Bruce et al v. Gore and Al Jazeera: Why the sale of Current is undeniably a good thing for any neutral observer

Imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter last night to find that “Al Gore” was trending, considering I happen to follow him and he hadn’t really tweeted all day. Then imagine my surprise to click it and find the headline:

Al-Jazeera in talks to buy Current TV

“Huh”, I think. “That’s interesting, and makes a bit of sense. It’s not too different from when Al Gore bought the old NWI network in the first place – effectively inheriting existing distribution deals. Al Jazeera has made zero inroads at penetrating the American market, while beIN Sport has been more successful, for certain definitions of “successful” (scroll about halfway down), suggesting their reputation might not necessarily be a deal-breaker given the right circumstances. It’d be interesting to see what sort of a splash Current could make with Al Jazeera’s financial and journalistic resources.”

Then I see the actual tweets:

I wonder how @algore is going to spend all his oil money he received from selling Current?

Is it me or does it seems like prominent climate activists (Matt Damon & Al Gore) seem very happy to take money from oil rich Arab nations.

Inconvenient Truth: Environmentalist Al Gore sold out to oil money, did so just in time to take advantage of tax benefits for the very rich

Al Gore is trending because he just made 100 million dollars from the oil he’s been railing against for the last couple decades.

Needless to say, this pretty much mirrors the reaction of the conservative blogosphere (along with accusing Gore of trying to push a deal through before tax hikes kicked in, ignoring the larger liberal justification for high taxes on the upper classes).

Alright, let’s set the record straight here. Oversimplifying Al Jazeera to “oil money” sells them short quite a bit, and accusing Gore of cashing out without regard for his principles seems to overlook the broader picture. First of all, on a basic and obvious level, Al Jazeera first became a dirty word for Americans with their release of Osama bin Laden’s tapes, so they have a history of running afoul of Republicans, making them and Al Gore good bedfellows. But more broadly, it highlights a sort of journalism it’s impossible to imagine today’s American “journalists” ever pulling off. As much as simply hearing the name (or even the “Al” followed by a word that triggers spell check) can cause some Americans to instinctively retch, Al Jazeera’s record really is top-notch; specifically, it’s clear that Al Jazeera isn’t a lapdog for Arab oil sheiks, given their record of reporting on the Arab Spring and other rebellions in the region, suggesting the prospect of a surprisingly smooth transition for Current, as Gore would himself point out. Given the state of American “journalism” these days, perhaps we could use Al Jazeera to show everyone how it’s really done.

It’s true that Al Jazeera is in fact owned by an Arab oil sheikh on behalf of the ruler of Qatar, but that brings us to the next point: as much as the oil-rich nations of the Gulf get rich off of selling us the fuel we need to power our cars, and as much as OPEC tries to make sure we continue to do so, they’re also well aware the oil river won’t run forever and have invested heavily in developing their countries to be economic powers even beyond their oil production, which news-watchers saw hints of in the Twitter-fueled response to the disputed 2008 Iranian election, and later in the more tech-savvy elements of the Arab Spring. In Qatar’s case in particular, said ruler has presided over, besides the launch of Al Jazeera, the institution of women’s suffrage, legalization of labor unions, and the introduction of a written constitution and Christianity; it’s hard to find another Arab nation quite so Westernized, certainly not one that hasn’t had Americans push “regime change” on them. (They’re still too small and hot to host a World Cup, though.) Admittedly, it has long been the single most polluting nation per capita in the world, but it’s easy to see that dropping faster than most other Arab nations.

It’s also true that Al Jazeera will be shuttering Current’s current (heh) format in favor of more of a straight news channel, bolstering the image of Gore abandoning his principles when someone comes calling with a multi-billion-dollar check. But it’s worth noting that since Gore bought NWI, MSNBC has become the liberal news channel Gore originally hoped to build, rendering Current superfluous; Current essentially lucked into taking up Gore’s original vision when MSNBC fired Keith Olbermann, but it was never going to measure up to MSNBC, certainly not after firing Olbermann itself. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gore had eventually sold Current to someone else for less. If anything, while Al Jazeera’s apparent plans to create another clone of its usual operations are noble, they might well betray a lack of understanding of the American news market, where people would rather hear people complain, preach, and bicker about the news than actually report it. At the very least, I’d strongly urge them to avoid the “Al Jazeera” name, which might well still be a poison pill for most Americans, if not for the name itself then certainly for its “foreign” connotations. (There’s a reason BBC News has a very limited American presence; indeed upon learning of the deal, Time Warner Cable couldn’t drop the channel fast enough.)

Discounting such questions on the wisdom and practicality of the matter, this court finds the prospect of a somewhat widely distributed network run by Al Jazeera to be a cause for unbridled hope for those fearful for the state of journalism on American television, assuming Al Jazeera can properly appeal to the American market. Given this, and given the long-term prospects of Current in its current form considering the rest of the marketplace, the court finds that despite unsavory appearances, there is no reason to believe that Gore’s sale of Current was done without regard to his own stated and personal principles, but rather was done out of genuine appreciation of their vision for the channel, and indeed the court suspects Gore would actually prefer their vision but was pessimistic about its practicality when he originally made noise about a liberal news channel. While he cannot be let completely off the hook for effectively selling to the ruler of one of the dirtiest countries in the world, the court has reason to believe that Gore can justifiably claim that it is not a betrayal of his own cause. This court rules in favor of Al Gore and Al Jazeera, with some reservations, including serious lingering ones regarding the timing of the matter vis-a-vis new tax rules.

An Emergency Summit between Left and Right

If last year’s health care debate and the rise of the Tea Party movement have shown anything, it’s that the 2008 election was not the messianic defeat of conservatism that many on the Left hoped it would be.

The Left saw itself as putting firmly to an end the abuses of the Bush era, the capstone of the rise to power that started with the 2006 takeback of Congress. I felt, and I suspect many on the Left did as well, that with Obama in power and a Democratic Congress, the “progressive” agenda could be pushed forward, and if it worked, it would kill the Republican party for a generation. Obama received one of the largest electoral vote wins in history; Democrats won a nearly filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The people had given the Democrats a mandate to pursue their agenda however they saw fit, and had firmly repudiated the conservatism of George W. Bush.

It did not work out that way. The Democrats received pushback. Obama struggled mightily to get anything at all passed; the country remained mired in the recession; and far from being killed, Republicans started beating the Democrats at what used to be their own game, marching and demonstrating. Now Republicans look likely to win seats, if not control, in both houses, and many on the left claim that this happened because the Obama administration wasn’t leftist enough. One wonders if the best thing for the Democrats would be to lose the White House and be marginalized almost to the point of irrelevance in Congress to force the Democrats back to their base and their own Tea Party-style movement.

