An even shorter history of Stupid — with some EM comments

January 7, 2015

A short history of Stupid: The decline of reason and why public debate makes us want to scream, (2014). Bernard Keane & Helen Razer, published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99.

Bernard Keane

Bernard Keane

I am a big fan of both Crikey political editor Bernard Keane and the Saturday Paper‘s gardening writer Helen Razer. They are intellectually sharp, write with good humour and come across as eminently rational in their thinking.

Helen Razer

Helen Razer

Therefore, I was delighted to find A short history of Stupid in time to add the book to my Christmas wishlist for 2014. Yes, even über rationalist Marxist scholars have some use for Santa Claus!

Keane and Razer are friends and obviously share a dislike for stupidity in all its forms (and they are many); but they are not cut from the same cloth. Keane comes across as a socially-concerned and progressive individualist, verging on the libertarian, while Razer is more than willing to own up to her own proto-Marxist and critical feminist intellectual development. Razer is also a bit of a potty mouth, so if you are offended by the occasional use of c—t, f—k and s—t in your reading material, perhaps you should only read the chapters by the more (ahem) refined Mr Keane.

But I’m not fazed by Ms Razer’s crudities because I love her razor wit and sharp insights. Her chapter on reason and unreason is one of the best in the book and one paragraph in particular sums up her (and my) take on the psychological pressures of modern working life:

“When we fail at life as it is so broadly and meticulously prescribed, we call it mental illness. We have failed life. We are not permitted to think it is the conventions of life that have failed us.” (p. 164)

It has many good points and I recommend you read it, but A short history of Stupid is a very uneven book. This is partially because chapters are written individually and the writers have very different tones and registers in their prose; but the bigger issue is that the book doesn’t seem to really know whom its enemy is.

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Media Inquiry? Inconvenient facts go down the memory hole (part 2)

July 28, 2012

Do you remember the Independent Media Inquiry?

You might vaguely recall the Finkelstein inquiry…yes, rings a faint bell?

It’s OK, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d forgotten most of the details.

What do you remember?

Oh yes. Finkelstein, isn’t he the guy who wants to throw the champions of the fourth estate in jail for telling the truth about the nasty and unloved Ju-Liar government?

That’s right, that’s exactly right. Here’s a free online subscription to the Heart of the Nation.

According to many ‘exclusive’ stories in The Australian newspaper, the sole aim of the Independent Media Inquiry was to impose heavy sanctions on the news media because the Gillard government doesn’t handle criticism very well.

Take this story from media commentator Mark Day on 26 April 2012. It is so important it got top of page 1 treatment;

A new regulatory body, funded by government and with powers to impose fines and sanctions on news outlets is a key proposal of the long-awaited Convergence Review of the emedia sector.

Unfortunately, this story was wrong, wrong wrong.

The Convergence Review rejected any idea that there should be any such government-funded organisation with anything like the powers suggested in this breathless lead par.

However, since this story was published it has become standard operating procedure to continue the lie.

It is only possible to conclude one of four things:

a) the budget is so tight at News Limited that as many words as possible have to be recycled on a daily basis which means that key phrases are used over and over again to save money

b) the koolaid in the LimitedNews bunkers is real tasty and no one’s yet cottoned on that it is the source of the medicine that results in obligatory groupthink

c) there is a deliberate mis-information campaign going on designed to fool Australians into demanding Stephen Conroy’s head on a platter.

d) we are being fed a bowl of chump bait with fear-causing additives so we don’t see what’s really going on.

It’s probably a combination of all four.

If we’re stirred up about bloody attacks on ‘our’ freedom of speech and we can be made to think that only The Australian and the Institute of Public Affairs stands between us and a Stalino-Fascist dictatorship of ‘befuddled’ Greens from the ‘tofu belt’ aided and abetted by the ‘soft-Left media’ then maybe we’ll be goaded into action.

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up even if you called yourself Chris Mitchell and spent your days dreaming of a world in which you could wield the absolute power that corrupts absolutely.

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Naive DimPost editorialist up in arms …Who rights [sic] this drivel?

September 14, 2011

This post deserves a subtitle:

“Kick’em when they’re up; kick’em when they’re down” Don Henley (see below)

My concern this evening is a weird little editorial in today’s Dominion Post concerning the reportorial credentialing of one N Hager Esq.

To wit, in evidence I copy and paste the following:

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

What? Can I just take a moment to let this sink in.

Nicky Hager’s not a journalist, at least as you [DomPost editorialist 13.9.2011] choose to define it.

How do you define it by the way?

Nicky’s not a journalist, but he might be an author though.

