Thursday, July 02, 2009

Rick Ross tri-dux. The finale.

I had really wanted to move on, but another aspect of this topic has come up that probably deserves to be addressed, if only because its implications go far beyond our little melodrama here.

If I refuse to allow laypeople to come forward with damning charges against this or that SHAMblog contributor, it isn't because I'm protecting anyone or I'm simply "too fond of" so-and-so and don't want to see him (or her) hurt. The reason I won't permit readers to initiate mud-slinging campaigns against others who post here (or against gurus and/or other public figures who have never posted here, for that matter) is simple, really: I don't want my blog to become a vehicle for private-label character assassination and other reckless "fact-finding" from those who haven't done enough homework...and whose own motives may not always be as apparent or as pure as they appear.

This may not have occurred to anyone, but I take my journalism seriously.* In fact, that's the principal reason I haven't yet gone after Byron Katie in this space, as I've explained several times already. If you're going to attack a public figure in a (reasonably) visible venue like SHAMblog, it shouldn't just be 500 or 1000 words of clever, lively snark; it should be a fully researched piece of journalism that could stand up to formal scrutiny, if it had to. I don't trust the average person to do the necessary legwork. Or to even know how.
In recent years I've watched almost all of the pillars of structured journalism that I once helped teach at Indiana University fall by the wayside amid the twin imperatives of immediacy and impact. It has to be fast and it has to be hot.

Leaving aside the navel-gazing, self-promotion and other horribly self-absorbed stuff (e.g. like much of what one finds on Twitter), there are many wonderful aspects of the blogosphere/so-called "Web 2.0." But one of the profound sins of cyberspace is that it has incentivized two highly regrettable notions, and facilitated their translation to reality:

REGRETTABLE NOTION 1: Anyone can say anything about anyone else at any time.

REGRETTABLE NOTION 2: Anyone can be a journalist.
The blogosphere feeds into that unfortunate cycle of raw, 24/7 news that I've written about at length for Skeptic. Not only do people think they're journalists, but investigative journalists to bootall qualified to render final judgment on this or that. So you have this endlessly flowing slog of unedited (often jaundiced) material dispersing itself through cyberspace, and the prevailing sentiment seems to be, "Hey, if we get it wrong, no biggie. We can fix it later." Concepts like libel and defamation of characterimportant concepts that are still technically valid, and should give pause to anyone who presumes to join the world of mediahave lost their real-world meaning for media types and targets alike. The average person who can't afford O.J.-level legal representation is SOL.

Is SHAMblog "journalism"? No, not always. Not even mostly, I would say. Some of it is discussion and some of it is sarcasm and some of it is nothing but some wacko quasi-philosophical musing that occurred to me one night when the meds weren't working and I couldn't sleep. But if I'm going to actually try to take somebody down in a major post or series of posts, I'm going to do a journalistically competent job of it. I'm going to observe the rudiments of proper (multiple) sourcing, I'm going to perform an analysis of public-record material, I'm going to check credentials (e.g. call the school that is listed as having issued so-and-so's degree to make sure it's not a lie and the school itself is accredited). I'm going to find out, to the best of my ability, how the person earns his income. Not just the evident ways, but the not-so-evident ones.

Why? I'll give you a pointed example. Let's say Joe Jones is a regular contributor to SHAMblog. And let's say Jack James comes to me with a comment that accuses Joe Jones of being a SHAM guru in his own right. And let's say that Jack James even presents a certain amount of documentation that appears valid. Now how do I know
without looking into itthat maybe Jack James isn't himself a shadow investor in a company that competes with Joe Jones?

How do you know?

That's why I've decided, as a matter of principle and policy, that I'll be the one who calls the spades spades around here. If others have more to add after I set the tone for such discussions, I'll (generally) be happy to post what they say. I'm just not going to let contributors walk into the room and begin firing wildly, leaving blood all over the Comments section and possibly hitting any number of innocent bystanders in the process.

Does this mean I consider myself the world's best journalist? Not at all. But I am a journalist, and a proven one. Moreover, this is my ballgame, and I'm willing to take responsibility for my actions as a journalist. If I savage a person that's one thing. I know what informed that decision. That's my call and no one else's. To be blunt about it, I'm not going to allow people to be tarred and feathers by a bunch of amateurs, some of whom see all this purely as blood sport.