What actually happened was that the Democrats put too much stake in politics. They felt that if they just elected enough of the right politicians they’d bring a “progressive” heaven on earth. We just needed to defeat the moneyed corporate forces trying to destroy our future. But there are actual conservatives out there, actual people listening to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and they aren’t just misled by misinformation being spread by Big Corporations. The Left has claimed that the Tea Party is nothing but a big astroturf movement by moneyed interests, but at this point it’s difficult to see that as anything more than a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theory. After all, it’s taken aim at fellow Republicans, defeated GOP favorites in the primary, and made the claim that they lost in 2008 because they’re not rightist enough. The final Democratic triumph won’t occur until it sees the conservatives beyond the corporate boardrooms and recognizes their grievances and the forces behind them. At the same time, the Republicans need to realize that there are real Democrats out there, and they aren’t all misled by the liberal media – both sides need to realize that neither side is dominated by lunatics. After all, many of them have taken to the blogs in much the same way Republicans took to talk radio 20 years ago, and one of their complaints is that the media is if anything conservative!

And ultimately, the media is at the heart of all of this, accused of liberal bias on one side and conservative pandering on the other. I once tried to read both Media Matters for America and Newsbusters and came away with the idea that the media is just plain incompetent. Sure, everyone – including journalists – has an opinion, but why can’t the media simply report the facts as they are? Why can’t the mainstream media simply report all the relevant facts and leave them up to the reader’s interpretation, the way Fox News’ slogan claims – give us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? After years of being pilloried by left and right, how could the mainstream media still be biased?

The short answer is that your definition of “truth” is dependent on where on the political spectrum you lie. There will always be another fact you could have added, another study you ignored, and then some of the facts and studies you did cite may be misleading and just plain inaccurate. Every “fact check” you perform is showing bias in favor of the side you come out on. And then if you try “investigative reporting”, even in the past you had to choose where to send your resources, and then you’re effectively choosing entire stories that could show a liberal or conservative bias. And then on the flip side are those potential stories left behind, and no matter how radical or ridiculous the story sounds, if you refrain to report it it will ironically give the story more credibility than if you had reported it: “See, the mainstream media is covering up this story!” This is how we got 9/11 truthers and Obama birthers. The mainstream media could do a better job of bringing up these fringe theories the moment they come up and decisively squashing them, laying out all the evidence, but then one side will say you’re “legitimizing” the fringe theory (the fear that has been the mainstream media’s problem in the past), while the other will say you’re showing bias by presenting the “opinion” that the theory is wrong “uncritically”, which proves the first side right by legitimizing the theory.

And so the media can’t win. And in a landscape where the media can’t win, the winners are those places that are telling them the media is wrong in the first place. If you can’t trust the media, you can trust the partisan echo chambers known as talk radio, blogs, Fox News and MSNBC. Each political persuasion now has their own media, independent from each other and from the mainstream media. It is now possible to cocoon yourself and only expose yourself to those media that present a viewpoint that meshes with your own, that tell you how obvious it is that you’re right, how those big bad people on the other side want to ruin everything, and how the media are hiding the truth and coddling them. Party politics in this country is taking on almost religious connotations, with many of the same aspects of worldview, explanation, and reassurance – and it may be becoming literal, if Glenn Beck is any indication. (It would help if there were more than two political parties, but as Ralph Nader has proved, that’s difficult to accomplish as is, and the status quo arguably reflects one of the oldest divisions in the country, North and South, and maybe one of the oldest in the world, haves and have-nots.)

It becomes a vicious cycle: The partisan machine says mainstream media is biased, so you need to get your news from partisan sources, and that feeds the partisan machine. And the end result is that we now have two factions that are increasingly not speaking to each other – indeed, they increasingly can’t even understand each other. How can they? Admitting the other side might be right about something is a win for them. If they so much as claim that the risks of your position aren’t worth the benefits, you need to raise the stakes, ramp up the risks of their position, lest your followers potentially give in to the enemy. So every issue becomes an apocalyptic battle for the future of America. (On the plus side, no one now plausibly says there’s no difference between the parties.)

And not only are the mainstream media throwing up their hands and giving up on resolving the divide, they’re profiting on it and making it deeper. Complaining about the divide fills up time on political talk shows, but very little is done to do anything about it. CNN profited off the divide for a time by hosting Lou Dobbs’ rhetoric; MSNBC, where Keith Olbermann was once an anomaly, has now decided to plunge headfirst into becoming the liberal equivalent to Fox News, virtually matching if not exceeding Fox note-for-note in pundits with talk shows. Nowhere is there any serious effort in any of the three camps to bring the warring parties back together, to expose them to the other side’s views both on politics and the truth and give a reality check, to start a real conversation on common ground.

CNN tries to be nonpartisan. I think it would be better for the political discourse if it were bipartisan. I actually didn’t like it when Jon Stewart went on Crossfire, lambasted it, and led to its demise – that was one of the few places where left and right could come together and have their respective ideologies meet. In my view, the failure of CNN to see the true character of the political discourse in this country is reflected in its attempt to revive that format, Parker Spitzer. I saw an episode last week and saw a show where the hosts’ differing political ideologies seemed like a coincidence. It was a genteel setting where the hosts mainly engaged in roundtable discussions of high-level issues. There was very little effort to play left and right against each other, or even to represent them. Even in the opening segment, where each of the hosts presented their “opening arguments”, they basically agreed with each other that Obama needed to defend himself better. It’s like the show is living in a completely different universe than the rest of the political discourse, and not in a good way.

Defending the show to Richard Viguerie, who had expressed how unconvinced he was as a conservative about the show’s goals, Eliot Spitzer claimed that CNN was interested in fairness and balance, but it was also interested in the truth. That, to me, is the failing of the show. For many, Obama being born in Kenya or 9/11 being an inside job is the truth. If CNN really wants to correct the political discourse in this country, it needs to dwell on the fringes. I don’t want to see a debate between Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer; I want to see a debate between Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, Sarah Palin and Al Sharpton, Michelle Malkin and Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh and Markos Moulitsas. And I don’t want it to be a cable version of Charlie Rose, I want it to be a political version of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption. I once brought up this issue in a class and was told that, precisely because of the religious fervor and diverging worldviews of each side, it could lead to nothing but the sort of shouting matches that Stewart criticized Crossfire for – neither side would really get anywhere because they wouldn’t be arguing from common premises and couldn’t argue to the other side’s values, so they’d just go around in circles repeating themselves.

