Category: Citizen Journalism

Who qualifies as a journalist? The failures of the new DOJ guidelines.

| July 17, 2013 | Reply

Free Press reports on the new DOJ guidelines:

Last Friday, the Justice Department released revised guidelines governing the Department’s interactions with the press. President Obama had ordered Attorney General Eric Holder to conduct the review in response to the news earlier this year that the DoJ had obtained the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors and the emails of a Fox News reporter.

One of the main issues is whether citizen journalists (e.g., many serious writers/reporters/investigators who run their own websites to report the new) will have any protection at all. This article warns that the federal government is moving in the direction of declaring an “official press,” deeming who is a journalist and who is not. This, in the digital age where citizen journalists are making a tremendous impact on news gathering.

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Chris Hedges and Geoffrey Stone on whistle-blowers: What can one do about the Surveillance State?

| July 10, 2013 | Reply

Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman led a discussion also involving Chris Hedges and Geoffrey Stone, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School. Hedges supports the disclosure of government secrets to the press by people of conscience where the secrets are disclosed to the press. Stone indicates that what Edward Snowden disclosed was clearly a crime and he should be prosecuted, although the government needs to reevaluate the scope of its surveillance state. Fascinating conversation. My own position is quite close to Hedges on this issue, but I also believe that citizen journalism should be regarded as comparable to mainstream journalism in terms of protection offered from prosecution for engaging with whistle-blowers to discuss what they believe to be government wrong-doing. Elevating citizen journalists (I aspire to assume that role) to the category of the press, of course, means that any whistle-blower could talk to any blogger about any government secret and yet be protected from prosecution. This is a thorny issue, but one where work-arounds seem possible, especially given Stone’s alternative.

Stone argues that where government is acting inappropriate in realms involving classified information, the leakers should be prosecuted, even in situations involving grave government injustice. The press is immune from prosecution in this situation, based on the Pentagon Papers case. Stone’s position is deeply unsettling, however, because the issue today is out-of-control government surveillance. This rampant spying, including on reporters and sources, means that there won’t be any more revelations of government wrongdoing by the press. The current situation amounts to shutting down the press, meaning that the public will be kept in the dark. Stone’s “solution” for this is that government should seek internal solutions to its own injustices, in the dark. Stone asserts this to be a solution despite his earlier statements that governments are strongly motivated in the direction of NOT finding true solutions, but rather in maintaining and aggregating power over the citizens. My challenge to Professor Stone, then would be to offer a real long-term solutions. He pulls out the threat of terrorism card near then end of the discussion to justify what apparently amounts to the status quo approach (prosecute whistle-blowers who talk to the press, which Hedges argues will destroy the press). Hedges further disparages the concern with terrorism, indicating that terrorists communicate off the grid, meaning that the Surveillance State’s victims are ordinary people.

[Note: This discussion occurred prior to more recent disclosures that the U.S. government is collecting far more than metadata]

Here is an excerpt from the discussion:

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, what we’re really having a debate about is whether or not we’re going to have a free press left or not. If there are no Snowdens, if there are no Mannings, if there are no Assanges, there will be no free press. And if the press—and let’s not forget that Snowden gave this to The Guardian. This was filtered through a press organization in a classic sort of way whistleblowers provide public information about unconstitutional, criminal activity by their government to the public. So the notion that he’s just some individual standing up and releasing stuff over the Internet is false.

But more importantly, what he has exposed essentially shows that anybody who reaches out to the press to expose fraud, crimes, unconstitutional activity, which this clearly appears to be, can be traced and shut down. And that’s what’s so frightening. So, we are at a situation now, and I speak as a former investigative reporter for The New York Times, by which any investigation into the inner workings of government has become impossible. That’s the real debate.

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Old-fashioned patriotism involves substantial government financial support for aggressive and even offensive journalism

| July 5, 2012 | Reply
Old-fashioned patriotism involves substantial government financial support for aggressive and even offensive journalism

Robert McChesney and John Nichols have written an excellent book advocating substantial public support (much more than the government currently gives) to support first-rate journalism. The book is titled The Death and Life of American Journalism: the Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again (2010).

