Monday, November 26, 2007

A Basic Lesson in the Tenets of Journalism for the Common Folk

I was reading Christopher Hitchens' column on today. Then I read the comments and learned something. People don't understand basic journalism.

Christopher Hitchens writes editorials. Editorials are not bound by objectivity. Of course it has an agenda, Wendy73! Every good editorial has a specific persuasive agenda. It is not "pour journalism"[sic] It is an op-ed piece. If Hitchens wants to call the LDS church a "mad cult," it's perfectly acceptable in an op-ed column called "Fighting Words." If he wants to say "Vanilla ice cream is the best and we should rid the world of all other flavors," it's perfectly acceptable in an opinion piece.

You cannot, however, put "Vanilla ice cream is the best and we should rid the world of all other flavors," in the article "New Ice Cream Factory Opens Today." That is editorializing and we do not editorialize in hard news pieces.

As a journalism student, I didn't think this was some kind of special knowledge. Apparently, I'm wrong. Opinion in op-ed piece = ok. Opinion in hard news = bad. 'Kay? 'Kay.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Please, Don't Drink the Kool-Aid. Even If It Is Delicious, Delicious Red.

So, apparently, there's an email forward going around claiming that Barack Obama refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. This photo, is apparently evidence. However, a number of sources, including the Washington Post, and (which has video) --- not to mention Time's actual caption--- have refuted this claim, and said that this picture was taken during the national anthem, not the pledge, which would make the way Obama is standing, completely appropriate.

Personally, I'm not voting for Obama, but does this mean I think that this foolishness should be spread about him? Of course not.

I have such disdain for people who just accept everything they see, hear and read as true, without questioning things or seeking out the facts for themselves. There is nothing I view as more dangerous than such stubborn ignorance. And I'm not differentiating partisanly in this case. "Politically-correct-everyone's-opinion-is-valid-even-if-it's-a-logical-fallacy-liberalism" is just as bad as "Negroes-and-Jews-are-ruining-our-country-let's-nuke-the-terr'ists-rednecks."
Please, don't be an idiot. Find out things for yourself. And for God's sake, if it's in an email forward? It's more than likely it's not true. Do us all a favor and don't spread ignorance.

And, on another note, patriotism is not an empty gesture. That American flag pin or the made-in-China yellow ribbon or saying the pledge doesn't make you patriotic. How many of you even bothered to vote this year? (Election day was Tues. Nov 6th. Yes, I know, you forgot!) How many of you avoided my gaze when I stood behind a table asking for money for care packages for our soldiers?

Most likely, you either believe "support the troops, bring them home." or else you have one of those god-awful yellow ribbons. I'm sure our soldiers really appreciate your kind thoughts and good intentions. Oh wait! The road to hell is paved with good intentions!
Apathy will get us no where. "Really really caring about" will get us no where. If you're as open-minded, as caring, as patriotic as you pretend to be, then you'll do something active for a change.

Please comment and let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oh, Public Relations! (Part II)

So, to continue my entry on public relations and the government, I want to talk about PR and the Iraq War. I did a paper on this topic, so I've researched it pretty extensively.

Basically, during the Vietnam War, journalists were more or less given free reign. This all changed after the war because a perception began to arise that it was the media's fault that the US lost Vietnam.
“Ever since the Vietnam War, U.S. military journals have been stuffed with antimedia cant designed to prove that the press — not the Pentagon, not the U.S. government, not the nature of revolutionary struggle, not, as Dean Rusk once put it, “the tenacity” of the North Vietnamese— lost the war.”(Taken by storm: The Media, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign policy in the Gulf War)
During the Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon began to exercise strong control over the flow of information coming out of Iraq and Kuwait. Media coverage became subjected to military control, especially in the case of “pool reporting,” in which reporters must travel in groups under military supervision and share information. Essentially, pool reporting ensures that all media outlets report the same news in the same manner. It leaves little or no opportunity for reporters to find and cultivate their own sources and stories. Most of the information that reporters had access to were handed down directly from military and government officials during briefings. In August 1990, as tensions in the Persian Gulf escalated, Navy Capt. Ron Wildermuth created a public affairs policy, entitled “Annex Foxtrot. Wildermuth set up new public affairs policies that would become standard practice during the Persian Gulf War.
“The movement of troops, weapons and material was to become the largest since the humiliating -- and televised -- Vietnam War defeat. And in the officer's mind, one point bore repetition ‘News media representatives,’ he wrote, ‘will be escorted at all times. Repeat, at all times.’ ” (New York Times article; AFTER THE WAR; Long Series of Military Decisions Led to Gulf War News Censorship. )
By the way, when I tried to get my hands on this document for this paper using a Freedom of Information Act request, the DoD told me that they either couldn't find it or that it doesn't exist. I've read about this document in many of my source. I'm hard-pressed to believe that it doesn't exist.

That's a quick and dirty summary of what the relationship between the media and the military was like leading up to Iraq.