I don’t believe that’s the case, and I know that because I myself have found myself agreeing with or at least understanding conservative positions online, despite my own liberal leanings. In fact, while most people seemingly believe whatever they encounter first, I find myself agreeing with whatever I read last. I’ve found myself getting very self-conscious about my own liberal leanings when I read something from a conservative point of view, and worrying about whether or not I really am ruining America. Unfortunately, people like me seem to be few and far between, and they’re getting fewer and farther between. In reality, I suspect they make up the majority of Americans, but most of them just don’t hold strong positions, don’t feel strongly enough to speak about it, and are turned off by the shouting that goes on by the people who feel strongly enough to speak up. And I’m not terribly optimistic about the potential for Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity to bring them out of the woodwork. (Especially when whatever serious message may lie behind the comedy is undermined by the parallel “March to Keep Fear Alive”, and especially when several in the media paint it as a “progressive” response to Glenn Beck’s rally, taking part in the breakdown of the political discourse instead of trying to fix it.)

Unlike a lot of people, I don’t believe we’re becoming a nation of two colors, red and blue, with completely different cultures that can’t understand each other. I certainly hope that’s not where we’re going, or it could lead to another civil war. However, we could get there if the current political discourse is left unchecked, so I’m using my understanding of both sides to force an intervention, one more substantial than the Rally to Restore Sanity. Over the next few days I will attempt to explain the basic credo of both left and right – but the political discourse has fallen far enough that I don’t believe it’s sufficient to merely explain but also to defend, and it’s not sufficient to defend, but also to actively attempt to persuade. I will attempt to promote the political ideology of the left in an appeal to conservatives, and attempt to promote the political ideology of the right in an appeal to liberals.

I’m going to lay my biases up front: As someone with liberal leanings, I am more likely to do the left justice than the right, and I am more likely to show a comprehensive understanding of liberal values than conservative ones. Note also that in order to properly appeal to each side, I would need to follow up on things said while defending that side – to argue one side to the other, I’d need to appeal to the other side’s values, which I would have established while defending that side – so things may seem a little disjointed. I’ll then attempt to find some sort of common ground between them, to the extent there is any, and use this framework to look at various issues in the political discourse.

My revised mission statement on the global warming series

I think I’ve had an epiphany.

I have a confession to make. My intent with the global warming series was that I would attract partisans on both sides to argue their points on Da Blog, using my sources and the strip as a jumping-off point. My hope was to depict an argument so complete and convincing even hardcore partisans would be forced to rethink their positions if they disagreed with the final result (or even if they agreed). As such, I didn’t want to leave any information on the table, and partisans wouldn’t allow any argument to go unchallenged, lest it help serve to convince me that they were wrong, and thus allow the strip to convince others. So whenever I posted a round of the argument, people disagreeing with it would post a rebuttal, which would then get incorporated into the strip. That strip would provoke rebuttals, and the process would continue ad infinitum. To save time and blunt the impact of the argument in the strip, people might even respond directly to the original posts and vice versa, creating a full-on debate that would be mirrored in the strip.

I would need those partisans in order to have that debate, though, so last weekend I picked a fight at Newsbusters and posted a thread at Democratic Underground hoping to bait and guilt-trip them into coming here and at least starting the debate. Then I sat back and watched…

…as absolutely no one from either side showed up.

Yes, it was always far-fetched in retrospect because the strip wasn’t likely to convince much of anyone with its lack of readership, not to mention the inherent silliness of a freakin’ comic strip being so world-changing. In fact part of the plan was to build that readership that would be convinced by bringing in the people that would help make it convincing. I never said it was a flawless plan. Still, I grumbled as I set out to try to use Google and my existing sources to fill out the arguments, perhaps a little bit relieved at not getting chewed out by the partisans for a month or two but otherwise disappointed I couldn’t get them to do my research for me.

Another problem was that although I tried as hard as I could to create a balance between skeptical sources and environmentalist sources, between partisans on the left and right, I wouldn’t be able to be a neutral judge on the matter, because I myself was coming from a liberal background. In fact I portrayed my project to the people at Newsbusters as them debating me, neglecting to mention my trip to DU. But in truth, part of the reason I started the series in the first place was that I found skeptical arguments compelling and felt I could potentially be convinced. In fact I often find myself emphasizing with whatever side’s information I’m reading at the time. I thought this fact would help convince skeptics I really was interested in their position and my neutrality could be trusted.

After my attempt at bringing people to Da Blog to debate was a bust, I still maintained e-mail contact with one right-wing partisan, the maintainer of that last, lengthy skeptical source, arguing more about the merits of debating here and via e-mail than about the actual matters at hand. I insisted the point I made in the previous paragraph, and Thursday I got this unexpected response:

“If the side you take is based on whoever you read last then I am sorry, that is pathetic and you are absolutely hopeless at analyzing information. In this case I will not be able to convince you of anything.”

My mind raged with responses. Most people are probably like that (that, or it’s based on whoever they read first)! If the balance of arguments ultimately tips one way or the other, sure I can eventually be convinced! My plan was to collect all the information over the course of the series, then reread the whole thing, churn through the arguments in my head, and decide on a position! It’s not that I don’t have critical thinking skills, I just need to give them a workout, and this series is part of that!

So why don’t I?

In the end, I decided, he’s right. I shouldn’t just take whatever I’m told as given, I should work through the evidence myself. I shouldn’t need the partisans to tell me what to think. If I’m going to give my critical thinking skills a workout, I need to give my critical thinking skills a workout. And since I hope to do a lot of thinking over the course of my life, this should be an important and positive excersize for me.

So you know what? I don’t care anymore that no one’s pitching in at the Global Warming Open Thread, or e-mailing me with their arguments. It’s going to be a bit more work for me, but it’s work I probably should do. I’ll still look through and take into account the comments on the Open Thread, but I won’t be as upset if there aren’t any, I’m not going to be specifically looking for them, I’ll work through the research myself to the extent that Google and my existing sources allow me to, and I’m no longer checking my e-mail on a daily basis, but at the rate I normally do. It’ll be a more fulfilling experience for me, building skills I’ll need to do more of these series in the future, perhaps even skills that will prove useful for snagging a real job or at least doing well in college.

If there’s a downside, I might not have as much information as I’d like if it doesn’t pop up right away in Google, and I want as complete a picture as possible for this heady issue. But I think it’s worth the risk from a personal growth point of view, and I hope you’re all along for the ride.

