Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

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Why Americans Shouldn’t Fear Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

12.20.10

Before the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” saga took over the headlines this past week, the whole WikiLeaks and Julian Assange drama dominated the news streams, with some labeling him a hero and others branding him a terrorist.  I have yet to write on this complex situation, but I will be shortly.

Until then, though, I have the honor of introducing friend, writer, blogger, human extraordinaire Sean Brown as the first guest blogger on Agree to Disagree; I couldn’t be more proud.  I could also gush on about his talents but, instead, I’ll let his words speak for themselves.

Take it away, Sean:

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Somewhere along the line we lost track of reality, of the ideals make us a truly great country. While there are many tangible things to point to as success, it is a shared belief, a common intangible faith in our system that sets us apart. Somewhere along the line we, as a nation, and more specifically as those interested and engaged in public policy, got caught up in a wave of hysteria. It didn’t start with the terrorist attacks in New York City, but that was the event that blew the top off the mountain and exposed not only the fear of the unknown too common in the American people, but the exploitation that so often accompanies such fear in America.

Julian Assange is not a terrorist. WikiLeaks is not a terrorist organization. More to the point, WikiLeaks is not the enemy. Wikileaks is a reality in the modern world, and Julian Assange is merely the messenger, introducing to the mainstream this new way of life. WikiLeaks is upsetting the established order, the balance between government’s right to secrecy and a thriving investigative media’s responsibility to inform the citizenry. For good, but more likely for ill, after 9/11 and the resulting Patriot Act (which should be pointed out, was heavily endorsed by both parties) the government has grown increasingly more bold in their intrusion into private citizen’s affairs under the guise of National Security.

Enter Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, and WikiLeaks. The United States government got sloppy in its control of delicate communications. If the reports are true, Bradley Manning, for one reason or another, stole a massive amount of these communications and gave them to Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks, for publication. Though the publication of the latest batch of documents has proven to be mildly embarrassing rather than detrimental to national security, Bradley Manning (again, if the allegations are proven true) abused his position with the US Government and the US Army when he stole those communications and passed them on for publication. If the allegations are proven factual, he should receive a punishment fit for his crimes against the state.

But then there is the problem of Julian Assange, and WikiLeaks. Neither being US citizens, nor entities. Merely recipients, and at the very worst solicitors, of secrets from nations and corporations, around the world. Seeking to expose the truth, to poke holes in the propaganda fed to us by governments and corporations alike. When the vast majority of media outlets are owned by only a handful of corporations and individuals, the special relationships between players must be examined. This is not the reality in the United State’s media today. Too often do those who report the news seek to influence opinion, rather than allowing an individual to form his or her own opinion based solely on the facts. Often times does the media trade favorable coverage in exchange for access, and this is a detriment to an informed citizenry. One must question whether the true goal of the mainstream media in today’s America is to inform or persuade. Whether to educate or influence. And to whose advantage.

WikiLeaks, among other independent information organizations, seeks to inform only. To offer firsthand sources of information and to allow those accessing the information to form opinions based on fact, rather than the carefully crafted message that is often presented in its place. This is something that we, as Americans, should celebrate. More information is better. Transparency is a good thing. We lose sight of the fact that We Are The Government, that they work for us. If we blindly accept everything they tell us, we allow ourselves to be manipulated toward desires advantageous to their positions and to not our own. I am happy that WikiLeaks and other independent news organizations have the potential to keep not only the government, but other media outlets honest. We must not blindly accept that WikiLeaks is evil, that their work is detrimental to our state, lest we give up more of the freedoms that make us Americans.

The harm will come not from the secrets exposed, but from the complacent erosion of constitutionally guaranteed rights that follows in the aftermath.

By Sean Brown.
You can read more by Sean Brown at his blog, The Anarchist Project
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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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Accuracy vs. Balance

11.03.09

Columnist Dan Froomkin:

Journalists should strive for accuracy, and fairness. Objectivity is impossible, and is too often confused with balance. And the problem with balance is that we are not living in a balanced time. For instance, is it patently obvious that at this point in our history, the leading luminaries on one side of the American political spectrum are considerably less tethered to reality than those on the other side. Madly trying to split the difference, as so many of my mainstream-media colleagues feel impelled to do, does a disservice to the concept of the truth.

Sure, there are always – at least – two sides to a story.  But one of those sides could very well be completely, utterly false.  Does that side deserve equal time as the side that is based on reality?  Of course not.

The goal of journalism is to be fair and provide an accurate account of what happened.  This current obsession and complete overcompensation for balance skews every single issue into being a matter of opinion.  The problem is, everyone has an opinion, but not everyone is right.  There are facts and then there are beliefs.  And, lately our society has put way too much importance on beliefs and it has caused our mainstream media to completely ignore the difference between the two, airing two sides of an issue regardless of whether or not they have any facts to back up their opinion.

Without those facts, an opinion is simply hot air, not news.

(link courtesy of The Daily Dish)

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Anti-Gay Movement Advertisers Should NEVER Work in Advertising

02.18.09

americaforever

This is a full-page, anti-gay advertisement that went out in the Salt Lake Tribune.  Click the picture for the link to a larger version of the image.

