Damnation by faint praise: The U.K. is, after all, more civilized than the U.S.

(dis)United Kingdom

Prime minister


Fig. 1. President Reagan on the South Lawn during the arrival ceremony of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of the United Kingdom. U.S. Government photograph, November 16, 1988, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Trades Union Congress general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said of the prospect that the government could ask departments to find more savings: “They just can’t. People won’t take it any more. Border guards, prison officers, [National Health Service] nurses – who are they going to cut? What’s left? I think it’s untenable for them.

“They’re going to have to think again, if they think they can just come back and keep hammering working people, because I’ve never seen such determination. People have had it; they’re almost beyond anger. They’re just saying ‘no’.”[1]

Christopher Hope, “I’ve seen a WhatsApp message setting out the future Tory leadership – and it’s brutal,” Telegraph, October 17, 2022, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2022/10/17/seen-whatsapp-message-setting-future-tory-leadership-brutality/

Pippa Crerar and Jessica Elgot, “Liz Truss faces unrest over public spending cuts and pensions triple lock threat,” Guardian, October 18, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/oct/18/liz-truss-faces-fresh-unrest-over-public-spending-cuts


Ukraine



Fig. 2. Ukrainian conflict as of October 4.[2] Fifteen days later, the Russians are now evacuating Kherson City.[3] Map via the Washington Post,[4] fair use.

I have a lot of respect for Ishaan Tharoor but his analysis from just this morning[5] is already aging poorly as Ukrainian forces now approach the Crimean peninsula from the northwest[6] and total Ukrainian victory seems ever more likely. There is a new blog post entitled, “Because, somehow, Russian imperialism is okay.”

Julia Ioffe, “Putin’s New Tools of Terror,” Puck News, October 18, 2022, https://puck.news/putins-new-tools-of-terror/

Paul Kirby, “Ukraine war: Russians start leaving Ukraine’s Kherson city,” British Broadcasting Corporation, October 19, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63311744

Uliana Pavlova, “Putin declares martial law in four occupied regions as Kyiv presses offensive,” Cable News Network, October 19, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/19/europe/putin-russia-martial-law-intl/index.html

Ishaan Tharoor, “The uncomfortable need to talk about diplomacy with Russia,” Washington Post, October 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/10/19/diplomacy-russia-ukraine-need-nuclear/


Journalism

The attempt is to distinguish between a reporter’s views and undisputed facts:[7]

Some of the Semafor stories I read yesterday offered what was clearly analysis in this section, though it rarely seemed particularly pointed or personal and sometimes it didn’t read much like a point of view at all, but rather a continuation of the reporting above; indeed, at least one story contained sources’ quotes in this section. If the separation of facts and analysis is supposed to aid clarity and boost trust, then the two need to be consistently distinguishable; where they blur together, the separation just adds more confusion. Of course, it’s still (very) early days for the Semaform; reporters from rigid news backgrounds, in particular, might take time to find their feet in the analysis space. But it’s not clear to me that separating facts and analysis is even possible.[8]

In qualitative research, we drop the pretense that objectivity is even possible. We are supposed to distinctly state the perspective we bring to the topic at hand. For instance, when discussing capitalism, I may mention that I have lived for decades under its belly, and the view from there is most assuredly not pretty.

That perspective inevitably colors analysis and it is assumed that it may do so in ways not apparent to the author, which is why we attempt to state that perspective separately. One problem with Semafor that should thus be immediately apparent undermines the entire point: Its reporters will all be privileged at least by class, often by race, often by gender, often by yet other characteristics. If they don’t look diverse, it’s because they aren’t.

And that, of course, erases the claimed distinction between Semafor and other outlets. I wish, truly I do, that the organizers of Semafor had consulted with qualitative researchers before beginning this project.

Jon Allsop, “Semaform and function,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 19, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/semafor_launch_review.php


  1. [1]Pippa Crerar and Jessica Elgot, “Liz Truss faces unrest over public spending cuts and pensions triple lock threat,” Guardian, October 18, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/oct/18/liz-truss-faces-fresh-unrest-over-public-spending-cuts
  2. [2]Mary Ilyushina, Emily Rauhala, and Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Ukraine hammers Russian forces into retreat on east and south fronts,” Washington Post, October 4, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/04/russia-retreat-kherson-lyman-ukraine/
  3. [3]Paul Kirby, “Ukraine war: Russians start leaving Ukraine’s Kherson city,” British Broadcasting Corporation, October 19, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63311744; Uliana Pavlova, “Putin declares martial law in four occupied regions as Kyiv presses offensive,” Cable News Network, October 19, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/19/europe/putin-russia-martial-law-intl/index.html
  4. [4]Mary Ilyushina, Emily Rauhala, and Isabelle Khurshudyan, “Ukraine hammers Russian forces into retreat on east and south fronts,” Washington Post, October 4, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/10/04/russia-retreat-kherson-lyman-ukraine/
  5. [5]Ishaan Tharoor, “The uncomfortable need to talk about diplomacy with Russia,” Washington Post, October 19, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com//world/2022/10/19/diplomacy-russia-ukraine-need-nuclear/
  6. [6]Paul Kirby, “Ukraine war: Russians start leaving Ukraine’s Kherson city,” British Broadcasting Corporation, October 19, 2022, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63311744; Uliana Pavlova, “Putin declares martial law in four occupied regions as Kyiv presses offensive,” Cable News Network, October 19, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/19/europe/putin-russia-martial-law-intl/index.html
  7. [7]Jon Allsop, “Semaform and function,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 19, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/semafor_launch_review.php
  8. [8]Jon Allsop, “Semaform and function,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 19, 2022, https://www.cjr.org/the_media_today/semafor_launch_review.php

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