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How to Eat a Dead Cow

By hardburn in Op-Ed
Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 05:24:37 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Both before and after September 11, there were no shortage of stories about modern news reporting. What many people fail to realize is that we don't need more steaks, we need more dead cows.

The insperation for this comes from a text file from Cult of the Dead Cow. The basic idea is this: Think of a farmer who raises cows. At some point, the farmer slaughters the cows, so you have a dead cow. The farmer then sends it to somebody who cuts up the dead cow into nice, pretty peices, places them on store shelves, and then somebody else comes along and cooks the meat, adds some spices, and serves. The steak you eat at the dinner table bears little resemblence to the orginal dead cow.

The dead cow is like an orginal idea. It may not be pretty, or look very appitizing. Eventualy, somebody takes that idea, puts their own spin on it, their own bias. Then the editors get a hold of it, cut out a section here, add a little there. Then they serve the idea up for public digestion. Steak ready to be served. The story you see on CNN may look nothing like the orginal ideas presented to the journalists involved.

There are lots of independent media outlets, but that is still not a dead cow. Even independent journals have some bias. The only good place to get a dead cow on television is CSPAN, which streams to you the raw, unedited versions of speaches and events, often live. No bias, no spin, just facts.

Here, though, we have a real problem of "hypermedia" (also called "information overload"). When information is gushing at you like a firehose into a teacup, how do you distill the gems from the crap? This is not to be taken lightly. It has been estimated that a weekday edition of the New York Times contains more information then a person living in 17th century England was likely to come accross in a lifetime. Additionaly, Information Overload has been known to stress, burn out, and even physical illness.

Having more dead cow ideas around can only cause more information overload. After all, reading about "cyberwoozles" is a lot easier to put your brain around then reading Honeynet project whitepapers. When dealing with dead cows, you are bound to run into a lot of unconfirmed rumors. There are ways of dealing with information overload, including time management and relevence filtering, but it's really a problem that needs to be solved over time as you get used to having a lot of information being pushed at you. For myself, I don't mind that Slashdot spreads silly rumors, because I can use my brain to filter those parts out.

It would be great if we could all listen in on every demostration, every senate sub-sub-sub commite meeting, all the police traffic on the radio scanner. Obviously, this is not feasible. But not making the effort at all should be considered an outrage.


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Favorite part of a dead cow
o T-bone 33%
o Ribs 12%
o horns 2%
o hooves 3%
o I'm a vegitarian and all you carnivores are eeevvviiilll 30%
o other 18%

Votes: 132
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Slashdot
o no
o shortage
o of
o text file
o Cult of the Dead Cow
o independen t
o "hypermedi a"
o "informati on overload"
o contains more information
o physical illness
o "cyberwooz les"
o Honeynet project whitepapers
o unconfirme d rumors
o Also by hardburn

Display: Sort:
How to Eat a Dead Cow | 43 comments (18 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
Good topic, good links (2.00 / 2) (#1)
by DesiredUsername on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 12:19:20 PM EST

Good God, let's eat!

Where did you think the terms "raw" and "cooked" when referring to information came from?

Play 囲碁
poll: definately other (1.25 / 4) (#4)
by Sikpup on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 12:51:33 PM EST

Bambi-burgers. Yummm!!!

Don't knock venison... (none / 0) (#37)
by Mzilikazi on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 12:02:41 PM EST

My rooommate's father is an avid hunter, and we get quite a bit of wild game throughout the year, depending on what season it is. I love using deer meat for all sorts of things, and I've found that it works surprisingly well with Mexican dishes. My "Deeritos" are quite well received. :)

[ Parent ]
Just to taunt the veggies (2.00 / 1) (#40)
by Sikpup on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 07:28:02 PM EST

I love elk, and hear that moose is great too.

My in-laws just moved to Idaho, so maybe some tasty game coming my way in the near future.

I'm drooling as I type.

(I guess I'm really trolling now. The original post was meant to be funny, not a troll. Oh well)

[ Parent ]
What an outrage (4.00 / 5) (#5)
by Wondertoad on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 12:52:51 PM EST

But not making the effort at all should be considered an outrage.

Chuckle. An outrage? Rumors are filtered out, but obviously hyperbole is encouraged!

Good article anyway.

A good "dead cow" site (4.60 / 5) (#12)
by theantix on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 01:38:18 PM EST

Check out The Smoking Gun sometime if you want to see highlights of "dead cow" ideas. Usually, they spotlight a particluar document, much of it government documents liberated via the FOIA. Some spin, but they always reproduce the original document as an image. But they've got other stuff too, and while some of the stuff they got is pure crap, they have real gems from time to time.

You sir, are worse than Hitler!
Information overload and feasibility (4.00 / 5) (#20)
by Kasreyn on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 02:17:43 PM EST

Additionaly, Information Overload has been known to stress, burn out, and even physical illness.

Ha! Wimps. THIS teacup can handle a firehose. =P

It would be great if we could all listen in on every demostration, every senate sub-sub-sub commite meeting, all the police traffic on the radio scanner. Obviously, this is not feasible.

