The News, It Is a-changin': bin Laden and the Mass Media


 

by Walter Brasch

 

It was a little before 9 a.m.

 I was chatting with two students.

 Another student came in, and asked if we had heard a plane had hit a building in New York City.

 We hadn't, but I assumed it was a light private plane, and the pilot had mechanical difficulty or problems with wind turbulence.  

 A minute or so later, another student came in. It was a passenger jet, she said.

 The first student had read the information in a text from a friend, who had received it from another friend, who may have heard it somewhere else. The second student had read it while surfing a news site on the Internet. In a few moments I became aware of how news dissemination had changed, and it was the youth who were going to lead the information revolution.

 A half-hour later, in an upper division journalism class, we were flipping between TV channels, and students were texting with friends on campus and in other states.

 By 12:30 p.m., the beginning time for my popular culture and the media class, every one of the 240 students heard about the murders and terrorism that would become known as 9/11. Most had not seen it on TV nor heard about it from radio. There was no way I was going to give that day's prepared lecture. The students needed to talk, to tell others what they heard, to listen to what others had heard. To cry; to express rage. And, most of all, they needed to hear the conflicting information, and learn the facts.

 For the first century of colonial America, news was transmitted at the pace of a fast horse and rider. But even then, most citizens read the news only when they wandered into a local coffee shop or tavern and saw the information posted on a wall. The first newspaper, Boston's Publick Occurrences, lasted but one issue, dying in 1690. The next newspaper, the Boston News-Letter, wasn't published until 14 years later. Fifteen years passed before there was another newspaper. By the Revolution, the major cities along the eastern seaboard had weekly newspapers, with news from England taking up to three months to reach the American shores and be printed. News from one colony to another might take a couple of weeks or more. All of it was subject to censorship by the colonial governors.

 By the Civil War, reporters in the field could transmit news by telegraph—assuming that competitors or the other side didn't cut the wires. Even the most efficient operation took at least a day to gather, write, transmit, and then print the news.

 Radio brought World Wars I and II closer to Americans. Photojournalists—with film, innumerable developing chemicals, and restricted by the speed of couriers, the mail service, and publication delays—gave Americans both photos and newsreel images of war.

 Television gave us better access to learning about wars in Korea and Vietnam.

 And then came the Persian Gulf War, and the full use of satellite communication. Although CNN, the first 24-hour news operation, was the only network to record the destruction of the Challenger in January 1986, it was still seen as a minor network, with audiences of thousands not millions. The Persian Gulf War changed that, along with the nature of the news industry. CNN built an audience during Operation Desert Shield, from late Summer 1990 to Jan. 16, 1991. On that evening, the beginning of Desert Storm, CNN was the only American-based news operation in Iraq. From the al-Rashid Hotel, its three correspondents and their teams transmitted news and video as the U.S. sent missiles into Baghdad.

 Two decades later, individual media have almost replaced mass media as sources for first information. Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, and innumerable ways to text message now link individuals and groups. Individuals can also transmit photos and video from cell phones to You Tube and dozens of other hosts, making everyone with a cell phone a temporary reporter or photojournalist. It also leads to extensive problems in discerning the facts from rumors and propaganda. The media—individual and mass—have united a world's people.

 In Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt, it was Facebook and Twitter, not state-run mass media, that gave the people communication to launch their protests that would lead to the fall of two authoritarian governments.

 On May 1, in a nine-minute television address beginning at 11:35 p.m., EST, President Obama t old the world that Navy SEALs had successfully completed their mission to kill Osama bin Laden. Those not at their radio or TV sets learned about it from messages and video on their cell phones or computers.

 It is still be the responsibility of the mass media--of radio, television, newspapers, and magazines--to give in-depth coverage and analysis of the events. But, for millions worldwide, it is no longer the mass media that establishes the first alerts.

 

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, the author of 17 books, and a retired university journalism professor. His latest book is Before the First Snow.]

 

 

#NotIntendedtoBeaFactualStatement

Kudos to Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert for keeping the pressure on Arizona Senator John Kyl for his gross indecency on his non-factual claim made on the Senate dais during last week's budget showdown that abortion services are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” In fact, abortion represents only three percent of Planned Parenthood services.

After Think Progress pointed out the glaring factual error, a Kyl spokesperson said that the Senator's remark on the dais of the Senate "was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of taxpayer dollars, does subsidize abortions.”  How a Senator, and who as the Minority Whip is the number two in the Republican leadership in the Senate, could go on the dais of the Senate make such an outlandish statement and then hide behind the even more buffoonish defense that such a falsehood was not intended to be a factual statement is reprehensible. Senator Kyl merits a formal reprimand from the Senate. Facts are not just stubborn things, they should be sacrosanct.

After skewering Senator Kyl on his show, The Colbert Report, the comedian has taken to Twitter with a series of non-factual statements about the junior Senator from Arizona.

