Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Our worst problem is hipshot media

Ben Hansen's pseudo-blog, purportedly about "words, media and ethics," today carries another of his extremely occasional columns, this on one of his favorite themes: "power, perquisites, pork and paramours," a formulation he's used eight other times in editorials in just the last three years.

The premise is painfully simplistic, that when a person is elected to Congress, s/he is immediately consumed by a Washington "culture of corruption" and becomes a depraved, power-mad pork-dispenser.

Somehow Ben can see no difference between Jeff Flake and Rick Renzi, between William Jefferson and Raul Grijalva, or between John Ensign and Olympia Snowe. To him they're all the same. What this tells me is that Ben knows literally nothing about what happens in Congress, and is making his accustomed hipshot at an easy, accustomed target. I'd love to be on the extension if Mr Flake were to call Ben on this insult to his integrity. He won't, of course, because, thanks to this sort of thing, a Courier editorial swings so little weight.

There's no question that there are some rotten apples in the Congressional barrel, and neither party can claim purity. That's true of every human organization, and it should be dead obvious to anyone over the age of twelve. But focusing on the rotten fifteen percent and tarring the rest with the same brush is insulting to the good ones and handicaps them in getting anything positive done.

The real tell on this is that if these ideas actually mattered to Ben, his editorial endorsements of candidates would focus more on their personal integrity than on the political positions that they say they espouse. Ben's record on this shows quite the opposite, reflexively endorsing corporatists and authoritarian radicals whatever their integrity problems. He endorsed Rick Renzi once after it was clear he was a carpetbagger sent in as a representative of the Pentagon rather than Arizona, and a second time after the Bush Justice Department called him on his extortion and land schemes.

Aside: I first met Renzi in July of '03, when he was just six months in office, and after talking with the guy for half an hour I knew exactly what he was and what would become of him. One would think that a man of Ben's experience and position would have had many opportunities to sniff out such a stinker. Why didn't he?

Ben, if you want to raise the bar on someone, start with your own profession. The American media in general and your paper in particular have failed us spectacularly over the past two decades, because people just like you put ideology ahead of citizenship. Drive the snakes from your own nest first.

The sweat-lodge story -- twice!

Today's paper offers an interesting perspective on the editing process by carrying two different edits of the same AP story.

I suppose it's remotely possible that this was a newsroom screwup, wherein two different Courier editors pulled different versions of the same story and shoveled them into the paper without checking. But that would be just too amazingly dumb to believe.

So readers have the opportunity to view some of the inner workings of how a story can drift and change with the editing process. For example, in one, "Sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said Tuesday that authorities have not yet spoken with Ray," while in the other, "Authorities said Ray has refused to speak with authorities." Same fact, different slants. Collect 'em all!

Why are there multiple versions? Different papers want different slants on the news. Here we see the focus-on-the-family version vs the focus-on-the-perp version. If he wanted both perspectives, a good editor would have merged the stories rather than repeat so much verbatim. Usually, though, editors choose the version that resonates with their own prejudices, which is what they think their readers really prefer.

OK, it was a colossal screwup, no matter how it came about. No getting around it.

Something else to consider: have you noticed how little we read about Sedona or the Verde Valley in the Courier? Might there be a prejudice in play in the editorial office that puts more value on this particular story?

Finally, this event took place adjacent to Senator McCain's place, nearer Cottonwood than Sedona. But the stories are all datelined Sedona, purely because of the 'new-age' event involved imho, and McCain's name has been kept out of it despite its human-interest value.

Talk of My Ass: Prop. 401 seeks to kill pipeline

Bluntly as ever, the Mayor states what is obvious to anyone who's been less than half asleep for the past two years. What he doesn't get is that if voters understand that 401 will lead to a vote on the pipeline, they're more likely to support it. With this piece he's working against his own interests.

I've never agreed with the 401 group's strategy of trying to separate the initiative campaign from the pipeline issue. That was doomed from the start as a laughable fig-leaf tactic any four-year-old would see through. What they don't fully get is that there is very broad discomfort with how the pipeline issue has been handled officially, and people will vote against it, the only question is how many.

If CWAG had sponsored an initiative to stop the pipeline itself, I think it would have a good chance of success. Mayor Wilson knows this too, hence his ill-considered position on 401. (If he really thinks the voters support the pipeline, 401 would be not much of a threat.)

The good argument against 401 is that it will be a permanent block on any kind of major infrastructure project, hampering future Councils in making big commitments that we may need to create the sort of city we really want.

Editorial: The recession is over? It's news to most

The unnamed Courier editor once again demonstrates his pitifully poor understanding of the English language.

"Recession" in this context means "reverse growth," i.e. a shrinking economy. It does not mean the effects of economic shrinkage. The end of a recession is the economic low point, crudely speaking, and it takes sustained expansion to make up the lost growth. This is not difficult to understand at all.

But the editor is confusing the technical pronouncements of economists with what he wants to hear about real-world effects on investment and employment. One might defend this as keeping intellectual pace with his audience, but I'd really prefer to avoid such cynicism.