Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Blame It on Jeff Zaslow: Why Modern Reporting Sucks

Jeffrey Zaslow
c/o The Wall Street Journal

Dear Mister Zaslow:

I have been a critic of modern reporting techniques* for several decades, and I have noticed a trend among those whose job it is to interpret and disseminate the events of the day. As the years have gone by, reporters are increasingly disinclined to objectively evaluate and filter the news in a dispassionate, disinterested fashion, and more likely to simply repeat the 'talking points' of a particular person or organization. Further, reporters also seem to go out of their way to grab an easy 'hook,' a person, action or event that they feel encapsulates the zeitgeist, regardless of how accurate that hook is.

In other words, I'm seeing less and less skepticism, and more and more laziness in the newsroom. This laziness and desire to titillate the audience by reporters is reflected (or perhaps spawned by) the former reporters who have risen to the positions of columnists and pundits, such as you.

Mister Zaslow, I have finally discovered the root of this laziness, and thought I would share it with you.

The fundamental cause of this sad state of affairs in our nations newsrooms is:


You, Jeff Zaslow, are the reason modern reporting sucks.

I have come to that conclusion by using the same criteria that you used in your recent column placing the blame for self-absorbed college students squarely at the feet of Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, namely: taking something the man said, willfully misinterpreting it while ignoring everything else the man said and did that was contrary to the point you are trying to make. The main difference between us is that your jumping-off point is something someone else said about the man, while I'm just using my own observations.

Let's take a look at this column, shall we?

First, you conflate the borderline racist** ramblings of a Professor of Finance at one university with a study led by a psychology prof at another. You mention neither the context of Prof. Chances' remarks, nor the name of either the study, nor the lead professor. Why bring one professor's name into it, and not the other? Was this a deliberate attempt to juxtapose a scholar and a scholarly study, or just poorly-vetted writing? Was this a scholarly opinion, or just a rant from a bitter man? If it was the former, why no attribution? If the latter, why take such pains to surround the remarks with the trappings of academia?

Next, you have Prof. Chance damning the man with faint praise, saying "he's representative of a culture of excessive doting." How? In what way did Mister Rogers do this? Because he ended his program by telling children they're special? Does this then mean that every stroke of good fortune, every crisis avoided, every Bingo game won between 1940 and 1958 should be attributed to Edward R. Murrow, who ended his programs with the phrase "Good night, and good luck?"

Later in the column, you write:
On the Yahoo Answers Web site, a discussion thread about Mr. Rogers begins with this posting: "Mr. Rogers spent years telling little creeps that he liked them just the way they were. He should have been telling them there was a lot of room for improvement. ... Nice as he was, and as good as his intentions may have been, he did a disservice."
Great. Now you're quoting a semi-anonymous poster on an open website to back your claim. Were all the other comments in the discussion as disparaging? What was the question asked? I just spent 10 minutes trying to find which of the dozens of Mister Rogers questions on the site you were referring to, with no luck. Out of curiosity, why didn't you include the ones who posted comments about the tattoos on his arms that his sweaters covered? Those comments are just as illuminating and have the same degree of factual information as the one you featured.

It's astounding to me how tremendously you misinterpreted the man and what he did. Later on in the column, you question how wise of a decision it is for adults to be overly familiar with children, specifically: children calling adults by their first name. Come on, now, sir--did you notice that his television program was NOT called Fred's Neighborhood?

Similarly, you then quote from a Manhattan psychiatrist who encourages parents to "talk about their passions and interests; about politics, business, world events." On nearly every single episode of his program, Mister Rogers would either have an adult come on the set, or go on location, and give a demonstration about the adult's passions, interests, or business.

My God, Mister Zaslow, have you ever actually watched an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood? Did you ever hear the man talk about children? Fred Rogers did not dote excessively on children. He did not play to the whims of a child. You misinterpreted the mans gentleness as weakness; his willingness to accept a child as he or she is for permissiveness. Neither is the case. He talked about responsibility; and more importantly, he demonstrated it with his actions. He would devote a weeks' worth of programs to topics such as discipline.

He had certain expectations of children, and he let them know what they were. In return, he would deliver exactly what he promised to deliver, and he would do it with gentleness and good humor. He also had expectations of adults, especially parents. One of those expectations was that a parent would watch the program with their child; he never envisioned his program, or any television show, as a babysitter. I imagine that idea apalled him.

Yet, there you go, creating a pop-culture hook upon which we can now hang some blame. Problem kids are the fault of Mister Rogers. Oh, sure we parents had some hand in it too, but it's really that guy in the sweater's fault. Did you know he was a Navy Seal in Viet Nam, too? Oh, sure--that's why he wore the sweaters. His arms were covered in tattoos.

It's already starting to circulate, Mister Zaslow. Fox News did a bit on it. Use the Google and you can see bunches of bloggers all chiming in on it, with so many of them parroting and agreeing with you. And even though Prof. Chance has gone on record stating he has no qualifications to make such claims, it's too late. The noise machine has picked it up, which means it will join such disproven talking points as
with a certain group of lazy, fear-filled people when they need to make a point about America's youth.

And all of it is your fault.

Wow, it really is nice to have someone to blame for this. Well, it's nice for me.


The Balloon Pirate

*By this, I mean that I watch a lot of TV.
**Or maybe this, too is your fault. Either way, your paraphrasing his comments on "Asian-born students...accept[ing] any grade they're given" seems to be just on the PC side of classifying them as 'a hard-working bunch of little yellow people.'

Labels: , ,


Blogger terry said...

you should be a columnist, pirate.

1:44 AM  
Blogger cadbury_vw said...

i'm trying to figure out how to circulate this to my colleagues with out having them search the net, find it, and then my secret online identity...

excellent writing


BTW - i put a recipe up for you on the food blog

1:25 PM  
Blogger mal said...

I have been cynical regarding the quality of the medias work since the 80's when a story I knew intimate details about ended up being totally misreported. I came to the additional conclusion that a number of individuals in the media just copy others works and never bother to check it for accuracy.

And the beat goes on....

3:59 PM  
Blogger Cranky Yankee said...

I blame the problems in TV reporting squarely on two things, making news a profit center and removal of the fairness doctrine.

7:57 AM  
Blogger Nölff said...

Those damn liberals breaking into the librarys and rewriting history books and stealing presents from orphan babies. Damn them.

10:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home