Later On

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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Intense censorship of American casualties in our frequent wars

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Those who like sending Americans to fight and die in wars that never seem to accomplish their (often unclear) goals have by now created an almost impregnable wall of censorship to prevent the American public from seeing the human cost of such wars. Peter Maas writes at The Intercept:

Beheading is barbaric. The men of the Islamic State who executed James Foley and Steve Sotloff are monsters. Yet their monstrosity does not fully explain our fury over their beheading videos, or the exhortations we have heard to not share or distribute the harrowing images.

We are right to be repulsed. But I think part of our horror stems from the fact we rarely see images of American victims of war. It is the last taboo in our era of endlessly transgressive media — publishing photos or videos of injured, dying, or dead Americans in a war zone. How has this taboo been maintained? To a great degree, the reason is censorship on the part of the American government.

It is an oddity of all of the violence since 9/11: Despite constant warfare and the death of more than 5,000 American soldiers (a figure that does not include American contractors, aid workers, and journalists) — not to mention the more than 50,000 wounded — we have rarely seen photos or videos of Americans in their ultimate agony. Photographers embedded with American troops have been all but forbidden from taking pictures of dead or wounded soldiers; Michael Kamber’s Photojournalists on War is filled with tales of war photographers prevented from doing their necessary work. Until 2009, it was even forbidden to take photographs of flag-draped coffins as they returned home. I once had a minor encounter with the machinery of censorship: On a military flight out of Baghdad in 2005, a military police officer confiscated my camera after I took a few shots of the coffins on board. He returned the device after deleting the pictures.

It’s no secret why the government has repressed these sorts of images. Support for the wars since 9/11 could be undermined if Americans were to see the ghastly things that happen to their brothers and sisters in combat. This is generally attributed to a lesson supposedly learned by the generals in Vietnam: If you let photographers take pictures of American dead and injured, you will lose public support for the messy undertaking of mass violence. It’s fine to disseminate pictures and video of foreign dead and wounded, which can actually help the war effort.

It is a different thing when the victims are ours. When it comes to our own citizens, the consequences of war are preferably represented in elliptical ways that do not show torn flesh or faces of the newly dead. Instead, we see townspeople lining up and saluting as a hearse drives by, we hear the sound of taps at a funeral, we remember the flag as it was placed in a brave widow’s hands, or we see a wounded veteran with a handful of pills for PTSD. It demands a mournful response rather than an informed decision.

This censorship has spawned an odd blowback. By shielding us from disturbing imagery, our government (and editors who shy away from gore) may have made us all the more vulnerable when we finally see dead Americans. This is not an abstract theory. The two disastrous invasions of Falluja during the Iraq War were sparked by pictures of the bodies of four American contractors hanging from one of the town’s bridges in 2004. It wasn’t the event itself so much as the pictures that launched such destructive fury. Confronted with these stark but complicated images, we tend to respond with a primal scream, as The New York Post did with its identical headlines for both the Falluja desecrations in 2004 and the Islamic State beheadings a decade later: “Savages.”

In the case of the Islamic State, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2014 at 8:46 am

Going to war once more

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The US simply cannot get enough of war, it seems. The drums are pounding steadily now for a war against ISIS. Somehow, large numbers of citizens in the US are able to ignore the obvious and on-going damage our wars (Vietnam, the Gulf, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War) have done to both our own people and to the situations we worsen by waging war.

Here are two articles worth reading:

Glenn Greenwald: Americans Now Fear Isis Sleeper Cells Are Living In The U.S., Overwhelmingly Support Military Action

Dan Froomkin: So We’re Going To War Again, And All Anyone Wants To Talk About Is The Optics?


Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2014 at 9:13 am

My little note to the NY Times Public Editor

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I thought this might be of interest. I wrote:

Re: He Said, She Said, and Getting It Right About Voter ID

You write in that article: “When there’s significant evidence on a hot topic – whether it’s voting fraud or the reality of climate change – The Times should not shy away from stating it, simply and clearly.”

And yet the Times repeatedly shies away from stating factual evidence when reporting on disputes. (Indeed, the Times shied away from reporting on US torture as “torture” until VERY recently—and never used the term when the program was in the news.)

The Times clearly has some cultural force that fights against factual clarification in emotional (and particularly political) disputes. It may be some vestigial remnant of a kind of blue-stocking courtesy that avoids mentioning obvious flaws someone exhibits. It may be that Times editors are fearful of power. It may be simple ignorance—reporters don’t realize that it’s okay to mention relevant facts when reporting on a dispute, or the reporter simply does not know the relevant facts and the editor is similarly ignorant or unwilling to make an effort.

