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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Intelligent design controversy: Legacy mainstream media vs. new media

While we are on the subject of media/new media, here's an interesting account of legacy mainstream media (LMSM) spin on an issue unrelated to the ID controversy - US immigration policy.*

The chosen example merely shows that LMSM can slant any controversy as long as everyone who has a say on the news desk is absolutely convinced about who the winners will ultimately be.

In LMSM, such stories usually get framed as a black and white morality play. On the ID issue, for example, doubts about Darwinism - of whatever kind - are treated like this: Bad or irrelevant "religion" attempts takeover of good and useful "science."

Okay, so go be a profane, beer-swilling unbeliever somewhere if you like. But if you dare to wonder whether school kids should be told some of the textbook stretchers and fudgies, you are one disloyal bunny. It's bad enough that you even know that the books are full of stretchers and fudgies , where Darwinism is concerned.

Next thing we hear, you will be handling diamondback sidewinders for Jesus in some East Carolina swamp** .... Hey, you read your fate here first.

This situation is not new. Doubts about Freudianism were routinely framed, years ago, as evidence of psychological problems, and doubts about Marxist economics were not tolerated from people who ate macaroni and cheese in order to pay off a mortgage. There is no middle ground or alternative viewpoint in a morality play.

What's new is the challenge created by the new media, which empower alternative viewpoints like no other has ever done. To see why, consider what, precisely, is changing.

The blogosphere, the Web, and e-mail have undermined the newsgathering function of major media as such. They are not needed the way they used to be. [break here]
Today, an honest, meticulous, and creative person can, with affordable equipment, do a reasonable job of newsgathering.

How was it different in the past? Formerly, professional equipment was not easy to come by and information storage was itself a challenge. And if pros made a mess of things, they had to live with the results themselves.

For example, a pro needs to be able to trust her own notebook, story files, and morgue. That created some control over how unrepresentative news stories could become in democratic societies. She would need one heck of a memory to know the difference between the facts of the case and ten years of her own misrepresentation.

But today, stories can be slanted in order to affect an electorate, in the full knowledge that the correct information is archived somewhere on the Internet - and anyone who really wants to know can get hold of it easily!

Not everyone realized the significance of that fact until fairly recently. Hence pajamagate. The egregious thing about pajamagate was not that Rather was suckered by bogus dox (hey, stuff happens), but that his network took so long to just admit that fact, long after it was utterly self-evident.

I notice that Reuters has been much quicker disowning its recent fauxtos. People can learn.

The media have always been slanted in a liberal way. But that is principally because young persons inclined to traditional views do not go into media. They are urged to enter the clergy instead.

When people who espouse traditional views have gone into media, they have often been quite effective. One thinks of the conservative blogosphere, talk radio, and Fox News, for example, and a number of good conservative thinkmags.

But meanwhile, the burden of public recordkeeping and analysis is shifting toward the blogosphere, for better or worse.

I first realize that shift clearly when a New York Times reporter sneered at me last year as a (mere) "blogger. But my coverage of the incident in question had been more accurate than her paper's, and unlike the reporter for her paper, I had actually seen the controversial film.

(*I am not an American, not to trying to become one, and don't currently know anyone who is. Thus I have no cat in the fight over US immigration policy, and thought this a safe example.)

(**Please do not write to inform me that there is no East Carolina. That is the Americans' problem, not mine. It is a forgivable lapse on their part, and I have forgiven them, somewhat reluctantly.)
If you like this blog, check out my book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?.

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