Monday, February 13, 2006

Snark Attack!



I've always had a soft spot for newspapers and other print media. Although I read the NY Times, Washington Post, Slate and Salon online, I wax nostaligic for the printed page. I subscribe to the New Yorker and Harper's Monthly, and religously read my (crappy) local paper every morning. I happen to hate my county newspaper, but for some reason my sister likes the local focus. Much as I love my (small) city weekly with it's attempt to chronicle the fast paced drama of suburbia, I kind of don't care about the latest bear mauling or what the OC nightlife is all about. Yet I read the local paper. Why? Because it's there. And I will read anything that is before me.

Maybe my love for the newspaper comes from my childhood--from the age of 7-15, my family worked nights (second jobs for all, parents, student siblings) at the LA Times, stuffing inserts. You know how the Front Page is Section A, the Business Section is B, and the Sports Section is C, and the Calendar Section is F? Well, someone has to put that in order like that, like nesting Russian dolls. That's what my family did, from 10 pm to 2 am four nights a week. And I was there with them, sleeping on a stack of newspapers in a newspaper cart in my sleeping bag, listening to the phlup of inserts being inserted into the mainpage. I grew up smelling carbon and ink. I would shift in my sleep, and wake up with newsprinted skin. I got bored and read. This accounts for my abiding devotion to comics, crappy advice columns, Hints from Heloise, and my early training in domestic and interational politics. Even before I could afford to buy books, I read the Sunday Book Review. I kind of think of those years as my college prep, teaching me things I didn't learn with Vietnamese as my native language.

So with my love of the newspaper, it's always with a heavy, disappointed heart that I critique them. I do not shy away from media criticism, believing that it's the only way papers are honest and accountable. I was disappointed by the NY Times treatment of Wen Ho Lee. It's bad reporting about the flawed intelligence justifying the invasion of Iraq. It's bad trend reporting about the "opt-out revolution."

Still, I'm no angry blogger intent on destroying Mainstream Media (MSM). I'm not Atrios. I'm not Wonkette. I'm not Gawker. Hell, I can't stand reading those sites. For an indictment of snarky writing a la Wonkette or Gawker, here's Jack Shafer's column:

But after several weeks of consuming every cartoon obscenity, bludgeoning wisecrack, and meta-knowing, callow riposte served on these two blogs, I've been asking myself: Are these blogs a part of the better world we hope to leave to our sons and daughters? Well, yes, if we intend for our children to grow strong from sucking bile instead of milk.

MSM isn't innocent either--I can't stand reading Maureen Dowd, who I think is the nadir of shallow and snarky writing (if you want incisive wit and commentary, you're better off with Marjorie Williams). Here's a good bit of commentary by Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs:

NYT columnist Maureen Dowd often disparages male political figures by comparing them to women. For example, in a 11/01/05 column, to show how despicable she though Cheney and his cronies were, she said that they were “catty,” a “Mean Girls cabal” and “hawkish Heathers” who “clawed out Colin Powell’s eyes.” In a 1/18/06 column she wrote that the Democrats “will never succeed as long as they’re perceived as the party in skirts.” Well, yesterday, she castigated “the Republicans” for doing the same thing.

I hate that when women writers are pugnacious, it's called "being catty"--but I hate it when writers are pugnacious, period. If you don't like the epithet "catty," don't call others catty. If you want people to stop thinking of you in genderized constructs, don't use them either.

For an article about why liberal bloggers shoot themselves in the foot when they trash MSM as the root of all evil, Franklin Foer is your man:

They have begun to dismiss the MSM as doomed avatars of the ancien régime. Atrios, one of the most popular of the liberal bloggers, recently threw up his arms: "If idiots destroy institutions there's no reason to continue to respect them." (Their derisive attitude resembles nothing more than the New Left, which charged journalism with dulling the sense and sensibility of the masses, preventing them from seeing the horrors of the capitalist order.) The mainstream blogosphere (MSB) is only too happy to bury the old media regime, because it has an implicit vision for a new order, one that would largely consist of ... bloggers. In other words, they envision a universe that resembles the nineteenth-century partisan newspapers or the Fleet Street model, where writers and thinkers break from the illusion of "objectivity" and print the "truth."

There's another reason that liberals shouldn't be so quick to help conservatives crush old media. Because of the right's alliance with business, it simply has more resources to shovel at its institutions--and it has been doing exactly that for the last 40 years. And, unlike liberals, conservatives have already proved themselves masters of partisan media, where they reduce their political program into highly saleable, entertaining populism. If the battle of ideas doesn't have credible, neutral arbiters like the so-called MSM--and liberals jump into an ideological shoving match with bigger, badder, conservative outlets--there's no question which side will prevail.

It's for this reason that while I'm a political junkie, I don't read many political blogs. I'll occasionally cruise on over to Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo or Kevin Drum's Political Animal, but only because the writing and reporting there is so good--mainly becaue the authors are still working journalists themselves. They know the difficulty of reporting, collecting sources, and analysis--and so what they write tends to be seriuos and principled, not bitter and self-righteous. I get my politics fix from more academic blogs by law professors and public policy professors, mainly because they just say what it is without the accompanying vitriol. I have acid reflux when I get stressed out--I don't need more bile in my system.

It's for these reasons that I hope to transcend snarkiness (but not partisanship) on this blog. Wit I'll make feeble attempts at--but I hope that I won't be reduced to name calling and vitriolic diatribe. I mean, if you have to resort to trash talkin and "Oh no you did not!" kind of rebuttal, you're probably not making a very principled or effective argument. So here's to hoping that I avoid the snarks in the water, and don't use my words to wound. Posted by Picasa

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