Sunday, January 13, 2008

Entropic Discourse

Last month I concluded a post I had written about Frank Luntz with the following proposition:

Entropy is not restricted to the objective physical world of thermodynamics. There are many other processes that inevitably devolve into chaos; and, whether we like it or not, political discourse may be one of those processes.

It seems as if, ever since I made that assertion, the world of electoral politics has been awash with examples to reinforce it. The most blatant example has probably been the response to the results of the New Hampshire primaries, particularly since the chaos has moved in on this very blog, where my attempt to analyze a "rush to judgment" has resulted in questions that involve not only confirming positions through argumentation but also the relationship of the blogosphere to "historical record." However, as I have previously argued, we just have to accept the fact that the blogosphere is a place where signal is obliged to slug it out with noise; but, if we are really interested in getting at the signal, we can usually draw upon the rest of the Web for assistance. The more important problem, which I continue to try to call out as examples arise, is the erosion of our more traditional institutions of journalism, a topic that is now interesting enough to find its way into the narrative for the current season of The Wire.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the most recent of my examples was posted with the title "Does Reuters Read THE NEW YORK TIMES?," because the Times now seems to be the source of some noise that is propagating with disquieting rapidity. The topic involves what Hillary Clinton did or did not denote and/or connote in remarks she made this past Monday about Martin Luther King. Greg Sargent has been tracking the "noise propagation process" on his Horse's Mouth blog; and the post he filed early this morning (Eastern Time) to "review the bidding" has been updated to report that the noise is now being propagated by Tim Russert on Meet the Press.

Personally, I lost faith in the Times as a "signal source" after the Judith Miller affair surfaced in all of its ugly glory; but that is not the important point here. The point has more to do with the willing acceptance of noise propagating as easily as it does, which leads me to wonder whether the slugfest of the blogosphere may ultimately prevail over traditional journalism, not because it is more reliable or more entertaining, but because, since it is part of the Internet, it is easier for readers to pursue the penetrating questions that responsible editors used to ask. Caveat lector is more than just a play on the oldest warning in the marketplace. It is a reminder that the media (in this case, including the blogosphere) have become a marketplace; and all the judicious caution that we need to exercise when we buy stuff must also kick in when we are reading what purports to be news. This will never be an easy matter, but I have the credit the Internet with helping to make it a feasible one.

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