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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Breach in the Media Wall



As daily revelations are coming in of staged photos, faked atrocities and media lies from Lebanon, what we are seeing is as momentous as the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the first time ever the culture of lies, the boundless wellspring of biased reporting has been met, challenged and turned back.

Rathergate represented the breaking of 60 Minutes, a lionized media institution supposed to represent everything great about muckraking journalism. Instead it turned out to just be muck. Lebanon though was the first true field test for a battle between old line media and the new citizen advocacy represented in a worldwide conglomeration of blogs, forums and websites.

When the war began it was entirely predictable that the media would jump into its usual mode of blaming Israel, of reporting Lebanese casualties over Israeli ones, distorting the truth and swallowing Arab propaganda whole. But arguments in text are hard to fight. There's always a counter-argument for every argument and always a way to twist the truth, distort the context and go on telling the same lies. As with Rathergate though, the telling blow came in the proof.

Every lie in the end needs some germ of proof to back it up. Something tangible to point to and say, See there it is! In Rathergate it was the forged memos. Liberal reporters could have gone on smearing Bush for months without ever suffering any consequences but when they tried to pass off badly forged documents as proof, their lies were exposed. That same media was well in its usual smear-Israel mode and its proof was in the photos. The photos that were supposed to be worth more than a thousand words. And they were. But once you present tangible proof, real world evidence of your statements, it can be challenged in an objective way not subject to the usual distortions of debate. And the proof they presented were fake.

The exposure of one lie opened the door to exploring and exposing dozens more. The real work is just beginning but there's now footage of the Qana casualties being shown off and paraded for reporters by the supposed rescue worker in a green helmet. More photos with misleading captions, including a 3 year old girl misidentified as killed by Israelis, have been exposed too. For the first time major media journalists like Anderson Cooper are speaking out about Hizbullah's manipulation of the story. These are the first cracks in the media wall.

There's a reason they're possible. The reason is the maturing of the internet community and technology to the point where it can challenge the massive monolith of old line media. The media exists as a totalitarian force that imposes its own version of truth through its many organs of radio, newspapers, television and created a false consensus that this is public opinion. When public opinion is at variance with media reporting, the media could just ignore it as government propogandists in any totalitarian nation ignored opposing points of view.

The only outlet anyone had would be in the small carefully selected letters column of that own paper. (And now for a rebuttal in one paragraph no spaces from Mr. John Smith whom no one will read anyway to a front page article in 12 columns.) The media couldn't be challenged by anyone except the occasional politician or movie star, because the media controlled public discourse. The internet has dramatically changed all that. The media news sites may still get the lion's share of the traffic but it's been a long while since they were the only source of news. When the Washington Post or the Times adds Technocrati tags and submits its articles to Google News, it's really admitting that it has to fight for readers with everyone else out there on the internet.

Scattered sites though couldn't do very much damage. They added to the discourse. They repeated talking points the media ignored. They worked around the media mostly. They bled big media for traffic but they didn't genuinely hurt it until now. Despite the blogsphere revolution, the media had the advantage of large scale institution, cash and employees. But while Israel fought Hizbullah in Lebanese towns, the media discovered another war on their hands. A war against a loose confederation of sites that could work independently and together almost as fast as they could, that had technical talent, resources and rhetoric that could match their own organization.

There had been inklings of that during the War in Iraq and the Swift Boat controversy and a major signal of it during Rathergate which had led the way. All of those in the end came down to proof. Archimedes said, Give me a lever and I shall move the world. The lever used to move big media was digital photographic proof for a digital age and like the man chipping at the Berlin Wall, once an opening was created a hundred more could jump in to begin working on expanding it.

Big media's nose has been bloodied and while overpaid reporters write snide diatribes on bloggers and blogging, it's the elephant clumsily maneuvering to try and fight an enemy it doesn't understand. An enemy that can't be bought out, merged in, co-opted or crushed by their own organization. The problem for big media is that their opponent seems small but in reality is too big, they are individuals and a mess beyond any single individual but encompass anyone willing to speak out for the truth.

Confronting such an enemy the media is baffled much as Britain was baffled by the colonists, as the butchers of Moscow were baffled by the rising tide of citizens in the street, as totalitarian regimes are always baffled when the people they had once considered compliant sheep rise up against them. They had spent too long holding them in contempt, preparing to fight campaigns against their rivals to have any understanding of how to fight the people they should naturally be dominating. There is a wind of change in the air, regime change. While summer burns outside, think of it as a very belated spring.

A proper regime change passes power from the old totalitarian centralized institutions to democratic republicans made up of individuals. The blogsphere, the internet, for all its flaws is that and the breach in the media wall will only grow.

Chip away.

7 comments:

Keliata said...

I think much of the credit goes to bloggers willing to call these media outlets on the carpet. For the longest time we pretty much had to rely on what the media reported, but the playing field is different now.

Too many readers/viewers are catching on to them and exposing their lies and distortions.

I thought it was despicable the way the media staged that tragedy on the beach in Gaza. Even an adult photog standing taller than the girl could not have gotten a picture with that camera angle. He had to have been standing on something, and to do that, the scene was staged and the terrified girl manipulated.

Lemon Lime Moon said...

The media will be hoist on their own petard by this.
They are ruining the last vestiges of freedom of the press and speech.
Governments and people will be so fed up with their lies that there will be a backlash that none of us want.

Yobeeone said...

I keep wondering if people will stop caring after awhile whether something is true or not. The weak minded abide by the philosophy of, "Well! It could have been true!" And some people are just stupid enough to be content with that. Why else would tabloids make millions?

But as for those with brains and actually like to use them - long live rebel bloggers! (big big grin)

Sultan Knish said...

most people don't really learn things, they absorb them by osmosis from the media and water cooler discussions, talk shows and the mass that creates popular opinion and blogs can definetly be influential there

most americans couldn't care less about what goes on in the middle east of course anyway

Keliata said...

The saying in journalism USED to be: get it first, but get it right. Now it's "get it first, plug in your agenda."

Keliata said...

many bloggers are gaining more credibility than mainstream and even alternative press outlets, the major differences being those of access to public places and officials and certain events such as press conferences. In five or so years I can see blogger journalists obtaining working press ID and working along side traditional journalists.

Sultan Knish said...

it doesn't even seem to be a matter of 'get it first' or even 'get it right', just reprint it off the wire service and expand it with some biased paragraphs putting out the same agenda.

Bloggers and alternative sites are defacto becoming the news media simply because they offer something new, they offer relevant news and often they offer it first too.

The media will never recognize bloggers per se, but the media is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The major news organizations are either losing money or part of massive media congolomerates on the verge of self-destruction, e.g. Time Warner. Their core buisness is entertainment and they'll stick to it. When the networks die and print journalism declines further, they'll dump that end of the buisness leaving it to public broadcasting and various sites.

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