The Reasoned Review

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Posts Tagged ‘media

A New Non-Profit News Venture – Without Millionaire Benefactors!

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Alan Mutter over at Newsosaur gives us a great profile of a new non-profit news startup in Minneapolis called MinnPost that seems to be as good a hope as any to revive our failing news economy:

MinnPost, a scrappy news start-up in Minnesota, is beginning to show how to run a sustainable non-profit venture without depending on major philanthropic support.

And it is doing so in two ways: First, by keeping costs low. Second, by raising money almost continuously through such diversified initiatives as advertising, NPR-style user contributions and even an annual gala featuring organic-vodka martinis.

In other words, the highly regarded Minnesota news site is the antithesis of such large-scale journalism projects as Pro Publica, Texas Tribune and Bay Citizen, which at this writing all rely on multimillion-dollar endowments from wealthy individuals and institutions.

MinnPost not only started life without a multimillion-dollar nest egg but also is committed to fully supporting its ongoing operations without major philanthropic donations by 2012, says Joel Kramer, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune who launched the site in 2007.

Back when Propublica emerged we heard a lot of talk about how its model of non-profit news gathering was a harbinger for the future of news. And while they have given us a series of fantastic investigations, capped most recently by their explosive profile of corrupt hedge fund Magnetar, the uncomfortable fact remained: their business model depended on multi-million dollar grants from wealthy philanthropists. They were, by definition, not a sustainable project.

MinnPost, on the other hand, appears to be the first non-profit whose stated goal is to provide quality journalism free of massive philanthropic donations. They do so by a mixture of low overheads, low operating costs, and good old fashioned reader donations. One of my major criticisms of ProPublica, fantastic though they are, is the obscene six-figure salaries their reporters and editors make. MinnPost does away with these, but (and this should come as a surprise to the Wall Street banks who contend that multi-million dollar bonuses are the only way to secure “talent) the quality of their reporting does not appear to have suffered.

We’re all holding our breath to see what’s going to come of the bloodbath our legacy news media are swimming in (They lost 27% circulation in the past five years), but startups like MinnPost are a genuine ray of hope.

Written by pavanvan

April 29, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Media’s “Independent Analysts” Actually Paid Lobbyists

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Some great investigative reporting from Sebastian Jones over at The Nation:

Since 2007 at least seventy-five registered lobbyists, public relations representatives and corporate officials–people paid by companies and trade groups to manage their public image and promote their financial and political interests–have appeared on MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CNBC and Fox Business Network with no disclosure of the corporate interests that had paid them. Many have been regulars on more than one of the cable networks, turning in dozens–and in some cases hundreds–of appearances.For lobbyists, PR firms and corporate officials, going on cable television is a chance to promote clients and their interests on the most widely cited source of news in the United States. These appearances also generate good will and access to major players inside the Democratic and Republican parties. For their part, the cable networks, eager to fill time and afraid of upsetting the political elite, have often looked the other way. At times, the networks have even disregarded their own written ethics guidelines. Just about everyone involved is heavily invested in maintaining the current system, with the exception of the viewer.

But not only cable news channels are guilty of this. A couple months ago, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting revealed that The Washington Post allowed an anti-social security lobbying firm to write, in full, a front page article. The article, originally from the “Fiscal Times”, a front organization for a Wall Street billionaire and former Nixon Cabinet member, sought to scare readers over the looming deficit crisis Social Security presents. These fears have been thoroughly debunked (notably by economist Dean Baker), but this didn’t prevent The Post from  putting forth this lobbyist’s views as uncontested “fact”.

Online journal Politico is also heavily implicated, as Ken Silverstein at Harper’s reports. Not even the web is safe. Our staid media outlets have basically been reduced to pimps, selling their hard-won public respect to the highest bidder. This behavior is criminal, and should be prosecuted.

Written by pavanvan

February 26, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Voodoo Racism

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The Times shows a bit of humanity and gives a reasonable treatment of Haiti’s Voodoo religion, which has been much maligned by Catholic groups (and, notoriously, Pat Robertson).


For scholars whose expertise runs somewhat deeper, such words have understandably provoked indignation. Worse still, the dismissive attitude about voodoo follows a tawdry history of misrepresentation in American journalism and popular culture.

