A View From the Other Side

I first started reading the blogs because they were fast. Bloggers would usually post about an upcoming newsworthy subject, discuss every single ramification while fact checking to death, and then go on to something else. Then, two days or so after the blogs had moved on, I’d see the headlines on the front page of my local newspaper.

It’s this desire to find out what’s going on that drives many people to the blogs. Once they get here they soon find that the story they’re reading in the mainstream press isn’t really what’s going on. It’s spun, distorted, altered to conform to the preconceptions and prejudices of the author and his editors.

A dear friend of mine sent me a link to this article in the UK Independent, a British newspaper. The author is Rageh Omaar, whose day job is working for the BBC. He talks about how people in the United States are turning in ever greater numbers to blogs and the Internet to get their news. He gets it right when he says that people have lost faith in the traditional news organizations and are trying to find less biased sources.

What’s I found interesting is that he actually thought that American Big Media was too conservative! He closes his article by quoting Rick Mercier, a columnist for The Free Lance-Star in Virginia. Mr. Mercier is extremely critical of the Bush administration, and sees the invasion of Iraq as a failure of the press to do their job.

Well, you can find always find an op-ed somewhere that will support your confirm your own prejudices. What Mr. Omaar needs to do is take a look at the studies that prove that the American media is hopelessly slanted to the Left, and we’ve had proof of that since at least 1980.

Of course, we are talking about a guy who works for the BBC. The only thing I can say is that he’d better take the time for a little introspection and recognize his own bias while he has a chance. After all, a group of bloggers are nipping at the BBC’s heels even as we speak.

Educated Fools

Glenn Reynolds links to this Reason Online discussion in which journalists and mainly-libertarian intellectual types discuss whom they’re voting for and why.

Some of these people, including Reynolds himself, seem mature and reasonable. But quite a few of the others come across as frivolous, apathetic, foolish or all of the above. Michael Shermer thinks it’s important that Kerry is a bicyclist. Richard Epstein doesn’t remember for whom he voted in 2000, thinks the major parties are essentially identical and won’t vote for either of them in 2004. And the guy from The Independent Institute doesn’t want to soil his hands by voting. (Somehow his attitude doesn’t surprise me — see here and here for some background on an exchange I had with another guy from The Independent Institute.)

So, with some notable exceptions, these extremely bright people, many of whom spend a lot of time giving the rest of us advice on how to make decisions about public affairs, are a bunch of idiots in their personal voting behavior. Yeah, I know: most individuals’ votes are not decisive, voters are rationally ignorant, the major parties are effectively a cartel, etc. These objections are narrowly true but miss the big picture. Voting should be treated as a civic sacrament, because on the margin our system can live or die depending on how carefully the voters vote, and they are more likely to take voting seriously if intellectuals don’t denigrate it as an activity. This is especially true now, when the main issue of the day is of overwhelming importance and the major-party candidates have profoundly different approaches to that issue.

One shouldn’t over-intellectualize this stuff, but I think it’s valuable to look at what people think is important enough to spend their own time on. If ordinary people in places like Afghanistan appreciate how important elections are, both symbolically and practically, even when none of the candidates is perfect, why do so many smart people here miss the point?

Maybe we should skip elections altogether, and appoint leaders randomly (with strictly limited terms, of course) from the telephone book. That might work better than decisionmaking by what Thomas Sowell called “articulated rationality” — the main decisionmaking method used by the people interviewed in the Reason forum. Certainly they sound impressive, but do they make better decisions than does the typical voter? Experience, and now disclosure, suggest not.

Something That I Learned From Reading Blogs

Not only are there many extremely intelligent ordinary people out there, but a lot of famous, mainstream journalists and commentators get by mainly on their rhetorical skill and lack both analytical ability and common sense.

UPDATE: Mitch raised the hair issue in the comments, and I realized that I didn’t mean to restrict what I wrote to mainstream-media people. Andrew Sullivan (not to pick on him but he’s an obvious example) fits the pattern, despite not being a MSM person and not having important hair. He writes beautifully but his analysis of matters economic (deficits bad!) and geopolitical (we’re losing!) is somewhat less acute than is his rhetoric. Some people simply write better than they think. We should always examine arguments carefully, no matter who made them or how satisfying they sound.

What Would We Do Without Dan Rather?

I’m serious. I would not have felt this way five years ago, but conservatives have gained so much ground through alternative media sources, including the blogosphere, that our voices are being heard regardless of major media bias. At this point, they have been completely countered.

With people like Rather on board, they will remain constrained because we have learned how to deal with them. Their politics will remain obvious, and they will continue to embarrass themselves. The games they play with bias will continue to appear absurd and provide fuel for conservative pundits. Most importantly, with these dinosaurs in place, they discredit and marginalize the liberal political message.

What more could we want? Even with Rather and his type gone, major media bias will remain. But it will take a more stealthy form. More subtle bias from replacement anchors who might convincingly appear to be in the political center would be worse than the status quo. Right now, Rather is our weapon; he has become our moral cudgel. His name is a call to arms. He is a living, breathing meme—a walking advertisement for liberal media bias.

The only thing better than Dan Rather at CBS would be more Dan Rathers—one for each network and maybe even a couple more for weekends.

(originally posted at The Perfect World)