My Birthday (And Continuing) Book Wish List

Last summer, I made a list of books I was interested in with an eye towards pseudo-reviewing them and discussing them and their interesting ideas, or at least exposing myself to them. As it would be unlikely that I could buy them all (books are expensive, especially non-fiction ones, often running $20 a pop!), even after getting more gift cards from Barnes and Noble every gift-giving season than I had heretofore known what to do with, I would run the list on Da Blog as a “Christmas list” during a run of political posts in October and hope the mass of new readers I was hoping to attract would get them for me.


Then my USB drive stopped working and the planned run of political posts was a big bust anyway. Now that my drive has been recovered, a month out from my birthday on April 22, I’m posting the list – with some additions – as a birthday list, even though many of the books may be less topical and less interesting than they were before (especially before the election). It may seem odd that I would ask you to buy stuff to give to me (as opposed to buying stuff from me), but it’s with an eye to future posts on Da Blog (I hope), as well as other projects such as my idea of writing a book on the impact of the Internet. (Even though in most cases I don’t have much time to read any of them.) Besides, many of them should be eye-opening even if I never get them. I may institute a direct donation system of some sort at some point down the line. (If it weren’t for my distrust of PayPal, I’d have one already.)


If you want to get me anything, e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com for a mailing address. I’ve organized the list by some broad topics:

You may recall I started my abortive attempt at a series of political posts with a brief digression into global warming, which led to a brief discussion of mass transit’s role in correcting it. Originally that was going to turn into a larger project that would last until the start of the platform examinations, and I still want to revive that project in some form at some point. (The brief comeback of the platform examinations may have contained what was originally intended to be a hook into that revival.) I have three books on this sort of thing already I was thinking of reviewing, but there are still more I’m interested in:
  • Who’s Your City? by Richard Florida
  • Suburban Transformations by Paul Lukez
  • Cities by John Reader
  • Cities in Full by Steve Belmont
  • Any book about urban planning


The first book on this list isn’t strictly “political”, but it still ties in to related interests. Many of these relate to the battles in the Media Bias Wars.

  • 10 Books that Screwed Up the World (and 5 Others that Didn’t Help) by Benjamin Wiker
  • Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg
  • The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain by George Lakoff (and any other books by the same author)
  • Right is Wrong by Arianna Huffington
  • Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It) by William Poundstone
  • Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting Systems by Douglas J. Amy
  • Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System by Douglas Schoen
  • Going Green: A Wise Consumer’s Guide to a Shrinking Planet by Sally and Sadie Kniedel


These books are interesting in some way in terms of research for my book on the Internet, and so they’re somewhat higher priority than the others. Some have the Internet as their topic, while others are interesting filters to look at Internet culture through, or unavoidably touch on the impact of the Internet. There are a couple of books I didn’t list, and if I included any that aren’t impact-making or at least critically acclaimed, forget about them.

  • Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World by Don Tapscott
  • Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet by Kathryn C. Montgomery
  • Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • The Tipping Point: How Little Things can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (and any other books by the same author)
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson


Hey, trying to think all the time is a good way to burn my brain out. As you can tell by the fact I don’t have as many thought-provoking posts as I probably should.

  • Any installments of The Complete Peanuts after 1970
  • Garfield Gets His Just Desserts
  • Any Order of the Stick book (this is somewhat difficult; the online shop is the most reliable place to find them, and even that’s not 100% reliable; certain comic book stores may have them, but not all; gaming stores – specializing in D&D and their ilk – are more likely, but in the latter two cases availability may be based on whether or not they’re in print)

Also, I’d really like to be able to play The Sims 3 when it comes out in June (unless it’s widely panned), but although the “Franken-computer” I have for a desktop was built in 2004 and was state-of-the-art then, and has been pretty close to it for five years, it only barely has enough processor power to play it and definitely not enough RAM, and I’m not sure if it has enough video RAM. I’d prefer not to have to get an entirely new computer just to play one game, but…

Stewart v. Cramer: What the Media is Doing Unequivocally Wrong, No Matter What You Believe

Why aren’t real news people more like Jon Stewart?

The Colbert Report debuted in 2005. That means that The Daily Show had been earning rave reviews since well before that for its biting satirical take on the news that in some cases seemed better than the real news shows. Even before The Colbert Report, Stewart made a famous appearance on Crossfire a year earlier where he so called out the culture of news of the day it led to Crossfire‘s cancellation. (And his show put out America: The Book the same year.) But news organizations have changed so little since then that TV news is arguably poorer for the loss of Crossfire as a place where liberal and conservative views would be forced to confront each other (and made stronger for it) rather than stay within their shelters of Keith Olbermann and Rush Limbaugh. (I’d like to see some news network start a PTI-style show for news and politics.) As early as 2002, Stewart was rumored to be replacing David Letterman.

We’ve had Stewart helming The Daily Show for a decade now, and earning rave reviews the whole time, and a recurring theme of his tenure has been calling out and making fun of the mainstream media as much if not more often than politicians. (The media was a particular target of America: The Book.) And for being, as Stewart is wont to remind people, a “fake news show”, its popularity still would seem to suggest it’s something today’s youth actually want in their news. So why hasn’t anyone taken up the challenge? Why is journalism still as bankrupt as it ever has been in this decade? Why hasn’t anyone become the “real” Jon Stewart, or at least taken up his grievances?

This came into focus for me while watching Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer last night. The interview went on so long that the unedited version had to be posted on The Daily Show‘s web site, but really, the interview could be condensed into one or two sentences. Stewart called out Cramer and CNBC for not digging down deep in its interviews with CEOs and challenging them to bring the goods, instead of “trusting” them and then “regretting” trusting them so much later. More broadly, Stewart both cast doubt on the ethical standards of people like Cramer who have had experience with the shadier side of Wall Street and suggested that experience could be used to actually enlighten viewers, and wondered if CNBC’s target audience was ordinary Americans looking to invest their 401k’s or Wall Street insiders.
This isn’t new stuff with Stewart. Regularly he will show pieces of a real news network’s softball interview with a newsmaker and ridicule it, or criticise the practices of the mainstream media in a similar fashion. But to flip it around, if Cramer were to come on an Anderson Cooper or someone else in the mainstream media, he wouldn’t be so heavily pushed – even if he weren’t a member of it. It says a lot that Stewart is doing a lot of the asking of truly penetrating questions and actual debate of guests in the media today.