Whatever it is, it’s a significant and on-going (and thus well-entrenched) cultural weakness, a blind spot that’s awkward for an organization that claims to report “all the news that’s fit to print”. Rather than change the motto to “All the news that’s fit to print and doesn’t offend one side or the other,” I suggest that the cultural weakness be taken seriously and investigated by appropriate experts from the outside—psychologists, anthropologists, and the like. Outside investigators are obviously important since they are less likely to have the same blind spots and are not under the control of those forces that create the problem.

If good reporting is important to the Times, I would think that it would assign a high priority to rooting out cultural blind spots that undermine its journalism—things such as the common failure to report factual information that contradicts one party’s position in a dispute, or continuing to use anonymous sources at every possible opportunity despite a policy against the practice.

Indeed, it would be interesting to know why the Times has proven to be so subservient to the government in its reporting—on mass illegal wiretaps, on torture of prisoners, and other such crimes. Is the government so threatening to the Times? Do reporters and editors at the Times worship the powerful? What’s going on?

Such an effort would seem worthwhile: the findings might prove interesting as well as useful, and could even lead to better reporting overall, given the influence of the Times.

I would nominate a couple of Jameses for the investigatory panel: Fallows and Pennenbaker. Both have highly relevant skills and neither would be using the opportunity to get a foot in the door at the Times: that is, both would act as disinterested parties. Jay Rosen would be another good candidate.

Of course, NY Times culture may include a taboo on looking at patterns of faulty reporting. That is, if the Times resists such an investigation, that also is interesting and reflects the cultural values of the Times.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 September 2014 at 10:08 am

Posted in NY Times

CIA volunteer working as LA Times reporter

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Apparently Ken Dilanian really wanted to be in the CIA, so when he was reporting on the CIA for the NY Times, he essentially gave the CIA approval rights to his stories, pretty much reporting what they wanted him to report. This is not only bad-faith reporting, it undermines the purpose of the media, which is to hold government to account. However, as Froomkin points out in the reporting on what actions the US can/should take against ISIS, the media nowadays don’t do much reporting (or thinking). Ken Silverstein reports in The Intercept:

A prominent national security reporter for the Los Angeles Times routinely submitted drafts and detailed summaries of his stories to CIA press handlers prior to publication, according to documents obtained by The Intercept.

Email exchanges between CIA public affairs officers and Ken Dilanian, now an Associated Press intelligence reporter who previously covered the CIA for the Times, show that Dilanian enjoyed a closely collaborative relationship with the agency, explicitly promising positive news coverage and sometimes sending the press office entire story drafts for review prior to publication. In at least one instance, the CIA’s reaction appears to have led to significant changes in the story that was eventually published in the Times.

“I’m working on a story about congressional oversight of drone strikes that can present a good opportunity for you guys,” Dilanian wrote in one email to a CIA press officer, explaining that what he intended to report would be “reassuring to the public” about CIA drone strikes. In another, after a series of back-and-forth emails about a pending story on CIA operations in Yemen, he sent a full draft of an unpublished report along with the subject line, “does this look better?” In another, he directly asks the flack: “You wouldn’t put out disinformation on this, would you?” . . .

Continue reading.

The story is worth reading as it shows the process of increasing power in the government at a time of weakening journalistic oversight (and integrity).

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 12:38 pm

What people in power do when people not in power are not around

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Just read the Author’s Note to Hack Attack, by Nick Davies. Here’s the beginning—you can continue reading via the “Look Inside” feature at the link. You have to scroll down past the dramatis personae and the TOC, but then you hit the Author’s Note, which begins:

Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch

This is the strangest story I’ve ever written.

In the beginning, it was next to nothing. Two men were arrested – a private investigator and a journalist from the News of the World. Both of them ended up in prison, but it was no big deal. The crime they had committed was minor. Their jail sentences were short. The only eye-catching thing about it at the time was that their crime was quite quirky: they had discovered that they could access other people’s voicemail messages and had spent months eavesdropping on three staff at Buckingham Palace. Even so, it was a small story, dead and gone from the public eye within a few days.

And yet, I ended up spending more than six years of my working life trying to unravel the bundle of corruption which lay hidden in the background. Soon there was a small group of us working together, discovering that we had stumbled into a fight with the press and the police and the government, all of them linked to an organisation which had been created by one man.

Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful people in the world. You could argue that he is, in fact, the most powerful. News Corp is amongst the biggest companies on the planet. Like all his commercial rivals, Murdoch has the financial power to hire or fire multiple thousands of people and the political power to worry governments by threatening to withdraw his capital and transfer it to a more co-operative nation. But, unlike his rivals in business, his power has another dimension. Because he owns newspapers and news channels, he has the ability to worry governments even more, to make them fear that without his favour they will find themselves attacked and destabilised and discredited. Certainly, a man who is both global business baron and multinational kingmaker has a special kind of power.

So the simple crime story turned out to be a story about the secret world of the power elite and their discreet alliances. This is not about conspiracy (not generally) but about the spontaneous recognition of power by power, the everyday occurrence of a natural exchange of assistance between those who occupy positions in society from which they can look down upon and mightily affect the everyday worlds of ordinary men and women. In this case, as often, that mutual favouritism took place amidst the persistent reek of falsehood – not the fevered plotting of Watergate lies, but the casual arrogance of a group of people who take it for granted that they have every right to run the country and, in doing so, to manipulate information, to conceal embarrassing truth, to try to fool all of the people all of the time.

A lot of writers say that they can’t do their job – they can’t produce the book or the film or the newspaper article – unless they can reach a point of such clarity about their project that they can reduce it to a single sentence. Waiting for a bus one day while I was drafting this book, I finally got there. This is a story about power and truth.

To be more precise, it is about the abuse of power and about the secrets and lies that protect it. In a tyranny, the ruling elite can abuse its power all day long, and anybody who complains about it will get a visit from the secret police. In an established democracy, abuse of power cannot afford to be visible. It needs concealment like a vampire needs the dark. As soon as a corporation or a trade union or a government or any arm of the state is seen to be breaking the rules, it can be attacked, potentially embarrassed, conceivably stopped. The secrets and lies are not an optional extra, they are central to the strategy.

In this case, the concealment had an extra layer, because . . .

Continue reading in the Look Inside feature.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 August 2014 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Books, Government, Media

You’d think, in a movie about journalism, they would have copy editors

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Second sentence in the prologue to Shattered Glass, a biopic of Stephen Glass:

In May of 1998, its staff was comprised of 15 writer/editors.

An egregious mistake that surely a copy-editor would have caught. And it reveals the writer’s relationship to the English language, always good to know. How did it get through: we’re talking about writers, here. Should be, “its staff comprises 15 writer/editors,” something every schoolchild should know.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 1:03 pm

Posted in Media, Movies

What a good free press can do

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In the New Yorker Ken Auletta has an excellent review of journalist Nick Davies’s new book Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch:

When he’s investigating a story, Nick Davies, of the Guardian, has been known to barrage his subjects with phone calls, wait outside their homes or offices, and accost their friends with hard-to-duck questions. Davies, who is sixty-one, works from home, because, he says, “I don’t need a school prefect to stand over me.” He was the indispensible reporter in the revelation of the abuse of power and illegal phone hacking perpetrated by News of the World and the Sun, the London newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. In the midst of the scandal, before the official inquiries and trial juries confirmed the story, I separately asked two senior News Corp. executives, “How accurate was Nick Davies’s reporting?” Given the trouble that their company was in, I was ready for them to try to persuade me that Davies was an irresponsible sensationalist. Instead, each declared, “About ninety-five per cent accurate.”

Now Davies has produced a four-hundred-page ticktock of the scandal, called “Hack Attack: The Inside Story of How the Truth Caught Up with Rupert Murdoch.” It’s not Davies’s style to rely on the he-said-she-said or on-one-hand, on-the-other-hand formulations. When he has compelling evidence, as he did against Scotland Yard, Davies is direct:

Something very worrying has been going on at Scotland Yard. We now know that in dealing with the phone-hacking affair at the News of the World, they cut short their original inquiry; suppressed evidence; misled the public and the press; concealed information and broke the law. Why?

Davies collects facts, one brick at a time. He tilts to the left, but he does not lose his balance. When it might be easy to assume that Scotland Yard officers were silent because they feared that the newspapers would expose their extramarital affairs, Davies writes that he found “absolutely no evidence” of this. For too many years, the story that Davies and the Guardian unearthed was ignored by much of the British press. Davies told of how reporters for News of the World routinely tapped phone messages, producing verbatim dialogue that could only have come from illegal intercepts, and yet Murdoch’s editors, whose job it is to monitor a reporter’s sources, professed their innocence.

“A monstering from Murdoch’s droogs is a terrible experience,” Davies writes, going on to describe how, after the former Labour minister Clare Short criticized the Suns daily Page 3 pictures of topless women (which jacked up newsstand sales), the editors launched a campaign to savage Short. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 11:21 am


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