Glenn Beck links the massacre in Norway to Hitler Youth – obviously hateful and vile – it is still protected speech. But yuck!

I write in support of free speech, no matter how loathsome it may taste. But the ultimate question – how is it that personalities like Glenn Beck continue to receive the attention, the coverage, and yes even comments like these before the public mindset simply says, “Basta. No more. Good bye.”

On his radio show and reported in the Los Angeles Times Monday Beck said, “There was a shooting at a political camp, which sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”

Is Beck delusional? Hateful? Is he trying to stir the pot to further his own ambitions, dependent on promoting his own notoriety, regardless of how vile it may be to many? Clearly his departure at FOX was born of falling ratings, declining sponsors, embarrassment and ultimately the network’s decision to cast away a program which had run its course, fulfilled it mission and was no longer something (or some one) they wanted to be associated with.

So what was his agenda in making these remarks? Does he believe that this was a camp a la Hitler youth? Could he be serious, or is he just messing with the audience?

And yet, the monster of hate and bigotry and irresponsibility lives… it clearly lives in Beck’s dark heart and worse, probably too it lives among some of his faithful. Clearly the Los Angeles Times found it newsworthy to report. A Google search at 553p PT Monday on “Beck and Hitler Youth” yields 160,000 hits! Imagine… in just a few short hours… from his lips to Internet phenomenon.

So yes, free speech lives – and fortunately condemnation is alive too. Irresponsible speech lives freely. Hateful, nasty, unimaginable things are said and written by Beck and others – Beck just gets an overwhelming response… What disturbs me the most is that he probably contrived his comments to provoke just such a reaction.

Free speech comes at a price. Unfortunately Beck is using up the currency at an alarming rate.

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Staged photo ops – staged anything is problematic

A good piece by Poynter Photographers debate what should replace staged photo opps now that White House is ending the practice”raises questions for the political campaign and corporate world too — at what point should all publications cease to use staged, canned or handout video? What happened to the insistence by media to do it alone – to do it ourselves – to vouch for it because we knew it to be true, honest and authentic?
A good debate – the piece raises both ethical as well as technical considerations. It also raises questions of ownership and bragging rights… all part of the nature of this debate.

Propaganda Personified in the Dear Leader

North Korea’s Dear Leader Kim Jong Il and his cult of personality in every aspect of life is showcased in this provocative piece North Korea’s Cinema of Dreams from Al Jazeera’s “101 West” program.

Al Jazeera’s 2+ year effort to gain access for their story pays off lifting the veil of secrecy about North Korea’s vaulted propaganda enterprise in an insightful portrait of young students poised to become the next generation of the actors, performers, film makers and documentarians.

This piece stands in sharp contrast to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer who took cameras along with U.S. envoy Gov. Bill Richardson on one of his diplomatic missions last winter, but so many of the shots focused on Wolf reporting about what he saw and what he felt precious little time was left for actual photo journalism. We saw as much of Mr. Blitzer on camera as we saw Mr. Richardson, and very little was left for anything more than street scenes. This work by Al Jazeera is more about the substance of what is taught, learned and practiced with ample time devoted to interviews and first-person insights and much less about the cult of a TV personality enjoying what’s bandied as his exclusive reporting.

It’s easy to bash North Korea. Hidden, secretive, a throw back to the middle of the 20th century – an enemy, a member of the Axis of Evil, but we do not know much – we do not often focus except at moments of terror and the verge of war. We should know more, though for so many reasons we see and hear and pay attention to very little.

Admittedly it’s always entertaining to read the pure propaganda from the official North Korean news agency KCNA and to wonder just who writes it, edits it – much less thinks any one would even be interested.

Al Jazeera has produced a program worthy of our attention. The network is winning praise for its Witness series of cell phone interviews and reports on Mideast tumult, but long before the events in the streets of Cairo the network has been steadily producing programs on events, places and individuals that are often shuttered to or ignored by western media. The ongoing ban by many U.S. cable operators preventing carriage of the network is shameful in a society which promotes free expression of ideas, discussion and debate.

Good Sex or just a Tawdry Affair? The consequences of broadcasting and political activism sharing a bed

Do audiences appreciate this new symbiotic relationship between news and bias, news and punditry and opinion? Is this a natural growth progression of a huge network’s business covering the news, and how is it possible that this does not cross journalist lines of independence when its social media component strives to become a politically charged entity, something that actively promotes further national division and societal discord?

Fox Nation, another expansion of the powerful FOX brand, promotes itself as a site where all opinions are welcome, although the predominant voices seem to be believers in a conservative political philosophy punctuated by anti-administration diatribe, fear mongering and occasional bigotry.   This is social media, and one does not have to listen long to Fox Radio to hear promotions for this affinity site — listen to us and if you believe in what you’re hearing, you’ll want to join the discussion at Fox Nation.

