"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." -- Thomas Jefferson
"A popular Government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives." -- James Madison
My patient high school civics teachers will be pleased to know that much of their good work stuck. Yes, they also told me of laments of Alexander Hamilton ("the newspapers have teemed with the most inflammatory railings") and Thomas Jefferson ("The advertisement is the most truthful part of a newspaper"), but that only served to sharpen an eye for mischief among the pages.
Returning readers are aware that my job is critical analysis with pointed conclusions that I like to describe as 'Stay or run for the airport.' They will also know that I am believer in the Berlin Wisdom Model, the systems analysis of Russ Ackoff, the sprignal (spurious signal) concept of William Harris*, and the tools and mindset of what is often called Counter-Deception Decision Support.
Watching what now passes for news on cable TV, broadcast TV, internet, and press commands that the reader have an especially acute sensitivity to the presence of sprignals (intentional deceptions) among signals (legitimate data, secret or public) and noise (other random unrelated material). So much of this material -- calling it 'news' offers it too much grace -- is so omissive, or comissive in its attempt to distort and shift opinion that, without knowing it, the reader is under siege. In short, it now takes work to find accurate information.
The descent of mainstream news (cable and broadcast) has been so great that after years of largely ignoring it, I have had to return to it in order to understand our clients' state of misinformation, i.e., the degree of misinformation dictates the amount of added detail that we will have to include in our analyses in order to refute the bad before we can present the good.
This mangling of the news is handmaiden to the manipulation of public opinion in Imperial Rome became Italy; de Tocqueville's America becomes what? and especially "Congregation for Propagating the Faith" to agitprop to oppo research; four centuries of manipulating public opinion, foreign and domestic.
One of the few things that give me hope in this environment is Jon Stewart and "The Daily Show" -- a program that was first brought to my attention by my son and niece who both noted that it was all the rage among 20-somethings and the CPO (cell phone only) generation. "Half of 18- to 29-year-olds say they regularly or sometimes learn things from late-night comedy shows" while "Only 17 percent of the program's audience is over 50."
Stewart earned my undying respect when he passed from comedy and parody to scathing commentary during his Trojan Horse interview on CNN Crossfire (transcript here). I share with my younger generation Stewart's comment that, "We feel a frustration with the way politics are handled and the way politics are handled within the media." I am thrilled to see that "Daily Show fans are more knowledgeable about current events than those of other comedy shows, rivaling newspaper readers and network news viewers."
In an environment where I now find even the interviews of Tim Russert to fail to press the point, where Fox is beyond the pale, where CNN has lost its way, where broadcast anchors admit to self-censorship in an effort to avoid commercial attack, where the only TV news that I seek out is PBS (Lehrer, Moyers, Frontline et al), I will continue to rely on primary source materials -- the stuff from which the high street press is crafted, and a broad spectrum of offshore sources to form my opinions.
And the Daily Show.
*Private email, 17 March, 2001, from William R. Harris noting his derivation of sprignal building upon the work of Roberta Wohlstetter and Barton Whaley.
The Campaign of a Comedian
By Howard Kurtz
October 23, 2004
Jon Stewart's America
Aired October 15, 2004 - 16:30 ET
Anchors Aweigh: The Refs Are Worked
by Eric Alterman
November 1, 2004 issue