November 29, 2004

Who’s impolite?…

Al Neuharth has some advice for American newspapers based on what he’s discovered in Japan. He notices they do many things in the business world better than we. But, then, we taught them how to do it.

Here’s the advice:

Japan’s dailies do better than ours because they put more news in their newspapers. They are more reader-friendly and fair. They are more polite in their editorial comments or criticisms.

In Japanese newspapers, the volume of news always exceeds the volume of ads. In many U.S. newspapers, the reverse is true, especially on Sundays.

Yomiuri is center-right politically, and Asahi is center-left. But they don’t use the heavy hammer many U.S. conservative or liberal newspapers do.

Memo to U.S. newspaper owners, publishers and editors: If you publish more news, are fair and polite to friend and foe alike, maybe you can charge more for your newspapers and still sell more of them.

This advice fine as far as it goes. Publish more news–especially more local news–that’s a good idea and one many editors (and bloggers) have been talking about (if not doing anything about) for a while now.

What about being polite or, as I prefer, civil? Hmmmmmmm… Seems to me American newspaper journalism is quite civil. Is it also fair? The bias crusaders tell us no. If you begin with the idea that newspaper journalism is all biased in nefarious ways, then there’s nothing left to notice or discuss (but apparently much left to rant about).

Who’s uncivil? Newspapers? Citizens? Pundits? Sources?

November 29, 2004

Nag, nag, nag…

This is what I like about the blogosphere (and part of the point driving 411blog.net): Ask and ye shall receive.

November 26, 2004

Rhetorica update…

Jay Manifold was in town for Thanksgiving, and we met for coffee and conversation this morning. We talked about his latest post–a 2-part series on the scientific method. I talked him into writing a third part 🙂 So be watching for it.

We also discussed the future of 411blog.net. Perhaps you’ve noticed that we’ve made few additions to the database over the past few weeks. We plan to step up the promotion of the site after the first of the year. You can help by continuing to nominate bloggers for the database. We’ll be slow in getting to them right now, but we will get to them.

November 26, 2004

It’s 2004, not 1947…

Someone named Dr. Bernard F. Kennetz, Jr. sent the following letter to the editor of the Springfield News-Leader:

It was 1947 and Jackie Robinson became the first black to sign with Major League Baseball. His many detractors, categorized as racists at that time, said professional sports would change forever. And it surely has.

Athletically, no one can argue that competition excelled. More and better athletes in all sports were added. Records were set and broken. But that was not the point of Jackie’s detractors.

The concern was that sports would lose its sportsmanship. Cultural virtues of the games would be sacrificed and society as a whole would suffer from the change. They were worried that the role models emulated by their children would become role models of what not to become. The detractors thought that the price of change was too high. Were they correct?

Racism is defined as belief without proof. Has professional sports lost its sportsmanship? Have highly held cultural values been sacrificed? Have professional athletes and athletics transformed into what not to emulate and not to become? Has society as a whole not suffered for that high cost of change?

These are all valid questions when speaking of Tyson, Williams, Lewis, Sprewell, Rodman, Simpson … the Indiana Pacers … There were no white professional athletic comparisons pre-Jackie, nor are there today, to the barbaric behavior produced by the black professional athlete.

Though tough to paint with a broad brush, there are some truisms and conclusions to be drawn. It is time for societal retrospection and black introspection into the loss of what was once good.

I sent an e-mail to Robert Leger, the editor of the editorial page, asking him to explain his reasons for publishing this letter. I intend to have my students discuss it next week.

Ignorant and naked racism such as Kennetz’s does still exist and shows its ugly face publicly from time to time. I’m interested in an answer to this question from Leger: Does the editorial board of the News-Leader consider Kennetz’s opinion within the bounds of civil, civic discourse?

You can see that Kennetz himself isn’t so sure his opinion meets a civilized standard. He uses a rhetorical technique to hide his racism: the rhetorical question. He cannot, however, claim that he is merely asking important questions because the rhetorical question is a tool of persuasion not a tool of inquiry. He most certainly has answers to these questions and wishes for his audience to arrive at that same answers.

He ascribes to race certain problems in sports that are more accurately ascribed to sociological changes in our culture over the past two generations. And he ignores contrary evidence. Apparently he’s never heard of Ty Cobb, which means he’s a propagandist (and he’s probably not a baseball fan–strike three, pal).

What worries me in the end isn’t Leger’s decision or Kennetz’s ignorance. What worries me is the public reaction. I’ll keep you posted.

November 25, 2004

Over the river, through the woods…

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2004

Hot air…

Only three shows left this semester! Then Radio Rhetorica will go off the air for winter break. But it will return next semester at a new day and time. Co-host Paul Katona and I will also be making an extra effort to increase the professionalism of the show. Stay tuned for details.

On today’s show we’ll be discussing how accurately the red and blue describe the states and the states of mind of our friends and neighbors. To listen live, just click the “on air” button, then choose “audio stream 1.” You may send e-mail to the show at radio -at- rhetorica -dot- net.

November 19, 2004

Academic grit…

This entry isn’t about the substance of Jay Rosen’s current essay concerning the potential of an emerging opposition press. You should read what he has to say. I simply want to highlight a statement from his essay that speaks to the academic state of mind:

But I was less for it than I was interested in it. I don’t only speak as an advocate for things, I also like to notice them.

To notice something is a powerful intellectual and creative act. By noticing–and naming–we bring things into existence from something like non-existence.

