Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Perils of Conventional Wisdom

I am not a journalist, nor do I aspire to be one. i tried it in college and made enemies when I thought I was being objective. And I like you to like me - if you know me. If you don't know me, then I don't care what you think about me. What you think of me is none of my business.

Back to why I'm not a journalist. Journalism takes work. To do it well, one must think carefully about the subject matter, research it, and formulate a theory upon which to lay one's hat and reputation underneath it. Be it the pros and cons of whether coffee is good or bad for consumption, you better have done some research. You better quote somebody from either a quick telephone call or, better yet, a visit with the expert on the topic. Or if those two fail, go to Starbucks and talk to the 23-year old Geek at the computer text messaging his girlfriend while sipping his third Coffee Ligueur.

This NPR tongue-in-cheek look at conventional wisdom does it more creatively than I can here and with less verbosity, (another reason why I can't be a journalist). Listen carefully. Like most satirists, there is an underlying anger or frustration just beneath the surface, piercing through the thin veil of conviviality.

I want to know --- how did these media people get on television when they have no news to report except "conventional wisdom?" And since we, the regular folk, are the seeds of the fruit of wisdom, why confirm anything at all? How about giving us the facts, instead, because most of us can think for ourselves. Conventional wisdom... boy if I could sell it....

When did this term first surface in the media nomenclature? To support the President's (#2's) march to war [but again that's another blog]. Because more than anyone else, I believe it was the media that was banging the drum for war, to boost up their ratings, and everything went Middle East after that. Did no one question the utility of going to war? I can't think of one media outlet that looked at the big picture; instead the pundits and new careers spawned by the sensationalism of Shock and Awe - were talking military tactics, and outcomes, and the aftermath of the war. that cat was out of the bag and would not get caught again. Yeeowie Kazowee! (sing along) "War! What is it Good For! Makin' Lots of Money, uh-huh-uh-huh!"

I'm writing about Conventional Wisdom, because I recall hearing the term, but I'm not sure who said it. It might have been Candy Crawley of CNN who stated that privately Kucinich knew that he didn't stand a chance of being President. Or maybe again it was on on Tim Russert's show, Meet the Press. I am hoping that he is smarting after the public outcry of how the media handled debate topics [hopefully, Russert took a beating by his handling of the UFO question to Dennis Kucinich]. He brought on our Jimmy Stewart of Journalism, Mr. Howard Kurtz, "the man on the beat" who scours the blogs to see what people are thinking, then gets accused of plagiarism -- and he defends his sources. Or again, it may have come up on the C-Span dialogue at the National Press Center (?) about the media's handling of the election (which was not self-critical, but self-aggrandizing, as each pundit, yet again, postulated upon who was going to win). I really don't recall where I first heard it, but I know that the Conventional Wisdom was "exposed" for what it is with regard to who was "the chosen one" tapped to win the Republican nomination for President. The media returned to its friend Conventional Wisdom, located in Iowa at the time, and learned that conventional wisdom had taken a nap. It was Governor Mike Huckabee who seemed to ooze out of the nooks and crannies that hide the truth, and that nobody searched for, in staying aloof and just hanging out with friends to get a story.

My question is -- who decided that Governor Huckabee was a non-starter in the first place. Conventional wisdom? Or sheer laziness?

The media elite are too well known now to be able to do their jobs, so their twenty-year old interns are no doubt doing the work for them. But, here's the tautology, written in an intentionally ambiguous manner, so that I, too, can sound like I'm saying something. Isn't it most likely that a twenty-something intern or assistant is likely to tell their showbiz mentors what they want to hear, so the research is a foregone conclusion that begs why the question of why it's being asked anyway? There's a question in there somewhere. At least Boris and Natasha looked as though they did some work for their scheming shenanigans. Just what do Mr. Brian Jennings and Mr. Sheppard Smith (with his dreamy eyes that hypnotize rather than instruct) hear, ensconced in their ivory towers upon their princely thrones. Where's the fact-checking on their part, after all their interns are kids--bright ones--but kids, eager to please...

But there it appears: conventional wisdom - the majority by small consensus, you know, that sampling of people sampling hors d'oeuvre, clustered in a small huddle "talking shop" amongst their friends at a party. Breaking news: an [uninformed] unnamed source has provided our station with interesting information."

I'm writing tongue in cheek, but were even half of this true, the implications would be quite dangerous for our democracy.