Networked word processor with stenographic keyboard. Stenographer with said device in sub-sub-sub-committe meeting. Stenographer copies everything which is said, which is gathered and sent off every x amount of time to be rewritten as Lynx-friendly HTML and posted to our wonderful happy internet. Voila.


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
The Myth of Spin-Free, Objective Reporting (4.25 / 4) (#25)
by greenrd on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 03:50:02 PM EST

The article has this incredibly naive idea that primary sources are somehow spin-free and objective. This is obviously false when you consider that politicians speeches can be examples of primary sources [insofar as they talk about what the politician's views are - they're not usually primary sources with respect to factual evidence, because politicians don't have time to personally do science or surveys etc.].

But at least you've got what they actually said, right?

Not always. If it's sliced and diced cleverly, you can occassionally use partial quotes to make it sound like they said something completely different, without altering a single word.

History lesson no. 1: Don't blindly trust secondary sources. No. 2: Don't blindly trust primary sources.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes

I don't think anyone sees a dead cow (4.33 / 6) (#29)
by jesterzog on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 04:49:20 PM EST

I've just been thinking a bit about the dead cow analogy, and I guess in a way I support what you're saying. Back in 1981 in New Zealand, when I was too young to care, we had a South African sports team touring here, very controversiallly because of the racism issue at the time. (NZ is made up of a multi-cultural society.)

It was right up until about that time that the local news media was arguably very unbiased with reports, with respect to this sort of thing, at least. They mostly reported things as they happened, and almost never added media opinions to anything. The problem is that the first serious time that the country was split in two - this time it was about whether sport should be mixed up with politics - lots of people hated how the media acted for not taking a point of view.

It wasn't just to do with the media not being biased. It was that the media wasn't seriously criticising what people said. It was leaving it up to others, and reporting their criticism. This was in case a reader or viewer wasn't given a fair chance to make up their own mind... or something along those lines.

When a guy was flying over the sports field dropping flour bombs on an international event, the media reported that he was flying over the sports field dropping flour bombs on it. They asked him why and he said it was because the tour was wrong, etc etc etc, the end. Then he was arrested for disturbing the peace. "Oh, and several cars were overturned and burnt out in the streets today, too. Police arrested more protestors."

If the media only reports what actually happens but doesn't criticise it, the bias moves to the people being reported about and the whole thing turns into a who-can-look-best-on-television competition. Dish up a calm, well-dressed politician saying something in a sophisicated way, then put it next to a protester being arrested during a fight with police outside a government building (remembering that most people trust the government because it's democratic and elected by the people and obviously could never do anything wrong), and 95% of people will take the first person much more seriously - especially if that person is saying that "there's nothing to worry about".

Without the media taking a point of view, someone else does it anyway. Even though there might be such a thing as a dead cow, nobody ever really sees it whether the media is biased or not. I don't always like biased media reporting, and I've given up on watching CNN because to me it looks more like a US government propaganda outlet. But IMHO it's just a fundamental thing about society, and there's not that much that can be done about it.

jesterzog Fight the light

The deeper problem (none / 0) (#42)
by ToastyKen on Tue Oct 30, 2001 at 04:26:38 AM EST

You've brought up a great point that I'll have to think about more.. Namely, that reporting something at all is biased in a way, because you can never truly give "equal time" to all causes. There are always thousands of viewpoints, many kooky, on any major issue, and it's simply not possible for the media to report on all of it.. Instead, it has to choose a few representative and/or major viewpoints, and show those. Once that's done, the media has effectively shown bias in treating certain viewpoints with more exposure than others.

I think this is being especially clear and complex today. On the one hand, it's good to know all sides of an issue. On the other, giving terrorists media exposure is exactly what they want.. And if you broadcast their viewpoint, you're at least saying it's a legitimate viewpoint. I don't know.. I need to think about it more.. I mean, I can see how such broadcasts certainly don't necessarily imply approval, but perhaps they do, to some degree..

In short, "fairness in reporting" is as impossible as "equal time for Creationism in schools". In both cases, it may seem at first like there are just a couple of sides, and that both sides need "equal exposure", but the fact is, there are actually many more sides than those two, and it's impossible to give all of them equal exposure. You've got to make your choices. "Equal exposure" is a myth.

[ Parent ]

vegetarianism (4.33 / 3) (#30)
by lonesmurf on Wed Oct 24, 2001 at 08:41:59 PM EST

I realise that this is offtopic but I just couldn't help commenting. Out of the 65 votes on the poll that are currently tallied, a full 30% have voted that they are vegetarian. I must say that I am shocked at those numbers. I wonder what the worldwide statistic for vegetarianism is and how this community compares. I wonder why the ratio is so high. Hmm.


I am not a jolly man. Remove the mirth from my email to send.

