Transcription journalismOne of the topics I write about quite a bit is the news media. It's obviously very influential in shaping our perception of local, national and international events. While hardly homogeneous, certain trends seem to prevail in the mainstream US news media. One that I've written about before is the difference between objectivity (the mainstream journalistic ideal) and neutral journalism (the mainstream journalistic reality).
Essentially, mainstream journalism is now less about investigation and skepticism and more about transcription; less 60 Minutes and more CSPAN. The typical wire service or TV news piece on social or political issues follows the same formula: intro, standard liberal politician point of view, standard conservative politician point of view, conclusion. Once in a while, they'll include a quote from a university professor, think tank fellow or some other 'expert.'
Rarely do mainstream journalists include the point of view of 'non-standard' political figure such as Ralph Nader or Ron Paul. Rarely do they bother interviewing anyone outside of Washington's political elite; after all, it's not like federal policies affect states, counties or municipalities. Rarely do they call the 'standard' liberal or conservative on their obfuscation or deception. Why? Because then they'll be accused by hysterical activists of 'bias.'
Common Dreams has a good essay on how journalism morphed into transcription. Though it doesn't mention a key fact in the press' rising meakness: increased consolidation of media outlets in the hands of risk-averse multinational corporations.
Then again, some members of the 'unbiased' media don't let facts interfere with their editorializing. A good example is CNN's 'news' anchor Lou Dobbs, who relentlessly
pushes a populist anti-immigrant, protectionist line. Dobbs not only cited a debunked scientific study to further his anti-immigrant crusade, but refused to back down when shown that the study was wrong. He waved away questions about the study's accuracy with a dismissive, "If we reported it, it's a fact." No surprise that the self-appointed watchdogs don't like being watched.
Another good example is New York Post columnist Ralph Peters. Now, I know that opinion columns have different editorial standards than purported news pieces; and at least Peters, unlike Dobbs, is overt about his trying to be neither objective nor neutral. But even a paper with New York Post's standards shouldn't allow its columnists to outright lie.
In this column, Peters slams the group Human Rights Watch. He wrote:
After the Fatah al-Islam terrorists holed up in a Palestinian camp carried out a wave of bombings, bank robberies and assassinations, Lebanon's struggling democratic government ordered its army to stop them. The Palestinian refugees themselves applauded the army's efforts, stating that few of the terrorists were local and most were fanatics from other Muslim states. The terrorists ruled with the gun and sought to enforce Sharia law. Their victims want them gone.
The response from Human Rights Watch [HRW]? Ignore the crimes of the terrorists and criticize the Lebanese army for attacking them "indiscriminately."
I was astonished that they would do such a thing so I decided to check it out the HRW report myself.
The report's very title included implicit criticism of the group: "Lebanon: Fighting at Refugee Camp Kills Civilians -- Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam Must Protect Civilians in Nahr al-Bared."
Additionally, HRW's spokesman explicitly said, "Fatah al-Islam militants must not hide among civilians... The Lebanese army and the Fatah al-Islam fighters should establish a safe passage to allow the civilians to leave the camp and let humanitarian supplies for civilians in."
The report added that: Using civilians to shield one’s own forces from attack is a serious violation of international humanitarian law, Human Rights Watch said. Placing forces or weapons in the vicinity of heavily populated areas can also result in violations of international humanitarian law.
This is a pretty odd way to 'ignore' them.
Yet another example of why I'm skeptical of paraphrasing.
Peters also claims, "There are real human-rights tragedies unfolding every day, from Harare to Havana, but activists don't give a damn about the average Joe or Miguel or Ali."
Even a cursory look at the websites of activist organizations like HRW and Amnesty International shows that this is still more b.s.
Like many others on the far right, Peters seems to think that anything the US government does should be immune from criticism because somewhere else, someone is doing something worse.
I'll remember that assinine argument the next time I try to rob a bank.