I could easily attack just about every single item in this ad (and, wow, there are a LOT) and I would get extremely riled up and upset and wonder how people could be so hateful yet think they’re being so righteous.  But it’s like explaining the fossil record to an Evangelical.  Pointless.

Instead, just take a look at the ad.  Really, just a quick glance.  Where do your eyes go?  Did you just spend five seconds twirling your eyes around trying to figure out just what they wanted you to be reading?

Me, too.

This is one of the worst page designs I’ve ever seen.  I’ve seen better come out of newsletters made by middle-schoolers.  There are at least three different fonts in the header alone!

We’ve got bold font, all caps, all caps AND bold, words outlined in blue, words outlined in red, BOLD words outlined in red…

You get the idea.

This wouldn’t have passed high-school Journalism 1.  There should be some flow to the page.  The layout should guide your eyes from article to article, forcing your eyes to stay on the page in order to absorb everything on the page.  Taking a quick glance should make you want to read all of the items instead of spending your time trying to figure out 1) which article to read, 2) where each article ends, and 3) if you only have time to read one piece, which one is the most important.  This ad accomplishes none of these.

Actually, I’m wrong.  It does, in that the header gives it away.  Despite the hideous design, the words say everything I need to explain to me what this whole ad is about.  The problem is that the same hideous design causes me to not take a word they write seriously.  There might be some facts or interesting ideas worth discussing (actually, I highly doubt it) in the clutter of text on this page, but I immediately assume that it’s total propaganda and misleading rhetoric when it’s put together in such an unprofessional and insulting manner.

Of course, I did look past the disgusting layout to read (mostly) what they had to say and I wasn’t surprised.  The content was just as hideous as the design.  In that sense, they at least managed to keep the design and content on the same level.

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With Gay Marriage Comes Gay Divorce

02.08.09

Hillary and Julie Goodridge, one of the first gay couples legally married in Massachusetts back in 2004, have gotten divorced.

And the anti-gay rights groups rejoice!

The writers at WorldNetDaily must love hearing this kind of news because it gives them the opportunity to fill an article full of inappropriate quotes around words.  It’s odd that in the first sentence, writer Chelsea Schilling opted to put quotes around the word “marriage,” implying that the lesbian couple was never really married in her definition of the word, yet left the word “divorce” untouched.  So it was a real divorce to a sham marriage?  How does that work exactly?  I suppose all divorces are equally sinful in her world, no matter how unnatural the nature of the marriage.

Schilling goes on to demean the Goodridge’s union by explaining that they lasted half as long as the “average straight marriages that end in divorce.”  I didn’t realize that if you divorce after a long time together that it somehow adds more justification to the marriage than if you divorce quickly.  I suppose this is meant to be rationale for not allowing gays to marry: they divorce even more quickly than us normal straight people do!

Naturally, Schilling got a solid anti-gay marriage quote to back up her one-sided shoddy journalism:

Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, a public policy group that fought to repeal the legalization of “gay” unions, said their separation is confusing.

“Divorce is a very painful issue, but I also can’t help but reflect on the pain this couple has caused on the commonwealth and the nation to redefine marriage. And now they’re getting divorced? It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Mineau said.

“Obviously, they don’t hold the institution in very high esteem.”

Give me a break.  This is just a nice way to deflect the high and rising rate of straight marriage divorces.  If divorce is a reason for a population of people to lose their right to marriage, straight people should’ve lost it years ago.  This isn’t a privilege like your driver’s license where if you get too many infractions you get it revoked, and the so-called protectors of marriage should be careful to not mistake the difference.  Although, clearly they already have.

Schilling never bothered to interview anyone on the side of marriage equality.  Perhaps no one bothered to speak to her and her biased publication masquerading as news.  Seems that she should’ve mentioned that no calls were returned.

She does, however, end with a quote from Boston divorce attorney Gerald Nissenbaum:

“And what a surprise: Gay people are like everyone else.”

It’s sad that it’s considered a surprise.

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Don’t Blindly Accept Propaganda. Do Your Own Research.

02.07.09

There are a lot of people who aren’t sure about this Stimulus Bill that is going through the Senate right now.  A lot of good can come from being skeptical or concerned.  Voicing a differing opinion brings on debate and with debate comes either the reaffirmation of the original ideas or new possibilities emerge.  The conversation should ideally strengthen the concepts, producing the best bill possible.  That’s the idea of our government.

What won’t help is blindly attacking a bill and spreading scare propaganda to those who aren’t well informed on the issues.

I received a mass email that was initiated by the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, which seems to be much more interested in badmouthing than offering any real ideas.  The email goes on to disparage the “phony stimulus bill” as it calls it, yet offers NO footnotes or annotations for all of its stated “facts.”  I’m not saying that everything in the email is false or misleading, but that it’s impossible to discern which is which without any proper attribution to sources.  Unless, of course, you do your homework, which those behind this email don’t want you do to because then you’ll find out that a lot of their fears are unfounded, at best.