Is that good or bad?

Is that what you’re saying here?

I must have missed something, run that par by me again…

Hager sees himself as an author and a journalist. In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not. He is a meticulous compiler and ferreter out of information that some people would wish to keep secret, and he is very good at it.

I don’t think “ferreter” is a word in the context you’re trying to shoehorn it into.

But, leaving aside your poor composition skills, what you’re trying to say is that Nicky Hager is good at his job — ferreting out information that some people would wish to keep secret — but that’s not journalism as you define it. How do you define journalism by the way? That last bit sounds suspiciously like what journalism is. Or at least, what it should be.

I must be stupid, but I still don’t get it…tell me more.

The flaw in Hager’s modus operandi is that he amasses what he has learned and then presents it to the public through the prism that best suits his world view, without allowing for the possibility that there might be a plausible explanation for what he has “uncovered”. The case he builds is thus rarely troubled by opposing opinions and inconvenient facts, realities that journalists in the mainstream media are morally obliged to take into account, and present.

[Seeing Afghanistan through naive prism]

Excuse me, even the headline on this piece doesn’t stand up to lexical scrutiny.

OK, you can call me a media studies poser if you like. You won’t be the first. The fact remains, we have to deconstruct this argument to make sense of the DomPo’s position.

First of all, a disclaimer. I know and admire Nicky Hager. I consider him a friend and I’ve defended him before here at EM on similar charges from Fran O’sullivan.

I haven’t yet read Nicky’s latest book Other People’s Wars — the centre of this controversy — but I am told by reliable sources that it is brilliant and you should all read it. I’m picking up my copy from Unity Books in the morning and will read it on the plane home this weekend.

I think his work in Hollow Men is exemplary investigative journalism, despite this mean-spirited and misleading line in the DumPoo’s rite [sic] of reply.

Take his earlier book, The Hollow Men, for example, which – though not news to political junkies – made uncomfortable reading for some associated with the Don Brash-led National Party.

Not even faint praise in this damning dismissal from the Dismal Poke.

Speaking of definitions of journalism didn’t Lord Harmsworth once say that it was about “afflicting the comfortable”?

Like many a determined investigator, some of whom have worked at the DomPost and done brilliant work of journalism, Nicky takes excellent care of his sources and his facts. He does, in other words, exactly what those imbued with, and accountable to, the spirit of excellence in reporting, should do.

The sputtering [sic] rage of the Dim’s editorialist — whether real or feigned for 13 sovereigns — is best expressed in this nonsense:

In the common definition of the journalistic craft, he is not.

Did that make your eyes water? Ferfucksake! Is this grammatic and syntactic outrage the result of outsourced subbing? Is there nobody in the office to tell the editorialist they’ve written gibberish; up with which we will not put.

[Ahhem, so to speak]

Can we just look, for a brief indulgent moment, at the definition of a journalist that is common today.

Actually, we might need a few, here’s one to be going on with.

“Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist. It’s absolutely unavoidable. A journalist is someone who looks at the world and the way it works, someone who takes a close look at things every day and reports what she sees, someone who represents the world, the event, for others. She cannot do her work without judging what she sees.”

That’s from Marguerite Duras, it is echoed by many; including George Orwell. Regular readers of EM will know my line Orwell and Trotsky.

I’ll be back. In the meantime…

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Brave Italian newsreader stands up to bully boy Berlusconi

May 26, 2010

An Italian journalist has resigned from the state-run TV 1 network in a protest against editorial interference and bias in favour of disgusting Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Maria Luisa Busi

Maria Luisa Busi has more than 20 years experience but dramatically quit her newsreading post last week angrily pointing the finger at her boss Augusto Minzolini. Busi said that Minzolini had consistently slanted TV1’s news coverage to favour Berlusconi and had actively prevented reporting of Berlusconi’s many crimes and sexual indiscretions.

Berlusconi is the Italian Rupert Murdoch (on steroids). Not only does he have political control of TV1 he also owns massive chunks of the rest of Italy’s print and broadcast minister.

Both Minzolini and Berlusconi are under investigation for corruption.

The Independent has the full story.

EM extends a warm hand of congratulations to Ms Busi for standing up and walking out for strong principled reasons. I’d like to suggest that her colleagues at RAI should follow suit.


Mike McRoberts: our man in the middle while Haiti rots

January 20, 2010

Donate to Haiti relief at the grassroots level, not through the pockets of dubious religious charities.

