Friday, October 22, 2004

Yearning for the mud, a lesson in why Kerry is himself

Go read Gerard Van der Leun's poetic essay on what John Kerry is really interested in doing for America. This is what the mainstream media can't or won't provide: context. Without context, most news and almost all opinion is meaningless. When I was in Journalism school, all we ever heard from the crusty old newsmen who were our professors (most of whom are dead or gone now, tragically) was that we must provide context.

Say you've written a story about a neighborhood in which there seems to be a larger-than-normal incidence of brain cancer in children. Doctors have diagnosed nine brain tumors in children under fifteen in a certain Zip Code in the span of two years. Is that the story? Of course not.

How many kids in other, similar sized neighborhoods in the area have had the same thing happen during the same time? What about neighborhoods in other places with similar characteristics? What factors other than the ones the parents have decided are at fault could come into play? What is or isn't statistically significant in a sample of this size? And so on. And that's just straight news.

In political analysis, one must go much further, because the fabric of modern society and recent history is so rich and vast that it takes a highly educated, experienced and developed mind to gather the information and behavioral cues necessary to figuring out what the hell is going on out there. Gerard has that mind, and he's willing to share it with you and me. Take advantage of his generosity.

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