This report from Al Jazeera’s media criticism show “The Listening Post” focuses on the reporting of Osama bin Laden’s death, including all the inaccurate information that dribbled out over the first few days. My Emirati journalism students found it quite helpful in thinking about the importance of verification and multiple sources in order to produce credible journalism.
Interesting coverage from Magda Abu-Fadil on the Arab Media Forum, held last week in Dubai. She provides a nugget of information about the limits of coverage of Arab news channels like Al Arabiya. The network, which broadcasts in Arabic but features an English language website and Twitter feed, is owned by the Saudi television conglomerate Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC). It serves as an alternative to Al Jazeera, based in Qatar.
The lively discussion turned to media freedoms in the Arab world and whether channels like Al Arabiya and Aljazeera were allowed to report on sensitive issues in their home countries.Dubai-based Al Arabiya is Saudi-owned while Aljazeera is based in Doha and funded by the Qatari government.
“We can cover Saudi Arabia, up to a point,” Al Khatib said, noting that media worldwide must operate within certain parameters. “There’s a romantic view that media aren’t courageous enough.”
He also said owners had interests and could take certain risks but that going too far meant jeopardizing advertising revenue and the possible loss of viewers, not to mention journalists losing their jobs if they ruffled the wrong feathers.
Interesting. I’d quibble with the insistance that all media outlets have limits imposed upon them. That’s true to a certain point. However, because of the absence of legal protections for the media in this part of the world, Arab media outlets practice far more self-censorship than in most other regions.
Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, has this to say about trust:
The big deal, online will be distributed trust. Just like in real life we rely on who we trust whether it’s for a dry-cleaner recommendation or a book recommendation or who to vote for how to run the country. And the idea is that we see the beginning right now already of trust mechanisms say on Amazon or Facebook or whatever and I think this decade and probably very soon we’re going to see the evolution of distributed trust mechanisms which work with each other say from Google, Amazon, Facebook and I really think they need to work with each other, I think they need to be available to all. The deal is we need systems which will be really, really hard to game, which are open to all which allow us to stand up for each other in terms of how much we trust them for whatever purpose and I think the opportunities here are large because so much depends on who we trust. The economic opportunity here might be huge. But you know maybe this is the type of thing that the big sites, the big trustworthy sites, should give away because I think this is really important not only for them and for Internet afficionados but for the whole species.
Not sure how trust in media outlets fits into all this, but there’s certainly room for a killer app in that department as well.
The headline from the New York Times sounds damning: “Rather’s Lawsuit Shows Role of G.O.P. in Inquiry.” The subhead to the article explains that Dan Rather’s lawsuit over his dismissal from CBS News “seems to have unearthed evidence of political influence in an internal CBS investigation.”
Wow. Pretty shocking. Here’s the nut graph that explains the wrongdoing:
Among the materials that money has shaken free for Mr. Rather are internal CBS memorandums turned over to his lawyers, showing that network executives used Republican operatives to vet the names of potential members of a panel that had been billed as independent and charged with investigating the “60 Minutes” segment.
Through the process of discovery, Rather obtained a memo written after the network pledged to investigate his erroneous reporting on President Bush’s National Guard service. Rather based his story, of course, on a clearly fraudulent memo that he obtained from a known partisan.
After Rather retracted the story and offered his apology, the network created an independent panel to investigate what went wrong. The smoking gun is a memo that indicated Dick Thornburgh, a former Republican Attorney General, would garner approval from G.O.P. critics as an acceptable member of the panel. Thornburgh was eventually chosen for the two-person panel along with Louis Boccardi, a former chief executive of The Associated Press.
Now, the process of vetting Thornburgh does clearly show the role of the GOP in the inquiry and does provide evidence of “political influence.” But, I see no alternative to this type of vetting. When selecting members for any independent panel, ideology must be taken into account. For instance, the 9/11 Commission featured five Republicans and five Democrats. Had one party outweighed the other, its results would not have been as trusted. Independent panels, by their very nature, must weigh the ideological baggage of its members. Otherwise, they aren’t independent.
Andrew Haywood says as much toward the end of this New York Times report:
Asked about the assembly of the panel in a sworn deposition, Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, acknowledged that he had wanted at least one member to sit well with conservatives: “CBS News, fairly or unfairly, had a reputation for liberal bias,” and “the harshest scrutiny was obviously going to come from the right.”
Well, that seems reasonable … to everyone except Dan Rather and the editors of the New York Times.
This Time Magazine reporter argues that all journalists should tell their readers who they’re voting for:
“There are a lot of reasons reporters don’t reveal their preferences, and they’re understandable. Showing your cards in public can make it hard to get access to sources, the argument goes; it will make readers suspicious; you and your publication/network/website will drown in charges of bias.
Pretty much all the reasons, though, boil down to the fact that revealing your preferences is a royal pain in the ass. But journalistic practices shouldn’t be judged by whether they make our jobs harder; they should be judged by whether they serve you better.
Modern, mainstream, American political reporting is based on maintaining the transparently bogus illusion of neutrality: that reporters do not care about the outcomes of elections that they spend far too much of their lives covering. It is also based in the legitimate, and true, premise of fairness: that people can have preferences and yet not use their work in service of those preferences. Showing one’s voting cards would shatter the bogus illusion of neutrality; but it would not only serve the premise of fairness, it could actually help media outlets convince a skeptical public that fairness is possible…
And one of the best pieces of journalism to come out of the 2000 election was the Alexandra Pelosi documentary Journeys with George, where Pelosi got vast access to candidate Bush and offered a sometimes-scathing analysis of the media bubble on the campaign plane–even though she was not only an open liberal but the daughter of Nancy Pelosi. Bush knew she ws never going to vote for him; but then neither was most of his press entourage. She, at least, was willing to say it. (In a telling section, the press pack gets furious with Pelosi after she takes a straw poll of them–which Gore wins–and it gets leaked to the news.) In other countries and other times, reporters with political points of view have been the rule, not the exception.
Would it make readers and viewers more mistrustful? Ha! More mistrustful than what? One reason that the media-criticism blogosphere is so suspicious and often toxic is that everyone is a tea leaf reader now. The objective of media criticism becomes figuring out a journalist’s motivations and loyalties first, and whether the report is actually any good second. (If a story is a piece of crap, it’s a piece of crap regardless of who the writer supports.) There’s no illusion of neutrality to protect anymore; people don’t believe it anyway, nor should they. The more journalists state their views, the more we can get past the I-know-who-you-voted-for-last-fall game.