But the question is when does fair and balanced news reporting become the bulwark of a political affinity group?  It’s not whether this is good, or ethical under some sort of academic standard alone, but is the audience being served (happily) or misused?

It is an honest question for debate for it is changing the way people in this country see, listen, hear and relate to their news. Not so many years ago the major networks were all pretty much the same – bland and apolitical. Owners under the rules of the FCC stuck to rules governing fairness, standards and practices. That’s long over.

Do audiences appreciate this new symbiotic relationship between news and bias, news and punditry and opinion? Is this a natural growth progression of a huge network’s business covering the news, and how is it possible that this does not cross journalist lines of independence when its social media component strives to become a politically charged entity, something that actively promotes further national division and societal discord?

Just as the cablers seem to be in a race to carve out their space along the political spectrum, FOX representing talk-radio-right and MSNBC securing its place as talk-radio-left, there seems to be a new phenomenon of converting audiences into political armies.  Fox Radio is now heard soliciting its listeners to join the “Fox Nation” in order to be a more effective force for change.

What’s different is the blurred line between reporting the news, especially if it purports regularly and routinely to be the epitome of fair and balanced as its brand, but then uses those same broadcasts to appeal directly and solely to a specific political leaning.  It seems expectable that those who register will be parsed and shared with campaigns and PACs, and there are few, if any, limits to how those individuals will be culled and contacted in the environment of social media.

Is there a line and has it been crossed?  Should a national news voice use its power to effect political change in the contemporary environment, and if so, does it need to be more clearly disclosed?  Or is it obvious?

Is it too much for a program host to attend a political rally? Or tell listeners specifically where a rally is planned? Sean Hannity has done both even encouraging his audience to attend if they share his political beliefs.  But is his show even news or is it a talk show about contemporary events? And if it is just that, then he is not subject to the long-established rules guiding journalists and journalism?

There are many who believe FOX News presenters share a conservative bias.  There are even sites which are hyper-critical of Fox News, notably Media Matters which catalogues what it perceives to be daily examples of misreporting and misinformation. In fairness to Fox News and its president Roger Ailes, FOX does draw a line between its news presenters and talk show personalities.  For instance, on election nights the network’s most prominent show hosts, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, are not utilized as anchors but rather as commentators separating fact from opinion.  It may be a thin line, but it is a line that is crossed most notably by Keith Olbermann on MSNBC who is offered to the audiences doing both dispensing news and commentary within the same program.

Fox News self-promotes itself as the “new media” and seeks to differentiate itself from all the other networks, decrying them as “mainstream” and old-fashioned, horribly out of touch with their audiences who purportedly are crying out for better reportage. FOX News is not alone; each night John Stewart and Steven Colbert do much the same – making fun of the traditional models in satire and skits.

FOX News is a brilliant, contemporary business which may understand audiences better than any of its competitors.  It has cast off the traditional model of informing and instead has grasped the higher levels of communication theory, specifically to persuade audiences to think as it does and even, at the highest level, to motivate audiences to think that they had the ideas originally.

There is an open question: when does mixing news reporting with social media cross a line of independence, when does reporting with any bias become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is it OK for established news casts? What about for an organization without a formal news organization, for instance Google, which is offering corporate customers the opportunity to advertise on programs specifically created about their business and its audience appeal? Is that news? Is that propaganda? And once you start producing custom content for a specific purpose, business or government, when does it end, and how will the audience recognize the difference?  When does currying to an audience go too far?

The issue is – if that happens, then they will cover only news that interests their audience, or that their audience already believes in?  What happens to other  viewpoints and under-served communities? Will those voices be hear or be subjected to ridicule? Is that a danger today with FOX Nation – where it says all opinions are welcomed… but are they?

The question is simply this — other than in paid and disclosed advertising, should the cable airwaves or the public channels be used to actively promote a political party or belief? Does the audience care, should they? Should we care on their behalf? On that last question alone I believe the answer is an absolute Yes!

BP’s Media Management – Brilliant! Insidious but brilliant

Brilliant?  Tony Hayward and the cast of Gilligan’s Island… brilliant?  Well, perhaps as the Skipper he has left a lot to be desired, but virtually everything else the BP media machine is doing is text-book perfect and likely to be studied as a model for crisis communications and disasters of tomorrow.

