Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Blogger's Coming of Age Story: Understanding Media, False Presentation, and the Echo Chamber

Saw a story on FoxNews today. I read it suspiciously but tried to stay open. It is entirely possible (likely) that textbooks are receiving a PC-ing.

In short, the story presents a story by the "New York Examiner" about a report by the American Textbook Council on textbooks, specifically history textbooks as they cover Islam. The report (and its sidekick helper, the article) claim that these texts are being dumbed down, multicultural-ized, falsified even. The only thing in the article that is not an implicit confirmation of the report (though its presentation basically is) is mentioning that the school district defended its decision as 'all books were properly vetted...'

So, this just didn't feel right, so, my immediate thoughts:
1 - What's the story FoxNews is linking to, why didn't they just syndicate it instead of re-writing it?
2 - Who is the American Textbook Council?
3 - What exactly is the issue here, i.e., what is the specific PC-ing or dumbing down that is going on?

1 - The original story, from the Examiner, carries the same implicit assumptions but, assuming the existence of an 'Echo Chamber', it is clearly earlier in the cycle. It is titled, "Council: Mongtomery schools cave to pressue with Islam book," but the story itself is much fairer, including defense from Reza Aslan about the specific issues. However, it is poorly researched. No questioning of the American Textbook Council aside from Aslan's comments, and a pretty positive presentation overall for the Council, considering the truth of the context. (next point for info on the Council)

2 - Note the 3 separate links: American Textbook Council. The first is the Council itself, a pretty limited website with self-aggrandizing claims about its importance. Minimal reading reveals a marked distaste for 'multiculturalism' and an official sounding parent organization, the Center for Education Studies. The second link is a google search for this parent organization. Yes, you read that right, a google search is now an officially admissible piece of evidence - especially when the organization itself does not appear in the results - in fact, the first result is a sort of business-listings site with background info on the Center, and the remaining results are misses (wrong results) or right-wing thinktanks. The third link is this business-listings site,, and it reveals that the two organizations are apparently one and the same, with a total number of employees of ONE, namely, Gilbert T Sewall.

2a - Who is Gilbert T Sewall? Well, minimal googling turns him up on the National Review arguing for the inclusion of 'under god' in the pledge of allegiance, as Contributing Editor at a random site advocating family involvement in fighting terrorism, which in turn reveals him as a former "history instructor" at Phillips Academy, which turns out to be a prestigious high school.

3 - Only based off of Reza Aslan's comments in the original article, it appears the issue is the presentation of jihad as "to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil." He explains that such is the exact meaning and translation of the word, and that it "does not preclude a militant interpretation."

Final remarks
Amazing how one poorly researched story becomes an indictment of the liberal PC army. FoxNews had to re-write that story in order to advance it further in the echo chamber. Expect soon a smattering of related stories, blog posts, opinion articles with plenty of "sources", all stemming back probably to a single place - the Examiner article, perhaps. But that fact won't be mentioned.

So, FoxNews not-so-subtly rewrote the Examiner article in just such a way that it painted an extreme picture of the original context. Agenda? I think so. The original article itself, at the Examiner, was a poorly researched piece that did nothing but legitimize what is essentially one man's really official blog. At the heart of this story, we find Gilbert Sewall deliberately and deceptively setting up a couple of organizations to hide behind, by which he is attempting to produce some extra legitimacy for his viewpoints.

It's probably working.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so, i had a realization today and it happened while calling some friends for an interview about I-69. Here it is: It is much easier to write a story when the author has a background in the field and also KNOWS the person they are interviewing. i fear and also wonder if this is common?
it seems to me like many of the media sources are closely connected with each other...hence we see the same news popping up on the main stream media outlets. The media outlets are then in favor of official words, such as the mayor, and other governmental or PR person that has some official platform to stand on. good reporters much keep their thoughts by the way side and must have to be interested in a lot of things besides a few cause...this does not sound like good reporting!