Why do we have to tune in at 11 PM on the comedy channel to watch a comedian do it for only thirty minutes? Doesn’t Stewart’s popularity suggest there’s a real market for real, hard-hitting journalism, not pandering and demagoguery?

Last summer after reading True Enough, I decided I would start reading the two major media watchdog sites on both sides of the political spectrum, Media Matters for America on the left and Newsbusters on the right. I eventually stopped – I got the impression that Newsbusters was more obsessive about rooting out bias and had a larger density of posts, and for the first time I started semi-seriously considering the conservative claim of liberal media bias – but the impression I got from the sites dedicated to claiming the media was biased to the right or to the left wasn’t that it was biased to either side. It was just incompetent.

That led me to claim that what was really needed was for the media to fight back against claims of bias from both sides and lay out why they’re right after all. But part of the reason the media isn’t fond of doing that is because it’s all too fond of playing up the extreme differences between left and right. It’s as much a willing participant as anything in the red-blue divide with shows from the likes of Lou Dobbs, Keith Olbermann, and Sean Hannity. (Bill O’Reilly and Rachael Maddow might deserve at least a little more respect from their respective other sides.) And there may also be the factor that the media really is falling down on the job. Certainly it’s not just left and right complaining about it, or even minority groups like backers of third parties. Anyone you talk to will likely bemoan the loss of real journalism, of investigative journalism, of substantive journalism, of coverage of events that really matter rather than, say, Jennifer Aniston, of any virtue of journalism that doesn’t follow the almighty dollar.

The people running the news networks will likely say that sort of thing doesn’t sell. I think the popularity of Stewart says otherwise and that, given an alternative to the sort of hollow, flashy, scratching-the-surface, substanceless journalism they’re getting now, people will flock to it in a heartbeat. Certainly that’s the sort of thing my mom likes best about Stewart; I suspect it’s what America will find they like as well. (Although presentation matters; the fact it may matter more than content is how we got into this mess. Once, I was inspired by anti-American-media comments to check out BBC America’s “World News America” and found it boring as hell. And not entirely free from schmaltzy human interest stories to boot.)

Newspapers aren’t dying because they can’t make money on the Internet, except in the sense they don’t know how to capitalize on the Internet (and that they’ve been losing classified revenue to Craigslist). They may even be best off silencing their presses – besides the cost of the press itself, there’s distribution and middleman fees to consider – as the print versions have really become loss leaders more than anything else. They’re dying because they’re so incompetent that two groups that have never been such bitter enemies nonetheless both hate their guts, and because they’re getting new competition and scrutiny from blogs – and because they believe their “can’t make money on the Internet” excuse for their struggles, they aren’t realizing the real reasons and adapting and evolving to them. (I wrote more on this here.) Rather than getting better newspapers, we might end up with no newspapers at all. I mean, after decades of conservative accusations of media bias, how is it that the mainstream media is STILL doing stuff like this? Or this or this?

I hear that a major reason we need to save newspapers is because of all the “financial resources” they have to do real broad-scale reporting. If newspapers want to keep those “financial resources” they need to come up with new and better reasons for people to patronize them. And as for television news, they’re well overdue to take a long, hard look at themselves and figure out if they’re really doing the best they can. Stewart may be telling them – in word and deed – that they aren’t.

This is going to slow down my platform examinations even more, isn’t it?

In light of the anti-media comments coming from both sides in response to this article, perhaps the exhortation at the end is of some import:

But in a world, and a Web, full of analysis, opinion and “accountability journalism,” what’s missing is a neutral referee. Which is a bit like living in a world with a North Pole and a South Pole but no equator. If there’s no one to set the standard, how will we know when we’ve crossed the line?

But truly neutral, objective journalism may well be dead now, if it ever really existed, sacrificed to the altar of profit and, in the case of blogs, preaching to the choir. In today’s media climate, it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it for anyone in the “mainstream media” to serve as a “neutral referee”.

So I’d like to posit this proposal, and I don’t know if I personally would be able to take part, but it’s worth considering: A collective of blogs, bloggers, and other interested persons from all sides of the political spectrum that monitors the media – newspapers, TV, and blogs – and calls them on their BS, while also serving as a “new” AP, attempting to present the news of the day accurately, completely, and fairly from as many sources as possible.

Workable, or unworkable?

I hope this is anywhere near as good as what I was going for.

If it seems like there isn’t anyone it seems like you can trust these days, that’s probably because there isn’t anyone it seems like you can trust these days.

Once upon a time, most Americans got their news from a handful of sources. There was your local paper (which probably got its national news from the Associated Press or similar), there were the network newscasts, maybe newsmagazines like Time or Newsweek, and that was the definition of what was going on in the world today. Today there are more places to get news than you can shake a stick at, from local news to talk radio to CNN to MSNBC to Fox News to blogs to other Internet forums to just people in the street. It’s a bewildering array of news choices.

Once upon a time, a few suits in New York determined what Americans would talk about each day. Until conservatives in the 1980’s started finding a liberal bias in what they reported, most people took this system for granted. Now there is no news monopoly, no news oligarchy. If you want to find out about voting irregularities in Ohio in 2004, you can. If you want to find out about the case against man-made climate change, you can. If you want to find out about the happenings of the Joe McLonewolf party whose only candidate is its namesake running for mayor of Nowheresville, Montana, you can.

But all this has made it a lot harder to at least have the idea that you really know what’s going on in the world, at least if you’re not setting out to be a partisan hack. Will you get your news from Fox, or from CNN? Will you get your news from the ABC station, or the CBS station? From Rush Limbaugh, or from NPR? From Huffington Post, or Drudge Report? From Talking Points Memo, or from Town Hall? Or will you drive yourself insane by trying to take something from all of the above? You don’t need to know every single detail of what’s going on in the world, at least theoretically, but the new conventional wisdom is that you can’t trust anyone to decide what’s important. Best to just take it all in, even though no one has that much time in the day.

But wait! What happens when different sources contradict each other? Frustratingly, you will rarely hear any of Talking Points Memo’s claims debunked at Town Hall (or vice versa), you’ll just see its very existence torn down. If someone says everything is going great in Iraq, and someone else says Iraq is going into the crapper, which is right, or how right is each claim? There are groups that publish exposes of inaccuracies, distortions, and omissions in the media, but a) they are ALWAYS partisan (and often more concerned with bashing their target than actually critically examining it and acknowledging where it might be right) and b) they focus exclusively on the mainstream media. These organizations are either lefty and complaining that the media is biased to the right, or righty and complaining that the media is biased to the left. Read the two in unison, and you get the sense that if the media is anything, it’s just plain incompetent.

