“I disagree”

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes — ego non — these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspectives, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere. Galileo and Darwin; Mandela, Havel, and Liu Xiaobo; Rosa Parks and Natan Sharansky — such are the ranks of those who disagree.

This lecture, by Pulitzer-winning commentator Bret Stephens, is brilliant.




On Patriotism and FoE

America has wrestled with hypocrisy ever since it was birthed by slave-owning founders who wrote searing declarations of freedom. But never has the gulf between the hallowed position of the presidency and the hollowness of the person who inhabits it been as wide as it is today. And never has Mr. Trump faced a foe like Mr. Kaepernick, whose silent protests hit harder than any of the President’s tirades because they force Americans to contend not only with complicity, but complacency. If Mr. Kaepernick can live his values, destroying his popularity and football career in the process, why can’t we all? If we have freedom of speech, who will we speak up for?

There are many reasons to hate Donald Trump, all of them to do with what his hate-filled words and intemperate, ill-judged actions have done to the socio-political fabric of his country.

But there is one reason to be thankful to him for: through the unprecedented challenge he poses for journalists, he has given permission to so many fine journalists to find their sharpest voice. Sarah Kendzior, quoted above, is among the consistently finest.  Her book The View From Flyover Country is a superb collection of prescient essays.

Her latest essay, written against the backdrop of the Colin Kaepernick issue, the instinctive reactions from the likes of LeBron James to a tangentially related issue, and the nationwide Take A Knee protest Trump’s words, is worth reading in full.

Post fact ergo…

Arnab Goswami is again in the news. This time, for making up an entirely fictitious account of his encounter with a lynch mob during the 2002 Gujarat riots.

“Making up an entirely fictitious account”, which is how I described the act in the previous para, is of a piece with “alternate facts”, the coinage popularized by Kelyanne Conway — epistemological obfuscation. What Goswami did, shorn of such window dressing, is: he lied.

Rajdeep Sardesai and other senior journalists who were Goswami’s colleagues at NDTV at the time were right to call out the lie. One of the issues with the press is that it takes unto itself the power, and the responsibility, to ‘speak truth to power’, but when it comes to wrongdoing by peers, falls strangely silent.

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Links: On fake news, and an edit

Fake news damages public trust in news media.

Fake news undermines public confidence in our democratic discourse.

Fake news exacerbates economic pressures facing quality news organisations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, fake news highlights issues of responsibility and regulation in our fast-evolving media ecosystem.

Excerpted from a speech by Lionel Barner, editor of the Financial Times, that is worth reading in full. Bonus: Octavius Caesar.

On a tangentially related note, I’ve been thinking about and collecting examples of clickbait journalism — which, along with fake news, is metastasizing into a major problem for a media already shorn of credibility. My growing collection includes annotated examples from various media houses (all of which I’ll bring together into a post one day soon). Here is the example I picked to annotate today — see the comments appended to the highlights, and the summary story right at the end.

Media Matters: Culpable Homicide edition

Briefly: In January, conservative website The Daily Caller published a video of people being run over by cars. Mike Raust, whose byline went with the video, said in the accompanying text:

Here’s a compilation of liberal protesters getting pushed out of the way by cars and trucks. Study the technique; it may prove useful in the next four years.

Fox Nation, the aggregator site of Fox News, then republished the video and caption, giving it greater amplification and traction.

Earlier this month, in the wake of Charlottesville where civil rights lawyer Heather Heyer was killed when a fascist deliberately ran over a group of protestors, Slate rediscovered that video clip, which continued to reside on both Daily Caller and Fox, and called those outlets out.

The Daily Caller and Fox have since taken the clip down. Not because they thought at the time that the clip was inappropriate, that it was an incitement. Not because they were chastened by Charlottesville, where a murderer used the technique they had urged the right wing to “study”. But because they were caught out, called out in public.

Keep this in mind, the next time you hear intemperate TV anchors demonize some person or group. There are dangerously unstable people out there who will take their cues from these rants. And someone will die. And the journalist, the anchor, the website will have killed that person, as surely as if they were at the wheel of that car, or held the knife, or wielded the sword or gun or rope.

(As I’ve said before, I will between instalments of the Media Matters deep dive use this blog as a scratch-pad to collect incidents, thoughts that I can connect up later in the series. This is one such.)

Media Matters #4: The rise of the pseudo-event

THE PHRASE “pseudo-event” officially entered the lexicon in 1962 and is defined as “an event, such as a press conference, that is designed primarily to attract attention”.

It was coined by historian Daniel J Boorstin, and is the leitmotif of The Image, his 1961 jeremiad on mass media and the rise of the faux celebrity.

Boorstin linked the two developments – the emergence of the instant celebrity and the proliferation of pseudo-events – to argue that news, which from the 15th century onwards has meant “a report of recent events” and “previously unknown information”, was being subsumed by manufactured events.

The proximate trigger for Boorstin’s book-length thoughts was the 1960 Presidential election, backlit by the drama of the first-ever televised presidential debate, September 26, 1960, between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon. (The events surrounding that debate, and the election campaign itself, was the theme of Theodore E White’s Pulitzer-winning book The Making of The President 1960; the debate is here in full).

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Delete “alt-right”

The Associated Press style guide weighs in:


“Alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

AP explains the reason why:

Finally, when writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization.

We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

Exactly. And while we are on this, there is no such thing as the “alt-left”, either. As far as I can see, the “alt-left” is something the right-wing media cobbled together in a spirit of ‘your momma’ name-calling, turning a label they dislike back on their political opponents.

George Orwell in a timeless essay warned against such imprecision in speech and writing:

Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

In passing, replugging here an earlier post on the “left media” red herring (Since I wrote this post, by the way, “left media” has lost most of its meaning through overuse, forcing Arnab Goswami to come up with a new one: “Lutyens media”.)