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Wikileaks, Iraq, and How to Kill a Story.

April 6, 2010“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power.” – Malcolm X

The media are composed of the most sneakiest, sleaziest  syndicate of bastards that society has seen smothered sweatily together.

I would know, I work in a newspaper. Being one of the scum in the cesspool that is “the media”, I’m quite familiar with the art of spinning a story for a certain angle, covering a story half-heartedly and then burying it, or even, shockingly,  completely censoring a piece.  It is an art-form, that reporters, editors, and the ilk are trained to do. The better you are in manipulating a story, the more renowned you become in the eyes of the “mainstream”. From sensational headlines to smartly worded captions, the media is in the business of not only selling the news, but manufacturing the news.

Whenever there is a conflict/event/a-news-story, there will always be spinsters working to modify what the event is and the context revolving around such “news-worthy” spinets in the ongoing global soap opera. Any talk of neutrality or impartiality in news reporting is a big lie, and any news station that emphasizes the importance of impartiality are usually the most biased of the dirty scummy lot…It is the irony of double-speak, and it is timeless.

Everyone has a cause, an issue, a point to make.

Even me, your “bestower of truth”,  writing this now, I have an agenda.

It may converge with someone’s (or something’s) ethical bubble. It may not.

Anyhew, take this example (building from my previous piece on WikiLeaks): On April 5, the organization released the long-awaited  video of American soldiers killing a number of civilians (including journalists) in 2007.

(a digression : Dear Gen. Petraeus, not only is the US’s ‘special & erotic relations’ with Israel pissing people off, but when American soldiers act like American soldiers and do things like Abu Ghareb and shoot women and kids…well it doesn’t really make friends, you know…with all that blood on your hands)

Since’s its release, most media agencies have reported on it, and preceded to slowly bury the news. The image, below, is a captured image of Google News searches on the released video by WikiLeaks. What is most interesting and, I must admit, commendable by Google is that nifty lil’ graph on the lower right side of this image. The graph shows you in crystal clear detail the time line and intensity of a story being covered by news agencies:

Look at the right graph...interesting no?

Here, we have the timeline of how much time was spent on the WikiLeaks story by various media sources. In the span of only 5 hours, the coverage of the released video, is rapidly declining.

A story on the massacre of civilians in Iraq is effectively not a “hot topic”…Compare this with the story of the video tape showing that Iranian protester being shot (Neda Agha-Soltan), and the fury of spotlight on this one death. And that was covered for days.

Just sauté on that for a moment.

The media world is changing. The Internet has been and is diffusing information quicker and wider than ever before, giving media agencies (newspapers and television, among others) a hard kick on their news-monopolizing asses.

Other news agencies are rising too. Al-Jazeera English has been a king-maker recently in the world of news reporting, and their reputation as the ” voice of the global south” (albeit something to be weary about) and unabashed news-reporting is eroding the hold by other news agencies that previously played that role (usually “Western”, i.e. BBC/CNN).

People are noticing this shift. I’ve heard and read many commentators, “media experts”, and John Q. Public speak of how Al-Jazeera is by far the best news source to “understand whats really going on”. There is some truth to that sentiment, although I caution from relying on just one news-source to get “everything”, if you know what I mean. I’m a cynic, I guess, shackled with that “power always adapts but never really changes” – kinda out-look to certain issues.

Caution aside, Al-Jazeera is a formidable force in the architecture of news-making-and-reporting. Going back to the issue of WikiLeaks, take this comparison between CNN’s landing page and Al-Jazzera’s landing page.

Notice the type of news highlighted (or not) and the other topics presented:

Literally, its like there are different worlds.

The final trick for today I’ll highlight (in a trunk-full of tricks that is written about elsewhere) is that of doubt.

When a writer, or editor, presents doubt in a story,  it prods the reader to question the legitimacy of a claim.

Using phrases like “allegedly” or “they claim”, do have an effect.  The mother-of-all doubt is the last word. Facts and videotapes can be presented on a crime, but with a simple  turn of phrase, they can all become meaningless sub-consciously to the reader.  Depending on what angle the image-maker wants to present, the last word is a common trick in our daily news.

I’ll give you a great example from the BBC, beyond the current WikiLeaks story.

This is an article on colonial building (oh…sorry…settlements) in Jerusalem. Here is the section of interest:

Israel insists the Jerusalem will remain its undivided capital.

Nearly half a million Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Do you catch that beautiful sleight of hand? The well placed words, and the calculated sentences that drips with subtext.

If not, read that last line again: “They are considered illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.”

In other words, Israeli’s opinion trumps the understanding of international law, especially in regards to conquering and building on occupied territory.

The last word is a classic, and a winner. Every damn time.

So, dear reader…keep watch on this WikiLeaks story.

See how it will be spun and spun again into something else, if it is reported at all…

4 Comments leave one →
  1. shebsheb permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:11 pm

    After freshman year in J-school, students and professors both stop talking about objectivity. The focus shifts to political communication and agenda setting by the media. Journalists can try to be balanced and fair but as you yourself know, an owner or organization’s political biases always creep in. Journalists who remain committed to their profession and provide balanced and fair coverage rarely rise up the corporate ladder. My question is why do you expect higher standards from journalists – they are humans and susceptible to the temptation of fame and money.

  2. theflithyviewer permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:14 pm

    Excellent points.

    As for your question, I do not expect high standards from journalists at all. What I do expect is the reader, consumer that absorbs the news to be fully aware of some of the tricks, and to always, always question what the news is, and how its constructed.

    • shebsheb permalink
      April 7, 2010 2:00 pm

      If the public were that smart, the majority of news organizations, politicians and business leaders would be out of business. I was taught that the three purposes of the news media are to inform, entertain and persuade. I think the media takes most seriously its roles to entertain and persuade. Ricky Martin announcing he is gay makes bigger news than illegal abortions of girls in China. The list goes on but opinions and entertainment sell far more than hard news, so many news organizations that are answerable to shareholders, give the public what it wants and leave it at that.

  3. theflithyviewer permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:18 pm

    Ah, your too harsh on the public.
    I do think that many of them are weary of the state of the world.
    Personally, its not that they are stupid, rather I think the “public” are just lazy.

    They just need constant encouragement, motivation. Like the spineless monkeys that they are. (yes, you, o cyber voyeur reading this. you spineless monkey.)

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