Journalists gone wild

Are you following the scandal swirling around media magnate Rupert Murdoch’s empire, which includes The Wall Street Journal and Fox News, just to name two of his American holdings?  It seems reporters from his British tabloid News of the World have been caught hacking into voice mails of celebrities, crime victims, members of the Royal family, and even families of 9/11 victims.  Now investigators have uncovered evidence that reporters have bribed police officers for story tips–leading to the resignation of the head of Scotland Yard, no less–as well as questionable connections to leading politicians, including Prime Minister Cameron.

Murdoch has shut down News of the World, whose editor has been arrested.  Here is the best overview I have found of the whole tangled story:  News International phone hacking scandal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And of course some people are hoping that the scandal might pull down Murdoch and his conservative-leaning news outlets, including Fox News, though there seems to be no obvious connections.

First, does anyone know how a reporter could hack into someone else’s phone or voice mail?

Second, does this scandal teach us anything about contemporary journalism?

Those edgy, dangerous Lutherans

You’ve got to read Mollie Hemingway on the Lutheran/anti-Christ controversy, in which she notes the irony of the media becoming indignant over the “anti-Catholic bias” of the Lutheran confessions, while they themselves savage Roman Catholic beliefs at every opportunity.  An excerpt:

Also, you’re kidding me that Lutheran views on the papacy are controversial. Again, there is no doubt that they were controversial back when Pope Leo X was in power. Where’s the controversy now? Except in the pages of papers that are normally working overtime against Catholicism and its views on abortion, euthanasia, the priesthood, marriage and social norms? And traditional Christian views on homosexuality are now “controversial,” too. How come that never works the other way? You know what word wasn’t used once in that 5500-word hagiography of Dan Savage and his support for consensual adultery that the New York Times Sunday magazine frontpaged two weeks ago? “Controversial.” . . .

But the WELS is controversial. Got that? I want everyone to remember that confessional Lutherans are the new dangerous, edgy people. I have so wanted this reputation for so long and I don’t want this opportunity to be missed. We’ve been tarnished as the people of casseroles and you-betcha for too long.

But who thinks that we’re so edgy? Hard to tell. Here’s how the Post puts it:

It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist.

By whom? By noted theologianreporter Joshua Green? By 16th Century Catholics? The passive voice is really inappropriate considering how much this article is built around the claim of a controversy that presumably extends beyond the Washington Post newsroom or liberal blogs that never would have supported Bachmann in any case. I mean, I doubt that lapsed or collapsed Catholics give much of a hoot about it and I’m pretty sure that all of the more regular Mass-going Catholics I know would pick the media over the Lutherans when deciding who’s involved in a coordinated, if not vicious, campaign against their church.

Spelling and the internet

The BBC reports that Great Britain’s online economy is harmed by bad spelling:

An online entrepreneur says that poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.

Charles Duncombe says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.

Mr Duncombe says when recruiting staff he has been “shocked at the poor quality of written English”.

He says the big problem for online firms isn’t technology but finding staff who can spell.

The concerns were echoed by the CBI whose head of education and skills warned that too many employers were having to invest in remedial literacy lessons for their staff.

Mr Duncombe, who runs travel, mobile phones and clothing websites, says that poor spelling is a serious problem for the online economy.

Charles Duncombe says poor spelling is costing the economy millions

“Often these cutting-edge companies depend upon old-fashioned skills,” says Mr Duncombe.

And he says that the struggle to recruit enough staff who can spell means that this sector of the economy is not as efficient as it might be.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics published last month showed internet sales in the UK running at £527m per week.

“I know that industry bemoaning the education system is nothing new but it is becoming more and more of a problem with more companies going online.

“This is because when you sell or communicate on the internet 99% of the time it is done by the written word.”

Mr Duncombe says that it is possible to identify the specific impact of a spelling mistake on sales.

He says he measured the revenue per visitor to the tightsplease.co.uk website and found that the revenue was twice as high after an error was corrected.

“If you project this across the whole of internet retail then millions of pounds worth of business is probably being lost each week due to simple spelling mistakes,” says Mr Duncombe, director of the Just Say Please group.

Spelling is important to the credibility of a website, he says. When there are underlying concerns about fraud and safety, then getting the basics right is essential.

via BBC News – Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost online sales.

This reminds us that information technology still communicates most of that information by language and therefore the classic skills of writing and reading well are still necessary.

Are there other cues that make you not trust an internet site?

