Monday, September 15, 2014

How To Become Dumber In 20 Minutes Or Less

I have spent my entire life trying to become smarter. Today, I have learned definitively that not only can one become dumber, one can do so in 20 minutes!

Imagine the possibilities! What could you do if you were dumber? You could delay productive activity indefinitely while struggling to make sense of an infinite number of matters, NONE OF WHICH INVOLVE YOU.

By what marvelous magic, what wonderful wizardry, might this scarcely-imaginable state be attained, you ask?

The answer, my friends, is so simple that it will amaze you, and yet, so profound that I truly ought to charge a princely sum for sharing it.

You can become dumber simply by attending to Internet journalism.

I can hear your likely first response: "Pshaw! What does this fellow mean? How can journalism delivered via the Internet make people dumber? Is not the very enterprise of journalism devoted to making people smarter? And is not the Internet the greatest system for the dissemination of information in the history of the world? Pshaw and fiddlesticks!!"

Ah, but you misunderstand. When I say "Internet journalism," I do not mean journalism delivered via the Internet; I mean journalism made possible by the Internet, journalism that could not exist without the Internet, a type of journalism that cries out for its own name, so distinct is it from anything that has gone before.

And Internet journalism made me dumber today. Here is how it happened.

A Facebook friend posted a link to an article from Gawker, with the headline, "Django Unchained Actress Accosted by LAPD After Kissing White Husband." Please check it out - it's short.

I read it, and found it exasperatingly incomplete. It quotes an LAPD email:  "...a citizen made a 911 call complaining that a male and female were 'involved in indecent exposure inside a Silver Mercedes with the vehicle door open.' The responding sergeant and police officers believed Danièle Watts and Brian James Lucas fit their description..." But it doesn't say whether Watts and Lucas were in fact the subjects of the original complaint.

Were they in a silver Mercedes? Were they doing more than kissing? Gawker doesn't say. Neither does the account by Variety which Gawker uses as source material. (A primary characteristic of Internet jounalism, vs. journalism delivered via the Internet, is that it requires no actual reporting: it thrives on merely citing other media outlets, without caring those outlets' trustworthiness.) 

I googled Watts' name and saw that a long list of media had stories about the incident. I chose to read the Washington Post's because I trusted the Post most.

After reading it, I trust the Post less. (Take a look, it's short)

First, because WaPo early refers to Lucas, not as Watts' husband, but as her "partner." If that is accurate, then Gawker's headline - the headline, for crying out loud - is inaccurate. On the other hand, if Gawker got it wrong, then WaPo got it wrong. The net effect was that the two articles together left me confused me about a basic fact of the story.

Second, because of this:
Lucas told TMZ that the couple was “making out in a parked car” outside CBS television studios, where Watts had just had a meeting. 
...which presented me with two problems - a) the very phenomenon of The Washington Post citing TMZ, and b) the phrase "making out," which in my mind means more than the kissing stated in Gawker's HEADLINE. (Watts' FB post says "showing affection," which could mean anything.).

So I went to the TMZ story (go ahead, it's short), and the first thing I saw was that the headline refers to a "white BF." Yep, in TMZ, Lucas is neither Watts' husband nor partner, he's her boyfriend.

Then, while it says that the couple were making out, it does not say that Lucas told them that. So how did WaPo reach that conclusion?

And it was after I had spent some 20 minutes reading three articles that I realized I had become dumber.

Before reading them, I merely didn't know that either Watts or Lucas existed (I saw "Django Unchained," but did not pay enough attention to the credit to notice Watts' name). Now I don't know whether Lucas is Watts' husband, partner or boyfriend. I don't know whether or not they were in a silver Mercedes. I don't know whether they were merely kissing or making out. I don't know whether or not they were in fact the subjects of the 911 call. I read three articles, and do not know the basic facts of the story that they are all about.

And that, friends, is the absolute miracle of Internet journalism.

But wait, there's more! More articles, that is, as this story heads into its sixth day in the 24-hour news cycle:

I'm not reading any of them. I do not need to become one whit dumber.
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