Seriously, after years of being pilloried by the right til the cows come home and seeing conservatives drift over to Fox News and the like, why on Earth would the so-called “MSM” still exhibit left-wing bias?

It’s been said that having certain preconceived notions simply comes with the territory of being human, and that “bias” is inevitable. It’s also been said that in response to complaints of media bias, the media started publishing all claims no matter how specious and started presenting every debate as having two sides, even if it’s an evolution-v.-creationism debate where every last shred of evidence favors one side. Maybe people who watched ABC, NBC, and CBS were more likely to vote for Kerry because those three networks were in the tank for him; maybe it was because honestly looking at the facts of what was going on in the world would suggest Kerry was the right man to vote for. I wouldn’t be able to say if the media has reacted like that or if it’s to the extreme often suggested. Certainly cable news has essentially become a series of shoutfests driven by ideologues who draw immense cults of personality around them, embracing partisanship rather than getting rid of it.

I would suggest, though, that in addition to legitimizing illegitamate viewpoints, point-counterpoint debates may make it harder, not easier, to escape charges of bias, because if one side is seen as “winning”, obviously you didn’t make the other side strong enough. It couldn’t possibly be that if both sides were as strong as they could be the first side would be shown to be correct.

I do know for one thing that regardless of whether the mainstream media is biased or even incompetent at what it’s trying to do, it’s not entirely blameless. The media has been slow to react to the new proliferation of voices and in many cases only pays lip service to the Internet and its allies – launching web sites and “I-Reports” or whatever they call their user-generated video with one hand while snickering at nerds-in-the-basement-bloggers the rest of the time, feeling that they’re not really all that popular and beneath their notice. There really isn’t much of a reason why the “mainstream media” needs to be separate from the Internet, strictly speaking, why it shouldn’t cover the same stories and discuss the same issues that people online are debating, even if they sound like the deranged rantings of a crazy person. Especially if they sound like the deranged rantings of a crazy person, because thanks to the Internet, they won’t go away if you don’t lay the smack down.

The media’s quest for journalistic integrity and sourcing is in many ways something that’s sorely needed in the… non-mainstream media, for lack of a better term. If the blogosphere concerns themselves with correcting the MSM, maybe the MSM can concern itself with correcting the blogosphere. 2004-election-stealing conspiracy theorists, 9/11 truthers, (in 2004) Swift Boaters, and the like may want the media to look at their claims and publicize them, but I suspect that if the mainstream media actually did investigate them they would lose much of their popularity. And the media would do a more effective job at losing their accusations of bias than their recent efforts have been capable of. In fact here’s an idea: Let’s take the most far-out, extreme lefty you can think of, pair him up with the most far-out, extreme righty you can think of, and have them hash out any argument they may have, bombarding each other with points and evidence, until one side is throughly decimated and both sides become more sane.

It was thinking like this, several months ago, that led me to launch Truth Court (okay, maybe the actual announcement was only a month and a half ago) after reading True Enough by Farhad Manjoo, proposing an initiative that would look at every shred of evidence at both sides of a factual debate and attempt to come to a coherent worldview or conclusion, if not by me then by someone else. At one time I had been considering also starting a new feature, possibly after the elections, that would take all the hot posts from the top blogs on all sides of the spectrum and unite them under a single post so you could see what all sides were talking about, which might encourage cross-pollination of information. Right now, I’m thinking I’m not going to do that – and that Truth Court may be becoming less necessary – for two reasons. One, the election will almost assuredly change the paradigms on all sides of the political debate, especially if Obama wins.

Two, the media itself is starting to shake into a new paradigm, taking to heart some of the suggestions I made above. People in media are starting to realize that they threaten to be overtaken by blogs and “new media”, that the Internet and talk radio is not beneath their notice, and if they aren’t, they should soon. The Edwards scandal may have largely shaken the mainstream media out of what complacency they may have had, by creating an easy base for accusations of liberal bias and generally embarrasing the media for getting scooped by the National Enquirer and following a policy of “the blind leading the blind” thereafter. And more importantly, it gave a preview of what could have been the media’s future of irrelevancy and pariahhood.

That the media called around looking to fact-check and get to the bottom of Sarah Palin’s qualifications and McCain’s and Palin’s statements caught some commentators by surprise and got them wondering if the press is finally serving the American people in the way they always should have. The recent popularity of “fact-check” segments is also an encouraging sign as well. Quite a few people on the left see the Bush years as the dark years that, they hope, Obama will pull us out of. It’s somewhat fitting that the red state-blue state meme was started after the 2000 elections, because we may finally be pulling out of the dark years of barbaric partisanship as well.

Debunking – or legitimizing? – climate change deniers

I’m trying to allow myself to build a bit of a buffer of posts so I can work in advance with little pressure, so I’m going to keep today’s post short and sweet. With luck, today’s Random Internet Discovery (look at the “internet adventures” tag in the sidebar) will be about politics so you’ll get some sort of political fix.

As I said yesterday, I feel strongly that, regardless of how you feel regarding its existence or cause, the consequences are too high (and are already starting to affect us now, in this generation) not for us to make an abrupt change in course. So I don’t want any sort of distraction from global warming naysayers, or for anything that looks like it contradicts the case for global warming to impede our progress towards saving our planet. So I want people to take a look at this, this, this, and specifically this and this, look at the actual evidence (which is to say, not just to cite some wild-eyed nut or person who obviously has an interest who thinks man’s not causing global warming just because) that’s presented (and in the case of the Wikipedia articles, not already answered), and tell me why it doesn’t matter, or why it’s suspect, or why it’s an outlier, or why it’s inaccurate, or some other reason why it might not be as damning as it seems, or hell, why it’s perfectly legitimate and valid. I may attempt to sort out everything in a post as soon as tomorrow, or I may never get to it as my schedule cramps up.

Newsbusters v. Kilpatrick et al: Part II of the Truth Court announcement

After subscribing to Media Matters and Newsbusters, I’ve realized – or rather, re-realized – an insight that may come across as novel.

The battle over media bias has three sides, not two: conservatives, liberals, and the media itself.

