June 24, 2007

Considering considering

Ruthie Zaftig is a thoughtful right-winger, often I disagree with her but ultimately her writing is informed by a basic decency which it is find not to find appealing. Reading her guest post at James Higham's blog her decency is the first thing that emerges- but still its a post that requires some thought- Ruthie isolates some problems with journalism but I think her argument needs to be taken a little further than she takes it. Ruthie believes that the problem with the way that news is disseminated lies in the fact that there is too much punditry and too little journalism- respectfully I disagree- not that there is too much punditry there is, but more journalism isn't quite what we need either.

I agree completely with Ruthie that there is too much punditry around- too many Bill O'Reillys talking rubbish on the television, too many Keith Olberman responding with insults, too many films like last night's Trial of Tony Blair on British TV, too many Peter Hitchenses or John Pilgers who can only see one side of the question. In the blogosphere the problem arguably is even worse- for every Ruthie, you find a dozen who shout more and think less, for every Matt Sinclair you have an idiot with a keyboard and without a brain. Punditry in my opinion is an exercise in the absurd- it reduces tv to what Ed Murrow feared it might be, wires in a box, which have no merit. If popular its popularity is the popularity of Cleon, of the leader of a mob, and the frenzy of its protagonists demonstrates the proposition advanced by Plato that democracy would be a tyranny of the majority.

But journalism in many ways contributes to the problem. Journalists are ultimately gatherers of information- often unconcerned with what the information means. Iain Dale is the typical British exponent in the blogosphere- Dale presents good information from his political contacts but in my estimation doesn't analyse or place it properly. Newspapers do this too reporting data without providing this contextualising detail- to take an example- one can see the consequences of reporting without context in the way that the blogosphere recycles news- this post by Lord Nazh over at Nourishing Obscurity is about Israel and purports basically to find that Israel is "a country defending itself against terrorists"- of course it is but he neglects to mention the context of the events before 1948 which make the Palestinians feel that their land was robbed. Lord Nazh is indeed right about the facts but neglects to mention either the events before 1948 or another fact that more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed over the last five years. Those facts don't excuse but do help explain what has happened and why a peace process is necessary- but reporting without analysis can lead you to support Lord Nazh's conclusion that the terrorists are to be opposed, rather than seeing that the situation is much more complex.

Ultimately more journalism isn't what is needed at the moment- but more analysis. Analysis would obey all the rules that Ruthie sets out in her post- it is as she argues it should be- something which is self critical, an intellectual discipline rather than an emotional spasm. Our problem is not that we are not bombarded by enough random facts about the world- but that we don't have patterns or ways to understand those facts through. Instead we understand them through the ignorant ramblings of pundits. To see the difference between a pundit and an analyst look for example at the contrast between your average football pundit and James Hamilton- the first is emotional and prejudiced, the second rational and able to take criticism. Of course analysts get things wrong but because they are willing to take criticism they will acknowledge that they are wrong- that difference is a vital one- and acknowledging and not shouting back in debate is also key.

Ruthie is right and wrong- I think her definition of journalism includes the people I style analysts but I think it risks placing a premium on just getting the facts without attempting to place those facts in a context. Ultimately though the broad purpose of her article is right- all power to interlocutors like Ruthie- this blogger enjoys talking to them and learns from them!

14 comments:

Lord Nazh said...

If you're going to pick on me, at least add the facts that you speak of.

And the context of course. You fail to mention where the 'Palestinian' people come from or why Israel has a right to its' land and that most of 'mandate palestine' was taken up by Jordan.

You speak of more pale's being killed than israelis, yet you fail to mention who actually killed them, or how each side gets killed.

You make it out that this is an even issue and yet even you skew it away from my point to yours without facts.

Nice post, but a little more would have made it more believable as a journalistic endeavor.

Graeme said...

I have to limit my comments in this instance to the Canadian case, as it's the only situation in which I know anything in depth. These comments may or may not be applicable to the British (or American) case.