No less egregious, boy I am overusing this word these days but what isn't egregious these days, was the claim made by the anchors of Fox & Friends that Planned Parenthood's services could be found at any Walgreens. While the right has long been prone to untruths, the lies are getting more desperately and patently absurd. Let's hope the American people are paying attention.

Still I've been monitoring the Arizona press and while the story has been carried in both the Phoenix and Tuscon newspapers, neither paper has come out with an editorial lambasting the Senator Kyl for his blatant disregard for facts. It's a sorry state of affairs when late night comedians have to do the work that the media should be doing, lambasting what is clearly unacceptable in a political debate. If we abandon the truth, what else have we?

#NotIntendedtoBeaFactualStatement

Kudos to Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert for keeping the pressure on Arizona Senator John Kyl for his gross indecency on his non-factual claim made on the Senate dais during last week's budget showdown that abortion services are "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.” In fact, abortion represents only three percent of Planned Parenthood services.

After Think Progress pointed out the glaring factual error, a Kyl spokesperson said that the Senator's remark on the dais of the Senate "was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions of taxpayer dollars, does subsidize abortions.”  How a Senator, and who as the Minority Whip is the number two in the Republican leadership in the Senate, could go on the dais of the Senate make such an outlandish statement and then hide behind the even more buffoonish defense that such a falsehood was not intended to be a factual statement is reprehensible. Senator Kyl merits a formal reprimand from the Senate. Facts are not just stubborn things, they should be sacrosanct.

After skewering Senator Kyl on his show, The Colbert Report, the comedian has taken to Twitter with a series of non-factual statements about the junior Senator from Arizona.

No less egregious, boy I am overusing this word these days but what isn't egregious these days, was the claim made by the anchors of Fox & Friends that Planned Parenthood's services could be found at any Walgreens. While the right has long been prone to untruths, the lies are getting more desperately and patently absurd. Let's hope the American people are paying attention.

Still I've been monitoring the Arizona press and while the story has been carried in both the Phoenix and Tuscon newspapers, neither paper has come out with an editorial lambasting the Senator Kyl for his blatant disregard for facts. It's a sorry state of affairs when late night comedians have to do the work that the media should be doing, lambasting what is clearly unacceptable in a political debate. If we abandon the truth, what else have we?

Weekly Audit: Republicans' Budget Declares War on Medicare

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The Republicans are poised to unveil a model budget on Tuesday that would effectively end Medicare by privatizing it, Steve Benen reports in the Washington Monthly. House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) is touting the budget as a strategy to reduce the national debt.

Ryan’s plan would turn Medicare from a single-payer system to a “premium support” system. “Premium support” is a euphemism for the government giving up to $15,000 per person, per year, to insurance companies to defray the cost of a health insurance policy.

As Benen points out, privatizing Medicare does nothing to contain health care costs. On the contrary, as insurance customers weary of double-digit premium increases can attest, private insurers have a miserable track record of containing costs. They excel at denying care and coverage, but that’s not the same thing.

The only way the government would save money under Ryan’s proposal is by paying a flat rate in vouchers. Medicare covers the full cost of medical treatments, but private insurers are typically much less generous. So, after paying into Medicare all their working lives, Americans currently 55 and younger would get vouchers for part of their health insurance and still have to pay out-of-pocket to approach the level of benefits that Medicare currently provides.

Taking aim at Medicaid

The poor are easy targets for Republican budget-slashing, Jamelle Bouie writes on TAPPED. Ryan’s proposal would also cut $1 trillion over the next 10 years from Medicaid, the joint federal-state health insurance program for the poor, by eliminating federal matching and providing all state funding through block grants. Most of this money would come from repealing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, which is slated to add 15 million people to Medicaid.

Block grants are cuts in disguise. Currently, Medicaid is an entitlement program, which means that states have to enroll everyone who is eligible, regardless of the state’s ability to pay. In return, the states get federal matching funds for each person in the program. Ryan and the Republicans want to change Medicaid into a block grant program where the federal government simply gives each state a lump sum to spend on Medicaid. The states want to use this new found “flexibility” to cut benefits, narrow eligibility criteria, and generally gut the program.

This is incredibly short-sighted. The current structure of Medicaid ensures extra federal funding for every new patient. So when unemployment rises and large numbers of new patients become eligible for Medicaid, the states get extra federal money for each of them. But with a block grant, the states would just have to stretch the existing block grants or find money from somewhere else in their budgets. Medicaid rolls surge during bad economic times, so a block grant system could make state budget crises even worse.

Ryan’s proposal has no chance of becoming law as long as Democrats control the Senate. The main purpose of the document is to lay out a platform for the 2012 elections.

Fake debt crisis

In The Nation, sociologist and activist Frances Fox Piven argues that the Republicans are hyping the debt threat to justify cuts to social programs:

Corporate America’s unprovoked assault on working people has been carried out by manufacturing a need for fiscal austerity. We are told that there is no more money for essential human services, for the care of children, or better public schools, or to help lower the cost of a college education. The fact is that big banks and large corporations are hoarding trillions in cash and using tax loopholes to bankrupt our communities.