In the meantime, readers should rest assured that no one is off limits. No one is "untouchable." Without going into any great detail, several of the top figures in the SHAMscape attempted to bully us into backing away from SHAM prior to its 2005 release; they repeated their attempt at intimidation a second time when the paperback was about to ship. We didn't cave then, and I wouldn't cave now, as long as I know I've got solid ground beneath my feet.

So that's that. Please don't try to tantalize me or provoke me via email, because I'm done.

* And now, having said that, I'm sure that some armchair Matt Drudge or Harvey Levin will have to go hunt down some minor error of fact in something I once wrote so he can yell Gotcha!


Stever Robbins said...

I, for one, applaud and support your approach. While the internet's ability to give voice to previously disenfranchised people is laudable, it's also multiplied the noise factor beyond belief. It's very hard to know what's worth reading and what isn't. I'm glad someone out there still has some standards of journalism.

And speaking of investigative journalism, by the way, no one has called since I posted my phone # to verify or inquire into any of the comments made about me and my business on this blog and others. Not even to find out that until June 1st, I've been making my living not via self-help, but working at Babson College doing strategy formulation and implementation.

Jenny said...

Gosh, I don't come around for a few days then return, only to find talk of blood spattered comments! What's all the excitement about, Steve?

Funny coincidence, I started to write a blog post earlier today about a big partisan nonpartisan "tea party" at Southfork Ranch tomorrow, but it got way too snarky, even for my comfort level. So I abandoned the effort.

MT said...

Stever wasn't applauding when he Amazon-reviewed your book.


How convenient that he's done a "turnaround" on you now.

Anonymous said...

This last week you have proved to all what a total jerk you are, masquerading as an intellectual no less. Your book was a poorly thought out right-wing hit piece, your blog often borders on insane (defending pdeophiles?!?!?) and your comments in your own defense here just confirm how screwed-up your thinking is. You are the master of rationalization, thinking you can use enough words to paper over all the flaws in your logic and methods. Not only that but the most fatalistic person I have ever encountered! I'm glad this latest episode is undercutting some of your support and revealing you for what you truly are. Maybe this will be the beginning of the end of you. And good riddance.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, c'mon, Steve, I know Fridays can be depressing, especially with that noisy holiday ahead, but, really, go easy on this self-loathing, will ya?

Masquerading as Anon 7:23 is a bit extreme, IMO, as a way to get our sympathy and support. You could have just asked, y'know? ;)

You got it, man.

And, BTW, I know a couple of people who are more fatalistic than you, if that helps any. :)

MT said...

I won't go as far as Anonymous but do think you've shown yourself to be an egomaniacal hothead in this latest, er, chapter of your SHAMblog.

MT said...

Another thing.... I've been fascinated by the amount of controversy erupting over Byron Katie's "Work". In addition to the Rick Ross forum threads, Jody Radzik's Guruphiliac blog featured a piece on Ms. Katie back in February '08 and the comments are still flowing in. Most recent one was just last month. Total comments so far: 149.

That just might be a record for the Guruphiliac blog.

Here's a link to it:

Oh, and there's a lengthy report online by a former insider to Byron Katie's organization:

Anonymous said...

In support of the post by "anonymous."

Anyone who rationalizes the defense of pedophiles or abusers of children in any way is a "suspected" child sexual predator themselves, however closeted. Rigorous testing would prove that. At the least they are an ignorant fool.(Referencing the work of Dr. Alice Miller.)
Dr. Callaghan

Noadi said...

MT: Yeah, because I'm sure that no one ever in history has changed their mind. Or that someone might disagree with someone and still think they're an interesting writer. Are you kidding me?

MT said...

Another link for folks interested in evaluating the critical reports on Byron Katie:

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is beyond ridiculous. So your ego got a bit hurt by the moderator over there at Rick Ross.

Listen, you're not the only one who wandered off topic and got their fingers smacked by Rick Ross/anonymous moderator. Whatever. It has happened to me. I didn't respond by being personally insulting and calling the guy a dickhead, etc.

I took the criticism in stride and focused beyond myself to the topic of the thread. I didn't get banned and I am still able to learn from the many excellent points that are made on that website about Byron Katie and other cults/'high demand' groups. I still even contribute from time to time.

That thread really isn't about you! It's about Byron Katie's techniques of coercive persuasion.

A lot of people who have been involved with Byron Katie need at least ONE venue to hear the other side of the story about her and her org. There's plenty of other devotional places on the web where Byron is worshipped sycophantically as a female Christ incarnate.

PLEASE get over yourself! Let it go already!

Kasey said...