This book begins with a diagnosis of modern journalism. One of the main problems is that modern journalists rely far too much on officials in power to set the news agenda. In fact, when politicians aren’t arguing about an issue, it tends to go completely under the media radar. Another problem is that much of our news is regurgitated press release material issued by powerful government and business officials. “The dirty secret of journalism is that a significant percentage of our new stories, in the 40-50% range, even at the most prestigious newspapers in the glory days of the 1970s, were based on press releases.” In the 1980s, the national workforce of PR specialists was about equivalent to the number of journalists in newspapers, radio and television. As of 2008, there were four times as many PR specialists as journalists. (Page 49).

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End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

| February 22, 2012 | 3 Replies
End the use of long-term solitary confinement in Illinois!

Hey all. I haven’t been posting since last summer, mostly because I’ve been drowning in graduate school duties. One of these duties has been interning at Chicago’s Cook County Jail. There, I sit in on group therapy sessions for inmates with drug-related offenses. I’ve been consistently touched by the philosophical and psychological depth of these men, their gentleness and the span of their regrets. These are men who will sit down and opine for hours on topics you wouldn’t expect low-SES drug dealers and addicts to have much knowledge of: gender identity is a big topic, for example (these guys live firsthand the consequences of masculinity). And when it comes to living with shame or regret, these guys are almost the best resource you can find.

The only place where you can find more affecting people, I think, is at prisons. I’ve been volunteering for a Chicago-based group called Tamms Year Ten, which advocates for prisoners housed in long-term solitary confinement. I write and read inmates’ letters, respond to their requests for photos and magazines, and read their countless reports of abuse– from medical staff, from Corrections Officers, from mail room staff, and from the state itself.

Let’s be clear on what “long-term” solitary confinement means. These men at Tamms are housed alone for 23-hours a day, with zero human contact, for decades. Some have been locked up alone for 23-28 years.

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Lie-Truth Cost-Ratio

| February 13, 2012 | Reply
Lie-Truth Cost-Ratio

It seems to me that, by a wide margin, most statements uttered by most people are inaccurate or downright untrue. Most of these problems result from sloppy fact-finding and sloppy reasoning; they are not the result of people intentionally misleading each other. This problem with inaccurate and false statements is even more common in the political arena, and they are also more dangerous because political lies and coverups damage our democracy. They cause us to waste time and resources on many small things and some huge things like needless wars. Falsehoods pour out of politicians mouths like water gushing out of fire hydrants. It has gotten so bad that many of us fear that our democracy is at risk. What else could one reasonably conclude when less than 10% of Americans approve of the work of Congress. But these untruths, the falsehoods, the lies and the coverups continue unabated. I’d like to discuss two of reasons for this sad situation (I’m sure there are other reasons too):

1. The confirmation bias. When political or financial motivation exists (and it almost always exists), human animals notice, say and believe the things they are motivated to notice, say and believe. The confirmation is invisible to us; we are aghast when others call us “biased” (See Jonathan Haidt’s discussion of the invisibility of the confirmation bias here). We only see bias and selective perception in other people. We constantly deny that our own perception of the “facts” is warped by our motivations, including our financial motivations. We are convinced that the lies we want to believe are truths and that our coverups are not coverups. Actually, we don’t see the coverups that benefit us as coverups. Rather, we see accusations that we are covering-up the facts as annoyances. We deny these requests for purposes of expediency and we declare inconvenient things to be “irrelevant.”

2. It is much easier to lie (or to palter) than to take the time to determine the truth. I don’t know how to quantify the extent of this problem, but I’ll take a wild guess: On average, it takes 500 times more work to expose a lie or coverup than to tell a lie and cause a coverup. It’s a lot like the physical world. It takes a lot longer to build a house than to destroy a house. Whatever the exact number, we ought to give this lopsided Ratio a name, because it is a phenomenally important factor to consider in our need to fight for policies to encourage open government. Perhaps it could be called the Lie-Truth-Cost-Ratio. This lopsided Ratio gives untruthful people (liars, obfuscators and those who are reckless with the truth) huge advantages, given that time and money are such precious resources. In the time it takes to write one accurate and detailed report regarding a serious policy issue, untruthful people can issue hundreds or thousands of untruthful statements on the same topic.

