That’s News to Me

December 29, 2009

Maybe I should quit writing this column and start a blog. How about “Crazy Melvil” as a nom de plume? 

Think of the advantages I’d gain from an intellectual freedom standpoint. I wouldn’t have to adhere to standards of accuracy, etiquette, or even self-respect. I wouldn’t have to hold anything back, and would be free to proclaim all my deepest, darkest, meanest thoughts.
I could accuse President Obama of being all sorts of things—a closet Islamic terrorist, a forger of birth certificates, a Marxist bent on engineering a communistic takeover of the United States, or an advocate of euthanasia who wants to create a governmental death panel to decide which senior citizens should be eliminated to balance the Social Security trust fund.
That’s just for starters. How about revealing global warming as a hoax created by the growing number of green industries that manufacture solar panels, windmills, and florescent light bulbs? Or that the recession is an invention of Wall Street bankers to get free government handouts and mega-bonuses? Or that Fox News is at the center of Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing conspiracy to take over the world?
I could set the record straight about all that U.S. history textbook propaganda. People need the facts: Johnson killed JFK, Roosevelt told the Japanese to bomb Pearl Harbor, and the English royal family made its fortune by running an international drug cartel.
Had enough? I certainly have. I’ve been spending way too much time scanning the darkest recesses of the internet. I need to get back to reality.
I’ll read newspapers. They are all over the net. You can access almost any town’s newspaper in an instant. That’s good, since newspaper articles all carry the bylines of professional journalists, most of whom work for editors and publishers who are commited to accurate, objective reporting.
Or are they? Unfortunately, newspaper editors have abandoned the credibility of their “letters to the editor” section. In a bygone era of accountability, newspapers would not publish a letter without identifying the writer. But today, readers are permitted to post anonymous responses to each and every article. The results are quite ugly: Commenters seem to compete over who can hurl the crudest, cruelest, and coarsest tirade.
There is a precedent for this kind of behavior: the ugly climate of hatred the Ku Klux Klan left like a disgraceful bloody stain on the tapestry of our history. Why did they hide their faces from the world? Deep down inside, they were ashamed of what they were doing. Pure and simple, they were cowards.
Online commenters also hide their identities. They create silly monikers like “nihilist in plaid pants,” “wormwart,” “windy phil,” and “beetleman” because they too are ashamed of the ugliness of their words. The information superhighway has morphed into an information superfund site.
That’s why librarians—trained by graduate library schools in ethical principles and standards of quality—are needed as never before to help an increasingly clueless public separate fact from fiction and information from invective.


Joseph Janes

Info the Woods

Notes on InfoCamp