CNN’s lost generation

Sometimes I wish CNN would just roll over and die. An announcement they are creating a news bureau in Second Life confirms that they are trend followers, and are no longer innovators. Yeah, so maybe a 24/7 news network was once a brilliant idea, but with the Web, who cares? Having failed at emulating the Fox News effect (by proliferating right wing news commentators through out their broadcasts) and comedy (by trying to inject Daily News antics here and there), they are now looking for salvation in user generated media, but the thing that they forget is that they are a huge multinational corporation. How does their business model jive with the new media revolution? Hence the humor of the following anecdote from youth media advocate Anastasia Goodstein:

Ypulse: Media for the Next Generation:

… when I was visiting CNN, they were talking about how to get young people to upload their own news video — one person remarked that they have been getting one kind of interesting video from teenagers: video imitating CNN anchors. Teens would create their own satirical skits making fun of the news and upload it to CNN (“The Daily Show” effect?).

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It takes one to know one

Bloviators of the world, unite! Robert Novak, a cantankerous, professional bloviator whose livelihood is threatened by our grassroots movement of citizen pundits and journalists doesn’t like sharing the stage. I think he just like to say the word “bloviate.” Me too.

‘Prince of Darkness’ Chronicles Novak’s Life in Journalism – July 13, 2007 – The New York Sun:

“The bloggers bloviate. They give their opinions. They don’t try to find things out.”

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Military mouthpiece

Yahoo! News Photos - War With Iraq-1

A fascinating interview with Josh Rushing who was featured in the documentary on Al Jazeera, Control Room, as a US military spokesperson. Now he reports for Al Jazeera. This is a terrific inside report on how the military spins news.

Democracy Now! | Ex-Marine Josh Rushing on his Journey from Military Mouthpiece to Al Jazeera Correspondent:

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the kind of information that was presented at CENTCOM and how you were feeling as someone in the Marines who was part of shaping that message, and how you changed along the way.

JOSH RUSHING: Yeah, no. This part was really rough for me, because as a military spokesperson, you don’t talk about policy. You talk about the way you’re going to conduct an action, not why you’re going to conduct an action. So if someone were to ask me before the war, “Why are you going to invade Iraq?” — and reporters did — the only honest answer I could give is, “We’ll invade Iraq if the President orders us to. And we won’t if he doesn’t. We don’t get to pick and choose our battles.” That way, it’s left to a politician in a suit behind a podium at the White House to explain why they made that decision.

But instead, what we did, we had a Republican operative who was put in charge of our office, displacing a colonel that had started doing media liaison when this Republican operative was about probably five years old. And what this guy knew how to do was run a campaign, and so we were run like a political campaign. And the first step in that political campaign was to sell the product, and that was sell the invasion. So they gave the reasons down to the young troops, guys like me, to go out to reporters and give the reasons we’re going to invade a sovereign nation.

Here’s the problem: the reporters in no way had the latitude to ask someone in uniform a critical question. I mean, on MSNBC their coverage was actually packaged with a banner that said, “Our hearts are with you.” So when I’m the young troop in uniform on screen, and the viewer sees “Our hearts are with you,” do you think the reporter’s going to ask me a critical question? Of course not. But I’m out there giving political answers. I’m out there saying, “We’re going to invade Iraq” — and this was the real catch: they would ask me before I would go on air live, “Are there any messages you want to get across today?” Well, yeah. My boss comes straight from the White House, and they have the messages of the day, and so they would give it to us. So I’d say, “Sure. WMD, regime change, ties with terrorism.” And they go, “OK. Well, I’ll ask you these questions, so we can get those answers out.” And they set it all up.

