Posts from July 12, 2005

The story so far

The story so far

: In news, I’m no fan of scandal journalism because I tend to get lost in the games of he-spat-she-spat and I think that most scandals ultimately have very little to do with our lives and distract from issues and stories that do matter.

In the far less momentous word of so-called personality reporting, I also was no fan of the equivilant, what I came to call bodily fluids journalism: the emphasis on personal scandal over professional products. That is one essential reason why I created Entertainment Weekly: Because of a number of factors in the mid ’80s (the remote control and cable and the resultant fragmentation of the audience; the rise of personality and the value of celebrity to market media; the increasing power of flacks as the new gatekeepers to the famous and what came to pass for news…), the stars’ movie or TV show or album became far less important in media than the stars’ sex scandal or baby or disease or death. So I started a magazine about product over personality, that helped you decide where to spend your money and time.

I don’t mean to stand up above the scandal mongers, all haughty. That’s pretty hard for a former gossip columnist and People writer to do. It’s just the way I look at things.

And that’s why I tend to pay little attention to scandals until I have to… which means I’m often behind the times. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing for a newsman. I was behind on l’affaire Rather until you, my readers, made me catch up and you were right to do so.

Yesterday, I got email from a blog friend asking why I haven’t been on top of l’affaire Rove (formerly known as l’affaire Plame) and the truth is that I just didn’t keep up with all the ins and outs. The implication when people ask a blogger why he’s not writing about a story is that there’s a political motive: Why are you and Reynolds ignoring Rove? Confess! Apologize! Blog! But, in fact, it’s usually just the case that the blogger simply doesn’t care about the story and since a blog isn’t a newspaper of record — a blog is personal — that’s perfectly fine. I have not been a devotee of the Niger-Wilson-Plame-Miller-Cooper-Rove game of hot potato from the start. It’s a pretty sleazy story of overlapping hidden agendas. I don’t get my rocks off digging into scandals. And so I have not written about it. I haven’t had anything worthwile to add.

Still, I will admit it’s time to catch up. But I look at the mountain of charges and countercharges with exhaustion. Just today, I read the NY Times story about White House silence (what we used to call stonewalling) on the hit reality show Rove and the Reporters past the jump without getting a summary of what exactly is now known or acknowledged about Rove’s involvement. The Times assumes that we’re all keeping up on every back-and-forth like good Sisyphusean scandalmongers. I haven’t been. But The Times can’t edit every story for ignorant dolts like me who haven’t been keeping track of a story. Newspapers try; they add background graphs into the middle of tales but in the case of a saga like Rove/Plame, it’s impossible to sum it all up in a graph or two.

About a year ago, I wrote a post (which I can’t find right now, being bandwidth challenged in the mountains but here‘s the same material in a Powerpoint on how technology changes news) arguing that if you created a news product from scratch today, you wouldn’t include those background graphs. You’d link to the background instead. News would fork into ‘now’ and ‘then.’ The only problem is that news organizations aren’t structured to give the news that way. Newspapers especially don’t tell you what’s happening right now; they tell you what happened a few hours ago, when they’re good and ready. Apart from the scattered background graphs, they also aren’t good at getting you up to speed on a story you’ve missed; they don’t gather collected wisdom. Newspapers and newsrooms just aren’t structured to do that.

But the web is structured to do just that: to tell you what’s happening right now and to gather collected wisdom.

So I need someone to give me the story so far. Or the scandal so far.

I went to Wikipedia’s entry on Karl Rove and it was pretty good, though this triple negative took me 5 minutes to parse:

It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was classified information.

[The only way to make that sentence more befuddling would be to put it this way: “It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was not public information.” A quadruple negative. But I digress.]

Now you can the argument about whether Wikipedia is factual and edited and journalistic and all that. But at least it did help me get up to speed.

Now the question remains whether I care. Sorry, but if I went to a party and heard one group dissecting Plame/Rove and another group dissecting War of the Worlds, I’d join the latter conversation. In a blog, it’s hard to feign interest.

: LATER: If you subscribe to the content analysis school of you-are-what-you-don’t-write-about then Dave Winer finds evidence that NPR is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

: Tom Gross, author of an influential newsletter about coverage of Israel, writes a wonderful op-ed in the Jerusalem Post about the BBC’s brief rediscovery of the word terrorist, which its ridiculous editorial guidelines all but ban — except, it appears, within hours after a militant-insurgent-bomber nearly blows up your journalistic ass:

Britain’s first bus bombing took place barely half a mile from the BBC’s central London headquarters, and for a day or so after last Thursday’s multiple bomb attacks the BBC, the influential leftist daily Guardian and even the British-based global news agency Reuters all seemed suddenly to discover the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” In Saturday’s Guardian, for example, one or other of these words appeared on each of the first 11 pages.

In marked contrast to BBC reports about bombs on public transport in Israel ñ bombs which in some cases were even worse than those in London since some were specifically aimed at children and most were packed with nails, screws, glass and specially-sharpened metal shards in order to maximize injuries ñ terms like “guerrilla,” “militant,” “activist” or “fighter” were suddenly nowhere to be seen.

Nor ñ again in contrast to their coverage of Israel ñ did BBC correspondents, on either its domestic or international services, provide sympathetic accounts of the likely perpetrators, or explain to viewers that we must “understand” their “grievances.”

Tom points us to Gene’s post on Harry’s Place with screenshots of the BBC’s coverage before and after a crackdown by its PC police.