The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, April 30, 2004

The truth as non-operative - knowledge that isn't knowledge

The piece next door on the press cover-up of Bush's inarticulacy is a reminder of how facts may be public, but unknown.

Getting the story out is a notion driving many a Hollywood story arc. It features in fave film of the blog, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, for instance. The mere exposure of wrongdoing to the gaze of the masses will result in its amelioration.

After all - the argument would go - all that effort that pols and business and other powerful interests put in to keeping stuff secret has to have a point. Revering the process must be a win for the good guys.

Except - as has cropped up here a good many times - it doesn't work that way.

For instance, McCarthy's manipulations were called good and early - and by no less an organ than the Washington Post. McCarthy's opening salvo came on the Thursday, and the Post ran an editorial on the following Tuesday under the hed Sewer Politics (October 16 2002).

The prima facie evidence provided by Sydney Schanberg of dirty doings by John Kerry as Chairman of the POW/MIA Committee (March 5) has (so far as I can see) failed to secure any kind of follow-up in mainstream media.

And Bob Woodward's May 19 2002 front page article in the Washington Post naming the title of the August 6 2001 PDB that (the article, that is) got mysteriously forgotten, Nexis notwithstanding, so as to be splashed by Drudge as a revelation - and treated as news by the 'respectable' press (April 12).

We're familiar with the notion of Conventional Wisdom - that Al Gore boasted of having invented the Internet, and the likes: misleading or false soundbites meant to infiltrate water-cooler chatter and attain the status of truth.

But the strange oblivion of the title of the PDB wasn't a disinformation operation of the RNC: it was evidently an artefact of the mechanics of news dissemination works, the resultant of all sorts of forces. Partisan manipulation, certainly; but also the very notion of news - the Post's lead needing to be a hard news story, in inverted pyramid form. And new.

Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice (April 27) bewails the fact that media critics obsess about trivia and industry gossip, and never tackle fundamental issues:
what most editors want from media writers today is industrial reporting, which means hiring, firing, backstabbing, bottom lines, and schadenfreude-producing errors.

But I wonder whether a lot of journos wouldn't look on providing the public with proper analysis of the way news works much as the Magic Circle views magicians who explain how tricks work...


The allusion in the hed is to the little rhyme about 19th century Master of Balliol Benjamin Jowett (various formulations here and here) along these lines:
Here I come, my name is Jowett
All there is to know, I know it
What I don't know, is not knowledge
I am the Master of this College.

Whilst I think of it, Viceroy of India Viscount Curzon also has his own anonymous verse:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person,
My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.

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