Tuesday, August 22, 2006

News Mongerers – How Corrupt News Reporting is Killing Our Society

Democracy is supposedly a rational way of self-government. It assumes, among many other things, that the best way to reach a decision is to gather the relevant information, process it, talk about it, debate it, and then decide. Living in a capitalist society, our culture has been willing to pay for the information it deems important for it’s survival. We, the members of that culture, are paying for that information all the time – each time we buy a newspaper, watch the ads on TV or hear them on the radio, and in some cases, when we pay our taxes to the national news agencies as is the case in Israel and many European countries.
Most people have never asked themselves if the information they are receiving every day is good reliable information, or even if it is the information they need. We are normally not even asking ourselves who is providing us with the information we consume each day, and if it is a reliable source, committed to our interests as consumers of news, and not to other, conflicting interests.
But this thoughtlessness, this blindness, has got to stop. It must stop because, literally, the news is killing us.
There always is a silver lining to every cloud, and if there is one in the last war in Lebanon, it is this: the Mainstream Media corruption has been exposed for all to see. They are not heroic journalists risking their lives in their search for truth. These are not the dedicated professionals of yesteryear who stake their reputation on every byline. These guys don’t even have a reputation, and they sure as hell aren’t gonna risk their lives for you, on the contrary – they will ask you to risk their lives for them as in this case(via LFG):

“When Um Ali Mihdi returned to her home in the southern Lebanese city of Bint Jbeil two days ago, she found a 1,000lb (450kg) Israeli bomb lying unexploded in her living room.
The shell is huge, bigger than the young boy pushed forward to stand reluctantly next to it while we get our cameras out and record the scene for posterity.”
(my underline)
This report is from the BBC.THE BBC. No less!! Really, how low can you get?
Well, a lot lower it seems. Do you remember those horror movies where doctors still had to dig up corpses so they could practice and learn the new modern science, and then, usually, the corpses came to life and haunted the neighborhood and so on and so forth? Well, the task of digging up corpses and reviving them has now been passed on – to the news people we trust so much:
“…I have been witness to the daily practice of directed shots, one case where a group of wire photographers were choreographing the unearthing of bodies, directing emergency workers here and there, asking them to position bodies just so, even remove bodies that have already been put in graves so that they can photograph them in peoples arms….”

The whole article by a freelance photographer is well worth the read here on LFG.
Remember the good ole’ days, when a corpse was just a corpse, and not a stage prop? Those were the days!
And this is now. How did we ever get from there to here? I’ve already read how Israeli journalists are decrying the budget cuts that have taken place in recent years in the MSM. This kind of outcry appears once in a while in The Seventh Eye, a Hebrew journal published by The Israeli Democracy Institute a secular center- left-wing think tank.
It seems that the result is that fewer people are actually gathering the news, and the people who are vetting it are inexperienced and uneducated, relative at least to the veterans they have been replacing. Apparently this has been going on in other places. In another excellent piece from the L.A. Times columnist Tim Rutten, he follows the money trail:

“To consider one of the most troubling of the Reuters debacle's possible causes — the way cost-cutting opened the way to manipulation, whatever its motive — it's helpful to take a long step back and to note a couple of quotes from a story that appeared in the New York Times' business section early this week…For that reason, Morton's analysis of the Scripps papers' quality didn't faze Thomas A. Russo, a partner in an investment firm whose clients hold E.W. Scripps stock. "In order to make money in newspapers," he told the Times, "you want to cover promos, potlucks and police blotters. The last thing you want to hear about is Pulitzers. And Scripps has done a great job…the company's newspaper unit, 'does not get high marks for its journalism.' He added, however, that its cash-flow margins — 28.9% in the second quarter — were among the highest in the industry."

But this is much bigger than Scripps or Reuters.
LFG, again, has a terrific description by a former employee of APTV, a subdivision of the omnipresent AP byline. The whole piece is long and well-worth reading. For my purposes here I will just quote this description:

“This is how APTN makes its money: news organizations (mostly TV but not all) subscribe to APTN and pay an annual amount to both watch and then re-use the stories that are fed over the Global News Network…It is pretty much impossible, however, to operate a TV news organization without taking feeds from either APTN or Reuters or usually both…While most of the world takes news pictures with minimal interpretation beyond editing, the Arab Gulf States have asked for and receive a different and far more expensive service… …The slant of the stories required by the Gulf States has a definite effect on which footage is used and discarded. This affects both the Gulf newsroom and the main global newsroom…anything involving Israel is a favorite with Gulf Arab states for showing to their viewers…Footage such as the Palestinian mob joyfully lynching two Israeli reservists in Ramallah in October 2000 is held by APTN’s library: any attempt to license this film for reshow is carefully vetted. Requests for the use of “sensitive clips” are referred directly to the Library director. This is not the case with clips that paint Israel in a bad light. Likewise, the re-showing of Palestinian celebrations on 9/11 is considered “sensitive”…. APTN is the gatekeeper that sits between you and the actual event. You will never see what the editors at APTN see before they compile your evening news. What do you think is cut out?”