You can make a donation to the Haiti aid effort via:

TUC Aid-Haiti Appeal The British trade Union Council is sending aid to the trade union movement for emergency relief in collaboration with the International Trade Union Confederation.  » www.tuc.org.uk

In Australia: APHEDA-ACTU Haiti appeal Any funds raised in this appeal for Haiti will be directed to the relief efforts being undertaken by the Canadian Auto Workers and other Canadian unions.

Haiti Emergency Relief Fund: organised by Haiti Action, an organisation which directs resources to grassroots organisations in Haiti. Donate at » www.haitiaction.net

It’s interesting that when there’s a gut-wrenching, heart-string tugging, tear-jerking human interest story of tragic proportions that the network’s star reporters can safely own up to having a heart of their own and to becoming emotionally and physically involved in a story.

So it is with TV3’s Mike McRoberts who’s in Haiti covering a real tragedy. He explained his involvement in the story on his Mediaworks/TV3 blog:

Whether or not journalists should be part of a story or not is one of those issues that surface from time to time.

I was reminded of it again today when I “stepped in” to a story. We found a five year old girl at a relief camp who had a badly broken arm and a gaping infected wound in her leg. She hadn’t been treated since the earthquake and medics at the camp were concerned she may lose her leg if she wasn’t operated on that day.

Trouble was neither they or anyone else at the camp had a vehicle. We did and we stepped in.

I carried her around the hospital grounds as we sought the right treatment for her and after the best part of the day waiting she had her operation.

Clearly I have no problem with journalists stepping into a story. The whole “a journalist must stay detached” stuff is just crap.

I’ve always said that I’m a human being first and a journalist second, and if I’m in a position to help someone I will.

In saying that I don’t think a journalist should be the story either. Unfortunately too many reporters these days seem to get the two things confused?

Yes, the question mark is there in the original.

But, Mike’s been upstaged by the BBC’s Matt Price. He and his crew were able to save two lives… Read the rest of this entry »


Through a (Media) Lens darkly – Newspeak review part 2

November 25, 2009

“Not only is journalistic ‘objectivity’
impossible, the attempt to achieve
it is morally abhorrent.”

Newspeak in the 21st Century, p.239.

This deserves some attention and discussion, it’s tempting to just go “Yep,”, but if I sleep on it, I might be more considered in my response. The rest of the book drifts off into a …weird and existential Buddhism, it loses me at that point.

I just needed to put this in as a place-holder. I’m into the last chapter and will come back to this post later.

The first part of the review is posted here.


Newspeak in the 21st century – Media Lens and angry analysis

November 19, 2009

I’m currently reading a great book on the British media by the two guys behind Media Lens, David Edwards and David Cromwell.

Newspeak in the 21st Century is an angry, but analytical, and very damning report about the state of the British media and the soft-left, liberal veneer that coats the ugly conservative heart of the mainstream press and, it has to be said, the BBC.

The take-away message and one that I’m going to come back to in some detail when I’ve finished the book and have the time to write a good review is a simple one that’s going to offend some people, perhaps even some of my friends, but it has to be said.

Journalists like to invoke the mantra and the ideal belief that their job is to serve the public interest and that they best do this by holding the powerful to account. However, despite the best intentions of the best and the brightest, this rarely, if ever, really happens.

It is a powerful myth that liberal news outlets like The Guardian and the BBC are fighting the establishment. They’re not. Rather, the establishment media is all about propping up the establishment and propogating the lies that keep the system going. Like the lie that Israel is under attack and only acts in self-defence; or like the lie that Iraq had WMDs.

Newspeak in the 21st Century makes this very clear through a thorough content analysis of many of the key stories of the past 10 years or so; from the NATO bombing of Serbia in retaliation for alleged human rights abuses in Kosovo; through the whole lying and deceitful charade of the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, to Israel’s continuing aggression in Gaza to the beat up of Iranian nuclear weapons programmes.

The unfortunate truth is that the news media is complicit in keeping the truth from us, rather than exposing the lies at the heart of the system.

Two brief quotes for now:

Journalists have been demonising other countries for so long, it seems they cannot stop. Always it is the 1930s; always Hitler is plotting our destruction always we need to recoil in fear, disgust and horror. Is this the real world? Or is it journalism as pathology? (p.160)

This is the perfect link between Newspeak in the 21st Century and Orwell’s 1984.

For the mainstream media, an opinion barely exists if it doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter if it is not voiced by people who matter. The full range of opinion, then, represents the full range of power. In that sense the mainstream media is balanced. (p.161)

Finally, Edwards and Cromwell talk about “state capitalism” and they don’t mean Russia and the USSR pre-1989. They’re talking about the system we inhabit today as a global economy. I will return to this as well, because I think they’re right about that too.


