Pilate’s Question Never Goes Away

Over at Belmont Club, Wretchard has posted a provocative piece entitled “Who Is a Journalist?” He makes this point, among others:

     The Ranting Professor correctly says that both the US and enemy sides are consciously engaged in an information war. What is overlooked, I think, is that in the battle for credibility accuracy matters. If their claims to superior accuracy were undoubted, the mainstream media can easily afford to ignore the amateurish efforts of a few soldiers and bloggers to get ‘the other side of the picture’ out. In terms of professional writing skill, press credentials and technical support, Mr. Roggio with his scrounged up $30,000 can hardly hope to compete with professional journalists backed by Fortune 500 companies. That he and others like him are considered a threat says more about the mainstream media than anything else.

And evidently those on the Left call “amateurs” like Bill Roggio suspicious because he managed to raise the thirty thousand dollars that afforded his trip to Iraq. Yet many bloggers and commenters could stand up and say they were the contributors to Roggio’s effort — and that further, his legitimacy lay in the fact that he was invited by the military, based on what they saw as his accurate reporting of the war.

All of us had various motives for making our donations to Mr. Roggio’s excellent adventure. My impetus was driven by the fact that he would need ten thousand dollars just to cover the insurance on his person for the few months he was there. Since he had children, the insurance seemed essential to me, and thus some of our money went into the pot.

With Michael Yon, my motivation lay in the fact that he couldn’t afford the kind of camera he needed for his work there. Given the already incredible photos he was producing, I was moved to donate to him, too.

At one point, Wretchard quotes Mr. Cockburn, he of The Nation, who claims that Iraq is disintegrating. In fact, here’s the whole quote from Belmont (you don’t think I’m actually going to link to that magazine, do you?):

     Iraq is disintegrating. The first results from the parliamentary election last week show the country is dividing between Shia, Sunni and Kurdish regions. … The election marks the final shipwreck of American and British hopes of establishing a pro-Western secular democracy in a united Iraq.

Wretchard follows Cockburn’s remarks thusly:

     It is totally irrelevant to question Mr. Cockburn’s motives, intelligence or literary style. The only source of legitimacy that matters is whether Mr. Cockburn’s journal of events is accurate.

Wretchard’s remarks are cogent. However, one of the commenters, wizard, had this rejoinder:
“The only source of legitimacy that matters is whether Mr. Cockburn’s journal of events is accurate. “

     I disagree. If characterizations were not the main product this would be true, but factual accuracy (or lack thereof) is only perhaps 5% of most articles.
For instance “Iraq is disintegrating” could be viewed from 360 perspectives. There certainly is a lot of change, and one could make a case for this. Does the author mean that Iraq will become multiple nations within X years?
No! Why not? Because the precision of language which many of us grew up with no longer exists in journalism.
It turns out that Iraq really IS disintegrating, but the term “disintegrate” no longer has much of a meaning at all… just a feeling of discontent.
We are now in the stream-of-consciousness era where facts are malleable, see fake-but-accurate. They really meant that. Really.
The article is just an impression, a snapshot in time, with no awareness of old concepts like history and its implied objective observer.
Someone once said that words mean things. Well, they used to — but anyone asking “what is a journalist” is now just a self-admitted anachronism.
Today’s word-smiths are much more like Enron Accounts, and when asked What is 2+2, they reply with nary a wink: “What would you like it to be?”

This is a forceful argument and deserves close reading. However, wizard’s opinion — that the question raised: “who is a journalist?” is already anachronistic — jumps the gun. In other words, it is anachronistic in the other direction. The time has not yet come to stop asking — and responding to — queries about what comprises journalism and journalists.

The question itself may even be in the subset of those questions regarding the most important issue of this generation: what is information and how will it be generated now that the gatekeepers are being pushed out of the way?

Note that this is merely another way of asking, with Pilate, “What is Truth?” Of course, he washed his hands after posing the question.

One thought on “Pilate’s Question Never Goes Away

  1. The “left” is trying to return to ‘those days of yesteryear’ when they monopolized the media: TV, newspapers and magazines. Too late, the “cat is out of the bag”.

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