Saturday, September 11, 2004

Postmodern Journalism Implodes

"This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking," the statement read.

"In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content," the statement continued. "Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned."

So says CBS.

This statement, issued Friday, has already been shot into pieces. It is notable that this postmodern pap is issued by professional journalists. For decades, the cult of the text has largely belonged to bad historians.

The postmodern concept of the text has a limited use. For example, it is worth considering that of all the Founding Fathers, only James Madison preserved and published the correspondence between himself and his wife during the Constitutional Convention. Was this because only Madison wrote his wife during the conference? Or did other spouses correspond, but deny history their letters because their own prejudices deemed such letters irrelevant?

However, if you go so far as to pretend that James Madison merely imagined he was married to Dolly Madison and that he imagined he was at a Constitutional convention, and spend years asking why this construct should be so widely shared as to become a national origin-myth...then you have jumped off the deep end.

This scenario is ridiculous only because the Consititutional Covention is fairly close to our own time. Any student of medieval history knows of countless examples of such rubbish, imposed on developing historians for their serious consideration.

And now we have Dan Rather, pathetically arguing that the text is the key, the story that exists as a real concept independently of any physical data or experience. The story, that Bush cheated his way into and out of the National Guard, lives on. Any denial of its vitality is merely a subjective disagreement based on the ignorant notions that an objective reality of 1973 ever existed, and that our minds in 2004 can imagine and communicate that objective reality free of our subjective 2004 desires.

Modern American journalism fell into this pit some time ago, as the last of the WWII editors and original network news vice-presidents passed on.
Even twenty years ago, a claim to have a story from an "unimpeachable source" would have been ridiculed as blasphemy. Nobody mortal is unimpeachable.
Nor would any serious news organization have offered anonymous expert analysis as proof.
Nor would it have defended a story as "consistent with" a consensus of witnesses, nor touted a "preponderance of evidence", lest it retain a 'preponderance' of its reputation.

But that was modern journalism. Postmodern journalism has liberated itself from delusions of objectivity and accuracy. Postmoderns accept that they are biased and inaccurate. But so are their critics! To postmoderns, the only possible integrity is a consistent application of bias. Consistent, coherent, loyal subjectivity is their goal.

Sadly I doubt the MSM will abandon the postmodern freedom to snafu. The 60 Minutes memo debacle has simpler lessons: never try to totally 'scoop' the competition; and never attempt to document gossip.

If 60 Minutes had collaborated with Nightline to have the story air on both programs on successive nights, ABCNews would not now be eagerly deploying reporters to flay CBSNews.

If 60 Minutes simply stated that Killian had felt pressured by Bush, and offered nothing but coworkers with office scuttlebutt, they would have made their point without running afoul of dozens of experts in the centenarian science of typeface analysis.

"Moderate your greed" and "KISS" are easier pills to swallow than a total revolution against the use of anonymous sources, consensus of biased witnesses, and "preponderance" of evidence.

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