Conventional wisdom accepted as fact that Iraq had conventional weapons. I will never forget the anguish of Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who was the last hope for Saddam's regime. Mr. Aziz's entreaties were ignored. I've been unable to find the UN Security Council Transcripts (not wanting to do too much research, because, hey, I ain't no journalist). I felt Mr. Aziz's frustration at the hearings, because the drums of war had long since been beating, and this was the anti-climactic show of due process that would cement Iraq's inevitable fate. He could not stop the flood of the conventional wisdom that Saddam Hussein had hidden weapons of mass destruction. Deputy Prime Minister Aziz, his colleagues, and his wife and children were going to the gallows, and the helplessness of stopping the Bush juggernaut was a non-starter.

Dan Rather conducted a brilliant interview of Tariq Aziz that certainly overshadowed his Swift Boat hiccup that ruined his illustrious though temperamental career. He did his news the hard way -- he took Aziz aside and had a chat with him about how he could prove that there were no weapons of mass destruction lurking in a hideaway in Iraq. Reading Mr. Aziz's interview with Dan Rather from beginning to end makes one feel the anxiety of a man who knows his days are numbered. We proved to be wrong years later, but boy, back then we sure did believe in conventional wisdom. Did I like Saddam Hussein? Not particularly. I didn't know he existed until he started talking back to the U.S., taunting the authority of the greatest nation on earth to dictate his country's fate. He's dead now, but that's not on my conscience, as I object to any death sentence. I felt sad that our barbarism was so exposed, however. So, who we gonna hate, now? Ah! Chavez!

Congress fell for the Conventional Wisdom of the intelligence community, not asking "what sources do you have that are actually there on the ground in Iraq, that speak the language, and can tell us anything" And can that person cover very inch of the country to find the weapons? Oh, and the Uranium in Chad? C'mon. The average foreign service officer, let alone, official has no clue where Chad is on a map! "But hey, the clock is ticking, I want to meet my buddies for drinks at the Willard Hotel, and soak up some more conventional wisdom."

Were this a Communist state, I would only allow news anchors on television for a maximum of 2 years, as at some point they have lost their edge to search or question the truth. Dan Rather is a case in point (although I do believe that he was treated horribly by his employer, whose coffers were certainly filled to capacity through Mr. Rather's labors for them to discard him like refuse). I think CBS and Disney belong together, not ABC. There's just not enough time to pound the pavement in search of the truth and look good too. And who, besides Christian Amanpour, has an eye for investigative journalism, if they're really relying on "conventional sources." Newscasters spend more time in the Green Room, after putting on make-up and designer threads from major labels (shouldn't there be a rule that American newscasters should only wear American-made clothing?).

After all that, here's why I prefer news from foreign sources well, not so foreign -- but English. We speak the same language but they do the harder work. They are in the trenches, their clothes are disheveled, and many look as though they haven't slept. But there they are, on the Iraqi rooftops giving their news segment at night, or they're mingling with the "enemy" with an intrepid interpreter and keeping us abreast of what's going on. Notice, the news source for most of the cable channels is a British journalist, or if American, not American-accented, at least. I daresay one or two of those English chaps probably speaks Arabic, or Farsi, or whatever language of the country they're thrust in because that's how Empires operate. They don't leave. Time will tell whether the US has imperial aspirations.

I might sound unpatriotic but I am not. I'm just not sure that we can trust our media to tell us the straight news. It's too hard to tell if they're objective. No matter what race or sex we are, we tend to conform to the majority, or perceived majority -- of us wise conventionists -- who got us into a war that now everybody shrinks from (having erased their memory banks of their blood thirst for a tyrant bully who ran his country better than we're doing now - true, he did do some bad things, in 1982 -- but if he did have to go -- why not in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, or 1991, for that matter - or 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 - you get the drift - why 20 years later?

And we all accepted the conventional wisdom (although some of us didn't and were saddened at the actions of our government to witness the hanging of a man in such a cruel way). We condemn it here, symbolically (Jena, LA) but, really, beers and painted-faces cleaned -- how many of you rejoiced that an Iraqi President was hung? And how much of the world wishes the same of our officials?

So, sheep we are, following their conventional wisdom until we get to decide for ourselves. I looked up the term, conventional wisdom on Wikipedia (the conventional intelligentsia would frown on using it as a source, no doubt because of its plebeian roots, but we can do the same about their own news gathering prowess derived from skeptical, and trusted plebeian sources. Really. ["We can't stray too far from our throne's lest someone else mandate regime change on [my] broadcast. Ratings Ratings! Natasha! Get me those Ratingzzzzzzz. Oh, I fell asleep listening to the news about me, a conventional source of wisdom."]

If another journalist uses the expression, I believe we have a right to flood their television stations and newspapers with questions about "just who are your conventional wisely sources?" And they might be forced to identify their Starbucks round table discussions. That ain't news, buddy. That's gossip. Call your news what it really is: Conventional Gossip. Not Wisdom.

Next Blog: Hate-mongering

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