Put Your Own–I Mean, Your Very Own–House in Order First

This op-ed on citizen journalism is a lot less offensive than I thought it’d be from reading The Opinionator’s take on it. While Professor Hazinski suffers from the same ignorance about how "citizen journalism" gets vetted that most professional journalists do …

Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.

And while he also suffers from a misguided belief that journalism’s existing ethics–the ones that are failing us badly as a society, like so-called "objectivity" created by on-the-one-side-on-the-other-side-but-no-truth Joe Klein style of journalism–ought to be adopted by "citizen journalists" …

Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff’s auxiliaries are trained and certified.

But at its heart, Hazinski’s op-ed calls for something that the Press has been fighting against for over two hundred years–real enforcement of professional journalism’s so-called ethics. Read more

Really Bad Gitmo Propaganda

The increasingly valuable WikiLeaks reveals that a Mass Communications Specialist at Gitmo has been altering Wikipedia and other web resources to hide detainee numbers and otherwise counter reports of poor conditions at the prison.

The US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been caught conducting covert propaganda attacks on the internet. The attacks, exposed this week in a report by the government transparency group Wikileaks, include deleting detainee ID numbers from Wikipedia last month, the systematic posting of unattributed "self praise" comments on news organization web sites in response to negative press, boosting pro-Guantanamo stories on the internet news site Digg and even modifying Fidel Castro’s encyclopedia article to describe the Cuban president as "an admitted transexual" [sic].

Shayana Kadidal, Managing Attorney of the Center for Constitutional Rights Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, said in response to the report:

"The military’s efforts to alter the record by vandalizing Wikipedia are of a piece with the amateurism of their other public relations efforts: [such as] their ridiculous claims that released detainees who criticize the United States in the media have ‘returned to the battlefield’."

We finally got rid of Karen Hughes as Chief Propaganda Specialist. But we’ve apparently got some schmo in Cuba trying to pitch Castro as a transsexual. 

Stuff like this always reminds me of my discovery, as a college professor, that most Americans have the crudest understanding of how language works. I can’t decide how to judge the trade-off. It means our government rarely gets away with propaganda. But it also reflects a widespread inability to think critically.

What Are Newspapers Best For?

As you no doubt know, I appeared on a panel in Boston called "No News Is Bad News" over the weekend. It was a fascinating conference, with journalistic heroes like John Carroll and Anthony Shadid. Just as exciting, I got to meet phred, Selise, BlueStateRedHead, and others. And my own personal favorite–from my panel, at least–came when someone asked me what I would have done to prevent the Lewinsky scandal (and more importantly–picking up on a point I had made–having the press report on a topic that the majority of the country just didn’t think was important). I responded something to the effect that, "I would have liked to see the press reporting on the rise of the Scaife funded partisan press with some attention to the way it inserted stories into the non-partisan press; I would have liked to see people report on Ken Starr’s prosecutorial misconduct, and I would have liked someone to get up and say ‘It was just a consensual blow job between consenting adults.’" I think I repeated "blow job" a few times as I tend to do when you get me riled. According to phred, who was in the audience, some of the seniors in the audience gasped. At which Joe Lockhart, who was on my panel, responded, "Yeah, I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to say just that."

I then got into a fascinating conversation following John Carroll’s panel. He had said that we need to find a way to fund investigative journalists, and that blogs just wouldn’t do that. Afterwards, I agreed with him that blogs could not replace Dana Priest or Eric Lichtblau (at least not yet, though TPM’s crowd is doing a lot of the same work as Lichtblau). I also pointed out that David Carr–who has had a long simmering debate with Jay Rosen over whether bloggers could do original work and who admitted that we, the FDL team, had during the Libby trial [Big crow correction: Rosen informs me it was not Carr; I apologize for the error]–had described advising his college aged daughter aspiring to be a journalist to make sure her own writing was getting noticed on the Internet, thereby admitting the value of a reputation-based vetting system.

We need big companies to pay (and more importantly, legally protect) journalists like Priest and Lichtblau (and, just as importantly, Shadid). But do we need big media to report on culture and sports?

Which is why the two latest incidents of the NYT’s ham-handedness with blogs really resonates for me.

Boston: No News Is Bad News

Just a reminder that I’m headed for Boston for what promises to be an interesting conference. Here’s the description:

No News Is Bad News

A freeand independent press is essential for democracy.  The press has aresponsibility to inform citizens about both the policies and theactions of the government and about credible challenges to thosepolicies and actions, to report on conditions that may require new ordifferent government initiatives, and to raise timely questions itselfabout debatable policies and the rationales presented for them.

Withthe recent controversies over the failure of the press to fully live upto its responsibilities in the runup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, therole of the media in the outing of a covert CIA agent, the rise of theblogosphere and so-called citizen journalism, and the impact ofincreasing financial pressures on newspapers and magazines, publicconfidence in the mainstream media is at an all-time low.  What are theimplications of this for our democracy?  How might our faith in thepress be restored?

There is (free) registration,

As before, put a link below if you’re interested in get-together events associated with this.

No News Is Bad News

I’m going to be a panelist on a conference in Boston a week from tomorrow (Saturday). The conference is:

No News Is Bad News

A freeand independent press is essential for democracy.  The press has aresponsibility to inform citizens about both the policies and theactions of the government and about credible challenges to thosepolicies and actions, to report on conditions that may require new ordifferent government initiatives, and to raise timely questions itselfabout debatable policies and the rationales presented for them.