Percentage of vegetarians (none / 0) (#32)
by greenrd on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 05:36:38 AM EST

I'm not convinced that 30% of "k5ers" are vegetarians. Three reasons:

  1. Vegetarians like me might see anything mentioning "dead cows" as a hotbutton topic. I know I do. On the other hand some vegetarians will avoid pro-veggie/anti-veggie discussions because it annoys them or distresses them or they find them mostly irrelevant (if say they're vegetarian for solely health reasons). Repeat after me: Never trust web polls - they're self-selecting samples.
  2. Could be a few jokers on the poll. Particular given the poll option's wording ;)
  3. A significant number of people who call themselves vegetarians aren't really vegetarians, or don't even know what the word is supposed to mean. You know, the sort of "I'm a vegetarian between meals" type of thing (just kidding... I hope). For example, it is sometimes alleged that Hitler was a vegetarian, yet he ate pork (WTF?!). You can argue that the dictionary definition should be changed to reflect current ignorant usage, but I don't think so. It means someone who doesn't eat meat or fish (and possibly other things as well), and it should stay that way.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]
I wonder why the ratio is so high (none / 0) (#33)
by FredBloggs on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 08:07:54 AM EST

Because people dont want to get fat and die of heart disease, strokes, diabetes etc? Or maybe they`ve looked into how the animals are treated, and dont want anything to do with that? Most propaganda these days is economic, not political. I think a lot of meat eaters would be suprised if they knew how bad it is for them.

[ Parent ]
k5 and other web polls are just a game (none / 0) (#39)
by svampa on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 06:41:59 PM EST

These polls mean nothing, there are mathematic modern tools to make this things right

there is a famous case that is often explained in estadistic courses

In Kenedy-Nixon polls, a magazing asked its subcribers to send what they were going to vote, they received a lot of answers (150.000? I don't remember) and concluded that Nixon was going to win for long distance

A company made a scentific opinion poll (no more 1.500 interviews, you don't need more) and guessed the result with a little error.

Why? samples, samples and samples. You have to pick random samples

I'm user 17059, so the only thing I can conclude is 30 K5 user among 17059 said "I am vegitarian"

The right results are:

  • Don't know, don't answer: 99,999999999%
  • T-bone: 0%
  • Ribs: 0%
  • horns:0%
  • hooves:0%
  • I'm a vegitarian:0%

All this web polls are just for fun, don't take them seriusly, and don't try to get any conclusion.

Now you can speculate why such a big percentage voted vegitarian. I guess vegitarians are more active in apostolate than carnivores. That's just my personal speculation.

Let's make a poll to guess why there are so big percentage of vegitarians in k5 ;-)

[ Parent ]
im vegetarian (none / 0) (#41)
by kraft on Fri Oct 26, 2001 at 05:42:43 AM EST

.... and the only reason I was attracted to this story, was because I thought it was related to vegetarianism.

Given the % on the poll, I guess I'm not the only one.


a signature has the format "dash-dash-newline-text". dammit.
[ Parent ]
Too many dead cows to report (5.00 / 4) (#31)
by driptray on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 12:39:33 AM EST

Your focus is on the process of dressing up the dead cow until it is fit for consumption. But the process of bias and distortion happens before that - it happens when a particular dead cow is chosen above any of the other billions of dead cows lying around.

In other words, the choices the media make as to what is news is the first and most important choice. Once that decision is made the process of slicing, dicing and prettying the dead cow is quite routine.

As it is, these decision are mostly made in a routine fashion. For example, every newspaper will have a court reporter, whose job it is to hang out at the local courts and come up with stories. The decision has already been made - things that happen in the courts are newsworthy.

More obviously, the media will have a bunch of journalists assigned to follow politicians around and come up with stories. The decision is there - politicians are newsworthy.

That's why you can never trust a newspaper's claim that they report "just the facts", without bias or distortion. Which facts?! They can't report all of them. The process of choosing some facts over others is inherently value-laden. Your example of the unbiased outlet is CSPAN, but how do they choose what to show and what not to show?

I'm not trying to dismiss the idea that the spin that turns a dead cow into a juicy steak is not an important issue. It's just that there are a hell of dead cows that are left to rot in the field, and they may have been even more important, however you value importance. And that's the issue really - what is considered important, and who makes that decision?

It would be great if we could all listen in on every demostration, every senate sub-sub-sub commitee meeting, all the police traffic on the radio scanner. Obviously, this is not feasible.

And every police station, and government office, and corporate boardroom, and everywhere everywhere all the time. Total transparency for both the public and private realm! I'd give up all my personal privacy for this, and you'd be mad not to. Drowning in dead cows for sure, but there'll always be a few committed people to drag some interesting, but previously neglected, dead cows from amongst the decaying heaps and dress them up for genteel consumption.

We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
Speling? (1.50 / 2) (#38)
by Mr.Surly on Thu Oct 25, 2001 at 06:16:12 PM EST

This article seems to have a higher ratio of spelling errors than usually seen. Why wasn't this caught / fixed in the story queue?

Poor ratings for parent comment (none / 0) (#43)
by Mr.Surly on Sun Nov 04, 2001 at 10:14:44 PM EST

For those of you who rated my comment poorly, I trust it wasn't because of the "speling" thing. See, I know it's spelt wrong. That was sarcasm.

[ Parent ]
How to Eat a Dead Cow | 43 comments (18 topical, 25 editorial, 0 hidden)
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