The storms had broken the hot and humid weather of the weekend, and it was a crisp and clear Monday morning. I had gotten up early to shower, check my email and other social media messages and then hit the road for Internet Week in New York City. Since I was only driving down to the station, I took the old black car. There are plenty of traffic lights between my house and the New Haven Railroad station, and as I approached each one, they turned red. The pessimistic old soothsayer that often joins my thoughts tried to warn me that this was not a good omen, and when I got to the train station, I couldn’t get on to the public Wifi. Yet the more optimistic internal soothsayer pointed out that it was just stop lights slowing me down, and I could still get cellular connectivity. I hadn’t hit any detours, roadblocks or dead-ends.
I skipped the coffee and donut at the train station. I didn’t sit in one of those seats I’ve scoped out that is always squished but has a power outlet. I figured I’d try to get a little more rest as the train propelled me into New York. It was an express which only makes four other stops. Half a sleep, I heard the train whistle as it approached stations and the various rattling sounds as it blew past them.
I love the train ride into New York. So often there are interesting stories to hear, like the young woman from a rich section of the gold coast talking about her struggles with her younger brother’s emotional problems. The story sounded like it could have come straight out of Gatsby. There were no fun stories to listen to, so when I had rested enough, I pulled out my copy of “Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas” that I had picked up at the local library the other day.
It had recently struck me that Hunter S. Thompson captured what blogging and citizen journalism is all about a generation before people started blogging, and I wanted to rediscover his writing and test my hypothesis. No, I did not take a hit of acid and travel with a Samoan attorney, but I carried a little bit of an outsider’s edgy skepticism. Something about marketing people talking about relevancy and authenticity sets off alarms for me. It sounds too much like people talking about things they don’t really do, like some of my nerdy high school friends from years ago that told good stories about their sexual adventures but were probably scared to death of actually talking to an attractive classmate, or the faux-Zen Masters loudly telling everyone what one hand clapping really sounds like.
So, I arrived at the Metropolitan Pavilion ready for the coming week, realizing that it was only stoplights that impeded my progress, and not roadblocks, detours, or dead-ends.
It is a hot and humid Saturday evening in Woodbridge, CT. We were going to go camping this evening, but there are thunderstorms. Instead, I sit in my office and try to write my long overdue daily blog post. Last week was Personal Democracy Forum in New York and Journalism that Matters in Detroit. On Monday, Internet Week starts in New York City and America’s Future Now starts in Washington. This year, I’ll try to catch a few days of Internet Week and miss America’s Future Now.
I’ve been looking over the schedule for Internet Week and trying to decide which events to cover. Unlike other writers, I don’t have an editor or assignment desk to tell me what to cover. At times, I’ve asked my readers about their recommendations, so if there is anything in the Internet Week schedule that jumps out at you, let me know.
A while ago, I wrote about blogging inspirations, and I mentioned E.B.White. I’ve always enjoyed the way he combined the personal and the political in his essays. Another writer I’ve greatly admired for perhaps very similar reasons and very different reasons is Hunter S. Thompson. As I read through the Internet Week schedule, I felt a little Thompson coming over me, or perhaps a little J.D. Salinger.
One of the events for Internet Week is CM Summit, “Marketing in Real Time”. They’ve lined up some interesting speakers. Fifteen minutes for Dennis Crowley of Foursqaure, and another fifteen minutes for “The Buzz on Buzz” with Bradley Horowitz from Google.
Yet the big blocks of time are set aside for “a fireside chat between John Hayes, CMO for American Express, and John Battelle, CEO of Federated Media” and “A Conversation with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., Chairman, The New York Times Company”. To balance out Sulzberger’s talk, on the second day they will have “A Conversation with Arianna Huffington, Co-founder & Editor-in-Chief, The Huffington Post”. One of the cocktail receptions will be sponsored by Facebook and the other by Adobe. What would Hunter S. Thompson have to say about the event, or perhaps Holden Caulfield?
It seems like a lot of Internet Week might benefit from some good Hunter S. Thompson style coverage. Perhaps the event that comes closest to the appropriate level of skepticism and irreverence is “Don't Believe the Hype Day” sponsored by Aquent.
