Tuesday. A college education should do far more than teach technical competence in a trade. A college education should, among other things, teach students how to solve problems and manage change through a study of the humanities–that broad category of disciplines that considers mankind in all its glorious absurdity.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the 20-year-old me would be a bit horrified by the 47-year-old me. That younger person had very specific goals and a life plan that doesn’t match what actually transpired. He was more politically libertarian, more strident, and less able to reflect on self. But he also knew how to have a good time and was far more willing than I to take big bites out of life.

I’m spending a little time today getting reacquainted with him because he was also far more resilient than I in managing change, or, rather, he was far more cool with it. I have just finished teaching my last class for Park University. My house is now for sale. I’m on my way to Springfield and SMS.

Friends and colleagues constantly ask me if I’m “excited.” My usual answer is “yes and no.” The 20-year-old me would never have said such a thing. He would have said “hell yes,” popped another cold one, and then launched into a verbal cascade of enthusiasm worthy of Neal Cassady (his not-so-secret culture hero). I admire that.

The 20-year-old me could not imagine my life now, although some things about it I think he would find exciting. I’m sitting in a coffee shop typing on a laptop and sending these words through the air to a web site. In 1976, the year I turned 20, such things were nearly unimaginable. And I think he’d be cool with the idea that I am now an academic. You see, something I admire about him is that he understood at the time that his college years were some of the best years of his life and for a very specific reason: Spending four years learning and partying with other young people is as close to utopia as we are ever likely to get. I hope he’d be impressed that I have managed to make the years following college ever better despite, perhaps because of, the unexpected twists and turns. And he’d be impressed that I have found a way to reconnect with that golden time (yes, he would have used such a romantic term).

Am I excited? HELL YES!

April 29, 2004

My morning’s amusement…

I’m offended by USA Today. The context of my emotion is that I became a student journalist shortly after Watergate. Great newspapers at that time looked gray and dull, which my cohort mistook for a sign of seriousness. That’s a silly notion, obviously. Seriousness can and should come in an attractive package.

USA Today was an attempt, among other things, to make a newspaper more visually attractive. I think it failed miserably in that regard. Further, USA Today was an attempt to compete with TV by adopting TV news values, i.e. shorter articles with an emphasis on visuals at the expense of cogent, in-depth reporting. To me, USA Today just screams: Don’t take me seriously! The offense I feel is the detritus of a different age. I simply have to get over it.

Or do I? Erik Wemple speculates that one important reason the Jack Kelley affair received so little press compared to the Jayson Blair affair is that media elites do not read USA Today, the paper of “chain hotels” versus the paper of record.

April 28, 2004

Nasty=fun, policy=boring…

Among the many interesting moments in our discussion on Radio Rhetorica yesterday, Jay Manifold and I attributed the potential nastiness of the presidential campaign, among other things, to intra-generational conflict, i.e. two idealist Boomers fighting, as Boomers do, a campaign of vanquishment.

For background in this contention, you should read Generations, by Neil Howe and William Strauss.

For other clues to the potency of this conflict, you might also read Moral Politics, by George Lakoff. It adds a further dimension to the generational contention.

There are, quite obviously, many other reasons to suppose this will be a particularly nasty fight–not the least of which is the fact that it’s already fairly nasty months prior to the conventions.

Is a nasty campaign bad for politics, governance, and civic participation? Good question, and I’m not sure anyone has a good answer (meaning: hard data rather than speculation). I do suspect that the coverage of a campaign as a nasty campaign may alienate some voters. In other words, if nastiness becomes the master narrative, what will connect the people to the political process?

(I’m assuming now one of the central values of civic or public journalism: That the press should help make public life “work.”)

Day to day, most people are concerned with the details of their lives (now there’s a revelation!). These are important details that often intersect with governance and, therefore, questions of policy. This may be why we hear citizens ask policy questions in public forums. My evidence is purely anecdotal, but it seems to me that the average Joe doesn’t care much for the politics of politics, i.e. the process, the horse race, the nastiness. I think most people just want politicians to do a good job of running the republic. Here’s a moment from MSNBC’s Hardball that illustrates the point (analyst Frank Luntz speaking to Chris Matthews following a round-table discussion with voters):


April 27, 2004

It’s (not) the same ol’ song…

Today’s Radio Rhetorica show will be the last on KGSP. I hope to revive it this fall at SMSU. I’ll keep you posted.

On deck today: Another interesting discussion with Jay Manifold. At his suggestion, we’ll be talking about the future–a fitting way to end the spring semester. During the first hour, Jay will quiz me about the future of news media as we approach the Boomer Apocalypse. During the second hour, I’ll quiz Jay about technological change, especially nanotech.

You know what to do: Click the “on air” button and listen live on the web (unless you’re within range of the signal, which means no farther away than the Please Stop on 9 highway).

For background on today’s show, check out:

Toward a Field Theory of Journalism
Crucial physical and informational technologies
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

April 26, 2004

We have a winner(s)!…

Here are the winners (a tie) in the first-ever (maybe the last-ever) Rhetorica contest–name the journalistic transgressions in this item from New York magazine:

A pressing issue of dinner-party etiquette is vexing Washington, according to a story now making the D.C. rounds: How should you react when your guest, in this case national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, makes a poignant faux pas? At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weidman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, “As I was telling my hub

April 23, 2004

: Oh, fercrissakes…

“I don’t own an SUV.”

Pardon me, Senator Kerry, but there’s one parked at your Ketchum, Idaho home.

“The family has it. I don’t have it.”


Look, it’s not a problem to support increasing fuel economy standards and also to own an SUV. I support them and I drive an SUV. There’s simply no contradiction there. Such standards are calculated across a company’s entire fleet, thus allowing for some models to deliver high mileage and others to deliver less (giving the consumer a choice). No big deal. Rhetorically, this is just not a problem.

But it’s easy to create a problem by accepting standards or arguments not of your making and then trying to wiggle out of them. In this case, the problem he created is the “silly lie” (on the order of “I didn’t inhale”). How could Kerry ignore such a simple concept?

April 23, 2004

The job’s a bitch…

Iraq is not Vietnam. Vietnam was one kind of mess. Iraq is a different kind of mess. War is always a mess. And the mess of war always strikes the home front. This week it struck the comics, and some editors are squeamish about it. The word “bitch,” uttered in reaction to a lost limb, is apparently a bit too real and raw.

I think Ray Barrington’s unremarkable claim is correct:

The war is coming home, more and more. And it’s going to affect us in ways we can’t imagine, ways that make a little intrusion in the comics pages seem tame.

Editors edit. That’s their job. It’s never an easy one. I have no practical tips to offer to make it easier. But I suppose I’d suggest this: Let war be hell. Let the loss of a leg be a “bitch.”

April 23, 2004

It’s a twister!…

Many of life’s problems are caused by saying “yes.” That’s exactly the mistake I made when Paul Goyette, a graduate student in public policy at the University of Chicago, contacted me about contributing to his new group blog Mutinous Winds (now safely ensconced in the blogroll under “media”). Seems he wanted a rhetoric guy to contribute to an interdisciplinary effort at critiquing and analyzing civic discourse and public address.

I think he came to the right guy 🙂 so I said “yes.”

Check out the new Mutinous Winds. I think it will be a winner!

April 22, 2004

(Happy?) Earth Day…

Nice place – Let’s take care of it.

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