Friday, October 07, 2005

Overflow from Debate Space

I'm posting the full test of my reply to Dadmanly, which I am self-editing on Debate Space so that readers won't kill me for the length:

hanks for the heads up on “lede”. For the curious

My point regarding the big NGOs that are darlings of the left is not that their dissatisfaction is proof they are not well served by the MSM, but that their top priorities at any given time are ignored by the media. Sure they won’t get all their stories anywhere, but when the stories they feel are front page news isn’t reported at all in newspapers, I wonder where that bias in the left’s favour has gone.

Your points about the NY Times and LA Times is limited to print media. I would argue that print media is perhaps the last bastion (in places) of media outlets that have some bias. The NY Times is left of centre, at least for a mainstream American newspaper. They’re hardly darlings of the left, but they do meet that demographic. The thing with newspapers that that they do (and have traditionally) competed on this basis. My example in Canada’s largest city (since you asked for a Canadian example) would be a spectrum of (from left to right) NOW Magazine, a weekly free newspaper. Tons of arts stuff, politics is always left of centre. Typically only deals with local issues. Makes all its income from advertisements, panders to its audience (lefties, students, artists, people looking for the phone number for discrete brothels) The Toronto Star, a daily newspaper that is (for a CA paper) just left of centre. First to break stories on domestic human rights issues, only major daily in Ontario to present a mildly left perspective. One of the few newspapers left that do investigative journalism on their own (ie. Not a news service story). Only newspaper likely to publish reports from left think tanks or lobby groups. The Globe and Mail, a major daily that circulates nationally. Conservative on economics, centre conservative socially. Very business focussed, reflects the opinions of mainstream corporate Canada without pandering to extreme views. The Globe is specifically written for highly educated people, and is basically inaccessible to those without a good high school or some college education (according to grade level word analyses a few years back) The National Post, a daily begun a few years ago by the now-disgraced “Lord” Conrad Black. Specifically modelled on other successful conservative dailies around the world, the Post was invented to push a far-right political view in Canada that even the pro-business, relatively conservative Globe and Mail wouldn’t touch. It was also written at a lower grade level more targeted to the middle class. It achieved a large circulation by spending a ton of money on giving our free papers and hiring the most popular and famous conservative and moderate commentators in Canada. Spectacularly unsuccessful financially, it has since been acquired by another family-run media empire here who are generally considered somewhat conservative and exceptionally pro-Israel in terms of editorial policy, but overall has moderated in its views, especially as they family supports the current centre-right government over the farther-right party championed under Mr. Black. On the far right is the Toronto Sun, part of the Sun chain of papers. Written to the lowest grade level of any of the papers, more than ½ adds and including swimsuit models whenever possible (including a daily “sunshine girl”), the Sun panders to those who aren’t very interested in news as a rule. Most of the paper is sports, adds (including the same sex-trade adds as NOW ironically) and most of the “news” is wire service stuff and opinion pieces. The paper firmly supports right-wing positions in editorials and in the articles it picks to print, and uses all the tricks of the trade to that end.

My point? Well, aside from the “how is it in Canada” answer, I’m saying that from what I understand, Toronto is a microcosm of most major news centres. Hell, from what I understand, both New York and LA have alternatives to their “Times” for folks on the right. When it comes to newspapers, I’m saying, people know EXACTLY what they are getting when they pick it up for the second time, and self-select for what they want. Me, I pick the Star. Unless I’m in Toronto for a weekend and want to find a good live music Venue, NOW rules there. I never pay for the Sun and am disgusted by it. I willingly buy “the Economist” magazine and occasionally the Globe for a view from the conservative Right, and for the lunatic fringe of the Right we get Clear Channel radio up here at night.

“What's it like in Canada? Is it possible that Canadians would like to hear mnore positive stories about Canada, and the fine work the Canadian military is doing?”

In Canada we are becoming more and more like the US news. More sensationalism, less substance, more wire service stuff cut and pasted, more coverage of crime, less of social and political issues. We have the privilege of comparing any time we want of course, since your US media is some dominant mo than ½ of everything I get on local cable or satellite is US stations and US programs licensed and presented. I’m not talking theory when I talk about Fox News Network or CNN. I get them both here. Overall most Canadians have not yet noticed our media getting worse, perhaps because our public broadcaster the CBC has been mostly immune to the problem and gives at least one consistent broadcast source that looks like professional journalism. I do see the CBC starting to drift slightly to the left in the past ten years, although it seems more to balance out the overwhelming right views of the other broadcasters in Canada than any kind of commie takeover.

As for how our media cover the military, I will say this. We love our military. We are inordinately proud of our military. We are especially proud of the decades of UN peacekeeping and peace support operations we have engaged in over the last 50 years. That UN history helps to unite most non-pacifist Canadians both right and left behind our military. Our media doesn’t not cover casualties well, in part because they relay on wire service, US sources and our Department of National defence for information. Most Canadians still don’t know we took significant combat casualties in the former Yugoslavia, nor the stories of bravery of our troops in those situations. In Afghanistan, our media covered our troops, and didn’t shy from reporting their combat effectiveness, especially our sniper teams. In recent months they are covered a bit less, most often when there is a new troop rotation or more recently as they take some IED and other attacks in the “bandit country” they’ve been moved to. The Canadian media had a field day with the story of the USAF pilot who bombed our troops in a designated training area during a night combat training mission in Afghanistan. There was even the words of the weeping parents, although I must say unlike Cindy Sheehan their message was not “end the war bring our troops home” but rather “what happened, and will that pilot be held to account IF he is liable?” Our media is also very pro-soldier, and pretty easy on the brass, usually blaming the politicians for problems that affect soldiers. Our media has been good about bringing the issue of poor pay and poor equipment to light over and over again here, as our stupid politicians continue to waste money on defunct used equipment, brag about our peacekeeping and nation building commitments overseas and yet not spend the money needed on key items like multi-purpose helicopters, strategic airlift (we have to beg flights from USAF most of the time) and our aging (and small) fleet of fighter-bomber aircraft.