BP is using the media, the web, social media and is literally crafting stories right before our eyes.  They have mastered the concept of producing and distributing their own media and communications.  Believing in the long tail of the web BP has hired its own reporters to gather news stories under the guise of journalism. Under banner headlines “BP reporters Tom Seslar and Paula Kolmar are on the ground in the Gulf, meeting the people most immediately affected by the oil spill. Read their regular updates” are an apologia of unimaginable guile and proportion featuring heartfelt reports of clean ups and mitigating the severity of the disaster. BP knows that some of these stories will fall into mainstream media either through a lack of checks and balances or an absence of editorial scrutiny. BP knows that while they cannot rebut all the stories produced by the press the corporation can muddy the water by producing and distributing its own look-like news. Clever. Perhaps even diabolical. Effective nonetheless.

Aggregating electronic media is also used to build what masquerades as a social media-oriented site where true news is co-mingled with corporate pieces.  They create and maintain a look so responsible, so balanced and fair.  Why not?  They cannot prevent the cascade of negativity so they might as well co-opt it to fit their presentation and advantage.  And goodness let’s watch them use You Tube as one of the silos to distribute their material to the main stream.

Union Carbide and Exxon were the poster children for how to bumble and fumble corporate responses to a crisis. Johnson & Johnson, Odwalla, even fast food outlets have done a better, more comprehensive and responsive job in managing a crisis over the recent past. But BP has set a new bar in how to handle the media on the ground, when to stonewall, when to provide selective access to those it favors (most notably FOX news, perhaps based on their British Sky News affiliation AKA Rupert Murdoch?), and now creating content thanks to their own news team juggernaut.

After Katrina all the networks pledged to establish and maintain news bureaus in New Orleans in response to what was perceived to be the national anguish over the tragedy. Slowly but steadily the New York based, east coast centric news producer’s interest waned until the economic costs of sustaining gulf coverage was deemed to be too high with respect to the newsness and news value of what was produced. No network executive wanted to blink first, that is to be perceived as caring less about the minority impacted city, but inevitably the networks scaled back and withdrew their staffs. Watch for the same in the gulf… the story will move from just Louisiana on to Mississippi, Alabama and ultimately the prize jewel Florida. As the floating story sails the gulf the reports will migrate too, a nomadic news team on the prowl for the oils next landfall. Meanwhile the audience’s attention to oil soaked birds and families-with-ruined-lives will become tiresome. The birds will be featured in pieces on Nat Geo. The families will become features on anniversary occasions and special events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Cynical perhaps but predictive too. And as time passes the only ones covering the story, crafting and creating faux news will be the one organization with the most money to spend and the most reputation to change… BP.
Watch it and weep.

CNN to go it alone? Network may rely on no sources other than itself?

Not so many years ago… major newspapers sent their unilateral reporters around the world, wire services competed to file first from world capitals; radio and television networks scrambled to be first with multimedia and the global news audience was the prime beneficiary of news and information, in-country sourcing due to a robust sense of competition.  Economic realities and changing market forces have picked off those reporters as if by a sniper whose aim was unfailing.  UPI is gone, AP and AFP remain though reduced in size, scope and prominence.  Now comes news that CNN is considering dropping all its outside sources CNN Close to Dropping AP… in favor of complete reliance on its own staff, I-reporters and citizen journalists, Tweats and other independent, unprofessional and inherently unreliable, untrained sources. It is not that all are unreliable they are untrained, unprofessional, unregulated and the audience is unprotected from uncorroborated reporting.
That’s the risk… the risk of spin, government or corporate news masquerading as real, and simply stories which cannot be checked and verified in what will be a competitive rush to publish and broadcast. It is already unfortunate that independent reporting has been a casualty of the economic juggernaut. The risk – and it is a significant risk – is that the network is choosing economics over prudence, responsibility and history.

Bombast and Bravado – and just who are you calling “riff-raff”?

Korean News, the public face of the North Korean government offers a daily menu of just about the most colorful propaganda available anywhere.  In today’s posting “National Defence Commission Issues Statement” the DPRK  warns the world not to take any action retaliating for the alleged torpedo attack on a South Korean naval warship.  Fair enough – it’s sabre rattling and diplomats, journalists  and analysts closely read these pages carefully noting even slight variations in words and phrases as indications of true policy.

Here’s how they drive their point home, “It is our invariable iron will to react to “retaliation” with more powerful retaliation and to “punishment” with indiscriminate punishment of our style.

Availing ourselves of this opportunity, we sternly warn the U.S. and Japanese authorities and riff-raffs, their poor lackeys, to act with discretion.

The world will clearly see what dear price the group of traitors will have to pay for the clumsy “conspiratorial farce” and “charade” concocted to stifle compatriots.”

Well, I hope their not calling either me and you riff-raffs.  And certainly not on a Friday.  We might justifiably take umbrage.  We can safely presume they’ll have more to say through diplomatic channels but for sheer propaganda, this is unadulterated mastery.