Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jan.19: A use for editorials....

Editorials were never a good idea to start with. Fault one is that the editorial pretends to speak for the whole newspaper. It can't, of course. In the first place, newspapers can't have an opinion. They are bundles of paper. Bundles of paper can't have opinions. Only people can have opinions.

In the second place, they can't possibly represent the opinion of all or even most of the people at a newspaper. Nobody even asks them what they think. Even on a good newspaper, the editorial tone is decided by a small group of editors, of whom few are qualified to offer useful opinions on the whole range of subjects covered by editorials.

Finally, editorials are normally not signed. We have no idea who is expressing the opinion of the day, or what his or her qualifications might be to speak on the subject. Editors are, or should be, experts on what should appear in a paper, where it should appear, and how it should be presented. That's it. Few of them have any qualification to take about anything else.

It's long been my suspicion that most people don't read editorials. And that shows that most people have good sense. Take today's editorial in The Moncton Times and Transcript. Essentially, it argues that the new Moncton High School should be wherever a developer wants it to be. In other words, let's forget the whole idea of city planning for the future. Let the developers decide to build 1950's suburban style streets of bungalows, wasteful of space and resources, and heavily dependent on the autmobile being the standard form of transportation for generations to come.

And we'll pick up the tab for the services and the school that will help the developers sell their houses just as the world slides deeper into a recession. What the hell. The build the houses. They sell them. They're gone. What do they care what happens next?

In other words, this is an editorial for the developers, and utterly without regard for the needs of Moncton. That's a common problem. Editorials, for all their posturing, are commonly propaganda for influential people. Should we just scrap them?

Perhaps -but there may be a use for them.

In every day's news there are reports of, for example, outright lies by people who are quoted. We print them because it's the job of a paper to print exactly what some people say. But in doing so, we are not publishing information. We are publishing disinformation.

For example, at the bottom of page C 1, the headline is "Iran, West at odds over new nuclear talks". The British government has never been much interested in talks, so the British foreign minister dismissed the Iranian request, saying that Iran was not serious. "It is significant", he said, "that when we discussing additional sanctions in the European Union an offer of negotiations emerges from Iran." The meaning of that is clear. Iran is not serious about talks.

In fact, the British foreign minister is lying - and he knows it - and any news editor should know it. Iran was requesting talks years before sanctions were even mentioned. In fact, the West has no interest in talks. Nor does it give a damn about whether Iran gets a nuclear bomb. The issue is western ownership and control of Iranian oil. That's been the issue for sixty years now, ever since Britain, France and the US overthrew the elected government of Iran to install a dictator.

The British foreign minister's statement is a lie. But he said it. The news is what he says. It's not true. But it's what he says that has to be reported. In the same way, much of the news we get from the news media is really lies and propaganda. It's not the fault of the reporters. (Well, sometimes it is.) But the net result is a false impression.

How about an editorial that dealt with lies in the day's news? That could be something worth reading.

There is also news that is unbalanced. At the top of the same page, NB Finance Minister Higgs talks about the looming budget as part of his "listening to the people". In his statements, as in almost all official statements about the financial crisis and the need to balance budgets, the whole burden of balancing is put on the backs of the poor and the middle class. Never once has Higgs even mentioned that the very wealthy and corporations have a share to carry, too. Read today's item at the top of p. 1 for a sample.

In his tour, Mr. Higgs has given no indication of how much of our debt is due to selling cheap power to corporations, to not enforcing regulations and sometimes not even legislating any, to tax breaks, to grants, to the high costs of public/private "partnerships".

How much does it cost us to support the Irvings and the Ganongs and the McCains in the style they feel entitled to? We haven't the faintest idea. But Mr. Higgs tells us exactly what it costs us for medecines for the elderly and poor. All of Mr. Higgs' attention is on spending for the poor and middle class - as if it was they who caused the recession; and so they, whose lavish use of medecine just for the fun of it, has to be attacked.

He tells us the exact average of sick days and holidays for civil service employees. There are no similar figures for corporation execs.

Editorial columns that dealt with samples of unbalanced and manipulated news  could be very popular and useful reading.

And occasionally, the editorial could draw attention to examples of balanced reporting. There's a sample of that, too, on page C1. "Banks to hike service fees." It's a story about increases in service fees coming at a time when banks are already enjoying record profits. It's a story that gives us all the dots we need to connect for an understanding of what a rip-off is being done.

Ooh -beware of hidden stories. These are tucked into back pages, or less-read sections of the paper - when they really should be page one. An example was a story which the New York Times hid on p. E9. It was the story of President Clinton apologizing for the US directed slaughter of a quarter million Mayan native people in Guatemala. I really kinda thought that was a page oner.

Today's hidden story in the Moncton times and Transcript is on the Your Business page, a page that is less read than, say, Miss Manners,  Hollywood birthdays or the comics. But it's surely rather big news in a province torn by the shale gas controversy.

Angie Leonard, who was a key figure in preparing shale gas regulations has quit. She has gone to work for an oil industry lobby group - that is, a group that does propaganda and sometimes nastier things for the oil industry.

She is the sister of another key figure in the New Brunswick shale gas saga - Energy Minister Craig Leonard.

Gee. I dunno. But I think that might be of interest to a great many readers - even those who only look at p. 1, then flip to Hocus-Focus.

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