February 27, 2006

Rhetorica update…

I have a big fortnight ahead of me. I have to complete my dossier for 4th-year appointment by 13 March, and I have to meet a 15 March deadline for an essay. So that means I’ll slow down on blogging until I’ve completed those tasks. I will, however, post an medium-length entry later this week that attempts to answer this question: Does the standard writing style of journalism rot the brain? Watch for it 🙂

February 23, 2006

Let the roosting begin…

President Bush finds himself in an interesting political pickle caused in part, in my opinion, by his administration’s crusader rhetoric since 9/11. I have no idea if it’s a good plan to contract with Dubai Ports World, a state-owned company based in the United Arab Emirates, to run some American ports. A professor here at Missouri State is worried about it.

In order to get the American people to agree to attack a country without provocation (spare me, please) one must resort to the kind of propaganda first perfected during World War I: demonize the enemy specifically by race or nationality or culture. A little (manufactured) fear of nuclear holocaust doesn’t hurt, either.

If you teach Americans to hate and fear the people of the Middle East (think: evil-doers), is it any wonder they would react viscerally to the idea of turning over our ports–by nearly all accounts our biggest weakness in national security–to the United Arab Emirates?

Just take a look at the online poll (certainly not scientific) at the Springfield News-Leader (see top item in the sidebar on the left). This is Bush country, the land of Roy Blunt–a conservative town in a conservative corner of a conservative state.

UPDATE (27 February): The online poll mentioned above is no longer available.

February 22, 2006

Just need a quote…

Thanks to my colleague Joe Hughes for pointing out that CBS News online quoted me the other day.

Unfortunately, the quote is a bit out of context (all quotes are necessarily a bit out of content, but that’s a discussion for another day). Here’s the line:

Missouri State University Professor Andrew Cline at Rhetorica agrees Cheney was just playing smart politics. “I can’t blame Cheney for making an excellent choice in how to play this situation,” he blogs.

My quote follows this:

But Paul at the conservative Wizbang blog offers a simpler explanation. “If he had allowed this to get out ‘fast break style’ the media would have screwed it up completely. Totally and completely,” he blogs. “Can anyone blame him for not wanting the story to come out screwed up?”

So it appears that my quote is positively commenting on Cheney’s withholding the information so that it would be reported more accurately. Not so. I was commenting on the tactic of using the concept of accuracy against the press; I did not accept Cheney’s excuse that he wanted to make sure the story was accurate. Nor do I think, as Wizbang does, that the press would have screwed it up (emphasis added):

I wondered how he would spin the time lag, and I was frankly awed by his choice: Hit the press where it lives by asserting one of its most important practices–a practice that crosses the boundary between craft and ethic.

What’s interesting about this tactic is that it attacks an epistemological weakness in our culture. “Accuracy” is not a fixed state, rather it changes over time as we learn new facts. When we arrive at something like a fixed state of “accuracy” we call it history. I’ll bet Cheney’s fixed state of “accuracy” sounded like common sense to a lot of people.

That said, I’m always happy to be quoted by a major news organization.

Cross-posted to Phronesis.

February 21, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast…

Another meeting of the Springfield Bloggers. (Yes, it is big-time fun).

Rhetorica Podcast

February 21, 2006

Eye strain…

Here’s a list of books every journalist should read (in no particular order and certainly not exhaustive):

1. The Elements of Journalism. This is an excellent articulation of journalistic practice and ethics in practice.

2. Discovering the News. This social history of American newspapers demonstrates that what we think journalism is has changed (and should change) with the culture.

3. What Are Journalists For? This remains one of the best articulations of civic journalism.

4. A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper. A good corrective to the general innumeracy of journalism.

5. The Press Effect. What happens when the press covers politics?

6. Democracy and the News. The discussion of journalism’s theory of democracy on pages 55 to 61 should be memorized.

7. Proper English. Throw away Strunk & White, and start learning something about language.

8. Language and Power. Ditto.

9. Legacy to the World. This is a concise history of America’s political ideas–their sources, articulations, and effects.

10. News: The Politics of Illusion. Just to scare you a little.

Have fun!

February 21, 2006

For your listening pleasure…

Listen to Radio Rhetorica today at 4:00 p.m. CST on The Growl. Just click the “on air” button in the sidebar.

Springfield Bloggers will meet at the Patton Alley Pub this evening at 7:00 CST. I’ll post a podcast of the event by about 9:00.

February 20, 2006

Summer of Illusion…

Language Log revisits “two seductive effects of selective attention.” They are

the Recency Illusion (if you’ve noticed something only recently, you believe that it in fact originated recently) and the Frequency Illusion (once you notice a phenomenon, you believe that it happens a whole lot). [But]…your impressions are unreliable; you need to find out what the facts are.

That’s excellent advice for journalists. These illusions show up in all types of news articles, but they are most easily identified as the sources of the so-called trend story. So entrenched is the trend story in the modern practice of journalism that cable news organizations employ trend-watchers who specifically practice these illusions.

Take these illusions and add a blonde, blue-eyed girl between the ages of 10 and 17 and you get sustained “Summer of” reporting, e.g. the summer of shark attacks or the summer of abductions.

February 19, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast…

In which I read The New York Times and tell you about it…

Rhetorica Podcast

February 18, 2006

The O-word again…

This guy gets it:

Not even Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, the ultimate statement of observer-subjectivity, derails the scientific concept of objectivity.

Why? Because unlike journalistic objectivity, which proposes itself to be an artificial perspective, scientific objectivity is a documented process. A requirement of that process is that it be recorded clearly enough that findings are repeatable for all observers (in the case of laboratory experiments) or clearly controlled for the observer’s subjective perspective (field observation of a single event or series of events). When viewed from a distance, this process of objectivity varies for each individual discipline, but its philosophy is constant: Always be aware of the subjectivity of the observer, use agreed-upon standards, and show your work.

As I have said before: Objectivity is a process not a stance.

Daniel Conover understands that objectivity as a philosophical ideal is a problem. I’d repeat what I’ve often written: The philosophical ideal is plainly impossible because we can only know the world as humans are meant to know it; we cannot know it as it is. Our objective processes–e.g. scientific method–allow us to know the world in ways suited to our understanding and experience such that we may manipulate the world for our own benefit.

What Conover seeks is something like what journalism sought at the dawn of our current professional age (in terms of epistemology): A process by which we may accurately describe events–make factual statements–such that readers of all kinds may experience similar “results” —and trust those results.

I’ve expressed the same sort of thing a bit differently by cramming the ideas of journalism as a discipline of verification and journalists as custodians of fact together as a justification for a text-based analysis of facts. In other words, there’s nothing subjective or biased about taking two statements by two political opponents and checking them against our understanding of the situation (which would include simple fact-checking for starters). The “results” could be understood as factual, objective reporting.

Conover imagines a process/software solution (a seriously cool idea)–a process in which facts may be checked back to authoritative sources. The one minor problem I have–because a rhetorician can’t help it–is this: Such a system ignores that, while facts are facts, facts mean different things to different people. And people act in political and economic ways based on what facts mean to them, i.e. facts get filtered through a system of values before they get used. Any process/software solution would still require the hard work of sensitive and intelligent journalists.

I highly recommend you read every word of Conover’s cogent essay.

February 18, 2006

Rhetorica Podcast…

In which I spit ‘n cuss about being left out of David Horowitz’s new book:

Rhetorica Podcast

Inside Higher Ed
The List

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