Friday, February 1, 2008

"Increasingly likely" bullshit

Clarifying what I was trying to tell Michael Weiss, my thesis in one sentence:
When, under pretence of reporting on a political contest whose outcome is uncertain, a journalist implies an outcome in such a way that an uninformed reader might believe that it's all over but the shouting, that journalist has ceased to be a reporter and has become a bullshit artist.
"Broderism" is the great bane of American political journalism, and is one of the routine errors that has driven the profession into such a state of ill-repute that smart young people now avoid the "news industry" altogether.

Young people don't read the news, and they sure as hell don't want to write the news. They'd rather turn on Comedy Central and laugh at a parody of the news.

Political reporters need to be waterboarded until they agree to sign a pledge:
  • Stop reporting opinion polls as if they were actual electoral results.
  • Stop telling the reader what to think while at the same time pretending not to care about the outcome.
If you are genuinely neutral as to whether McCain or Romney wins the GOP nomination, why are you "reporting" it -- at a time when its a margin-of-error race in many states, and the situation is ultimately dynamic -- in such a way as seems most calculated to (a) discourage wavering Romney supporters, and (b) encourage undecided voters to climb aboard the unstoppable juggernaut of the John McCain bandwagon?

Under the actual political conditions that existed Thursday, placing the phrase "increasingly likely" in front of the phrase "John McCain nomination" amounted to cheerleading for John McCain. If you don't get that, then you should go back and re-read your high school psychology textbook. It's called the Bandwagon Effect.

This kind of dishonest (or perhaps naive) reporting is bad enough when a blogger does it at Slate. But for decades, we've seen it practiced by the most eminent and "respectable" reporters, at the most influential news organizations, and it's simply bad journalism. In an apparent effort to see the "Big Picture," the Broderites (Broderists?) feign omniscience, writing in a tone both bland and authoritative, endeavoring to hypnotize the reader into a trance state where he is what a psychologist would call "suggestible":
  • Polls show ...
  • Observers believe ...
  • It appears increasingly likely ...

When those soft-sell tactics are employed in political reporting, journalism becomes a "profession" in the same sense that being a three-card monte dealer is a "profession." It's a racket, a con, a scam.

Suppose I were to try my hand at the scam?

Leading editors in Washington yesterday debated whether to report the unusual insights offered by a distant relative of Sen. John McCain.

This fierce critic of the Arizona Republican is himself an experienced journalist whose increasingly popular blog, dubbed "The Other McCain," has caused a buzz among political observers concerned that the revelations might stall the momentum of the elderly senator's campaign.

I should hope that any 10th-grader reading that sentence can spot the means by which "spin" is conveyed. (Pay attention, kids: This might be on your final exam.)

Reporters: Stick to reporting what has happened, and stop playing Carnac the Magnificent by pretending to see the future, OK?

A source close to J.P. Friere speculated that the recently-hired managing editor of The American Spectator might eat tacos at the National Press Club on Friday night. It appears increasingly likely that Mr. Friere will have a Corona beer with his tacos. ...

If Respectable Professional Journalists would stick to the facts, there might yet be hope for the future of Western civilization. Otherwise ...Hey, have any of you guys seen "Idiocracy"?

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