Saturday, September 19, 2009

Media Uproar

A story on caught my attention yesterday: it seems that Fox has promoted itself in an ad implying it was the only major news outlet to report on the recent Tea Party protest in Washington, DC.

Of course, all the major news stations HAD reported on the protest.  What interested me was the response.  Fox's competition is challenging them directly, going so far as to accuse Fox of lying.

Ain't It Cool News, of all places, has gathered together some quotes, along with video of CNN's Rick Sanchez attacking Fox directly.  On the same page, if you have time, the entirety of the 2004 documentary, "Outfoxed", is available.  I strongly recommend it.

Also, you'll find a response from Fox's marketing department, where they claim the other networks "either ignored the story, marginalized it or misrepresented the significance of it altogether."

It may surprise you to hear this blog post isn't actually about Fox, at all.  I'm here to gripe about the other networks, in particular CNN.

I consider completely irrelevant whether Fox lied in this story.  In fact, when Fox lies outright, I consider it a relatively minor infraction.  Lies are, after all, easily disproved.  They are falsifiable.

Whether they lied or not, they misrepresented the truth.  And that, as "Outfoxed" demonstrates, is something Fox News has a long and frightening history.  For the past decade, they've implied false information and skewed the truth, and this is a far worse trend.  Consider the 2003 PIPA survey, where it was demonstrated that Fox News viewers had a poorer understanding of facts related to the war in Iraq compared to viewers of other outlets.  This was not caused by "lies" - it was caused by misrepresentation and implication.

The ad in question could be, depending on your interpretation, described as an outright lie or not.  It comes down to how you interpret the word "miss".  Maybe they were using shorthand for "missed the point" or something else.

But, short of presuming absolute incompetence, there can be no question the organization which wrote, authorized, and used the ad knew it would widely be read as implying that they alone covered the story in question.  Just like there can be no question the organizations reporting on the war in Iraq using references to 9/11 knew it would contribute to their viewers inferring a connection.

But, as I said before, this isn't about Fox.  They've been doing this for years.  No, I'm not here to address Fox.  Rather, I have a few questions for CNN:

Where were you when Fox was misrepresenting the war in Iraq?  Why didn't you report seriously on the connections between Fox and the Bush administration or the misrepresentations they were implying?

You did not adequately challenge the misinformation pouring out of this network for years.  But now that you've been misrepresented, you've responded with fury.

CNN: don't look for sympathy.  Just start doing your job.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

You can accept Jesus into your heart... or you can have what's behind door number two!

This is going to be a quick one. Apparently, a game show in Turkey offers contestants an opportunity to save their souls... and win a trip to the holy land of their choice.

In order to be eligible, you must be an atheist. And don't think they'll take anyone eager to get a free vacation: CNN reports that "Contestants will be judged by a panel of eight theologians and religious experts prior to going on the show to make sure their lack of faith is genuine."

I'm slightly unclear as how that would work. If you place your hand on the Bible and swear you're an atheist... does that mean you're lying or telling the truth?

While any religious competition is - by definition - offensive, the report certainly gives the impression that it's somewhat balanced, at least between the four represented faiths (Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam). Personally, I think the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster deserves representation, but those are a fairly good start.

And, frankly, I find the notion completely hilarious. Come on Fox: lets get a version started here in the states. Religious viewers would tune in to cheer on the converts; atheists would watch to laugh while the unrepentant shrug off arguments and testimony.

The best part is, relatively speaking, everyone goes home feeling like a winner: either they've found inner peace or their rationalist convictions remain intact. It's a personal choice, sensationalized with dramatic music and broadcast to viewers everywhere. What's not to love?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palin: What the?

I've heard it said that politicians are often unfairly targeted for gaffes and mistakes. And, in some circumstances, there's actually some truth to that. Consider the sheer number of statements, speeches, and interviews granted by our leaders: anyone watched constantly is bound to make some mistakes.

But that's what makes Sarah Palin so fascinating. If anything, she spent the majority of the last year's election hiding from the press and public. Oh, she gave a few speeches and the occasional interview, but they were few and far between.

