Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The great minds at NPR


The hosts of public radio’s On the Media think of themselves as smart, honest and brave. In the Age of Trump they are eager to play generals in the crusader armies of woke journalists.*

Needless to say, self-awareness is not the strong suit of either host. Before Donald Trump was even elected, Bob Garfield was convinced that America in 2016 was just like Weimar in 1933. Brooke Gladstone has repeatedly embarrassed herself. There was her hopeless fangirling for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert:

Max Peak MSM Blue Bubble
Then there was that time she managed to cram three lies into nineteen words while defending the Obama administration on the IRS scandal:

We still need better media critics
Despite my low expectations based on this track record, Gladstone still manages to surprise me.

In a recent podcast interview (here) she exhorted young journalists to remember that it was possible to do ‘great journalism’ even in difficult times. She offered several examples of what she considered ‘some of the best journalism that has ever been done in America’:

Ida Tarbell
Lincoln Steffens
The New Masses
To Gladstone, these are among the ‘greats of American journalism.’

Lincoln Steffens was such a great journalist that he returned from Lenin’s famine-stricken Soviet Union and famously announced: “I have seen the future and it works.” Steffens was such a hard-bitten truth-seeker that he spent the last years of his life under the control of Comintern operative Ella Winters (he even married her) and dutifully followed whatever line Stalin wanted to.

The New Masses was an organ of the Communist Party USA. Its founding editor was Mike Gold one of Stalin’s cultural commissars. Gold’s commitment to the Party shines through in this quote from 1922:

The Russian Bolsheviks will leave the world a better place than Jesus left it. They will leave it on the threshold of the final victorythe poor will have bread and peace and culture in another generation, not churches and a swarm of lying parasite minister dogs, the legacy of Jesus.
Mike Gold a true believer and the magazine he helped found was devoted to the Party line laid down in Moscow. The New Masses did not do investigative journalism; it did agitprop. It worked tirelessly to cover-up, minimize and justify Stalin’s crimes.

And yet, Brook Gladstone sees this as a role model for young journalists.

Perhaps On The Media should change its name to Truth. It is altogether more fitting.

*As generals go, they are very much in the mold of the Western Front commanders circa 1916. It’s easy to urge journalists to race to the left when you have nice public radio sinicures subsidized by the tax payers.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Thoughts for today


Whittaker Chambers:

Substituting a good deal of intellectual inbreeding for organic contact with U. S. life, they developed a curious cultural provincialism. The Depression came to them as a refreshing change. Fundamentally benevolent and humane, they loved their fellow countrymen in distress far more than they could ever love them in prosperity. Fundamentally skeptical, maladjusted, defeatist, the intellectual felt themselves thoroughly at home in the chaos and misery of the '30s. Fundamentally benevolent and humane, they loved their fellow countrymen in distress far more than they could ever love them in prosperity. And they particularly enjoyed life when applause began to greet their berating of the robber barons, president makers, economic royalists, malefactors of great wealth.
"Revolt of the Intellectuals", January 1941

Tom Wolfe:

From the outset the eminence of this new creature, the intellectual, who was to play such a tremendous role in the history of the twentieth century, was inseparable from his necessary indignation. It was his indignation that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority. Once up there, he was in a position to look down on the rest of humanity. And it did not cost him any effort, intellectual or otherwise. As Marshall McLuhan would put it years later: 'Moral indignation is a technique used to endow the idiot with dignity.
Hooking Up

Ross Douthat:

The ’70s were in many ways dreadful years for America, but they’re remembered much more fondly in the film industry. There’s no surer way to establish your artistic (and political) bona fides than to name-drop a ’70s movie—whether it’s George Clooney bringing up All the President’s Men (1976) while promoting Michael Clayton, or Stephen Gaghan remarking that of course he was “thinking about The Parallax View and also Three Days of the Condor” while making Syriana. The suggestion is always the same—that the age of leisure suits and sideburns was also the high tide of politically engaged filmmaking, before the studios embarked on the relentless pursuit of the blockbuster and the Reagan reaction pushed American culture steadily to the right.
"The Return of the Paranoid Style," Atlantic, April 2008

Fred Siegel:

For the American critics of mass culture, it was the good times of the 1920s, not the depression of the 1930s, that proved terrifying. 'It wasn't the depression that got me,' explained literary critic Malcolm Cowley, 'it was the boom... the conventionality, articiality... the organized stupidity.' of America.
The Revolt against the Masses


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Just a couple of dots for future reference


From Deadly Illusions: The KGB Orlov Dossier Reveals Stalin's Master Spy by John Costello and Oleg Tsarev,

The practical tricks of the trade including how to throw off police surveillance by making convuluted journeys-- switching public transport between buses and taxis was a favoured method. When it came to passing documents to contacts, libraries and the dark interiors of cinemas were favoured.. According to Orlov, the OGPU in the 1920s and 1930s favored particularly the use of the surgeries of 'trusted dentists and physicians', which were the preferred sites for really important meetings.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why ‘investigative journalism’ is problematic


Edward Jay Epstein, Between Fact and Fiction:

The problem of journalism in America proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about an issue for themselves, and they are, therefore, almost entirely dependent on self-interested 'sources' for versions of reality that they report. 

Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness. 