“Not guilty” verdicts

I think I was the only person in America who did not follow the Casey Anthony story at all.   The prospect of a mother murdering her own little girl was too horrible for me to contemplate.  But now that the mother has been acquitted of the crime I am hearing about it a lot, to the effect that a monstrous killer has gotten off.

Feel free to venture your opinion, but also read Uwe Siemon-Netto’s Blog: MEDIA MATTERS: The Casey Anthony story – a farewell to journalism.  The conservative Lutheran journalist from Germany just excoriates the media for trying the case outside of the courtroom and for whipping up the public into a lynch mob.  Does he have a point?

Say the jury made a mistake, that she actually did that  heinous crime, and yet the non-guilty verdict makes her legally innocent and sets her free.  You know the indignation you feel?  That’s how our Accuser, Satan, feels at God’s verdict on us, His forensic declaration that we sinners are “not guilty” for Jesus’ sake.

Marshall McLuhan’s Christianity

The late Marshall McLuhan was the pioneering scholar of media and the information environment, recognizing how technology was changing the culture and predicting what is now happening before our eyes.  He was controversial and cutting-edged with some hailing him as being a seminal thinker on the level of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.  Did you know he was a conservative Catholic?  Jeet Heer tells about how McLuhan came to Catholicism–G. K. Chesterton was a big influence–and how the neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain influenced his thought.  You need to read the whole piece, but here is a sample:

McLuhan’s pioneering studies of popular culture were part of a sea change in Catholic intellectualism, as the Church gave up the siege mentality of earlier decades and tried to offer a more nuanced and positive account of modern life. As well, the Church began to move away from its defence of authoritarianism to support pro-democracy political movements around the world. McLuhan underwent his own political evolution: the young man who admired Franco became the academic who engaged in a long correspondence with Pierre Trudeau. And while The Mechanical Bride condemns the comic strip Blondie for undermining the patriarchal ideal of the man as the natural head of the household, in later writings, such as Understanding Media, McLuhan deliberately eschewed traditionalist strictures, because he thought it was more important to understand the world than to condemn it. As he told an interviewer in 1967, “The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study.”

On moral matters, he remained very conservative. He was adamantly anti-abortion, for example. But part of his achievement as a mature thinker was his ability to bracket off whatever moral objections to the modern world he might have had and to concentrate on exploring new developments — to be a probe. Indeed, although he joined the Church as a refuge, his faith gave him a framework for becoming more hopeful and engaged with modernity. This paradox might be explained by the simple fact that as he deepened in his faith he acquired an irenic confidence in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. In a 1971 letter to an admirer, McLuhan observed, “One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.”

Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.

via “Divine Inspiration” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus | July 2011.

I’m not sure of the exact connection between St. Thomas Aquinas as media theory, though McLuhan was not alone in working out the connections.  (Could anyone explain?)  Another major scholar in this vein was Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit.  Nor are Roman Catholics the only theologians who explore the implications of media and technology.  There was the French Reformed thinker Jacques Ellul.  And the Jewish Neil Postman.  And the American evangelical Arthur Hunt.

I would just add my own discovery:  McLuhan was also interested in classical education.  His doctoral dissertation was on the media implications of the Trivium.   I have a copy that I intend to read one of these days.

Anyway, I suggest that McLuhan may be a good role model for other Christians in their intellectual pursuits and cultural influence.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:  If you read Marshall McLuhan today, you will be amazed at how well he analyzes the new information technology and its impact on the culture and how we think.  And then you will be even more amazed that at the time the medium he was analyzing was not the internet but television!  But what he says not only holds true but predicts what happened as electronic media progressed.

Children’s right to buy violent videogames

Kiddies, you are now free!  Free to play Grand Theft Auto!  The Supreme Court has ruled that you have the constitutional right to play violent video games!

States cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to children, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting such limits as a violation of young people’s First Amendment rights and leaving it up to parents and the multibillion-dollar gaming industry to decide what kids can buy.

The high court, on a 7-2 vote, threw out California’s 2005 law covering games sold or rented to those under 18, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia, said, “Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

Scalia, who pointed out the violence in a number of children’s fairy tales, said that while states have legitimate power to protect children from harm, “that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children’s access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.

“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.

Video games, said Scalia’s majority opinion, fall into the same category as books, plays and movies as entertainment that “communicates ideas — and even social messages” deserving of First Amendment free-speech protection. And non-obscene speech “cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them,” he said.

via Can’t ban violent video sales to kids, court says – Yahoo! News.

OK, but there is a difference between reading about violence and what you do to play a video game, in which you actively though virtually commit the violence.  I wonder too what other constitutional rights children can claim over and against what their parents say.


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