So you'd think that, given the brief glimpses we had, we'd never see her falter, never fail. You would imagine that anyone could be trained to appear competent on camera for a few minutes.

And yet, time and time again, Sarah Palin demonstrated a complete a total lack of knowledge and skill. If there'd ever been a chance of McCain winning the White House - and there's no indication there had been - she managed to crush it completely.

Not that she's really to blame. After all, they hired her. If they failed to find out whether she knew what the Bush Doctrine was, could name any bipartisan legislation that McCain supported, or even knew the names of common newspapers, that speaks volumes to their judgement and competency.

But the election is behind us, and Sarah has returned to where most of us thought she belonged: Alaska.

Apparently, Palin disagrees. In front of a spacious lake containing a pair of fighting geese, the hockey mom announced her resignation as governor of Alaska. The stated reason? Honestly, I watched the speech, and I'm still a little unclear. She seemed to say that, since she'd decided not to seek re-election, her continued presence would hurt the state.

Actually, I find myself agreeing with that, but probably for different reasons.

But I did find it interesting that she stressed a series of ethics complaints she's faced as a factor. Following the scandal of Mark Sanford, it's impossible not to wonder if there's something that has Palin worried. But that may be reading too much into that section. After all, the majority of the eighteen minute speech was borderline incomprehensible and meaningless: there's no reason to assume that portion was any different.

On some level, though, a scandal might be the least offensive possibility. Otherwise, she seems to have said that, since she has no interest in running again, the day to day job of being governor holds no purpose. Given that she claims her administration has accomplished a great deal, isn't that a contradiction? If she really believes she's doing a good job, why quit in the midst of her term? Perhaps the people of Alaska simply don't interest her anymore.

If I were an Alaskan, I think I'd be a bit insulted. Or maybe I'd just be relieved.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Defending Tradition

It occurred to me recently that Gay Marriage is an issue I feel strongly about. As a far left liberal whack-job, of course I believe that marriage should not be limited by gender, just like I believe that abortion should remain legal, the rich don’t pay enough in taxes, environmental protection should be a priority, and we need more gun control.

But, emotionally, none of those issues effect me the same way gay marriage does, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

It’s not really personal: I’m straight and happily married. And it’s not a need for universal equality, either. While I feel for gays and lesbians here, the rights they’re denied are fairly minor compared to various groups over the world. Homosexuals in Iran, for instance, face the threat of execution: objectively, the situation here seems somewhat trivial in comparison. If I was only driven by “fairness,” I’d have to put this on the back-burner until a lot changed worldwide.

I gave the matter some thought, and here’s what I’ve come up with. The reason this bothers me so much is simple: it’s because I believe “America” should mean something.

There’s been a lot of talk about “tradition” coming from the right. Well, I agree that tradition is important. In fact, I think it makes us who we are. With that in mind, let me tell you about a tradition I deeply believe in.

For hundreds of years, the United States has continuously revised the definition of marriage to strive towards equality.

There was a time when women were treated as property in a legal transaction: now we have a union of equals. Women weren’t always protected from abusive husbands: now legal recourse is available. Marriages between partners of different races weren’t always permitted: another inequity we’ve corrected.

Of course, these changes didn’t happen quickly or easily. But… aren’t we past this? This isn’t the kind of fight anyone should need to go through anymore: we should be better than this. If a group in America is being denied certain rights, they shouldn’t have to fight anyone. Pointing out the inequity should be enough. Haven’t we learned that history doesn’t look kindly on those who fight against equality?

Apparently not. Conservatives are still fighting for what they call a “traditional” definition of marriage. I’m not buying it: the definition of marriage in this country has “traditionally” changed and evolved. What they want is a static definition.

And that, frankly, is un-American.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Post-er Boy

So, I’ve recently been reading up on post-structuralism for a novel I’m thinking of writing, and I was reminded just how much I hate the movement. If you’re not familiar, post-structuralism is one of those newfangled literary/philosophical movements which defies explanation.

In fact, to attempt to explain it in simple terms would insult the very ideas it represents. Therefore:

Post-structuralism basically holds that any analysis of meaning should be conducted from the point of view of the reader (or listener or viewer or what-have-you), rather than the author. In essence, they’re arguing that discussions about an author’s intended meaning are pointless, since we’ll never really know what any author actually wants to communicate.