That’s the romance of it, anyway.

Noticing plays an important intellectual and civic role: It gets people talking.

Any good teacher is familiar with this role. We listen to students in class and try to notice things in their discourse. Once noticed, we comment. And if we have done a good job of noticing, then the conversation really gets rolling. Noticing is the grit around which crystals are born. Rosen’s noticing is the grit of an interesting conversation about the future of television journalism on cable.

I once described Rhetorica as “public notes to myself.” In other words, I try to notice and then let someone know about it. By letting someone know, I create the potential for conversation. And within conversation I hope to refine what I notice into that other important thing we academics try to create: theory.

Okay–I still have much work to do on my portfolio (re: previous entry). I’ll be back to work on Rhetorica on Monday.

November 16, 2004

Facts of academic life…

One of the realities of academic life is that new assistant professors must concentrate on achieving tenure. Part of that process at SMSU includes an annual re-application for appointment. My portfolio is due on Monday. I have a lot of work to do. So I may not be doing much blogging between now and then.

November 12, 2004

The message machine…

A long-time Rhetorica reader asked these questions regarding the role of moral values in making voting decisions: “What is the rhetorical significance of the difference in self-perception between the two sets of voters? How was it that the Bush campaign did a better job of designing the correct rhetorical approach for mobilizing voters than the Kerry campaign?”

First, let’s consider this summary of findings from the Pew Research Center (emphasis added):

The survey findings parallel exit poll results showing that moral values is a top-tier issue for voters. But the relative importance of moral values depends greatly on how the question is framed. The post-election survey finds that, when moral values is pitted against issues like Iraq and terrorism, a plurality (27%) cites moral values as most important to their vote. But when a separate group of voters was asked to name–in their own words–the most important factor in their vote, significantly fewer (14%) mentioned moral values. Regardless of how the question is asked, the survey shows that moral values is the most frequently cited issue for Bush voters, but is seldom mentioned by Kerry voters.

In addition, those who cite moral values as a major factor offer varying interpretations of the concept. More than four-in-ten (44%) of those who chose moral values as the most important factor in their vote from the list of issues say the term relates to specific concerns over social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. However, others did not cite specific policy issues, and instead pointed to factors like the candidates’ personal qualities or made general allusions to religion and values.

I recommend reading George Lakoff’s book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Lakoff demonstrates that “much of moral reasoning is metaphorical reasoning.” Liberals and conservatives use the same metaphorical constructs of morality, but they have different priorities and come to different conclusions about moral behavior. On many specific policy issues what is moral to the liberal is immoral to the conservative and vice versa. The reason: Liberals and conservatives use different metaphoric models of family–one of the primary metaphors we all use to structure our understanding of politics and governance. The liberal model of the family places individual self-actualization at the top of its moral hierarchy. The conservative model of the family puts defense of a moral system at the top of its moral hierarchy.

The Pew results are not surprising. Those who generally operate with defense of a moral system at the top of the moral hierarchy might reasonably be expected to associate moral values with a specific list of issues. But more, they can reasonably be expected to see a long list of specific issues as morally related.

Conservatives do “morals” talk better than liberals. They have created a coherent set of values and a way to talk about those values in moral terms over the past generation. The entire set often goes by a single name: family values–making it operate politically as a single value with a single focus.

The rhetorical significance of the difference in self-perception between liberal and conservative voters is that conservatives are better able to articulate and enforce a coherent set of moral values. Liberals tend to be far too fragmented by separate issues. For example, an environmentalist certainly understands environmentalism as a moral issue but not one necessarily connected–morally or politically–to other liberal issues.

This also answers the second question about how the Bush campaign did a better job of designing the correct rhetorical approach. Conservatives have been working on message–specifically the moral articulation of a set of values–for a very long time. Bush properly employed the results of that effort. Second, conservatives are very good at delivering that message in moral terms. Over the past 100 years, liberals used one big message (e.g. The New Deal or The Great Society, etc.) to ignite the moral imaginations of voters. And these big messages, while thought of in moral terms that liberals understand, were more about the moral necessity of specific policies than defense of a coherent set of values.

November 10, 2004

Mixed connotations…

I have steadfast and nuanced resolve about all things elite–especially as they regard freedom and values.

Why does that statement make so little sense? There are a number of “correct” answers to that question, but one is surely that I have mixed fuzzy terms much as one might mix metaphors. Or, as Campaign Desk demonstrates, the mix involves political connotation. Some of these fuzzy terms are associated with liberals and others with conservatives.

I intend to deal specifically with the term “values” soon, following some excellent questions by Charles Knell.

Brian Montopoli, of Campaign Desk, brings Orwell into the discussion, quoting this from the essay “Politics and the English Language“:

“Political language–and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists–is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Nothing surprising here. But Montopoli makes the same mistake as Orwell; he assumes this means “there is an implicit connection between politics and the debasement of the language: The former relies on the latter.” Language cannot be debased because it is not in our power to do such a thing. Language should not be equated with the words we use to identify things. What we debase is our rhetoric and civic discourse, which is the same thing as saying: What we debase is ourselves.

With a little luck, I’ll be finishing my the essay about Orwell that I’ve mentioned here a few times. I make this argument: “Politics and the English Language” is not so much about writing as it is about reading and interpretation. Orwell’s writing advice and linguistic theories are questionable. But read as a call to think about discourse, Orwell’s essay deserves our continued attention and respect.

I’ll post a few portions of the essay here when I finish. So back to work…

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