Withthe recent controversies over the failure of the press to fully live upto its responsibilities in the runup to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, therole of the media in the outing of a covert CIA agent, the rise of theblogosphere and so-called citizen journalism, and the impact ofincreasing financial pressures on newspapers and magazines, publicconfidence in the mainstream media is at an all-time low.  What are theimplications of this for our democracy?  How might our faith in thepress be restored?

The rest of the panelists (aside from Andy Sullivan) are journalists–many of the good ones, people like John Carroll. My panel–Political Reporting–had a conference call today which got me really excited about the conference. It should be worth attending.

There is (free) registration, Read more

The Constitutional Right to a Press Pass

I get asked about press passes a lot–I guess because I once had one. And the more I think about it, the more I’m raring for a constitutional challenge to the way many press passes are assigned in this country.

You see, historically, just about the only meaning of Freedom of the Press that would have made sense to our founders was freedom from having the government choose official reporters by licensing or fees or some other means. The whole reason we have Freedom of the Press is because stodgy countries in Europe were ensuring a tame press by either picking official printers, only giving licenses to their favorites, or charging a lot of money for the kind of press they didn’t like. And when those Dirty Fucking Hippie colonists rebelled against the Stamp Tax, they determined never to see something like it or the more onerous licensing on their watch.

Currently, many government agencies are discriminating against citizen-bloggers like me–or even plain old online reporters–because they don’t kill trees to circulate their work. This is changing (one of MI’s bloggers has a legislative press pass, apparently some DFH bloggers have been allowed into Federal courthouses). But not everywhere. For example, given Read more

The United States of AT&T Wants Satellites Now, Too

Well, here’s another reason AT&T is so desperate for retroactive immunity. It’d suck to have their bid to acquire a satellite TV company derailed as consumers realized AT&T is using that technology to spy on them, huh?

AT&T has been consulting lawyers in Washington about how long it would take to get government approval to purchase either EchoStar Communications Corp. or DirecTV GroupInc., people familiar with the matter said. If it does make a bid forone of the satellite providers, AT&T could unveil the offer beforeyear’s end in hopes of getting federal antitrust officials to approvethe combination before a new administration takes over, these peoplesay. [my emphasis]

Yeah, I’m sure AT&T would like to get such a move approved before the end of the year. You know, while they still had their former lawyer in charge of DOJ and still had one of their big lobbyists running the oval office?

The Kiddie Porn Excuse

Remember when Alberto Gonzales called for Google to preserve all its search data to support potential child porn investigations? We crazy moonbats suggested that that sounded like an invitation for abuse, that once Google had preserved the records, such records would be accessed for other purposes.

Now Cannonfire points to one such case.

In brief: An incendiary comment appeared on a blog called the DeerfieldBeach Insider — which uses the Blogger service. (So do I.) Theanonymous "pundit" was upset about alleged corruption at the PublicWorks Department. "Nothing will be done until somebody brings in a gunand shoots up the whole place," he wrote.

Deerfield City ManagerMike Mahaney took these words as a threat, so he called the BrowardSherrif’s Office. The cops subpoenaed Google (owner of Blogger) andsoon found their man — a guy named Wayne Adams. He insists that he hasno violent intentions. As it happens, writer Bob Norman is acquaintedwith Adams and vouches for his character, although he does not defendhis atrocious choice of words.

So what makes this tale a matterof national interest? This: When the Broward Sherrif’s Office wantedinfo from Google, they used a disturbing strategy.

BSO turned to its child porn task force for help.

Thetask force, Law Enforcement Against Child Read more

Trojan First Amendment

In his book, Unequal Protection, Thom Hartman shows how corporations (specifically, railroads) used the 14th Amendment–which ostensibly guaranteed African Americans the same rights other citizens enjoyed–to enshrine the concept of corporate personhood in our legal system.

With the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, the owners of the what werethen America’s largest and most powerful corporations – the railroads -figured they’d finally found a way to reverse Paine’s logic and no longerhave to answer to “we, the people.” They would claim that the corporation isa person. They would claim that for legal purposes, the certificate ofincorporation declares the legal birth of a new person, who should thereforehave the full protections the voters have under the Bill of Rights.

[snip]

Acting on behalf of the railroad barons, attorneys for the railroadsrepeatedly filed suits against local and state governments that had passed lawsregulating railroad corporations. They rebelled against restrictions, and mostof all they rebelled against being taxed.

The main tool the railroad’s lawyers tried to use was the fact thatcorporations had historically been referred to under law not as “corporations”but as “artificial persons.” Based on this, they argued, corporations shouldbe considered “persons” under the free-the-slaves Fourteenth Amendment andenjoy the protections of the constitution just like living, breathing, humanpersons.

It’s an important lesson in history–but also an important lesson in Trojan Horses. That is, when you’re passing legislation, you might want to think about the unintended consequences the most powerful entities in the State might make of that legislation.

Case in point is the reporter shield bill just passed 398-21 in the House. The bill gives several acceptable reasons why the government can force a reporter to reveal her sources in a criminal investigation (after exhausting all other means of learning the source and proving the public interest in disclosing the source outweighs the public interest in the free flow of information). Those reasons are:

If You’re In Western Mass

I’ll be giving a talk at my old stomping grounds on Thursday evening, 8PM, in Fayerweather. If you might show up, let me know in the comments–I’d love to touch base with readers.

And until then … I’m off to solve US auto woes.

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