What an interesting exchange! I started reading at the top of the page of the forum and read a page or so beyond the banning statement. I was really disturbed by the frequent implied accusations, logical fallacies, black and white thinking, and paranoia expressed by certain commenters. Logical fallacies abounded in the discourse. It's definitely not a forum for me.

Were you off-topic in the Bryon Katie thread? Yes, but so were the people who were discussing your blog and who asking you questions. I certainly understand why you got upset with the moderator who announced your "banning" publicly after you privately quit. You have the right to use your own blog to express your side of the story.

I respect your decision to allow open discussion. People are rarely all-good or all-evil and we can learn something from everyone. If readers don't agree and can't tolerate the discussion, they can go elsewhere.

Steve Salerno said...

Kasey: What interests me most about your comment--in the context of all that's been said here, and in related threads--is your reference to people not being "all good or all evil." First of all, I happen to agree with that statement--assuming we even know what good and evil are. But what I think is really telling about this exchange is how quick we are nowadays to apply such labels (good, evil, right, wrong) to express our disenchantment with the mere fact that someone disagrees with us. I'm guilty of it too. We get into a debate, somebody says something that we disagree with, and right away we have to demonize the person. We can't just agree to disagree. We seemingly can't respect the fact that he or she has an opposing opinion. We can't say, "Well, I see it this way and you see it that way. Have a good holiday!" We have to label our ideological opponent as bad, evil, etc. This is especially true since the advent of the internet, where the cloak of anonymity and the endless opportunities for depersonalized conversation prevent us from developing and sustaining the simple human bonds that, once upon a time, caused us to leaven our harsher assessments of other people, and rendered us far less inclined to write people off at the slightest provocation. (If you have to actually face someone day after day, it's a lot harder to sustain that confrontational mindset.) Talk-radio hasn't helped, either.

We are so polarized in today's society...and so ready to be polarized at a moment's notice.

Cosmic Connie said...

I am arriving so late at this party, but I hope you can stand one more comment on this topic. I have just now had a chance to skim some of your latest posts, and I read through the SHAMblog threads as well as the Ross forum discussion. Whew.

In regard to one of your main points through this "tri-dux," boy, can I sympathize. I too have experienced the tyranny of self-proclaimed skeptics. It's been more than two years, and I've since made peace with my main critic, but the main points still apply. Skeptics can be as dogmatic and egotistical as any New-Wager.

Less "tyrannical," but adamant nonetheless, were last year's comments regarding a frequent contributor to your blog and mine. I have a feeling that the person initiating this exchange on my blog (anonymously, of course) is the same one who gave *you* a hard time about the same subject.

In the fifteen months since that last exchange, I've received a few private emails strongly encouraging me to write something about Byron Katie, and providing links to help me in this endeavor. I'm not a serious journalist as you are, Steve, but, like you, I do think BK deserves more than a snarky paragraph or two, and quite frankly, I just haven't had the time or inclination to do it yet. Fortunately, no one has yet accused me of conspiring with or being brainwashed by the BK camp.

As for your larger topic of "real" journalism versus what passes for journalism on "Web 2.0"...I'd say that this subject is definitely worth another magazine article or two, or perhaps even a book, and you're the one to write it. I am not a journalist by training and have never considered myself to be one. But even I like my snarks to be backed by facts. And I do take my writing seriously -- both on my hobby blog and in my day job. Regarding the latter, I can definitely sympathize with your frustration with the notion, created and fueled by technology, that "anyone can be a journalist." As it happens, there is a similar mentality in the field of nonfiction book writing and, for that matter, book design. Hey, anyone can write a book, design and publish it on Whaddaya need a ghostwriter, editor or book designer for, anyway?

But THAT'S a whole 'nother topic.

Anyhow, it's good to be back on SHAMblog.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie: I wasn't sure whether Ron's comment, earlier, signaled that you were indeed "back." And I will of course leave it to you to decide whether any elaboration is needed regarding your absence and your reappearance. The bottom line is that it's good to have you back, and though I know that what you've said here (and what Ron said earlier) will no doubt be dismissed as merely "an old friend [or two] coming to my rescue," I think your points stand on their merits. (And really, that's all I've ever asked of any comment on SHAMblog: that it stand on its own merits, irrespective of what we know, or how we feel, about the person who said it.) And needless to say, Ron and I have gone head-to-head on any number of issues through the years.

Yes, it's good to have you back. I hope you're back permanently (to the extent that anything is permanent these days). But whatever the case, I appreciate the sentiments you voice here.