“The media has reported a lot about voodoo but not much of it very insightful or intelligent,” said Diane Winston, a professor of religion and media at the University of Southern California. “Voodoo is one of those flashpoints for Americans because it’s exotic, unknown and has strange connotations. It may be a matter of underlying racism because voodoo is African and Caribbean in its origins, or because voodoo seems so different from Christianity that it’s the perfect Other.” Prof. Leslie G. Desmangles of Trinity College in Hartford, who is the author of several scholarly and reference books about voodoo, views these current caricatures of voodoo as all too familiar.

“There’s been a very degrading, derogatory language about voodoo,” he said in a recent interview. “It’s language that goes back to the 19th century.”

Now if only they could do the same thing for Muslims…

Written by pavanvan

February 21, 2010 at 10:43 am

Citizens United and the Media

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Columbia Journalism Review has a great roundup of various media responses to the Citizens United case and what it means for the media. I guess I don’t have too much more to add, except that with the floodgates open to corporate “donations” for various campaigns, our corporations will have a much greater incentive to pony up the cash to keep the media’s mouth shut. And we all know our major newspapers are just immune to bribery, right?

“A lot of corporations right now are probably having frank and interesting discussions around how they want to use this,“ says Levinthal, a former politics reporter for the Dallas Morning News. “One great story might be trying to get ahead of the decisions they are going to make, and asking local companies how they anticipate using this before they do.”

“I think it’s going to be essential, to put it in old fashioned terms, to follow the money here,” says Wertheimer. “Public disclosure only works if someone discloses the information to the public, and I believe that the media has a very big responsibly to help fill that role.”

“It’s my hope that we’re going to get comprehensive disclosure requirements for corporations and labor unions, and from intermediate groups that are used as pass throughs, and from the people that are spending the money. But on top of all of that, investigative reporting above and beyond the disclosure information has an important role to play. These are very hard stories to do, and in the past there hasn’t been a lot of appetite among editors for taking the time to do investigative stories that may be very time consuming, but they’re essential now,” says Wertheimer. “It’s straightforward, and basic, and extremely important.”

Written by pavanvan

February 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

If a tree falls in a forest…

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1.5% – overall percentage of media coverage devoted to the environment in 2009.

A whopping 0.8 percent of cable news coverage went to the environment.

For real.

Written by pavanvan

January 23, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Iraq – Still Violent

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The New York Times gives us a brief report on the recent violence in that forgotten protectorate.  And here one might have been lulled into thinking Iraq quiet! Over the past two months, Afghanistan has seen more than 4 times the coverage of Iraq; the rise in coverage coinciding, of course, with President Obama’s increased focus on Afghanistan to the exclusion of Iraq, a country he now hardly deigns to mention.

Here is an article from Foreign Policy magazine analyzing this trend. Adjoining it, one can find an illustrative chart by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, which I have reproduced below.

Pew chart

Via the Pew Research Center

Here one can see coverage of Iraq drop off steeply around the election, only to recover once, briefly in March, and then not again. Meanwhile the focus upon Afghanistan snakes steadily upward to today, where it outpaces Iraq coverage by a ratio of 4:1. But if our media remains silent on that country, it is not for lack of things to talk about. Rather it is for want of reporters to see those things.

Sherry Ricchiardi, in the current issue of American Journalism Review, analyzes the situation with remarkable clarity. In her report she finds a continual shutting-down of Iraqi bureaus to make room for stepped-up coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan (the so-called “Af-Pak” beat). For example:

In May, the Associated Press appointed Baghdad Bureau Chief Robert Reid to a new position, overseeing the AP’s coverage in Pakistan and Afghanistan from a base in Kabul. Last August, in a shuffle of personnel, Chris Brummitt, a veteran from the AP’s Jakarta operation, was named bureau chief in Islamabad, where the AP long has had a strong presence.

As Bruce Wallace of the Tribune Co. frames it:

“The assumption has been that to cover Afghanistan and Pakistan you have to draw down in Iraq, but Americans still are there. We can’t wish it away.”

However it looks as though that’s precisely what the US media is doing to Iraq. The Tribune still keeps a Baghdad bureau, but the number of outfits who still contribute fresh reporting from Iraq are dwindling by the day. Once the last one leaves we shall truly find ourselves fighting in the dark.

Written by pavanvan

October 5, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Spinning in Iran

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The discovery of a second uranium enrichment site in Iran has again ignited the “debate” over nuclear strategy regarding that thorn in the Middle East. Once again, the conversation centers upon how best to prevent Iran from acquiring those dastardly weapons – no mention is given to why Iran should so badly wish to join the nuclear club, nor does our mainstream even entertain the notion of what might happen should they succeed. Iran must be prevented from “going nuclear” at all costs, according to the US media. Instead of a rational debate as to the causes and possible effects of this development, the newspaper-reading citizen is treated to a variety of doomsday scenarios and chest-puffing from our sensationalists-in-chief.