Philosophers and journalists – unlikely bedfellows? Bourdieu in the house!

November 19, 2009

[Thanks Jess for the link]

An interesting, if a little obtuse piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week about the fractious relationship between philosophy and journalism. I was struck most immediately by this paragraph, which IMHO sums up the situation reasonably well:

Still, broadly speaking, we need philosophers who understand how epistemology and the establishment of truth claims function in the real world outside seminars and journals—the role of recognized authorities, of decision, of conscious intersubjective setting of standards. And we need journalists who scrutinize and question not just government officials, PR releases, and leaked documents, but their own preconceptions about every aspect of their business. We need journalists who think about how many examples are required to assert a generalization, what the role of the press ought to be in the state, how the boundaries of words are fixed or indeterminate in Wittgensteinian ways, and how their daily practice does or does not resemble art or science.

Carlin Romano, We need ‘Philosophy of Journalism’

There’s another key statement in Carlin’s piece that I also identify with quite strongly. Here he’s talking about the insoluble and necessary link between journalistic and philosophical modes of thinking:

I’ve always insisted to the philosophy students that journalistic thinking enhances philosophical work by connecting it to a less artificial method of establishing truth claims than exists in philosophical literature. I’ve always stressed to journalism students that a philosophical angle of mind—strictness in relating evidence and argument to claims, respectful skepticism toward tradition and belief, sensitivity to tautology, synoptic judgment—makes one a better reporter.

There is no doubt for me that journalism is — at it’s core — an intellectual pursuit that has a high public interest attached to it. There is a necessary couplet between journalism as a practice and theories of democratic public discourse. It is an imperfect linkage — one that’s distorted by the ideological contortions of logic necessary to justify capitalism as a social formation and the dismal science of economics as some sort of rational explanation for human behaviour and human nature (both of which I utterly reject).

This is a long post, so you might want to print it off and read at your leisure. I am keen to discuss Carlin Romano’s timely essay, but also to further explore my own thinking in relation to what I regard as a core philosophical approach to journalism scholarship — the use of the dialectic as an organising and analytical tool to understand the social relations of news production in the widest sense.

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Freedom for those who defend it: Journalists – a film from Belarus

May 14, 2009

The docmentary Journalists, by Belarusian film director Aleh Dashkevich, is screening twice on the programme of the Auckland Human Rights Film Festival.

Journalists tells about how freedom of expression was destroyed in Belarus over the 15 years of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s rule. 20081203_journalistLukashenka came to power in the 1994 election promising to allow freedom of the press. Unfortunately, like most politicians, he was lying at the time.

In most western nations journalists can operate within reasonable boundaries of freedom. It’s rare for a TV camerawo/man to be kidnapped and murdered; journalists don’t often get beaten up, arrested or threatened when covering protests. Not so in Belarus – nor, incidently, in many parts of the former Soviet Union, including Russia.

Belarus 1229920068Late last year Lukashenka’s regime signed into law further restrictions on media freedom. Among other provisions, the law equates the Internet with regular media, making sites subject to the same restrictions; bans local media from accepting foreign donations; allows local and state authorities to shutter independent publications for minor violations; and requires accreditation for all foreign journalists working in the country. [Committee to Protect Journalists]

Journalists is showing on Friday (15 May) and Tuesday (19 May) at 6pm at the Rialto cinema in Newmarket. I will be making a few brief comments after the screening and leading a question and answer session. After that I’ll be available for a quite drink if you’re interested.

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State of Play: Commentary on contemporary journalism

May 4, 2009

I was able to catch an advanced screening of the new Russell Crowe flick, State of Play, over the weekend. Ben Affleck also stars as a rising Washington star who falls from grace.

All I can say is, if you’ve got any interest at all in journalism and the news business, go and see it when it hits a cinema near you.

I’m not a huge Crowe fan and certainly wouldn’t go to see State of Play because he’s in it. It’s the story that’s interesting.

The movie is a Hollywood adaptation of a BBC TV series of the same name. It’s a political thriller and the plot’s fairly standard for the genre – mysterious shooter pegs small time crook leading to bigger fish and a national security scandal. Anyone who’s seen it will instantly make comparisons with All the President’s men.

What’s very interesting about this version is that it’s been updated to the digital age and there’s lots of references to blogging and whether or not that’s “real” journalism. Jokes about YouTube and celebrity also help to keep it topical.

But for me, the drama is in Helen Mirren’s role as the publisher of the Washington Globe as she comes to terms with the declining health of her once great newspaper. That side of the story rings very true. Mirren has all the great lines: “Reporters don’t have friends, they have sources.”

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