The email bases everything on the proposed House bill, which will not be what gets enacted.  Just yesterday the Senate passed their own version of the stimulus package so some of the items may be much different or amended since this email went out.

I will point out some of the email’s claims and show how they are misleading or downright false.  I will cite sources.

Claim #1:

The Phony Stimulus Plan could open billions of taxpayer dollars to left-wing groups like the Association of Community Organization for Reform Now (ACORN), which has been accused of voter fraud, is reportedly under federal investigation; and played a key role in the housing meltdown. (NOTE: we have discovered that ACORN will recieve over 4 billion dollars!)

I’d like to point out two specific words here:  “could” and “accused.”  ACORN has been accused of voter fraud.  Accused does not mean guilty.  And the money could go to ACORN but it is not getting a direct influx of money, as evidenced by this article on FactCheck.org:

The bill does include funds for which ACORN would be eligible to compete – against hundreds of other groups. But most is for a housing rehabilitation program ACORN says it never applied for in the past and won’t in the future.

If you’ll notice that at the end of the article on FactCheck, they site numerous sources for their information.  Something you won’t find in the email from CDFE.

Claim #2:

$825 billion is enough to give every person living in poverty in the United States $22,000.

This is simple and pointless math.  While we’re at it, let’s figure out how many Ford Explorers could be donated to families of five with that $825 billion.  It’d be just as arbitrary since that’s not an option just like giving $22,000 to everyone living under the poverty level isn’t an option.

Claim #3:

The $850 billion Phony Stimulus Plan slated for a House vote later this week will exceed more than $1.1 trillion when adding in the interest ($300 plus billion) between 2009-2019 to pay for it.

Again, based on a bill that will not actually be enacted.  Also, no sources for this math. Clearly this will cost us in the future; but, what isn’t acknowledged is how much we’ll pay without this stimulus.

Claim #4:

The Capitol Hill Democrats’ plan includes funding for contraceptives, regardless of where anyone stands on taxpayer funded contraception, there is no question that it has NOTHING to do with the economy. (Since Monday this idiocy has been removed — due to bi-partisan outcry!)

This is made to sound like Democrats are doing something unprecedented and idiotic in putting unrelated items into the bill.  Every bill has items in them, called “pork,” that is self-serving to the side that initiates the bill.  The Republicans are not innocent in this action as evidenced by a simple Google query that gave me this article.  A lot of the time these items are placed into a bill to provide bargaining chips and sometimes they get removed, sometimes they make it through.  It offers something that one side can get rid of in order to please the dissenting side.

Claim #5:

We are being told that the $850 billion so-called “stimulus” plan being discussed in Congress would be to prop up our failing economy? Do not forget for a moment the fact that this “phony economic stimulus” can never work or that it’s unconstitutional. But isn’t the intent of any economic stimulus plan to stimulate the failing economy? Borrowing money will not stimulate the Economy.

No explanation whatsoever that the bill would be unconstitutional so I have no idea what the basis is for that claim.  Also, the claim that this stimulus “can never work” is an absolute and requires clairvoyance to make it true since no one can finitely say that it can’t work.  Only time will tell.  Yes, it’s possible that whatever bill gets enacted may not pull us out of the recession but to bluntly announce that it CANNOT work is ignorant and blatant fear-mongering.

Claim #6:

Even 11 Democrats sided with Republicans. Obama had engaged in an all-out lobbying effort and failed to land a single GOP vote in the first major test of President Obama’s ability to push his ambitious agenda through Congress. His personal salesmanship effort failed to secure a single GOP supporter.

This is true in that no Republicans in the House voted for that version of the stimulus bill.  And as of Friday, the Senate bill passed with only 3 GOP votes.  Although stating that this lack of bi-partisan support rests solely on the shoulders of Obama and his inability to merge the two parties is extremely unfair and inappropriate.  The rift between the two parties has been expanding for years, much longer than Obama has been in office. This Time.com article explains:

Senator Susan Collins, the lead Republican negotiator said that the miniscule [sic] support from her party proved how hard it will be for Obama to overcome deep political divisions. “It’s really unfortunate as I think the American people really want us to work together and really are sick and tired of all the partisanship,” she said.

Obama has been extremely committed to getting as much bi-partisan support for the bill as possible and those to blame really are both parties within Congress.

Not everything in the email I received was blatantly false.  Programs that fund the renovation of the National Mall, for instance, were in the House bill, but have been removed in the Senate version.  The issue is that because a lot of these items are taken out of context and not given sources, you could easily be misled as to why you should find these “facts” so appalling.

I’m not an economist.  Nor have I been able to read either version of the stimulus bill.  I’m not a political science major.  I’m clearly not an expert on any of this.  What I do have is a background in journalism that forces me to question claims that aren’t supported by reliable sources.  In this era of instant information on the Internet, we must be even more skeptical and aware of all of the “news” and “facts” that we read and be careful and mindful of the propaganda that spreads quickly and asserts itself as truth.

It doesn’t take much to find reputable news sources to clarify most of what you hear or read.  Take the time to do so.

(If you want the aforementioned email, let me know I’ll forward it on to you.)