Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Media Trackers' attack on UW Professor reveals lazy, shoddy journalism

Selective citations portrays subject in different light -- and is negligence in reporting

Like many others I’m sure, I’ve felt a bit of a void since Jon Stewart stepped down from the Daily Show earlier this month. But I’ve taken one thing he mentioned on his last show to heart: the importance to “sniff out” bulls--t whenever it’s apparent, and to increase its visibility whenever possible.
There’s certainly no shortage of it here in Wisconsin, including among the various news media across the state. Media Trackers, a conservative reporting outfit that has a record of attacking left of center politicians and public figures has gone on the attack once more, this time against a UW professor named Michael Bell.
Bell teaches a series of classes within the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology. Some of the elements of his teachings touch upon problems of unfettered capitalism and its effects on society, which, of course, is simply unacceptable to organizations like Media Trackers.
In his piece against the UW academic, titled “Prof. Michael Bell and the Pursuit of Useless Knowledge,” Media Trackers author Brian Sikma derides Bell as “lazy,” pointing out several instances within his syllabuses and other writings where one might leap to that conclusion.

For example, Sikma points out that in one of his syllabuses Bell says that he doesn’t “want to lecture” his students, and assigns his own book as required reading. One might posit from that description alone that Bell indeed is a “lazy” educator.

But delving deeper into the syllabus reveals what Bell’s rationale really is. “The course is intended to be an occasion to read, to write, and to discuss – not a sit-back-and-take-notes-for-the-exam class,” Bell writes. “So please accept my invitation to engage in critical, cooperative interchange with each other (including me!).”

He adds that students should consider the class format as “the ‘three r’s’ of scholarship: reading, ‘riting, and responding.”

Bell’s approach is indeed not lecture-heavy. Instead it relies upon discussion, inclusion and questioning the topic at hand, aspects that Sikma and Media Trackers conveniently leave out in their criticism.

That doesn’t stop their attacks on him, however. As Sikma states, “A substantial part of the grade students earn is based on class participation. But never fear, in true Marxist fashion, contribution to class discussion doesn’t involve actually contributing.”

He again cites Bell’s syllabus: “Your grade for class participation will not be a measure of how loud you were, or of how often you spoke.” Sikma then cites more information from the syllabus, further down the page: “Grading in this area will be based on the initial assumption that everyone will get full credit in all areas of participation, with deductions made for negligent or ‘unthere’ performance, if necessary.”

This again sounds like a “lazy” move by the professor. But this is deception on the part of Media Trackers. Between the two points Sikam cites above is a list of expectations required by students in the class in order to get a good grade on participation. It’s hardly the “show up and get a grade” kind of assessment that Media Trackers makes it out to be...in fact, quite the opposite (click the link to see for yourself).

Furthermore, the way Sikma puts it, the participation aspect of the class is a “substantial” portion of the grade. But he never defines what “substantial” is. 

In fact, it’s only a third of what constitutes the grade in Bell’s class, with the final paper and written critiques being the other two thirds, another point that Media Trackers conveniently glosses over.

Being able to smell bulls--t in news reports is a very important skill every person should attain. This Media Trackers “hit job” against a UW professor reeks of it. At best it's lazy journalism. At it's worst, it's purposeful deceit. Either way, it's lousy "reporting."

1 comment:

  1. Brian Sikma belongs to an organization that believes and proselytizes for the creation of the world in six days. He is a Biblical fundamentalist and expects the world to run on those principles. Why would be practice good journalism?