Oh, there’s more than that: whole books about the deconstruction of texts and meaning, but I’d say that right there is the CORE of post-structuralism. Yes indeed, that’s generally what the term MEANS.

I could rant for a while about inherent problems with this framework, how it neglects the possibility of skeptical doubt regarding an author’s intent, leaping instead to a sort of linguistic nihilism… but that’s not really what I want to do. I’d rather take a moment and consider the man I consider the epitome of post-structuralism: George W. Bush.

You see, nearly everything that came out of the ex-president’s mouth was a post-structural gem. Consider his stance on torture: namely that it was wrong and that “We do not torture.” All the while, of course, we were.

Consider the schism between his stance on civil liberties and the actions he took. If he’d only been lying when he claimed he was protecting our liberties, he have had to change his tune in the face of overwhelming evidence. Fortunately, he wasn’t lying. A lie represents a contradiction behind a statement and the truth. But there can be no truth. There is only text.

A cynic might accuse Bush of lying to the American people, but this would be an antiquated appraisal, a structuralist reading, in fact. Consider that the word “torture” is but a signifier. And any good post-structuralist will tell you that the signified slides away. Clinton may have toyed with the meaning of words, but Bush abandoned meaning altogether. There was NO direct correlation between what he said and did: none was needed. As he proved in 2004, he was able to get reelected by repeating meaningless slogans over and over again.

The administration seemed to know what it was doing: the 24-hour news networks were all to happy to air these soundbites all day. Voters responded to phrases like “flip-flopper” and “stay the course” more than they cared about numbers or facts. Bush voters, in particular, revealed little knowledge of the state of the world.

In essence, Bush correctly realized that his statements were, for all intents and purposes, the only things that mattered. Whether Iraq had weapons of mass-destruction was irrelevant to the public: only the rhetoric – the text – mattered.

Bush was a president whose claims existed outside of context, and, as much as I hate to admit it, this worked for a while. During the Bush years, we existed in a kind of post-structural environment. But nothing lasts forever: by 2006, the voters had had enough. Out went Republican control, and in came the Democrats. By 2008, the rhetoric had subsided a bit. Sure, a good one-liner was still important, but candidates who tried to run on these alone – such as Giuliani’s nonstop string of 9/11 references – found themselves out of the race early.

It seems to me that post-structuralism was not only epitomized by the Bush era, but I feel comfortable claiming it died there, as well. The utter lack of context or meaning that defined Bush’s presidency wasn’t something we were able to stomach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

And the blog is worth even less....

Lets begin with the name, shall we? I acquired my BA with a concentration in philosophy and writing from Hampshire College, and, so far at least, it hasn't made me rich or famous. That said, I wouldn't trade the time I spent at college for the world. One of Hampshire's many idealistic claims is that it teaches its students how to teach themselves, and there's actually quite a bit of truth to this. Hampshire helped me develop the ability to think, and - more importantly - it's where I met my wife. So take the title with a grain of salt.

But enough with cheap sentimentality: cynicism is the lifeblood of the internet, and far be it from me to fight the free market. Hence the name: Worthless Degree.

As for myself, I'm an unrepentant geek living and - for the time being - working in the city of New York. But in this deteriorating job market, the freelance philosopher's options are tragically limited. Therefore, I find myself doing general office work. No complaints; I'll take what I can get, but it's hardly an environment where I find myself engaging the issues that really interest me.

No, I haven't really had many outlets to voice my opinions, and, frankly, my wife's sick of hearing them. Therefore I've decided to offer them to the world at large. Those of you crazy enough to read them have my apologies in advance, of course.

In addition to Worthless Degree, I keep a blog called The Middle Room, which focuses on movies, comics, and other geek-related topics. Those of you who never put aside childish things might also enjoy The Clearance Bin, a toy review site I run.

I've also written two novels and a large number of short stories I'm trying to get published. Eventually, I'm planning to start a site dedicated to my fiction: I'll keep you informed, of course.