A couple months back I helped brainstorm with NPR’s On The Media for their Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook, a basic guide on how to maintain a healthy skepticism when news orgs are covering a breaking news event. There’s been no shortage of major mistakes made by the media in recent years - Gabby Giffords, the Boston Bombing, Newtown, just to name a few - and there’s a lot we can do as news consumers to scrutinize what’s been reported.
This got me thinking about the tropes commonly used by journalists during breaking news and what they really mean. Last month I started documenting the terminology often used during a breaking news broadcast, and now I’ve made a matrix out of it. Each phrase is placed on the matrix based on how credible a report is, and how likely it is that a reporter feels secure if they actually say it on air. For example, if you say “Other networks are reporting,” it suggests you don’t necessarily know any facts yet, and that you’re deflecting blame from yourself to those other networks if it turns out to be wrong. Meanwhile, if you say “Multiple independent sources have confirmed…” it expresses more certitude, both in terms of the facts and your professional security if you go public with it - especially when you name those sources and explain how they came upon that information.
Anyway, this is my second draft of the matrix, and I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Thanks! - @acarvin
James Risen recently won the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Journalism Award for excellence in journalism.
The Pulitzer Prize winning national security reporter has long been hounded by the US Justice Department to disclose his confidential sources from his 2006 book State of War.
As the Washington Post wrote back in August, “Prosecutors want Mr. Risen’s testimony in their case against Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA official who is accused of leaking details of a failed operation against Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Risen properly has refused to identify his source, at the risk of imprisonment. Such confidential sources are a pillar of how journalists obtain information. If Mr. Risen is forced to reveal the identity of a source, it will damage the ability of journalists to promise confidentiality to sources and to probe government behavior.”
The conventional wisdom of our day is the belief that we have had to change the nature of our society to accommodate the global war on terror. Incrementally over the last thirteen years, Americans have easily accepted a transformation of their way of life because they have been told that it is necessary to keep them safe. Americans now slip off their shoes on command at airports, have accepted the secret targeted killings of other Americans without due process, have accepted the use of torture and the creation of secret offshore prisons, have accepted mass surveillance of their personal communications, and accepted the longest continual period of war in American history. Meanwhile, the government has eagerly prosecuted whistleblowers who try to bring any of the government’s actions to light.
Americans have accepted this new reality with hardly a murmur. Today, the basic prerequisite to being taken seriously in American politics is to accept the legitimacy of the new national security state that has been created since 9/11. The new basic American assumption is that there really is a need for a global war on terror. Anyone who doesn’t accept that basic assumption is considered dangerous and maybe even a traitor.
Today, the U.S. government treats whistleblowers as criminals, much like Elijah Lovejoy, because they want to reveal uncomfortable truths about the government’s actions. And the public and the mainstream press often accept and champion the government’s approach, viewing whistleblowers as dangerous fringe characters because they are not willing to follow orders and remain silent.
The crackdown on leaks by first the Bush administration and more aggressively by the Obama administration, targeting both whistleblowers and journalists, has been designed to suppress the truth about the war on terror. This government campaign of censorship has come with the veneer of the law. Instead of mobs throwing printing presses in the Mississippi River, instead of the creation of the kind of “enemies lists” that President Richard Nixon kept, the Bush and Obama administrations have used the Department of Justice to do their bidding. But the effect is the same — the attorney general of the United States has been turned into the nation’s chief censorship officer. Whenever the White House or the intelligence community get angry about a story in the press, they turn to the Justice Department and the FBI and get them to start a criminal leak investigation, to make sure everybody shuts up.
What the White House wants is to establish limits on accepted reporting on national security and on the war on terror. By launching criminal investigations of stories that are outside the mainstream coverage, they are trying to, in effect, build a pathway on which journalism can be conducted. Stay on the interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems. Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment.
Journalists have no choice but to fight back, because if they don’t they will become irrelevant.
Bonus: The NSA and Me, James Bamford’s account of covering the agency over the last 30 years, via The Intercept.
Double Bonus: Elijah Parish Lovejoy was a minister in the first half of the 19th century who edited an abolitionist paper called the St. Louis Observer. He was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in 1837. More via Wikipedia.
When faced with a candidate like Donald Trump — who lies as instinctively as he breathes — it’s natural to be confused about how, exactly, to handle the constant stream of misinformation emanating from his campaign. But as has become increasingly clear in recent months, many reporters simply aren’t doing their jobs when it comes to fact-checking Trump, and it’s adding up.
So when Samantha Bee’s late-night show, Full Frontal, came back from hiatus, the host had some choice words for the media — especially Commander-in-Chief Forum moderator Matt Lauer — that keeps letting Trump’s lies skate by.
The truth is that there are few incentives to coming forward with an allegation of sexual assault. It means having to recount a trauma over and over again, to people who may not even believe that what you say happened actually happened. It means facing the judgments of those closest to you, and in Kesha’s case, the judgments of the public who determine the success of her career. It means being picked apart, as people try to find just how “perfect” a victim you are. It may mean dealing with law enforcement officials and members of a jury who have been socialized to believe myths about rape.
“You’ve already been violated,” Madonna told Howard Stern last year when he asked why she never reported a violent assault to the police in the late 1970s. “It’s just not worth it. It’s too much humiliation.”
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. To mark it, we’ve made “Hiroshima,” John Hersey’s landmark 1946 report on the bombing and its aftermath, available online.
Hersey began working on “Hiroshima” in 1945, when William Shawn, who was then the managing editor of TheNew Yorker, pointed out that, although the bombing had been widely written about, the victims’ stories still remained untold. After going to Japan and interviewing survivors, Hershey decided to show the bombing through six pairs of eyes. The final piece was all published in a single issue, in August of 1946. There was nothing unusual about the cover, which showed ordinary people enjoying summertime. Inside, however, there was only “Hiroshima”—no Talk of the Town, no cartoons, no reviews. The piece’s impact was immediate.
Artist Molly Crabapple has completed sketches based on the scenes presented in the source’s photos. “With the exception of Vice News, ISIS has permitted no foreign journalists to document life under their rule in Raqqa,” Crabapple wrote. “Instead, they rely on their own propaganda. To create these images, I drew from cell-phone photos a Syrian sent me of daily life in the city. Like the Internet, art evades censorship.”
The media can be the greatest force for peace on Earth. Instead, all too often, from the Vietnam War, to Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria today, it is wielded as a weapon of war. And that has to be challenged.
Amy Goodman, award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now!, an independent daily global news hour. Read about her recent speech at the University of Michigan.
We devoted an entire issue of the magazine to Robert Young Pelton and Tim Freccia’s sprawling 35,000-plus word epic exploration of the crisis in South Sudan. It’s a companion piece of sorts; watch the documentary and read the issue or vice versa. But you won’t get a full scope of the situation without doing both.
A school shooting spree in a small Canadian town leaves four dead.
How come the American press, which exalts strict Canadian gun control as the model for US gun control policy, isn’t repeatedly screaming the news to the high heavens?
Keep trying to tell me that American press agents and agencies are unbiased and neutral reporters of actual facts and news, particularly on a Constitutional issue.