Despite the heroic public claims of the news media, daily journalism is largely concerned with finding and retaining profitable sources of pre-packaged stories. 

What is called 'investigative journalism is merely the development of sources within the counter-elite or other dissidents in the government, while 'stenographic reporting' refers to the development of sources among official spokesmen for the government. There is no difference in the basic method of reporting. 

By concealing the machinations and politics behind a leak, journalists suppress part of the truth surrounding a story. Thus, the means by which the medical records of Senator Thomas Eagleton were acquired and passed on to the Knight newspapers (which won the 1973 Pulitizer Prize for disclosing information contained in these records) seems no less important than the senator's medical history itself, especially since copies of the illegally obtained records were later found in the White House safe of John Ehrlichman. 

Max Holland, Leak

As Christopher Hitchen's wrote in his review of The Secret Man, Watergate 'ranks as the single most successful use of the news media by an anonymous unelected official with an agenda of his own. Without a consensus about what that agenda was, there is a gaping hole in the center of the narrative. 

(On Bernstein source John Sears): Backgrounding Watergate stories was a perfect way to exact revenge against those who had twarted his aspirations, chiefly Mitchell, Ehrlichman, and Haldeman. Their decline might even pave the way for him to return to a position of influence and power.

The primary documents also proved that several of Felt's statements to Woodward had been false and/or misleading. p183

(Quoting Joan Didion): “Every reporter, in the development of a story, depends on and coddles, or protects, his or her sources. Only when the protection of the source gets in the way of telling the story does the reporter face a professional, even a moral choice: he can blow the source... or he can roll over, [and] shape the story to continue serving the source.” 

A Felt-sourced story appeared first in the Post, immediately followed an even better account in Time, which had also been sourced by Felt. Ironically, the Post then ran another story citing the Time article as corroboration. 
Renata Adler, After the Tall Timber

The whole purpose of the ‘anonymous source has been precisely reversed. The reason there exists a First Amendment protection for journalists’ confidential sources has always been to permit citizens -- the weak, the vulnerable, the isolated-- to be heard publicly, without fear of retaliation by the strong-- by their employer, for example, or by the forces of government … Instead, almost every ‘anonymous source’ in the press, in recent years, has been an official of some kind, or a person in the course of a vendetta speaking from a position of power.

[Using anonymous sources] makes stories almost impossible to verify. It suppresses a major element of almost every investigative story: who wanted it known.
Edward Jay Epstein, The Annals of Unsolved Crime

A third possible conspiracy involved government officials clandestinely distributing protected data, including FBI 201 files, to select journalists in order to weaken, if not destroy, the Nixon Administration. That the release was “deliberately coordinated,” rather than a spontaneous act of whistle-blowing, is suggested by CIA memoranda, written by CIA officers Martin Lukoskie and Eric Eisenstadt (published as an appendix in Jim Hougan’s book Secret Agenda), one “for the record” and the other for the CIA’s deputy director of plans. The memos discuss how Lukoskie’s operation “has now established a ‘back door entry’ to the Edward Bennett Williams law firm, which is representing the Democratic Party in its suit for damages resulting from the Watergate incident,” and had also managed to feed stories to the Washington Post via Bob Woodward on the understanding that there be no attribution to the CIA operation.
Sir John Keegan, Intelligence in War

As defence correspondent, then defence editor of The Daily Telegraph, i decided that entanglement with intelligence organisations was unwise, having concluded, by that stage of my life, through reading, conversation and a little personal observation, that anyone who mingled in the intelligence world, in the belief that he could make use of contacts thus made, would more probably be made use of, to his disadvantage. I continue to believe that to be the case.
Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles of Wasted Time

Diplomats and intelligence agents, in my experience, are even bigger liars than journalists, and the historians who try to reconstruct the past out of their records are, for the most part, dealing in fantasy.

Jack Shafer:

Evidence of the reviewers' cluelessness comes when the panel assesses the CBS journalists for political bias and discovers none. I don't know that I've met more than four or five investigative journalists in my life who didn't wear their political biases on their flapping tongues. Almost to a one, they're suspicious (paranoid?) about corporate power, dubious about the intentions of governments, and convinced that at this very moment a secret meeting is being held somewhere in which a hateful conspiracy against the masses is being hatched. I won't provoke the investigative-journalist union by alleging that most of its members are Democrats or lefties, but aside from a few right-wing reporters sucking conservative teats inside the government, how many Republican investigative aces can you name?

Far from being a handicap, political bias appears to be a necessity for the investigative reporter.



Monday, February 06, 2017

Thought for the day


Computers hide mistakes in logic while sanctifying information with an aura of truth.
More here:

Computer Models

Friday, February 03, 2017

Thought for the Day


Read, every day, something no one else is reading. Think, every day, something no one else is thinking. Do, every day, something no one else would be silly enough to do. It is bad for the mind to continually be part of unanimity.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Rudi Feistman is gone, but his type is still around and making trouble


From Arthur Koestler, The Invisible Writing:


Rudy Feistman was one of the young intellectuals, or rather eternal adolescents of the Party, who had never done any serious work in their lives, were incapable of standing on their own feet, and therefore regarded themselves as 'professional revolutionaries'. They had become so completely soaked in the atmosphere of the Party and in the dialectics of the smear, that they regarded slander as a natural and legitimate weapon.