It’s easy to point the ideological finger of blame at today’s MSM — a finger deservedly pointed, I think. However, there’s more to shoddy reporting than just rampant belief systems. There are simply too many mistakes to be explained away that way. (For example, even anti-Bush hysteria couldn’t completely account for the gross errors in reporting following Hurricane Katrina.)
Part of the problem is media in an age of new technology. Stephanie Gutmann, whose most recent book is The Other War: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for Media Supremacy, discusses at FrontPage Magazine how new mechanisms change new media:
By modern journalism I mean information collection and presentation assisted by the satellite disc and satellite phone, by the TV camera, the digital camera, and particularly the internet (including Nexis and the photo image banks.)
These new tools have the power to send bad information–usually deceptive images–not so much words, rocketing around the globe. In less than an hour the news consumer can be blanketed in bad information, and an individual or a country libelled and slandered at truly breathtaking speed.
What the new electronic tools do is remove the need for reporters to actually report, i.e. to go somewhere and look for themselves. That was no guarantee with the old shoe leather methods that they’d do their utmost to present what they believed to be the truth to their audience–but it helped. As a retired CBS producer I quote in my book put it, ” a lot of journalism [these days is] construction. An editor in New York decides what the story is [my italics], sends the word out to bureaus that we need a sound bite from this or that type of person saying this or that, gathers up picture coverage supplied by freelancers or agencies, and writes a script that is narrated by a ‘reporter’ who hasn’t been within 500 miles of the story.”
The crucial thing about construction (of a print story as well as a TV segment) is that it makes journalism a series of choices, even more than it has always been.
When you take this invitation to careless and opinionated writing, and add it to the situation in the Middle East, you have the recipe for an information disaster:
In the early days of what we call the “second intifada” (a term I do not like, by the way, but must use for brevity) was getting mugged on the world stage by the PLO/PA regime’s skilful manipulation of imagery. One of the PLO/PA’s most effective tools, of course, was the child who was willing to bleed for the cameras–and they were able to produce a steady stream of these with indoctrination training that being a shaheed (a martyr) was the best sort of “life” one could have. It was working.I was struck by the passion and conviction of people I’d meet on the street–this conviction that they knew exactly what was going on. A social worker I know said that “Israel must not want peace, because all I see is them killing children.” A Manhattan stockbroker told me that Palestinians were rioting because “they have nothing: no schools, no hospitals, nothing.” I assured him that I knew from direct observation that all these things exist in the territories and he snapped “Well, I have never seen them.” A woman at my gym on the Upper West Side told me she’d never considering visiting Israel because of its barbarity to the Palestinians. “They brutalize them and take their land; Are you telling me the cameras don’t lie.”
In other words, using new media, which does away with actually being on teh ground and investigating, reporters now decide their story and then assemble the facts that support this story. Of course, there’s an existing word for this practice: it’s called advocacy. It works well in courtrooms, where everyone understands that lawyers are engaged in selling their client’s positions. It works well in advertisements, where we all understand that the manufacturer is making a sell. And unfortunately, it works well in the media, where most of the media’s audience is clueless to the fact that it is being sold, rather than informed.
Anyway, I urge you to read the whole interview, which is just as interesting as the few paragraphs on which I focused.