On Tuesday, Dennis Crowley of Foursquare gets a full half hour with Adam Ostrow of Mashable at Mashable’s Media Summit. They also have Duncan Watts, Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! speaking for fifteen minutes. Another interesting session they have is with Alec Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation. They fill out a bit of the rest of the time with folks in entertainment and were only charging half what CMSummit was charging. Perhaps that is why they are sold out. Of course they are only one day, instead of CMSummit’s two days.
The big event on Wednesday is Digiday:Target. I’ve covered a lot of Digiday conferences and have put up posts on Digiday:Daily in the past. They run good conferences with interesting speakers and I look forward to Digiday:Target, especially since digital targeting has my attention for a bunch of other reasons.
Thursday, ThinkSocial and the Paley Center for Media, in conjunction with PepsiCo, are hosting a one day conference called The #Promise at Internet Week's HQ. This is a conference my literary guides could be incredibly cynical about. GE, Pepsi and Nokia talking about “making socially responsible commitments”. Is it too late for BP to try and get a spot on the agenda?
That said, I have friends working at GE and I know there are some good people that really do want to make a difference through helping corporations be more responsible. Likewise, I really like my Nokia N900 phone and was pleased to read about their Bicycle Charger Kit, which they recently introduced in Kenya. Likewise, I am glad to hear that according to Greenpeace, Nokia is currently the greenest electronics manufacturer.
The rain has come now. It is cooling off outside. I’ve been spending too much time reviewing the schedule and trying to put together this blog post. So, I’ll post it without reading it over as closely as I do other posts. Hopefully, I’ll have more energy tomorrow. In the meantime, if you’re going to Internet Week, or simply have read the schedule, and have thoughts about different sessions, please let me know.
Later today, or tomorrow, I will finally get around to writing some stories about things other than politics, but for this morning, I need to provide my recap of the 2010 CT Democratic State Convention. It is one that will be talked about for years to come.
Last week, I wrote a blog post about the drafting of the Connecticut Democrat State Platform, asking Do Platforms Matter?. Since then, there have been several interesting political developments here in Connecticut which have led me to rephrase the question to, “Do Issues Matter?”
As a side note to people reading my blog who are more interested in technology, marketing, blog networking, or personal issues, I promise, I’ll get back to some of this shortly. However, the Connecticut State Democratic Convention opens tomorrow and there is a lot of political news right now that I need to comment on.
From what I’m seeing in the news right now, issues do not seem to matter. If we really delve into some of the news stories, we might be able to step away from the sensationalistic gotcha journalism and talk about something of importance, but it takes an effort.
The news about Susan Bysiewicz being barred from running for Attorney General, which has some interesting underlying issues has been eclipsed by a sound bite from a speech by Richard Blumenthal two years ago. Both of these point to some interesting issues that should be explored.
Underlying the Bysiewicz case are issues of ballot access and advocates of a nanny state seeking to protect voters from voting for someone that might not be as qualified as someone else. Is it in the best interest of the people of Connecticut to require that a person must have ten years of active law practice to be able to run for Attorney General? Personally, I do not believe so. I believe that voters, and not the courts or legislators, should have the right to determine who the best person to run for Attorney General should be. If we believe in democracy, we should encourage people to run, and encourage people to learn about the candidates and make good decisions about who is best qualified to serve. A person with two years of active law practice might be much better than a person with one year of active law practice repeated twenty times.
This is just one part of the issue of ballot access. Others may be more concerned about the access that minor party candidates or petition candidates have to the ballot. These are issues that should be explored.
Likewise, there are some very important issues underlying the Blumenthal story. One is around the future of journalism. Did the New York Times act in an ethical manner in its reporting of the story? I do not believe it did. It did not provide the full story or context. It did not reveal sources. It did not seek balance. In doing so, it has further tarnished the already damaged profession of journalism. This is part of a much bigger issue. Democracy depends on a well informed electorate. Media consolidation, the contraction of the newspaper industry, issues around freedoms on the Internet and Net Neutrality are all wrapped up in this. We need to explore how to make sure that voters get real information and can make informed decisions instead of reacting to the latest parsing of a two year old speech.
