I have just finished watching Aaron Sorkin’s media-based drama, The Newsroom. I enjoyed it as a series. The acting is good, the characters are likeable. The dialogue is a little wearing at times, as everybody has the same ultra-witty voice and style of delivery. However, the series made me think about the way that the media are changing and whether those changes are a good thing, a bad thing or a mixture of both.
For Sorkin, journalism is – or should be – a sacred calling. There are many comments in The Newsroom about the evils and dangers of citizen journalism and the great care that real journalists take in checking their facts, as well as the dire consequences of not doing the checking properly. Now, I am not blind to the dangers of some of the new media. The way that fake stories have been invented and propagated by dodgy sources is a great cause for concern. We have seen a lot of it recently, especially in connection with the Trump campaign.
My beef is, basically, that the role of the old media in spreading Cassidy’s lies shows quite clearly that they aren’t always the stalwart defenders of truth depicted in Sorkin’s fairytale. Since Cassidy’s work of fake etymology, How The Irish Invented Slang, was published ten years ago, many newspapers have published uncritical and dim-witted articles about the Great Fraud and his theories: the New York Times; the Irish Times; the San Francisco Weekly; The San Francisco Chronicle; The Boston Globe (yes, the Spotlight paper); The Boston Phoenix; The New York Observer; The Irish News; the Irish Echo; Lá. And that’s just the newspapers. There have been a few skeptical and dissenting voices but mostly, Cassidy’s lies have been accepted at face value in the traditional media.
With the new media, it’s more of a mixed bag. There are several articles on the highly successful (and highly crappy) IrishCentral website which uncritically praise Cassidy’s work and give information which is obviously incorrect as if it were true. In IrishCentral’s defence, you could say that it has a comments column and that many, if not most, of the comments are highly critical of Cassidy’s scholarship. However, this is not much of a defence. It should be IrishCentral establishing the truth and telling the truth, with the comments section being the usual mix of crazy, bitter and sensible, not the other way round!
In short, what I’m saying is that there is good media and bad media and that’s more important than old or new. You would expect IrishCentral to produce rubbish because its former editor, Niall O’Dowd, doesn’t have much journalistic integrity and will obviously publish any story, however stupid, as long as it attracts readers.
Some new media have higher standards, of course. While Wikipedia is not perfect, it is pretty much free of Cassidese bullshit now, in spite of several crass attempts by dishonest members of Cassidy’s social circle to suppress the truth about his lack of qualifications.
And then, of course, there’s Cassidyslangscam. This blog is a new media format, but it has actually made the truth about Cassidy available to a lot of people when newspapers, radio stations, TV stations and books have continued to spread falsehoods. To give just one example, nobody would know that ‘Professor’ Cassidy didn’t have any qualifications if it weren’t for this blog. Cassidy’s sister Susan kindly volunteered the information that he flunked his degree, I confirmed it with the excellent registrar Cassie Dembosky at Cornell and published it here.
To the best of my knowledge, no newspaper or news programme has followed suit, though they were all very quick to publish Cassidy’s lies when they first came out.