Assemblog: August 3, 2012

Published on August 3rd, 2012 in: Assemblog, Media, Music, The Internets, Video |

jonah lehrer by peter j thompson national post files
Jonah Lehrer
Photo © Peter J. Thompson/National Post files

New this week on Popshifter: Paul calls The Very Best Of Sonny Rollins a “lovingly assembled” collection; J Howell thinks Jimbo Mathus’s new Blue Light EP would “benefit greatly from some sweat and whiskey”; Emily assesses the recently reissued albums of party pop princess Samantha Fox; I praise Anchor Bay’s recent reissue of superlative horror film The Entity on DVD and Blu-Ray; and Paul discusses violence and censorship in light of The Killer Inside Me.

When I reviewed Jesca Hoop’s The House That Jack Built, “Hospital (Win Your Love),” was my choice for a second single. The song is the second single, in fact, and there’s a rather cute video that has just been released to support it. It reminds me a bit of Godspell but without Jesus. Not sure if that makes sense, but the song is wonderful and worth your time.

Another band that just came into my radar is The Indecent. Comprised of triplets Emily, Bo, and Maddy Bout as well as their friend Nick, they have a sound reminiscent of when Veruca Salt went power metal. Eighteen-year-old Emily is the singer and she has a strong, commanding voice that belies her tender age. Check out “Control” here as well as the video for “25 Steps.” Their EP will be out in the Fall.

There is a lot of journalism-related news this week. The biggest news is, of course, the Jonah Lehrer scandal. Lehrer, who has written for Wired and The New Yorker, also had a book at #15 on “The New York Times hardcover nonfiction best-seller list of August 5.” That book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, is the cause of his recent resignation from The New Yorker: He has admitted to making up quotes attributed to Bob Dylan.

This might not seem like a scandal on the level of say, Watergate, but the writer who discovered Lehrer’s deceptions, Michael C. Moynihan, provides the details of his discovery as well as the depths of Lehrer’s journalistic depravity in an fascinating article for Tablet Magazine.

It’s sad and pathetic and more than a little disappointing—not to mention frustrating—for those writers who bust their asses to get people to read their thoughtfully written and well-researched articles, much less get paid for writing them. What’s also disappointing is the L.A. Times piece that almost seems to excuse Lehrer’s behavior, comparing it to the common practice of “taking out the ‘ums’ and ‘you knows’,” and adding, “It all requires having enough trust in ourselves that we can also ask our readers (and those we quote) to have that trust too. That’s a lot to ask. And in this era, frankly, it may be too much.”

As someone who has taken out the “ums” and “you knows” to make an interview flow better and make the subject look more polished, I must disagree. That is NOT at all the same thing as making up quotations, applying them out of context, and then lying over and over to save your ass. It is not too much to ask that journalists have integrity, even journalists who are writing about Bob Dylan and not the conflict in Syria.

The New York Times resorts to closing their take on the scandal with a quote from Todd Gitlin, journalism and sociology professor at Columbia, who says, “In our age, a guy who looks cute and wonky is better positioned to get away with this than others.” Although the perceived attractiveness of someone could make his or her misdeeds less noticeable or egregious, I’m uncomfortable with this statement. If Lehrer was a woman, I’d be outraged, but is it any less outrageous for a man to call attention to Lehrer’s looks?

The Globe and Mail (while calling Lehrer “impossibly handsome”) points out that Lehrer was intelligent and successful enough to not have to lie: “It’s disappointing that a man as sensitive as Lehrer wanted things to be so clear. He couldn’t resist making his argument perfect, flawless, supported by the statements of great artists. And those arguments would have been no less exciting had they been advanced as subtle theories with all the shading and self-doubt of truly sophisticated thought.”

Another development this week was the deletion and then reinstatement of writer Guy Adams’s Twitter account after he criticized NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics. When Adams tweeted the (already public) email address of NBC Olympics chief, someone complained (but not NBC). As writer and journalism teacher Jeff Jarvis remarks, “Adams was not informed of the complaint and given the opportunity to delete the tweet, as Twitter’s rules require. Indeed, Adams found out that Twitter initiated the complaint, not NBC.” His article goes on to say, ” Twitter is going to have to learn the lesson that newspapers had to learn when they started accepting advertising: that when trust is your asset, you must run your service and your business according to principles of trust.”

Jarvis’s article came to my attention via Jay Rosen (himself a journalism professor and new media analyst). In reading more on Jay Rosen’s own site (about trust in the press), I came across his article on the “View From Nowhere.”

In an interestingly composed Q&A with himself, Rosen explains the View from Nowhere as follows:

Three things. In pro journalism, American style, the View from Nowhere is a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer. Frequently it places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position “impartial.” Second, it’s a means of defense against a style of criticism that is fully anticipated: charges of bias originating in partisan politics and the two-party system. Third: it’s an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view. American journalists have almost a lust for the View from Nowhere because they think it has more authority than any other possible stance.

Rosen explains this vis-à-vis NPR’s Juan Williams being fired in 2010 for admitting his prejudices against those in “Muslim garb.”

Rosen also wonders if an attempt at a View from Nowhere is even feasible. This dovetails nicely with another recent article from Terry Heaton on The Postmodern Journalist. Heaton first addresses the decline of confidence in TV news, but frames this change as “the postmodern cultural shift.” To get the full weight of Heaton’s ideas on this topic, you should read the entire article, even if you’re not a journalist, because we all read the news and we all read blogs, and we are all at various points on the curve of what we consider “real” journalism and what we consider “trusted sources.”

This shift from “journalism” to “blogging,” whether it is real or perceived, is significant. Where do journalists and bloggers fall in the scale of trusted sources? Where are they going and where should they end up? Heaton references his 2002 article “A Postmodern Wakeup Call” and the following quote stood out to me in relation to the Lehrer incident, Guy Adams and Twitter, and Rosen’s “View from Nowhere”:

News must include everybody’s perspective, identify the organization’s own perspective, or give none at all. The artificial journalistic hegemony known as objectivity is dead. It never was real and Pomos see through it.


Less Lee Moore, Managing Editor

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