Another important issue underlying the Blumenthal story is about veterans. All of the candidates make comments about fighting to make sure “veterans receive all the benefits they have earned”. Yet that can mean a lot of different things. Have veterans earned only those benefits that are currently available? Or are their benefits that they have earned, that our country is not currently offering them? How do we deal with issues like post traumatic stress syndrome? Is this, and other conditions ones where they have earned the right to treatment, or do we dismiss these claims as spurious? What sort of training and education have veterans earned? Are the current opportunities sufficient? And what about respect?
Do we respect men and women who were looked down upon by some during the Vietnam era, even if they did not serve overseas? How do we understand those who have exaggerated their service? Do we make a political football out of one’s service, lack of service, or exaggerated claims? Do we do this at the expense of addressing real issues?
Personally, I would like to think that issues matter. I would like to see voters given real choices and real information. I would like to see democracy work. Unfortunately, it seems as if for many, issues, and perhaps democracy itself does not really matter.
Exaggerations make me sick. Seriously, they make me physically sick. Okay, not really. That was a little bit of an exaggeration, just like the exaggerations I hear about the fish my friends catch, their romantic encounters, or perhaps even their physical abilities. The fact is, there is nothing new about exaggerations. They are too often used to make something insignificant seem significant. They are used to sell entertainment or other products.
This came to mind as I read the latest news that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal’s Words on Vietnam Service Differ From History. His website states that “He served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, honorably discharged as sergeant.” In the section on Veterans issue, he is described as “a veteran of the United States Marine Corps Reserves, and father of a Marine”. There, he pledges “to continue standing with the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country and their families. They have earned our respect, and we must always fight for them as they have for us.”
In fact, he has often spoken at events honoring veterans, and in some of those speeches he has spoken about how we, as a country, have a habit of sending young men and women to war, and then forgetting them when they come home. He says that is unforgivable. He praises people, including Republican Congressman who are working so hard to change that. Then, he says, “We have learned something very different since the days I served in Vietnam…”. The problem is that during the Vietnam conflict, he volunteered to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve and ended up in a unit that did not see action in Vietnam.
The New York Times goes on to cite various examples from four newspaper articles over the past decade that gave false impressions about his military service and berates him for not correcting these errors. Given the error rates of so much of the news, it is not surprising that researchers could find four articles over the past decade that gave false impressions, nor is it surprising that Attorney General Blumenthal focused on other issues.
What is the real story behind this article? Some interesting insights can be gained from an article in the New Haven Independent, Simmons Stands To Gain Most From Blumenthal Expose. It says that the Linda McMahon campaign
subsequently followed up with a release quoting a blog item crediting the McMahon campaign for digging up the video and providing it to the Times—portraying McMahon not as a soldier (in comparison to Blumenthal) but rather a candidate with “$16 million” to fund “a crack opposition research operation.” McMahon’s team portrayed this as a characterization to be proud of.
Where did this $16 million fund come from? Ms. McMahon’s fortune comes from selling glorified exaggerations of violence as entertainment. Personally, I prefer an exaggeration caused by a person showing empathy for our veterans that an exaggeration that desensitizes people to violence.
Why didn’t the New York Times acknowledge that this story was fed to them by a person running against Attorney General Blumenthal a few days before the State Democratic Convention? It is hard to say, but one must question the ethical choices they made. More importantly, we must wonder why newspapers are choosing to focus on distractions as opposed to real issues affecting our country. Perhaps the New York Times believes their business model is more about selling glorified exaggerations of violence than about politics. On one blog post I added a snarky comment:
we should never support candidates that have exaggerated, whether it be Hillary dodging bullets in Bosnia or the guy running for board of education who claims to have caught a larger fish than he really did. These are the important issues that our country faces. We should not get distracted by meaningless issues about who is best able to address problems in our economy, environment or other similar trivialities.
This fascination with insignificant pre-written stories at the expense of explorations about the issues facing our country, really, really makes me physically ill.