Modern times are discouraging to those of us who believe that freely available information is the only way to run a democracy. Here’s the latest blow, as reported by Mother Jones:
On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states have no constitutional obligation to honor public records requests from non-residents. Journalists, who frequently rely on freedom of information laws to expose corruption and break open stories, fear that the decision may make it harder for them to access public records.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and 53 other media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing:
By largely limiting public record access in Virginia to commonwealth citizens, [the law] inhibits the media from acquiring newsworthy records and stymies efforts to provide state-by-state comparisons on important topics such as public education, healthcare, and law enforcement activities,” the media organizations argued in their brief.
MuckRock, a website that files public records requests on behalf of activists, journalists is proposing this fix, offering out-of-staters seeking public records by pairing them with locals willing to co-file the requests.
Ask people who their heroes are, and many of them talk about those who engage in physical exploits, such as soldiers and athletes. Most of those who I consider to be courageous, however, do not engage in any physical acts of bravery. [More]
At Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Steve Rendall discusses numerous stunning examples, historical and recent, of journalists withholding important stories from the public at the request of the federal government.
Journalism is supposed to hold power to account. That’s the principle implicit in the U.S. Constitution’s singling out a free press for protection. If that principle were respected, the Washington Post’s admission (2/6/13) that it and “several news organizations” made a deal with the White House to withhold the news that the U.S. has a drone base in Saudi Arabia would have been a red flag, triggering widespread discussion of media ethics. But these deals have become so commonplace that the story generated less concern among journalists than did the denial of press access to a recent presidential golf outing.
Have you ever wondered whether a story is original journalism, or merely a tweaked version of a story that previously appeared elsewhere? The Sunlight Foundation has just released a new tool to detect “churnalism”:
Today, the Sunlight Foundation has unveiled a tool that will help us all with this work. “The tool is, essentially, an open-source plagiarism detection engine,” web developer Kaitlin Devine explained to me. It will scan any text (a news article, e.g.) and compare it with a corpus of press releases and Wikipedia entries. If it finds similar language, you’ll get a notification of a detected “churn” and you’ll be able to take a look at the two sources side by side. You can also use it to check Wikipedia entries for information that may have come from corporate press releases.
One very common tactic for enforcing political orthodoxies is to malign the character, “style” and even mental health of those who challenge them. The most extreme version of this was an old Soviet favorite: to declare political dissidents mentally ill and put them in hospitals. In the US, those who take even the tiniest steps outside of political convention are instantly decreed “crazy”, as happened to the 2002 anti-war version of Howard Dean and the current iteration of Ron Paul (in most cases, what is actually “crazy” are the political orthodoxies this tactic seeks to shield from challenge). This method is applied with particular aggression to those who engage in any meaningful dissent against the society’s most powerful factions and their institutions.
It turns out, just like you might have expected, that the news is devoid of news.
“The Pew Research Center’s annual “State of the Media” study was released Monday. One section of the report — which, when taken in its totality, makes for very gloomy reading — deals with changes in the television news landscape over the past five years. The study’s authors found that, since 2007, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC have all cut back sharply on the amount of actual reporting found on their airwaves. Cheaper, more provocative debate or interview segments have largely filled the void.”