For instance, here is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, doing his best impression of John Wayne:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, and called the Iranian facility “a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” Added Mr. Brown, “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.”

The Wall Street Journal’s front page features an essay entitled: “Israel’s attack plan for Iran”, while The Washington Post’s cryptic headline reads: “President’s focus shifts from engaging Iran”. We are left to guess what he is shifting to, although the article hints at “sanctions” and possibly “military action.”

Amid the bellicosity spewing from the western media, the question of why, after all the threats, after all the entreaties to the contrary, Iran should continue to desire a nuclear weapon remains unanswered. The unspoken reason is given to be sheer madness: Ahmadinejad is a “tyrant”, a “madman”, a crazy holocaust denier who wishes nothing more than the obliteration of Israel. That, and only that, is the reason for Iran’s nuclear ambition, and, as Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu thundered at the United Nations this week,

“The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

But let us suppose, merely as an intellectual exercise, that Iran is not run by lunatics, but instead by reasonably sane politicians who, like all politicians, seek only the continuation of their own power. Then, a few very good reasons to pursue nuclear arms come quickly to light:

1) Insurance against invasion

It is an unspoken rule amongst policy planners that “nuclear weapons states do not invade one another”, a fact most recently illustrated by the delicacy with which the United States has treated North Korea. Nuclear weapons are the greatest safeguard against regime change. Considering that Iran is still part of the “axis of evil”, and especially in light of the fact that the US currently occupies the countries directly to its east and west (Iraq and Afghanistan), there should be no surprise that Iran seeks some sort of insurance against a US invasion. Particularly when one considers what happened to Saddam – who, after all, did not posses nuclear weaponsthe choice to acquire nukes should not be a difficult one.

2) Deterrence against Israel

Unlike Iran, who has had to enrich their uranium surreptitiously, Israel, by the good graces of the US, has been allowed to acquire nuclear weapons quite in the open. They now posses a stockpile of unknown quantity, nearly all aimed at Iran, and the American and Israeli media abound with aggressive articles that rather plainly state Israel’s intentions toward Iran.

3) Domestic Prestige

Similar to India in 1974 and Pakistan in 1998, a nuclear detonation is generally a splendid propaganda coup for a ruling establishment which finds itself losing its grip on popularity. The Ahmadinejad regime, by any reasonable assessment, has only a slippery grasp on its population, if the massive protests a few months ago are any indication. Add to the mix skyrocketing inflation, massive unemployment, and a general feeling of mismanagement, and it is not difficult to see why Iran’s leaders should wish to bolster their domestic standing with a nice show of power.

4) Energy

Most scoff at this reason as mere propaganda, but it is a fact that Iran, like everyone else, is seeking alternative forms of energy. But as this is likely the least of their motivations, I have placed it last.

Taken together, these reasons do not quite justify a nuclear Iran, but they surely help to see the situation from their point of view. If we are to seriously understand the stakes of this issue we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by poor caricatures from our yellow press.

Success in Afghanistan

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A US patrol in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A US patrol in the Kapisa province of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times gives its version of fair and balanced assessment of Afghanistan.

The word “success”, which appears several times and is contrasted only with that grim epithet “failure”, encapsulates the major theme of the article. These phrases speak to the duality of all our mainstream war discourse; and their resemblance to President Bush’s favorite characterizations of Iraq (“Victory” versus “Defeat”) is no coincidence.  The central idea is always the same shapeless, undefinable and unattainable goal that justifies all past actions and usually most future ones as well.

From the article:

In his five-page commander’s summary, General McChrystal ends on a cautiously optimistic note: “While the situation is serious, success is still achievable.”

And again, later on:

In a series of interviews on the Sunday morning talk shows, Mr. Obama expressed skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he was sure his administration had the right strategy to succeed.

“Success”, of course, is never defined in any but the most general sense – “keeping America safe”, “defeating the insurgency”, “stopping terrorism”, and so forth. Cultural and military dominance of Afghanistan appears the only real solution proffered, while the debate centers instead upon the relatively minor issue of how many more troops to send. The Times dresses the issue with remarkable delicacy.

Pentagon and military officials involved in Afghanistan policy say General McChrystal is expected to propose a range of options for additional troops beyond the 68,000 American forces already approved, from 10,000 to as many as 45,000.