I think the problem lies in that too many young journalists have their training in journalism instead of in any particular field. I'm thinking particularly of an ex-girlfriend who worked for a time as a journalist at one of Canada's major daily newspapers. She did an undergraduate degree in IR (and later did a Master's in IR after leaving journalism and now does humanitarian work) while being heavily involved with one of her university's newspapers--she was one of the editors of it at one point, she attended many student journalism conferences, and so on. She really wanted to be a journalist. She found that students who did degrees in journalism had an easier time finding jobs. I can only speculate on the reasons for this, but I expect that a part of it has to do with the contacts gathered through attending journalism school, easier placements in internships, and so on and so forth.

The problem is that in certain types of reporting--international reporting especially--a certain amount of understanding of the topic is necessary to properly report on a topic. This of course doesn't necessarily require training up to a degree level, but it does require more than journalism school is probably giving.

There are some serious holes in what I'm writing here, but I'll add it to the debate anyway.

Vino S said...

As Henry knows as i have said it IRL many times, Israel/Palestine debates are hardly very fruitful and tend to generate more heat than light.

However, I have to take issue with Lord Nazh's post. He claims (as lots of right-wing Israelis do) that Jordan is the Palestinian homeland. In fact, Jordan and Iraq were both created post-WW1 as territories for the Hasemite dynasty, who had allied with the Allies against the Turkish Ottoman Empire. In addition, the Balfour Declaration does talk about a Jewish national home in Palestine 'without prejudice' to the rights of existing religous communities.

Yes, the Palestinian sense of national identity is recent (as are many national identities in the world) but that doesn't necessarily make it invalid. After all, prior to the 1940s, Zionism was only a minority position among the Jewish people.

Additionally, I note that you use the term 'pales'. This strikes me as rather offensive, akin to using the term 'jap' or 'paki'. To use such terminology does blur the line between support for Israel and a degree of anti-Arab racism.

Lord Nazh said...

"To use such terminology does blur the line between support for Israel and a degree of anti-Arab racism"

the use of the term was simply fatigue and not wanting to type yet again a long word :)

the whole palestinian nationality grew from Mandate Palestine, 90% of which is now Jordan, irregardless of when Jordan was created it is WHAT it was created from that matters.

Madante Palestine was in itself created also, there was no Palestine and never has been. Palestineans are arabs that the arab world will not accept. Israel has (and has shown) historical ties to that homeland, hence the reason the UN gave them what they did, the palestinean-arabs only have what was given to them and most of that was given away.

Vino S said...

Yes, I would agree that the Palestinians are Arabs, as they speak Arabic as their mother tongue. But, just because they are Arabs as well as people living in the geographical area they call Palestine does _not_ mean that they lack the right to self-determination. After all, just because Poles are also Slavs we do not deny the right of self-determination to Poland.

Lord Nazh, the UN, in 1948, divided Mandate Palestine [by that time Jordan was completely separate and had been since the 20s IIRC] into two states. As such, the position of "2 nations, 2 states" is completely logical. You talk of Jewish historical connection with the land, but the Palestinians would say that they have the same connection. After all, different groups of people can feel the same land to be their homeland. This is the situation in many other parts of the world as well.

Don't get me wrong, Israel is a nation-state with a claim to existance. But I do not see how rhetorical claims for its existance need to depend on eliminating Palestinian rights, as your rhetoric is doing. As always in matters involving the national question, there is a grey area. For the same reason I condemned the UCU boycott on my blog for picking sides on a difficult issue [and because academic boycotts are a stupid idea anyway] I am also critical of your view that the Palestinians have no national rights and so can be dispossessed of the land they see as home.

Gracchi said...

I agree with Vino-

Firstly let me state just so that you are clear that according to the Red Crescent the Israelis have killed more Palestinians- around 5,000 I think though that's memory and I might be wrong since the second intifada than the Palestinians have Israelis.

On Jordan I'm afraid Vino is right. The Israeli right to the land I base on self determination like the Palestinian right- historical rights here are very odd- should the Greeks own parts of Turkey and the Indians have sovereignty over the US- both afterall have far more recent ownership than the Jews had in 1910 of that land. But on self determination grounds the Israelis should have a state and on the same grounds the Palestinians who consider themselves a people should have a state too- hence I am in favour of a two state solution- getting there though is tough and there are a range of options all the way from Israeli liberals to Ariel Sharon but I don't think there is any other just settlement there.

