“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Friday, May 06, 2005

do you hear what I hear?: the role of rumor in local elections, or why the amarillo globe-republikan is the biggest, richest, least-wired blog in town

Our summary of the Amarillo Globe-Republikan front-page eve-of-election gossipy non-exposé regarding the grant former City Commissioner Kevin Knapp received from the Amarillo Economic Development Commission:

  2. Introduction implying impropriety
  3. Details mostly exonerating people involved
  4. Details that, while exonerating, are nevertheless embarrassing to people involved
  5. inside headline stating no impropriety
  6. Discussion with expert which exonerates people involved legally, but leaves open possibility that something improper might have happened in "grey area"
  7. Conclusion: something improper might or might not have happened but it sure looks bad. Some touchy-feely stuff about how much good the AEDC Enterprize Challenge does for the community and some self-backpatting about how much AEDC Executive Director Buzz Lightyear wishes the AG-Republikan wouldn't write this story.
Well, we're really not in favor of businessfolk like Buzz Lightyear (née David) telling journalists what they can and cannot write. On the ever hand, we're not convinced that AG-R scribblers are journalists. And we're not sure we see the point to this story.

For sure, I assumed that some sort of smoke-filled room action had led to Knapp's winning of the grant when I read that he had won it. And I'm certainly not above trading in gossip and rumor, but I didn't comment on this blog partially because I didn't see any visible reason to assume impropriety beyond the mere fact of the grant. Much more importantly, however, I didn't see how the grant and Knapp's receipt of it fit into any larger picture.

Neither, apparently, does the Globe-Republikan.

They just published the story ah, what the hell?for no readily apparent reason, and they published it on the front page. It's a very definition of a non-story: the whole case it builds is that there is nothing to see here, move along, move along. But it builds the case in a way that strongly implies unethical behavior to people who just see the article but don't read itand that probably includes a pretty significant portion of the AG-R's audience. And they published it on the eve of the city elections. And even though this particular situation doesn't involve anyone currently running for office, the column was written by Joe "Imply it's so, Joe" Chapman, known mostly in this election for pitching softballs to Hodger the Dodger and exploring the City Commission insurance non-issue ad infinitum. And, like those activities, at first glance, the piece does kinda sorta give the general impression that something is wrong with the current city government.

Not that there's not. There undoubtedly is. But if rumor is to become an ever more major player in local politicsand in a time populated by guys-n-gals with websites it surely willwe must as voters and citizens face rumors head-on and ask specific questions about them. Those questions include:
  1. Who started this rumor? Who is spreading it? What is their motive?
  2. Who benefits from this rumor and how?
  3. How long has this been a rumor?
  4. What is the origin of this rumor?
  5. Is this rumor true?
  6. Et cetera.
I list detemining the truth of the rumor last. Truth is, of course, important but in these foul times, we are not necessarily struggling against people who care about truth. Remember:
That's not the way the world really works anymore. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality judiciously, as you will we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
We can bemoan the situation, we can proudly post on our blog banners that we are "reality-based," we can write elegies for the Enlightenment . . . or we can study our poststructuralist world according to Enlightenment principles, and be prepared to fight on whatever battlefield the battle requires.

Blogs are non-objective, unstructured, and without codified quasi-ethical structures. We can examine motives and motivations honestly; naturally, we should examine our own in the process. We can ask questions, we can critique other media, we are, essentially, gadflies.

Here's an example: I discussed the rumors of connections between Hodger the Dodger and Boone Pickens with the object of pointing out that those rumors pre-dated this election by two or three decades. That's important because it suggests that, although those rumors might have been used by the McCartt campaign, they probably weren't made up by that campaign. I used humor, I was sarcastic, I was a pain-in-the-ass; but I stand by everything I wrote.

A lot of ink has been spilled
— and pixels have been pixellated— suggesting that bloggers should or should not be held to someone that is called (with amazingly little irony) "journalistic standards". Those standards are Enlightenment standards and therefore belong to the, uh, "Enlightened," a group that doesn't include many contemporary journalists. So here's what I suggest: hold journalists like the Amarillo Globe-Republikan to blogger standards. Treat them as if they're no more or less reliable than us. Because they're not.

Of all the days, this is when
An age of reason could end.
(paraphrase and inversion of Bertolt Brecht)