In the political realm, is the solution investigative journalism? Probably not, because investigative journalism is dying; to do it right costs lots of money. Further modern media outlets often resist free-wheeling investigative journalism because the corporate media is in the position to foot the bill for investigative journalism, yet the results of such journalism too often embarrass advertisers and business relationships connected to media enterprises (only six corporations own and control most of the media in America).

Citizens can also function as journalists too. Can we depend on private citizens to fill the void? Unlikely. Who is willing to give up significant time with their family or time to take a walk or time to watch a movie in order to do the painstaking research to expose liars, even when those lies cause massive waste of desperately needed public funds? Because we are human animals, we live in a distracting world where fatigue is a reality–we crave eating, exercising, sleeping and entertainment, and none of these enjoyable activities is long-term compatible with hunching over a computer keyboard or analyzing big piles of abstruse documents in order to expose corporate or political lies. Who do you know who is willing to do any of these things in his or her spare time? Do you even know anyone who has an adequate skill-set for doing this type of work? Who do you know who would be willing to spend even $100 of his or her money to obtain records, even where there is a good chance that those records would expose government or corporate wrong-doing? We are sometimes fortunate that public interest groups gather a critical mass of people, money and energy to investigate complex political issues, but their funding is often no match for the funds spent (and the number of untruths told) by corporate and government players, who are highly motivated to make issues complex in order to make them impenetrable. It is important to keep in mind that making a political or corporate system needlessly complex (2,000 page bills, anyone?) are a highly effective way of hiding the truth.

Further, there are so many lies out there that they cannot all be investigated. I’ll make another highly speculative guess: Only 5% of important political claims are investigated by any journalist or public interest group to any meaningful degree. That is largely due to the power of the Lie-Truth-Cost-Ratio.

Here’s a real-life example: the current controversy regarding proposed Keystone XL pipeline. I’ll set aside, for now, the environmental concerns that are often dismissed or underplayed by the corporate players and the alleged news media. Instead, I’ll look simply at the alleged quid pro quo regarding those who have been pushing for the project. The Koch brothers have indicated that they have no financial stake in the XL pipeline.

In the real world, these sorts of claims appear in newspaper headlines, and they are declared be the “news.” In a perfect world, these claims would be meaningfully investigated before being reported. But investigating each of these sorts of claims would require highly motivated people (including journalists at the U.K. Guardian) countless hours, because the truth regarding complex matters like this can only be determined by reviewing hundreds of convoluted documents. Robert Greenwald has produced the following 2-minute video announcing his own suspicions:

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Are bloggers journalists?

| December 14, 2011 | Reply
Are bloggers journalists?

Are bloggers journalists? In a recent defamation case, a judge ruled that they are not, which gave rise to quite a bit of discussion, as reported by Mark Leccese of Boston.com.

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The Constitutionally deplorable intentions of the United States regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks

| December 5, 2011 | 6 Replies
The Constitutionally deplorable intentions of the United States regarding Julian Assange and Wikileaks

At Occasional Planet, Madonna Gauding explains that the U.S. campaign to imprison Julian Assange and put him to death, has nothing to do with national security:

Unfortunately, prosecuting leakers is not really about upholding the law or maintaining national security. It is about making sure the government or corporations can continue to hide information they do not want citizens to know, such as the video of the horrific gunning down of Baghdad civilians by U.S. forces in Iraq that Private Bradley Manning exposed. In this example, this secret brings the lie to the official story of the so called humanitarian mission in Iraq. Exposing military wrongdoing undermines the power of the government and the corporations it supports who make their fortunes off war.

Prosecuting Assange to the fullest extent, which could mean prison or even execution for espionage, is not about bringing a criminal to “justice,” or protecting the citizens of the United States. It is about instilling fear and intimidation in any one else (including mainstream journalists) who might want to expose information about government or corporate malfeasance. The purpose of Assange’s prosecution is to send a strong message that whistle blowing will not be tolerated.

Mauding’s account is bolstered by the unrelenting and precise writings of Glenn Greenwald, who points out that the Wikileak’s release of materials apparently provided by Bradley Manning have done the opposite of threatening U.S. security.