Now, putting Canada aside, I will concede the point about Al Jazeera. I won’t defend them and have no use for them. On the other hand I have no use for Fox News either. Reuter and AP are a problem I acknowledge is growing, especially in your region. IMHO though it is as much about their tendency to take anyone who is willing to file and get them a story at the front-line level. I absolutely believe the stories of the freelancer photographers and “journalists” who get stories from right inside rebel strongholds simple because they’re part of the family there. That is going to skew news, especially in the smaller papers that you note haven’t the money for real journalists, and other media outlets too damn lazy/cheap/profit oriented to spend the money necessary to have their out journalists in the field. This is a larger problem with the media than just bias-related however; it also reduces investigative journalism and makes politicians, corporations and other powerful figures less accountable.

I would need more proof than we have now to accept the implication that CBS “wilfully hire "stringers" who actually work in concert with foreign jihadists”. CBS knew for sure they were bad men before they hired them? Not a defence of CBS but seriously, is there proof of this or is this just the outcome of the “we’ll take anyone who gets us a good story as a freelancer” mentality that seems rampant?

IMHO the only response available for the US military to the problem of increasingly unaccountable freelance wire service journalism to push the embed process harder for reporters outside the green zone, and accept that they will have some pictures taken and stories reported they won’t like either. I also acknowledge the problem will get worse if the fat cats who own and manage network news don’t grow some stones and make sure some MANAGEMENT is on site to supervise news collection in major conflicts.

The MSM, and in particular the broadcast MSM, has credibility problems from right to left. If they report crap without fact checking it, and take freebie pre-packaged news stories from the private sector and the Bush administration as well as from left sources. They are into making a buck, and cutting costs can often mean cutting editorial oversight and investigative journalism. I went to school with some graduate students in journalism. They used to laugh at each other for even taking a Master’s level degree in journalism, noting that all you needed for broadcast was to look good, speak well and have nice teeth, which in print the only people who made a living were controversial opinion columnists with no journalists credentials at all. From what I’ve heard, that’s sad but true.

Specifically the “terrorist” word is very controversial, especially since the word and concept has been highly abused by the Bush administration. It is also a very old debate. I forget which one of the milblogs I read talked about it, but the fellow really brilliantly described his experience of the AIF (I think that’s the right term). What he said as I recall was that no label fit. Sometimes the person taking a shot at his Humvee was Al Q, sometimes it was Baathists, sometimes it was Shi’a, and sometimes it was Sunni. Even in foreign fighters one has to distinguish between those funded and backed by Iran and those filtering in from various Sunni nations. The fellow, if I recall right, said something along the lines of “it doesn’t matter to me too much who shoots the bullet at me IF IT HITS, but if it doesn’t the way to respond really does vary with who it was and what their motives were”.

Being an Northern Irishman by descent, with family over there, I can say the term “terrorist” is highly politicized. The IRA were always a bit grumpy that they got called “terrorists” when they assassinated a policeman or knee-capped a local drug dealer, but their opposite numbers were called “Protestant paramilitaries” even when the article was about them kneecapping a local drug dealer or murdering a Catholic suspected of IRA connections (or sometimes just any catholic, as in the case of the Shankill butchers). Despite my family connections to the Protestant side, I have to admit the bastards on “our side” could be every bit as bad as the IRA in every category except bombing, and aside from bombings were accountable for more purely sectarian murders and attacks than the IRA, who one had to admit did make attacking soldiers and policeman their number one priority most of the time. Oh, and “my side” always knew who was on “the other side” when the IRA got referred to as “freedom fighters”. The degree of support from the US for the IRA pre-911 was especially unpopular…

IMHO the only folks who can be legitimately labelled terrorists at all times are organizations who plan and support attacks specifically targeted against or likely to injure predominantly civilians. Al Q and their ilk qualify, especially recently. However, what do we call folks who plant bombs, use indirect fire and snipers that target US forces and try to minimize civilian casualties? IMHO the loaded (and inaccurate) terms NOT to use for them are “freedom fighter” and “terrorist”. Those, to me are terms that no media source should use unless “terrorist” fits in regard to a particular attack, or group that is known from either admission or history to prefer attacks either targeting or disregarding civilian casualties. IMHO a journalist should never use freedom fighter, it says, “the government is repressive and evil and the sole (or overwhelming majority) motive of the armed opposition is freedom”.

On the other hand, I would argue that “insurgent” and “rebel” are perhaps the most appropriate terms available. “Rebel” and “insurgent” have no bias (from my reading of their literal meanings), and acknowledge (as a bonus) that the current government is the established government, without quibbling about legitimacy or methodology. Anti-Iraqi forces isn’t bad, but again it is also skewed to suggested that one side is fighting for all Iraqis and the other side either isn’t at all Iraqi or doesn’t have Iraq’s interests at heart at all. It is a loaded term although not quite as bad as “freedom fighter”.

I agree that in general crummy journalism is on the rise. People don’t check facts and people write something dramatic (like your “in a desperate attempt” example) in something that should be straight news. I simply disagree that this stuff serves the left any better than it serves the right.


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