The problem is, the two political sides merely conflate the media with the other side, and see no difference between them. Conservatives simply see the media as part of the vast left-wing conspiracy, and liberals see the media as simply being an arm of the right. But the media is worse: it doesn’t see itself as part of the battle at all, or rather, it sees the battle as an altogether different battle with “new media”, with bloggers and the Internet, and ignores some of the reasons why people may not be following them onto their own new media platforms. The media goes after the wrong enemy without realizing that many of the accusations of bias are within its own pages – hardly “new media”. Because the media doesn’t fight back against the actual charges and goes after a strawman instead, someone reading Media Matters and Newsbusters dispassionately might be led to believe that the media isn’t tinted to the left, right, or balanced; it’s just incompetent.

I should add that in order to truly reach that conclusion, you’d have to add another liberal blog, because Media Matters only goes after specific instances of “conservative misinformation”, while Newsbusters attacks at any perceived slight, no matter how minor. For example, Newsbusters has been attacking the MSM’s coverage of Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s troubles for allegedly not labeling him as a Democrat, when they would be so quick to label him if he was a Republican! Hmm, could that have something to do with the mayor of Detroit being an officially nonpartisan position? Could it be that if they had called him, say, “Detroit’s Democratic mayor”, as Fox News did, they would actually be inaccurate and would come in for an even heavier pillorying from the left? Newsbusters itself has found enough exceptions that it makes me wonder if the rare cases of being quick to label Republicans as such that they cite are themselves exceptions… though I’d need more information to verify that for certain.

Farhad Manjoo (of True Enough fame, remember) appears to be one of the few to recognize that the left and the right are really putting forth two sides of the same coin. One of the studies he cites in True Enough (page 154) concerns an incident in Lebanon in 1982 and the reaction to news reports on the incident by students at Stanford – one pro-Israel, one pro-Arab, and one neutral group. Predictably, the partisan groups believed the news was biased against them and towards the other side, likely to turn viewers against their own side. What did the neutral group think? Funnily enough, they didn’t see any bias one way or the other. It would seem to be evidence that, at the very least, the news could in fact be perfectly fair and balanced.

But it’s unlikely to convince partisans in the United States who would just see it as evidence that the bias in the news is “subtle”, even subliminal. Even if the neutral group didn’t see bias, didn’t even claim to favor one side or the other more than before, that’s just because the media tries to hide its bias because they know people want a fair and balanced account. In reality, the media is sowing the seeds so that when people hear something closer to the truth, closer to what the partisans know is true, they will dismiss it because “well, what I heard on the news was…” Certainly the fact that Newsbusters is on the lookout for such minutiae as whether a politician’s party is identified – which would be, if a crime, one of omission – would seem to support this idea.

But consider that conservatives have been hammering the media for having a liberal bias for decades. If people are abandoning the MSM for blogs because of all the bias they see in it (a claim often voiced in Newsbusters’ comments), if polls show that media bias is a bigger problem than worship of the almighty dollar in campaigns, if operations like Media Matters and Newsbusters exist to call them on any perceived slight the instant they show one and shame them for thousands, maybe even millions, of readers to see, why, the media would be absolutely foolish to show any bias whatsoever. There should be less media bias than at any time in history.

But not only do Media Matters and Newsbusters still have plenty of targets, the exact opposite has happened: The mainstream media has become more biased, even blatantly so. Fox News is the most obvious example (and it’s telling that Newsbusters sometimes calls Fox “fair and balanced” with a straight face), but CNN (ex. Lou Dobbs Tonight) and MSNBC (ex. Countdown with Keith Olbermann) have more than their fair share of partisan screeds disguised as news too. Even the seemingly balanced shows on cable news tend to be debatefests between pundits and/or party surrogates. (As I’ll explain in a later post, it’s possible that if anything, these debatefests are too tame, as though their contestants were politicians running for office and chasing the center. Give me a strong, popular extreme righty against a strong, popular extreme lefty anytime.) Perhaps this trend – that to avoid charges of bias, the media has made them come true – suggests that the problem was never that the media wasn’t balanced, but that it was too balanced. (That said, the fact that liberals only recently have taken up the media bias cant may suggest that the media was once at least slightly tinted to the left. Or it could indicate, as the title of Arianna Huffington’s book suggests, that “Right is Wrong”.)

But trying to be balanced to everyone is too much work. Say a study comes out that says a bunch of stuff about offshore drilling but doesn’t come out one way or the other. But if you don’t report on the study, the next time you do a story about drilling Newsbusters will hammer you for not reporting on the study that proves how far we could drive down oil prices and declare our oil independence by drilling (ignoring that the report shows Republicans arguing exactly that, albeit not citing the study). So you report on the study, only to find Media Matters accusing you of ignoring that the same study shows drilling would actually do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and would cause three species of marine life to become extinct. If you’d said the study had said that, Newsbusters would accuse you of purposely misrepresenting the study, so you have to present both the liberal conclusion and the conservative conclusion. And now both sides are accusing you of putting forth a partisan spin on the study “uncritically”…

What I’d like to see, then, is a blog defending the media from accusations of bias from both sides, enough of an insider to be privy to the discussions deciding what gets printed and how, but not so far inside the MSM that (s)he would be subject to some of its quirks like, say, not talking about the John Edwards scandal. The media doesn’t need to become what the news would look like if partisans ran it. It doesn’t need to see the enemy as this amorphous “new media” that’s just out to destroy it. We don’t even need to see a clear distinction between old and new media, and the fact that bastions of old media like the Los Angeles Times and ESPN have started sponsoring forays into blogging is evidence of that. It just needs people to credibly say, “no. We’re right, you’re wrong, and here’s why.” It needs someone to explain to Newsbusters why it won’t identify Kwame Kilpatrick as a Democrat (or why it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t), to Media Matters why it won’t report how closely John McCain has followed President Bush, to the right why it didn’t pursue the John Edwards story (and why it did pursue the affairs of Republicans – and even if more Republican infidelities are reported than Democratic ones, that may have more to do with the fact that Republicans are the party of “family values” than with any liberal bias), and to the left why it didn’t look more critically at the case for war in Iraq, and to sit through both sides’ rebuttals and patiently counter-rebut those.

Maybe no one in the mainstream media wants to put up a blog responding to the accusations of partisans. And maybe they don’t have to. Barring that, I’d like to see someone put up a site that employed both liberals and conservatives looking for bias from the mainstream media – but also looking for inaccuracies and shortcomings and distortions from Media Matters and Newsbusters and even its own analysts, and not just those but the entire conservative and liberal blogosphere. Its slogan could be “Keeping the media honest… and the people who watch them.” Or something like that. If blogs are the new place to get the news, surely they need a Media Matters or Newsbusters just as much as the mainstream media does. If I’m right, and the media itself is just as much a side in the debate as the left and the right, then it logically follows that it needs its own Media Matters or Newsbusters to keep the other two sides in check.

