Taking a break from this blog until class resumes. In the meantime, the links may be helpful along with three years worth of various media stories and cases, which provide helpful examples, most linked to the New York Times, of journalistic trends. Another class blog supports my current class, “Understanding 9/11,”: signature911.wordpress.com
This is a case study we’ll be citing for years to come, in the tradition of the Pentagon Papers. Here are some resources for further reference: The Times, of course, has a huge analysis in perhaps it’s biggest story of the year. School of Journalism Prof. Bill Minutaglio’s column critical of general tendency of governments to lie, with the leaks being further confirmation. Although critics at the other extreme have called for the execution of the leakers (!), I can’t help but think that the same openness we demand of other countries like China is not so appealing when it applies to U.S. policy. Regarding, China, today’s column by Thomas Friedman should be a must read, a tongue-in-cheek take on wikileaks China style. It’s a classic.
I’m putting together a new “signature” course in the fall, “Understanding 9-11,” and looking for possible readings. In the obituary for noted political scientist and author Chalmers Johnson, the Times emphasized his work on the concept of “blowback,” the unintended consequences for American policy. Journalism is implicated in this, because not only are international issues not well understood by the public, but that ignorance cycles back to drive emotional responses at later points in time.
Summarizing the series in “Dismantling the Empire,” Dr. Johnson said that “blowback” means more than a negative, sometimes violent reaction to United States policy. “It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public,” he wrote.
“This means that when the retaliation comes, as it did so spectacularly on Sept. 11, 2001, the American public is unable to put the events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.”
The course will not be about journalism per se, but I propose to try to understand 9-11 through a journalistic lens.
The dynamic of openness of press and speech in China can be best observed at the grassroots level as the public expresses itself via critical incidents. The government may wish to suppress reporting but if something resonates with public grievances, it simply will not be completely successful given the technology of new media. The case of a girl killed by a reckless driver, the son of a powerful official illustrates this phenomenon, as reported below in the Times this week:
In many ways, the Li Gang case, as it is known, exemplifies how China’s propaganda machine — able to slant or kill any news in the age of printing presses and television — is sometimes hamstrung in the age of the Internet, especially when it tries to manipulate a pithy narrative about the abuse of power.
The ability of the public to push for greater openness in spite of official efforts to the contrary (still not to be underestimated) is an often overlooked reason for optimism. Doctoral candidate Jia Dai in the School of Journalism is in the process of analyzing a series of similar events for their reflection of deliberative quality.
Times columnist Thomas Friedman reports today on a classic example of the echo-chamber amplifying misinformation. President Obama’s recent trip to India was claimed to cost taxpayers $200 million a day, an absurd claim on the face of it, but expoused by a Congresswoman on network television (Michelle Bachmann). How did it happen? It started with an anonymous source in an Indian newspaper, picked up by the Drudge Report, then…
Rush Limbaugh talking about Obama’s trip: “In two days from now, he’ll be in India at $200 million a day.” Then Glenn Beck, on his radio show, saying: “Have you ever seen the president, ever seen the president go over for a vacation where you needed 34 warships, $2 billion — $2 billion, 34 warships. We are sending — he’s traveling with 3,000 people.” In Beck’s rendition, the president’s official state visit to India became “a vacation” accompanied by one-tenth of the U.S. Navy. Ditto the conservative radio talk-show host Michael Savage. He said, “$200 million? $200 million each day on security and other aspects of this incredible royalist visit; 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper tracked the flow above, because Bachmann had used his program to promote the false claim, and used the next program to correct the facts. What a radical concept: a journalist actually trying to get to the bottom of a story and find the truth (although it’s ironic that given the state of the current echo-chamber media his actions were regarded as noteworthy).
If you haven’t gotten the Pulse or Flipboard apps for newsreading (both now free), these add an appealing new dimension to organizing news and blog feeds on a mobile device. As a front-end window for newssites (much as Google is the defacto front porch for many small businesses), these apps have the potential to bring traffic to otherwise obscure sites.
For small blogs that do not have the resources to build their own mobile apps, Pulse could serve as their main app, Mr. Kothari and Mr. Gupta say. To help readers discover new information sources, it features 10 publications, often small blogs, each week, and it is considering ways to incorporate recommendations from readers’ friends or experts in particular fields.
Such sites have the capability of adding to the visitors of even established sites like the Huffington Post. However, once technology has enhanced all the ways we read and get connected to news and newssites, the next step is to figure out how to fund more “boots on the ground” reporting to drive all these data streams.
A good example of Assignment 2 on the pages at right.
MSNBC suspended Keith Olberman recently for making political campaign contributions, providing a relevant development for our discussion of media bias on Tuesday. It illustrates that the norms of objectivity are still being worked out in uneasy tension within the new cable news environment.
The indefinite suspension was a stark display of the clash between objectivity and opinion in television journalism. While Mr. Olbermann is anchor of what is essentially the “Democratic Nightly News,” the decision affirmed that he was being held to the same standards as other employees of MSNBC and its parent, NBC News, both of which answer to NBC Universal. Most journalistic outfits discourage or outright prohibit campaign contributions by employees.
When coupled with the recent revelation that Rupert Murdoch, owner of Newscorp of Fox News fame, contributed millions to the Republicans, these events make perfect dual illustrations of competing critiques of media bias. The liberal MSNBC focused on the personal bias of the news figure Olberman, following policy intended to avoid individual conflict of interest. The conservative Fox News was targeted by critics, who were more concerned with the ownership corporate level of conflict, which is argued to be at the root of bias. So, on the left, individual level–on the right, corporate level critique of bias. The difference: on the left, the NBC network actually had a policy against political contributions and punished a violation; on the right, Murdoch basically said, “Yeah, so what?”
Another perspective is provided by the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held what has been called the largest press criticism event in history over the weekend. As Stewart declared, “The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous, flaming ant epidemic.”
In his Monday media column David Carr seems to cast doubt on the power of Stewart’s big target: cable news, claiming its audience is relatively small in the big scheme of things. But this model for pundit-based, conflict oriented echo-chamber news tends to corrupt the entire political conversation, yielding an effect larger than its actual audience would indicate. Part of this corruption must also be regarded as the continuing links between the corporate parents of news organizations participating themselves in the flow of campaign funding–an example in the same Monday Times concerning a News Corp contribution to defeating a business tax in California, and then reporting negatively on the tax in a “War on Business” documentary on the Fox Business Network.