You can read Rushing’s book here:

“Mission Al Jazeera: Build a Bridge, Seek the Truth, Change the World” (Josh Rushing)

Framing 101


What follows is a decent article about how conservatives “frame” language in order to control how issues are thought about. The concept is based on the work of neurolinguist George Lakoff, whose book Don’t Think of an Elephant, was in the back pocket of every Democrat after the last presidential defeat. Framing is important for the study of propaganda, but I think it’s overblown because it assumes that all politics is about language (much of it is) and who controls it, but coming up with good ways to frame concepts is no substitute for good policy and righteous action. Sure framing will help progressives and ecologists get their messages out, but what is more important is ethics, intention and pedagogy. Organizers should think less about manipulations and more about establishing good intentions through the pedagogy and work of their cause. By incorporating the philosophy of Deep Ecology, for example, the long term change has greater benefits.
To Catch a Wolf: How to Stop Conservative Frames in Their Tracks –

BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich, you voted against the Patriot Act when it was first introduced. You’ve since voted again against it. But some would say yesterday’s plot that was described by the FBI underscores the need for precisely that kind of tough measure to deal with potential terrorists out there.

Here is the framing evoked by the question:

First, and perhaps most importantly, the question assumed that the plot was indeed serious and was not, as Arianna Huffington has suggested, disorganized and disgruntled citizens who were hapless and harmless. Second, the question assumed that the plot was only foiled due to the provisions of the Patriot Act – not community cooperation or police work. Third, the question lumped all Patriot Act provisions together under the banner of necessity. Many provisions in the Patriot Act are indeed beneficial and needed. However, many more are a clear violation of civil rights – Blitzer’s question did not reveal these disparities. Fourth, the language “tough measure” and “terrorists out there” represented the Bush administration exactly as the President wanted: The Republicans are tough (hence the Democrats are weak), and there is real evil immediately threatening us (and the Democrats are too weak to protect us).

Finally, the question suggested that the trampling of civil rights through this “tough measure to deal with potential terrorists” is virtuous and worthy of being commended. Since the plot was foiled — Blitzer’s question implied that the Patriot Act is an effective measure to fight terrorists — and is therefore worth the destruction of civil rights.

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Don’t get fooled again


The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania has created a great classroom Internet news tool, FactcheckED. It has very practical advice for helping students detect fraud in political advertising and propaganda. Another good source for researching PR and spin is the site, PR Watch.
FactcheED provides this simple and awesome checklist for detecting bias…

A Process for Avoiding Deception

1. Keep an open mind. Most of us have biases, and we can easily fool ourselves if we don’t make a conscious effort to keep our minds open to new information. Psychologists have shown over and over again that humans naturally tend to accept any information that supports what they already believe, even if the information isn’t very reliable. And humans also naturally tend to reject information that conflicts with those beliefs, even if the information is solid. These predilections are powerful. Unless we make an active effort to listen to all sides we can become trapped into believing something that isn’t so, and won’t even know it.

2. Ask the right questions. Don’t accept claims at face value; test them by asking a few questions. Who is speaking, and where are they getting their information? How can I validate what they’re saying? What facts would prove this claim wrong? Does the evidence presented really back up what’s being said? If an ad says a product is “better,” for instance, what does that mean? Better than what?

3. Cross-check. Don’t rely on one source or one study, but look to see what others say. When two or three reliable sources independently report the same facts or conclusions, you can be more confident of them. But when two independent sources contradict each other, you know you need to dig more deeply to discover who’s right.

4. Consider the source. Not all sources are equal. As any CSI viewer knows, sometimes physical evidence is a better source than an eyewitness, whose memory can play tricks. And an eyewitness is more credible than somebody telling a story they heard from somebody else. By the same token, an Internet website that offers primary source material is more trustworthy than one that publishes information gained second- or third-hand. For example, official vote totals posted by a county clerk or state election board are more authoritative than election returns reported by a political blog or even a newspaper, which can be out of date or mistaken.

5. Weigh the evidence. Know the difference between random anecdotes and real scientific data from controlled studies. Know how to avoid common errors of reasoning, such as assuming that one thing causes another simply because the two happen one after the other. Does a rooster’s crowing cause the sun to rise? Only a rooster would think so.

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