She notes that Republican-backed tax cuts for the wealthy are a major contributor to the debt.

Jesus was a non-union carpenter?

Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones reports on the religious right’s crusade against unions. He notes that James Dobson of the socially conservative Family Research Council tweeted: “Pro-family voters should celebrate WI victory b/c public & private sector union bosses have marched lock-step w/liberal social agenda.”

Harkinson reports that the Family Research Council is backing the Republican incumbent, David Prosser, in today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election–a battle that has become a proxy fight over Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining bill:

The FRC’s new political action committee, the Faith, Family, Freedom Fund, is airing ads on 34 Wisconsin radio stations in an effort to influence the April 5 judicial election that could ultimately decide the fate of the law. The ads target Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s running against a conservative incumbent, David Prosser, for a seat on the state Supreme Court. If elected, Kloppenburg wouldalter the balance on the court in favor of Democrats, giving them the ability to invalidate the recently enacted ban on public-employee collective bargaining. “Liberals see her as their best hope to advance their political agenda and strike down laws passed by a legislature and governor elected by the people,” say the ads. “A vote for Prosser is a vote to keep politics out of the Supreme Court.”

Roger Bybee of Working In These Times argues that recalling Republican state senators in Wisconsin is not enough to defend workers’ rights from Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union onslaught.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

The Great Twitter/Facebook Revolution Fallacy

For some strange reason, the American media has always been obsessed with Twitter and Facebook. The movie “The Social Network,” which is about the founding of Facebook, received far more media commentary than any other movie in 2010, despite being only the 28th highest U.S.-grossing film that year.

This applies to foreign affairs as well. In the context of the events occurring in the Middle East, the Western media loves to argue that Twitter and Facebook constitute catalysts for revolution in the modern era. Indeed, some articles called the 2009 Iranian protests the “Twitter Revolution.” One excited journalist at the time wrote:

Iranians are blogging, posting to Facebook and, most visibly, coordinating their protests on Twitter, the messaging service. Their activity has increased, not decreased, since the presidential election on Friday and ensuing attempts by the government to restrict or censor their online communications.

On Twitter, reports and links to photos from a peaceful mass march through Tehran on Monday, along with accounts of street fighting and casualties around the country, have become the most popular topic on the service worldwide, according to Twitter’s published statistics.

The trouble with all this is that in June 2009, the entire country of Iran only had 19,235 Twitter users, according to statistics assembled by Sysomos. This is about half the number of people who attend a professional football game. To be fair, the figure is probably not exact; the true number could be higher (due to Iranians not reporting being from Iran) or lower (due to foreigners setting their residence to Iran to protect native Iranian Twitter users).

But it certainly is not enough to make a “Twitter Revolution.” Foreign Policy analyst Golnaz Esfandiari probably provides a more accurate analysis of Twitter’s role in Iran:

Twitter was definitely not a major communications tool for activists on the ground in Iran.

Nonetheless, the “Twitter Revolution” was an irresistible meme during the post-election protests, a story that wrote itself. Various analysts were eager to chime in about the purported role of Twitter in the Green Movement. Some were politics experts, like the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan and Marc Ambinder. Others were experts on new media, like Sascha Segan of PC Magazine. Western journalists who couldn’t reach — or didn’t bother reaching? — people on the ground in Iran simply scrolled through the English-language tweets posted with tag #iranelection. Through it all, no one seemed to wonder why people trying to coordinate protests in Iran would be writing in any language other than Farsi.

The recent revolutions in the Arab world also, in all likelihood, have very little to do with either Twitter or Facebook, whatever the Western media might say. Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen have a combined total of 14,642 Twitter users. That is a tiny, tiny number. There are more people in a major public university than Twitter users in these three countries combined.

Facebook is relatively more widely used throughout the world; its penetration in Egypt was 4.58% as of July 2010.  This is better than Twitter, but the usage pales in comparison to – say – the percent of the population that watches Al Jazeera. Fortunately, given the nationwide Internet shutdown in Egypt, journalists are not talking about a “Facebook Revolution” in Egypt.

But the articles about Facebook or Twitter supposedly inciting revolution continue. One recent Times article argued that in Sudan “protests, organized by groups of university students and graduates, came together as Facebook, Twitter and other Web sites were used to rally several thousand demonstrators.”

Maybe. But only 10% of people in Sudan even have access to the Internet, let alone use Facebook or Twitter. One wonders how many people in Sudan (or Egypt or Iran, for that matter) even know that these websites exist.

Indeed, the primary users of Twitter and Facebook seem to be well-educated, Internet-savvy Westerners – the type of people who, not coincidentally, write articles for the New York Times and Washington Post. The Western media’s focus on so-called “Twitter Revolutions” may tell less about the revolution and more about the preoccupations of the American journalists who cover about the revolution.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

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