Wisconsin is a total mess right now. You know the type. It’s a scene from a movie. Two sides gnashing their teeth at each other, spouting slogans, sharpening knives, yelling unintelligible things in incomprehensible languages at each other.
Okay. It’s not quite that serious. Well – in my opinion it’s pretty serious but it’s actually quite civil which is shocking in this day and age. It is heated. It is impassioned and what’s more it has quite a few of my Facebook friends scurrying about like mad trying to stock up ammunition like a winter war between school kids. This includes me.
So, seeing as we are all acting the parts of amateur journalism, and seeing as i am probably the least qualified individual to write such a thing i figured i would supply a small primer on how to conduct yourself in your search for said ammunition. Please take into consideration – in case you missed it – that i am entirely unqualified for this job and have absolutely no journalism experience whatsoever. The following are simply rules of thumb gleaned – as always – from an overactive brain that is presently completely untaxed by the rudiments of active employment.
1. Always consider your source –
Sources may come in a vast array of forms, dizzying to the eye, tantalizing to the ear. They are the equipment of your snowball building, ammunition gathering endeavors. They may promise to be the ‘snowball maker T3000’ and turn out to be the doofus without gloves on the playground. Every source has a reason that they are sources and it is critical that you learn what that reason is before dancing gleefully into the giant pile of mint garnished horse shit they have just laid before you. This includes governors, editorialists, protestors, senators. Let’s just say anyone.
2. If it smells like bullshit and looks like bullshit there’s a really good chance that it’s bullshit (in spite of the garnish)
Bullshit is terrific sculpting material if you know how to use it and many of the people you will listen to have taken a masters level course in the medium. They are much better at making a pile of bullshit look like a duck and make you admire it while they make quacking sounds in the background. It will take some training on your part to discern when something is bullshit or not, particularly when someone has put so much time and energy into making you think it’s a duck. This is where the first rule comes in.
In the case of the present crisis, just as an example, the governors continual quacking about this issue being a matter of economy and money seems to be masquerading the fact that the people on the other side have already conceded that point. It might be a little complicated on that score because if you notice the pile of bullshit that it’s all about money you might not notice the other pile that says that the money issue was created entirely by the same guy who is quacking, and who constructed both smelly ducks.
And if you do have the aesthetic discernment to notice the first two smelly ducks, it still might not be enough to notice the third one which is that the whole thing has been expertly sculpted by the Michelangelo’s of the medium – the Koch brothers. In a way, the Governor himself is simply their sculpture – an employee hired to do exactly as he is doing. He has a job to do. He was hired to do it. If he doesn’t do it he will be fired.
Now – as a source here you SHOULD be able to see my perspective. Proceed with caution but please do proceed. If you succeed at reading through this and can spot the angle then you have gone a long way towards learning how to discern information.
3. Statistics are usually the expert disguise of bullshit.
Everybody – and most sources – will use statistics to bolster their points. Take a statistics course. Statistics are a way of interpreting facts. Imagine a fact (the thing you will eventually wish to find) Now imagine the same mint garnished pile of bullshit wearing a fact coat and a fact moustache. Now you have statistics.
This is not to say that statistics are necessarily wrong or misleading but lets be brutally honest here – you will only read and take any interest in them if they support your premise. Sometimes, if you’re honest, you may use a statistic to equivocate your point and actually use them as information. This is not a bad practice. First it gives you the illusion of a genuine interest in reality, and second it expertly masks the bullshit that you yourself are trying to write.
63% of all journalists use this method. In an average poll of AP journalists it was determined that 43% prefer, however, to use the particularly biased version while 22% will refuse to use statistics of any kind unless they can be independently verified by a totally impartial observer (and thus they never use statistics of any kind because that observer is a myth concocted by 3/4ths of the general population.)
4. A fact is more precious than gold. Anything that you actually get someone to say is a fact. The contents of that statement may not be but if you can legitimately have a record of them saying it it is a fact. Your job is to collect these facts. If you state that the Journalist Bismark Von Stinkypoo said thus and such on such and such a date that may be a fact, provided that Mr. Von Stinkypoo actually did say it.
Facts are something that can be independently confirmed. All you need to do to prove a fact is find the instance of it’s veracity. If someone said something and it’s on record – such as a phone call – then it has been established as fact. The fact that Ahmadinejad is a liar can be proven by finding a homosexual in Iran. If you can find one, and i’m certain that you can, you will prove that Mr. Ahmadinejad has the capacity for lying and in the instance where he stated “there are no gays in Iran” he was lying.
When Anderson Cooper presented Hosni Mubarek as a liar he was stating an independently verifiable fact. There is nothing wrong with this. It may be seen as unseemly by other reporters to whom stating facts is subservient to the demands of having access to a source (and thereby being a willing recipient and conduit of the aforementioned bullshit.) but it is representative of fact.
For instance, the Governor of Wisconsin recently took a call he believed to be David Koch. This is a fact. What this fact represents is stunning if and only if:
5. Use your brain to draw conclusions:
This is the tricky part because your conclusions are, in the final analysis, your own sculpture of bullshit. They are your perspective, the conclusions which the tiny breadcrumbs of fact have led you to. This is the subjective enterprise of amateur journalism. It’s the whole reason you do what you do because in the end you then become the source. You see? Full circle. IF you reduce the amount of bullshit included, recognize the bullshit of others, and faithfully point out what steaming piles of it lie around so that others do not misconstrue them as cute little duckies then you have done your job.
One final note on sources:A source wants to be heard. A source also really wants you to believe that what they have to say is fact and not bullshit. But first and foremost they want to be heard. Some sources – like Rafid Ahmed Alwan Al-Janabi (code named Curveball) presented this bullshit, told people it was bullshit and then was stunned to learn that people who should know better thought it was fact. Some people, like Glenn Beck conjure bullshit out of thin air (which is impossible by the way, it has to come from the south end of a bull and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise) then molds it before you, points at some empty point in space and say’s ‘look it’s a bunny!’ This is not an acceptable use of the medium and should be frowned upon by anyone with a degree of sense. In fact if you are duped by this use of the medium you really need to go get your head examined because you have actually disconnected from reality. There are, however, several people out there who claim to have this magical talent. You have been warned.