So the 68,000 are never in question, and that fact is shunted into a secondary clause. The Times reports President Obama as saying his decision will not be swayed “by the politics of the moment” (whatever that means), and that his top priority is “to protect the United States against attacks from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”

The President invoked the safe card again in the article, claiming that

“whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe, then we’ll figure out how to resource it.”

The Times puts no question to the wisdom that our military is the surest route to safety, nor to the idea that American “safety” is worth limitless human and financial cost.

General McChrystal, in his report demanding up to 45,000 more soldiers, argues that:

“The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF’s own errors have given Afghans little reason to support their government.”

An odd problem for an a body of soldiers to try and solve.

The article abounds with even more couched assumptions regarding the general righteousness of our goals in Afghanistan, and I would highly recommend reading it in full to inoculate against such techniques. The filters through which our mainstream outlets distill the news are perhaps the greatest impediment to a genuine discussion of the various crises we face today.

Written by pavanvan

September 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm

A Baghdadi Conundrum

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The Times on this week’s Baghdad Bombings

On the same page one can view an image of Jay Leno smiling in a convertible with the headline “Life needs more laughter”. More laughter indeed!

Two parallel narratives of Iraq currently populate our mainstream media, each claiming to represent the truth, yet both mutually exclusive of one another. On the one hand the Obama Administration claims (and our newspapers echo) that the situation in Iraq has markedly improved. We are endlessly informed of the “remarkable turnaround” in Iraq – the quiet streets, the reduced violence, and the returning refugees. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary Gates has committed to withdrawing 15,000 troops by the end of the year, with all “combat brigades” to exit by 2011. Publicly, our administration has stated that Iraq has begun to “take care of itself” and that US troops are no longer needed. Privately, they admit that the real focus of our Mid-East adventures has shifted to Afghanistan and that the reason for the Iraqi drawdown is to provide infantry for an Afghani buildup (17,000 extra soldiers already deployed with more on the way).

The Times, The Post, and various other newspapers have lent credibility to the idea of Iraqi stability with endless human-interest pieces on the resurgence of civil life in Iraq, now that the guns have fallen silent. View, for instance, this delightful little story on the finer points of Iraqi fish-roasting. And, of course, the endless op-ed pieces which begin with the premise that “the surge has worked” and continue their arguments from there. Ross Douhat gives a memorable line in a recent Times article: “Plenty of war-skeptics are unconvinced that Iraq’s recent stabilization will deliver a happy outcome in the long run. But the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal, which is what the war’s critics have wanted all along — so why rock the boat?” It is important to note here the assumption of “recent stabilization” and the bald assertion that “the surge smoothed the way for withdrawal”, as if those were facts only the most staid contrarian would dispute. Later he speaks of the “current [Iraqi] consensus” in much the same tone.

And yet the actual dispatches coming from Iraq paint a far different picture. Every week we hear of a new string of bombings in Iraq, “apparently intended to inflame sectarian passions”, as the Times puts it. (Here is a list of all major attacks in Iraq this year.) I think it safe to say such “passions” have long since been inflamed. So on one hand we have the official line espoused by the Obama Administration that we’ve seen “real improvement” in Iraq and that “the surge worked”. On the other we have the bombs that are still going off with alarming frequency. Taken together they paint a rather confusing picture of Iraq in 2009.

The key to deciphering these cryptic reports – indeed, to deciphering nearly all US dealings in the Middle East – is oil, always oil. The violence in Iraq concerned us in 2005-2008 because the US-installed Maliki government was still unsure of itself and still a bit wary to make deals regarding oil. Well Maliki has since fallen nicely into place, the lucrative oil contracts have already been made, and most importantly, Maliki has shown resilience to the various forces attempting to depose him. He’s our man in Iraq, and he’s not going anywhere. So let the Iraqis carry on their bloody feud! Let them blow one another up! As long as our man is in power and the oil still flows into US hands, what does it matter?

Afghanistan, however, tells a different story. The oil there flows through the geopolitically vital, and now precariously placed, Central Asia Pipeline. The Karzai government has not shown a tenth of the resilience of Maliki, though he has surely made up for that in obedience. Clearly he needs help. And so we put a veneer  over Iraq, ignoring the reality that nothing has been solved there, in order that we may draw soldiers out to help our friend in Afghanistan.

The contempt for life which the US government displays on a daily basis is nothing short of appalling. But even more insidious, if a bit less deadly, is its continuous contempt for the truth.

Written by pavanvan

August 8, 2009 at 3:15 am