Or would that just be accused of being just as biased as the mainstream media itself? Newsbusters’ apparent decision to write off any explanation the mainstream media give for ignoring the Edwards story as “making excuses” suggests it may be. Still, if the consequenses otherwise are the “death” of the mainstream media made very real, replaced by a bunch of partisan outlets not speaking to one another, perhaps all sides would be better for a serious dialogue. Or rather, trialogue?

Announcement of Truth Court Part I

Yes, this long-awaited post is going to be split into two parts, and in Part I I’m going to tell you that I’m not actually going to do what I’m announcing, when it’s something I’ve already demonstrated. More on that later.

Lo, many months ago I was in a Barnes and Noble thinking about burning off a ridiculous collection of gift cards I had built up, mostly so I could enlighten myself on an issue I’ll be talking about later in the fall. I was struck by several books in the store not directly related to the topic I was looking for. In particular, I was intrigued by Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough, and impulse-bought it, and it turned out that I didn’t have as much on my gift cards (and I didn’t have as many gift cards) as I thought and I ended up actually having to spend some money that I wouldn’t have needed to spend if I’d just picked up the other three books. Oh well.

I brought up True Enough earlier in the summer in a different context, but now I want to go a little more in depth. True Enough‘s thesis is that new technologies, which are supposed (by their supporters) to make it easier to find out what the truth really is, also allow falsehoods to propagate more easily, allowing our very notion of what “the truth” is to splinter into mutually exclusive segments. If you’re a conservative blog, for example, you can link to all manner of sources (no matter how specious) that prove your points, and conveniently censor all those that prove those durn libruls’ points.

Much of what True Enough says seems rather obvious, and just restating a lot of conventional wisdom in a concise form. And it’s easy to dismiss much of what Manjoo says once you discover his background, and decide “oh, he’s just covering for the mainstream media”, especially since his longest chapter is on the media and accusations from both sides that it’s somehow biased towards the other side. (As I explain in Part II, though, having someone try to defend the mainstream media is not a bad thing.) But it’s also accompanied by the results of studies in sociology and psychology that put a lot of the American political debate in a new light and does much to explain why we are where we are.

If I had to isolate one part of it, though, that I would consider a weak spot, I would point to its ending. After six chapters of exposing how easily falsehoods can propagate in culture, and how our very perceptions of reality can splinter, after showing time and time again that there really is an objective truth that people continually ignore because it doesn’t fit their preconceptions, and showing how this creeping “truthiness” can have results ranging from insidious to disasterous, Manjoo doesn’t really offer any way to solve anything. Rather, he seems to take this as the norm, the status quo, the way things are. His epilogue says little other than “we’ve got a choice about which reality to believe” and telling us to be careful about who we trust. The book’s last words, in the context of all that has come before, are rather chilling: “Choosing means trusting some people and distrusting the rest. Choose wisely.” Nothing about how to actually solve these problems and get technology to work for us instead of against us? Nothing to streamline the path through which truth can beat out all the falsehoods running around? We just have to pick and choose who we trust, when any of them could be spreading inaccuracies at any time?

I don’t believe we have to settle. Even before I actually started reading it, True Enough had me thinking about the issues it raised, and I started thinking I would start a truth court, which would sort through all the evidence on all sides and come to a conclusion as to what the real truth was. It wouldn’t attempt to solve matters of opinion, only matters of fact. If anything, Manjoo’s book actually dissuaded me from this project by showing me just how much work it would involve. I think, however, that such a project would be important for democracy, especially if it addressed Manjoo’s issues in (among others) the following ways:

  • Manjoo identifies the idea of selective exposure, the idea that we only expose ourselves to news sources that we agree with. If you’re a liberal, you’re likely to tune out when Fox News comes on, but you might be listening with rapt attention when Keith Olbermann’s show is on. Truth Court would make sure it’s part of the solution, not part of the problem, by being even-handed and authoritative enough with its verdicts, at least early on, to attract an audience on both sides of the political divide. Also, it would accept all evidence presented to it, would not hesitate to reopen a case, and generally would lay down the law hard enough and convincingly enough that you would have to be a complete fool not to accept its verdicts.
  • Also on Manjoo’s list is the idea of selective perception, that we only see what we want to see even when looking at the same piece of evidence. All audio and visual evidence will be presented directly to all interested parties and will also be presented to experts who are particularly well positioned to explain any anomalies one way or the other.
  • Manjoo notes that “experts” may come from questionably relevant fields, or their expertise may simply be questionable (more on this in a bit). Truth Court makes sure it will bring in as many experts from as many relevant fields as possible to analyze the evidence, and will also identify where their expertise comes from and any potential biases.
  • As part of showing that some people may credibly claim to be experts with no relevant knowledge whatsoever, Manjoo shows how presenting a warm demeanor and a jokey style is better than a dry, boring professor. To ensure maximum audience appeal, Truth Court would attempt a similar fun-loving style. We don’t want you to fall asleep while you’re reading.
  • Manjoo presents results supporting the idea of biased assimilation, the idea that we look more critically at findings that say something we disagree with, and are more likely to take at face value the findings we agree with. Truth Court will scrutinize all evidence for potential biases or shortcomings and will take seriously all subsequent requests to review the evidence, but we’ll also scrutinize the requests themselves for fallacies.
  • Attached to biased assimiliation is naive realism, the idea that you take your worldview as objective truth, which helps explain why left and right attack the media for being biased, seizing on any example of supporting their enemies and attacking themselves while ignoring evidence sympathetic to their side as simply unbiased reporting. (In a variant and possible admission of this, Arianna Huffington has a book of her own, Right is Wrong, which claims that the media should be liberally biased because the left is so right.) Manjoo documents how this leaves the smart play for media to actually become biased, as in the Fox News model; if you’re going to be attacked anyway, you might as well go all the way and appease one side by making the other side’s attacks actually true. Truth Court will end every case by opening things up for feedback where you can point out any biases you see, and we can respond to your charges by getting better one way or the other, or by pointing out for all to see how we were unbiased after all.

If you’re reading all this, you’re probably thinking this is a lot of work, and you can understand why I’m probably not going to do much in Truth Court. While I leave it open for anyone to take up and I consider it an important project, I also recognize that it might be a bit much for some people.

Which is why this announcement is in two parts, because I also have a lighter-duty idea for anyone willing to take up the charge, one more focused on the ongoing battles over which way, if any, the media is biased. That second part may be coming as soon as tomorrow. Stay tuned.