I also think you need to recognise that according to the Isreali new historians- people like Benny Morris, Avi Schlaim and Illan Pappe there was substantial clearing of lands which were owned by Palestinians- farmers and villagers were in practice evicted by the Israeli army and have never been compensated.

Graeme yes I think you are absolutely right.

Lord Nazh said...

You guys seem to misinterpret what I say. I have NEVER argued against the '2state' solution.

I argue against the terrorists, you know, the guys that KEEP saying that their goal is to wipe Israel off the map, to own 'all of palestine from the jordan river to the sea'. Those guys.

What I mean by the palestineans are arabs is that there is no historical people called palestineans, they only became that when the land was renamed.

Mandate Palestine was a give-away of land, just like the UN mandate in 1948. I notice that no one wants to attack the UN for it (although not many people would defend the UN :)

You'd have to stretch the truth very far (and the Red Crescent does indeed stretch) to get 5k killed BY Israel.

Gracchi said...

Well the Red Crescent is generally accepted as a neutral organisation- however to give another example of the greater Palestinian death toll- B'Tselem an Israeli human rights group gave a total of 660 Palestinian deaths caused by Israeli military action in 2006 with at least 322 of those not involved in previous terrorist activity and 141 Children as opposed to 23 Israelis. A BBC Report on it is here.

Glad to hear you are in favour of the two state solution- I would agree that I oppose Hamas and also the other terrorist movements including those affiliated to Fatah in Palestine. I think we have a similar position here and perhaps it is just the language that we differ on- its ironical because I often find myself accused of being too pro-Israeli.

I do think though its always worth remembering that there is such a thing as the Palestinian people so long as people beleive that they are Palestinians- I think the Jordan thing is a canard.

Lord Nazh said...

you have to remember on those numbers of dead ...

Israel tries to hit military targets hiding in population; therefore there will be deaths

the terrorists send rocket after rocket, and suicide bomber after bomber to the population, they don't attempt to hit military.

23 is very good, means the fence is doing it's job (and the piss poor rockets that the terrorists send)

Gracchi said...

23 is good- now we need to cut that number of Palestinians dying as well :)

As for your point on Israelis being different from Hamas and better behaved yes that's true- but its still tough on the dead Palestinians who were completely innocent but still killed.

Ruthie said...

I don’t think we disagree as much as you think we do on this. I think good journalism can achieve all the things you’ve described—I think it can serve as thoughtful commentary and put stories in a historical context while maintaining a fair degree of objectivity. I’ve seen it done before. It comes down to the difference, as you said, between punditry and analysis.

Graeme raises a valid point, too…

“The problem is that in certain types of reporting--international reporting especially--a certain amount of understanding of the topic is necessary to properly report on a topic. This of course doesn't necessarily require training up to a degree level, but it does require more than journalism school is probably giving.”

Since journalists write about everything—disease, politics, crime, the stock market, religion, you name it—it’s important for the educational system to encourage them to be well-rounded members of society with a general understanding of the things they’ll specialize in. Unfortunately, a lot of that cant be taught.

I took a class once called Mass Comm Theory with a Middle Eastern professor. It was a senior-level class. All the students enrolled in it were third- and fourth-year journalism students. One day the professor came to class and said, “Pop quiz today. Write down the names of the capitals of Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.”

How many people do you think got it right, out of a class of thirty or forty junior and senior journalism students?

Five. I kid you not. The girl next to me turned to me and said, “I put Sudan, what did you put?”

I said, “Sudan is a country! And it’s in Africa!”

That’s just sad. I suppose it’s somehow indicative of a larger problem.

Gracchi said...

Ruthie I absolutely agree with you- I think its a fault through society actually that I may write about that general analytical knowledge has fallen backwards. But your points are all right- the issue is analysis- I agree I don't think we disagree that much I just wanted to separate the colllection of facts as an activity from analysis as an activity.

Ruthie said...

Incidentally, I don't think anyone has ever called me a "right-winger" before.

gracchii said...

Apologies Ruthie- I'm not sure how but somewhere I got the impression that you were on the right! Probably a reference on another blog to you! Anyway the bit I really meant was the 'decent' which I think everyone would agree with!