Media Prostitution
Professional prostitution is of course nothing new. People are people, and throughout the years there have always been those that could not resist temptation and sold out to some financial or personal interest. But this is different. We are not witnessing an individual breach of ethics. What we are seeing here is the total disregard for any kind of professional ethic. The concept of ethics, of professional behavior has simply been tossed out of the window by the Mainstream Media and somehow, fittingly, they forgot to tell us. What I am trying to say here that this is not only about money. With money the Gulf States can buy A.P. but they can’t shut up the outcry, the moral and professional outrage of A.P. ‘s professional staff. Except they don’t have to. They didn’t have to and they won’t have to because most of the people working in the news business are exactly that – businessmen and women, out to make a name for themselves. Nowadays, news is entertainment; it’s not a vocation, or a public service, something to take pride in. Those days are over, and the sooner we realize it the sooner we will be able to participate in the current war in an effective manner. (Yes, there is a war going on. The good news: it’s not too late to sign up.)
The new media has a strict financial bottom line, but it has no moral bottom line whatsoever, because it is a result, too, of a postmodern ideology. This ideology has taken hold of Academia in the West and it’s products inhabit, among many other institutions, the media. At the risk of repeating myself I will give a brief explanation of Postmodernism:
"…It is a philosophy that is based on the notion that the world we live in is defined by our relationships to it, and does not exist outside of them. This means that there actually is no “true” world to discover, as Newton proposed. This also means that causation is not the prevalent mechanism in the world, rather, events are defined by their relations to each other, and to everything else. In such a world, causation is well nigh impossible, or futile, to determine. It follows therefore that responsibility and accountability must be determined by means other than linear causation, if indeed there is a need to do so. After all, this is a world without objective truth, and therefore without God, which means that there is no standard for moral behavior that is not human in origin, and anything human is relative, so, who are we to judge what is right and what is wrong, asks the postmodernist? “

An honest man might well ask how anyone can be a journalist in such a fraudulent spiritual environment. From what I could tell, and according to what I heard from students in the communications department, the answers are these:
  • The general atmosphere is fierce unbridled competition between shallow, amoral, completely selfish individuals, gleefully stepping upon each other’s necks on their way to media stardom.

  • A minority of students sees this general atmosphere as an example of what not to be and do. They will seek work at media outlets that stand by the old-fashioned notion of telling the truth to their readers. (Their still are a few left.)

  • Others will not enter at all into any kind of journalistic endeavor.

The Mainstream Media that stands before us today is a result of these two forces – economic efficiency and a postmodern philosophy. As consumers we have a number of ways to deal with this situation, most of them detailed here. The key is that as news consumers it is in our hands every day to decide if a lying, corrupt, unethical media should also be economically efficient.
As it stands today, our Democratic culture is paying a very heavy price in exchange for the MSM’s increasing revenues. We are losing our collective minds. We are getting bad information composed of propaganda, disinformation, and a confusing mixture of lies, half-truths and plain facts. We are forming opinions and making decisions based on misinformation. Is it a wonder then that our collective choices are so poor? That the public debate, in most Mainstream Media, is so superficial, resembling Wrestlemania more than an intelligent discussion between rational citizens of a Democratic nation?
We have entrusted the media with the task of being the eyes and ears of our society and for the most part the MSM has betrayed that trust. Will we continue to rush blindly to our doom, deaf to the sounds of the quickening storm? Will we continue to blame everyone but ourselves for our problems?
In Israel protests are beginning, blaming politicians and Army Generals for the failures of the recent, unfinished war. Good people will stand for hours in the scorching sun, hoping to stir the conscience of their leaders. I applaud these people. But I also say to them – the most effective protest will be this: stop buying the newspapers that are lying to you and that have brought you to this point. Stop listening to the news on television and on the radio, because they have been misleading you and betraying you. If you do not realize this fact and act upon it – all your protests will be in vain, because soon enough the same corrupt media that misrepresented Olmert and Halutz will do exactly the same thing with someone else, equally foolish and corrupt. We have no choice: as Jews we must seek the truth and nothing but the truth, and we must do it before death finds it’s way to our doors.

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