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Bill Moyers explains the concerns of Occupy Wall Street

| October 31, 2011 | 1 Reply
Bill Moyers explains the concerns of Occupy Wall Street

Bill Moyers recently gave the keynote speech at Public Citizen’s 40th anniversary Gala. In addition to the video of that speech, I have transcribed various excerpts from his excellent speech. During his speech, he made it quite clear that he fully understands the concerns of the occupy Wall Street protesters.

Except for the bracketed material each of the following is a quote by Bill Moyers at the Public Citizen 40th Anniversary Gala:

While it’s important to cover the news, it’s more important to uncover the news. One of my mentors at the University of Texas told our class that “news” is what people want to keep hidden; everything else is publicity. And when a student asked the journalist and historian Richard Reeves for his definition of real news, he answered, “The news you and I need to keep our freedoms.”

[We now have what historian Lawrence Goodwin has described as] “a mass resignation of people who believe the dogma of democracy at a superficial level, but who no longer believe it privately.”

We have a decline of individual self-respect on the part of millions of people.

We hold elections knowing that they are unlikely to produce the policies favored by a majority of Americans.

The property qualifications for federal office that the framers of the Constitution expressly feared as an unseemly veneration of wealth are now openly enforced, and the common denominator a public office, including for our judges, is a common deference to cash.

Barack Obama criticizes bankers as fat cats and then invites them to dine at a pricey New York restaurant where the tasting menu runs to $195 per person. And that’s the norm. They get away with it.

Let’s name it for what it is: Democratic deviancy, defined downward.

Politics today is little more than money laundering in the trafficking of power and policy.

Why are the occupiers there? They are occupying Wall Street because Wall Street has occupied America

Citizens United: Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many.

[At the 12 minute mark of the video, Moyers discusses corporate personhood and the laws damaging public welfare resulting therefrom]

The Roberts Court has picked up the mantle: Money first, the public second, if at all.

[At the 14 minute mark: the damage done by Citizens United]

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Amy Goodman and Chris Hedges discuss #Occupy with Charlie Rose

| October 25, 2011 | 1 Reply
Amy Goodman and Chris Hedges discuss #Occupy with Charlie Rose

Charlie Rose recently discussed the #Occupy movement with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and writer Chris Hedges of Truthdig.com. This was a thought-provoking show in which all of the participants take the #Occupy movement seriously. What follows are some of my notes regarding the interview.

Amy Goodman indicates that we are in the midst of a revolution. Chris Hedges describes this revolt as one that strives to regain democracy and is opposed to the current system of “inverted totalitarianism.” It’s not “classical totalitarianism. It doesn’t find its expression through a demagogue or a charismatic leader, but through the anonymity of the corporate state. . . . [In a system of inverted totalitarianism, “corporate forces purport to pay a fealty to electoral politics, the Constitution, the iconography and language of American patriotism, and yet have so corrupted the levers of power as to render the citizens impotent. We see that in one piece of legislation after another. . . . The formal structures of power are tone deaf. . . [Under the corporate state] there is no way to appeal to the system. It doesn’t matter what the citizens want.”

Amy Goodman points out that while most Americans support the #occupy protests, the protesters are portrayed by many as merely engaging in class warfare. At 14:50, Goodman points out that the #Occupy protesters and the Tea Party have many overlapping concerns. At 21:00 Hedges indicates that there are stark differences with the Tea Party which, he claims, has deep elements he would describe as fascist. Another difference is that the Tea Party targets government because “the corporations want government to become more anemic; it speaks in the language of violence and the gun culture” and they direct their rage toward “vulnerable people such as Muslims, undocumented workers, homosexuals and intellectuals, all sort of the classic rubric that one finds in a fascist movement.”

Goodman also discusses the importance of citizen journalism. “When police tell people to turn off their video camera, that’s exactly when they need to turn their video cameras on. . . . We need media in this country that allows people to speak for themselves. Ultimately, the media can be the biggest force for peace on earth.” Goodman believes that this movement will be sustained through the winter and beyond, and that “the organized parties, the Democrat and Republican parties are running scared.”

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