Tuesday, October 07, 2014

07-Oct-14: So we should believe spinning of news and reporters happens only in failed, devastated states?

CNN's main newsroom in 2001 [Image Source]
The item we posted earlier this evening ["7-Oct-14: A small window into how lethal journalism happens"] about overt demands/threats by the jihadist invaders of Syria, backed up horrific physical violence, got us thinking about how this works in places outside Syria.

The writer at The Independent ended his piece with these calming words:
"There are not thought to be any foreign journalists still working in Isis territory, so it would follow that these rules would only apply to Syrian and Iraqi reporters."
Intimidation in the ISIS and Hamas way clearly has violence weaved prominently into its fabric. But is that the only sort of intimidation that is brought to bear on the news reporting industry? And does it happen only in devastated, failed-states like Syria?

It might be that the people at (say) Associated Press or Reuters or The Guardian are completely free of threats of violence directed at them. Or not. We news consumers don't normally get to know that much about what drives the editors and reporters inside the Western media, or in the big syndication agencies. That's a shame. It's a subject that deserves much more attention.

But from our own personal encounters with MSN reporters (and their fixers) here in Jerusalem over the past 13 years, we are struck by how frequently they give signs of understanding - perhaps without necessarily being overtly threatened (on this we have no real idea) - what is smart for them to say and what's smart to ignore. When intimidation is in the air, and the threats are made or have even been carried out against one or two individuals, there's less need to restate it. As a process, it is efficient. The compliance becomes self-imposed.

Think back to the astounding mea culpa of CNN's key news product manager back in the early 2000s, and how surprised people were to read it:
Over the last dozen years I made 13 trips to Baghdad to lobby the government to keep CNN's Baghdad bureau open and to arrange interviews with Iraqi leaders. Each time I visited, I became more distressed by what I saw and heard — awful things that could not be reported because doing so would have jeopardized the lives of Iraqis, particularly those on our Baghdad staff... Now that Saddam Hussein's regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment. At last, these stories can be told freely.
That's Eason Jordan ["The News We Kept to Ourselves", published April 11, 2003], unloading in the op ed pages of the NYTimes more than eleven years ago. He was CNN's chief news executive and president of newsgathering and international networks - the occupant of the desk where the buck stopped within one of the world's richest, most prominent and influential sources of news. He didn't make his astonishing disclosures in real time, unfortunately, but only long after the poisoned fruits of compromised brand-name reporting/editing had gone out into the market and been thoroughly consumed and had their effect. In other words, once the damage had already been well and truly done.

Does anyone doubt this happens today?

Beyond that: when you replace the word "lives" with "economic well-being" or "professional competitiveness" in Eason Jordan's last sentence, we feel pretty confident it describes what goes on at every level of the news industry today.

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