How? So, how does the Pentagon manipulate the media?
  • According to Josh Rushing, who is a former Marine public affairs officer and currently a reporter for al-Jazeera English, the government uses the soldiers to sell the war. The media is so awash with "support our troops" ideology. A reporter may have no problem questioning some White House press office flak, but they're somewhat less harsh on the military.
  • Silencing the soldiers. The military can control the media by taking control of its own personnel. Anthony Swofford, who was a Marine during the first Persian Gulf War, mentions this in Jarhead:
    As we begin arguing about the gag order, Staff Sergeant Siek arrives. He says, “You do as your told. You signed the contract. You have no rights, you can’t speak out against your country. We call that treason. You can be shot for it. Goddamnit, we’re not playing around. Training is over. I’m sick of hearing your complaints. Tell your complaints to Saddam Hussein. See if he cares.
Colby Buzzell, who wrote My War: Killing Time in Iraq and served during the current war, said the same thing in his book: "Before Wenger, Palmer and Evans spoke with the media, a high-ranking Army public-affairs officer (lieutenant colonel) pulled them to the side and briefed them on what they could and could not say. All three told me that the lieutenant colonel stressed to them to tell the media that the insurgents fired first...then he told them to flat-out lie when he said:-Do not mention the fact that the Iraqi police fled from the mosque and the police station, how they didn’t even put up a fight, but instead tell the media that they fought well and did an excellent job”

  • Another form of "silencing the soldiers" is rarely giving the media the opportunity to speak to anyone but the highest-ranking officers.This can be clearly seen by studying articles about a major even in Iraq, the bombing of an Iraqi parliament building within the “Green Zone” in April 2007. The only military personnel quoted in Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle articles are a Navy Lieutenant and General David Petraeus. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times quote no military personnel whatsoever. Even The Guardian, an English newspaper, only quotes an American Lieutenant Colonel and a Major General in reference to this event. I asked Colby Buzzell about this during an interview. He told me: They're [officers] easier to interview - from what I saw and experienced. The journalists almost always asked the public affairs officers and high ranking officers questions rather than lower enlisted personnel. I have no idea why they do that, but they do."
    An Army specialist, who recently served time in Iraq and worked in public affairs, told me this: "
    The media rarely quotes anyone but the highest ranking officers because the highest ranking officers are usually the only sources authorized to speak on behalf of the military. Public affairs offices fulfill requests according to soldier archetypes, not by-name requests. So when a reporter from the Salem Statesman-Journal, for instance, requests to speak to a soldier from Oregon, the public affairs office will usually select a first sergeant or a field-grade officer from Oregon to speak to the media because higher-ranking soldiers usually have a better idea of how to project the image the Army wishes to project.” (I'm choosing not to name him here because, as far as I know, I only had his permission to identify him in my research paper. Seeing as he is still active duty, I'd prefer not jeopardize his career.)
  • The Pentagon stipulates that reporters aren't allowed to travel without military supervision. In previous conflicts that Americans have been involved in, the press has usually reported on rebel groups and traveled with them at some point in order to obtain a complete story. However, this is not the case in the current Iraq War and this type of reporting, which is usually common, is hardly, if ever, put into practice.
  • Not to mention that, freelance reporters are unable to become embedded reporters, unless they work for a specific news organization. This puts the reporter in a position of being dependent upon the military for their mere livelihood. If the reporter is too critical, he or she may face losing their embedded position and therefore face losing their job and livelihood , as well as harming the chances of his or her respective news organization for placing another embedded reporter in the future. A freelance reporter, working only for him or herself, would not face this type of problem. The degree of independence that freelance reporters have would allow them to control the content of their own work, without having to answer to a larger organization.
What does it all mean?
There is no other realm of our society — including other government activities— in which the media faces as much stringent restriction as when trying to report on military action. The current relationship between the military and the media is tenuous, at best and at worst, it is a manipulative power struggle. It is both a troubled and intimate relationship.
The Pentagon’s harsh, rigid restrictions of the media have created a climate where the media has no choice to depend upon the military in order to get any sort of story, forcing the media into a journalist Stockholm Syndrome of sorts. Now, since the media must depend on the military as the sole or main source for stories, the military is able to use the media as a tool in order to portray the war in a self-interested manner. The media is serving the military as mouthpiece by regurgitating back to the public what comes out of the Public Affairs office.

This enlightening development in politics, government and the media is brought to you by a little media/public opinion-manipulating tool called public relations. Long live the PR war!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

I Just Remembered Why I Don't Watch Debates

So, I owe you part II of my musings on PR --- which I will get to soon --- but I just want to write something short.
I was watching the Republican debates tonight and I remembered the primary reason why I don't watch debates: Politicians never talk about their ideas. They string together words like "patriotism" and "family" and "American" and "ideas" and "future." So, you get to hear such wonderful promises like "I have ideas to help patriotic American families for the future!" Um...What are they? Honestly, you could hardly pull out any syllogisms from what they said. (i.e. Premise A + Premise B = Conclusion) I do have to say that I got a kick out of the Hillary-bashing. > ; ) Oh also, you could make a drinking game out of how many time the candidates said "Reagan"
By the way, this isn't limited to the Republican Party, it's something I see happening in politics in general. It's not recent either. I was watching the documentary Primary about the 1960 election, you can see the same thing. JFK and Hubert Humphrey are trying to win the Wisconsin primary. Hubert Humphrey throws out facts, ideas, plans. JFK just kind of rambles patriotically and looks good. Have you ever heard of Hubert Humphrey? I don't think so.
Vote on the candidates based on what they do, not on what they say. Check out Project Vote Smart
You can look up candidates' issue positions, as well as their NPAT -- National Political Awareness Test. The most recent NPATs should be out soon.
Lastly, thank you for everyone who commented on my last post. And thank you for everyone who has been reading. I love to have other people's contributions, so please, feel free to leave me comments or submit entries to I'll publish anything, provided it's relevant. Thanks again

Monday, October 15, 2007

Last Call

I'm tired of writing for no audience. If someone can prove to me that anyone besides my boyfriend and one internet pal read my damn blog, I will continuing updating. But I'm not going to write for no one.

Email me at or leave a comment here. I'd much appreciate it. Thank you.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Oh, Public Relations! (Part 1)

Public relations people and journalists are natural enemies. Their jobs are just so fundamentally different. PR people hide things, spin things and journalists unearth things, tell the truth (when they're actually doing their jobs, that is.)
I've dealt with this discrepancy while working on numerous articles for my internship. My favorite instance of dealing with PR flak was when writing an article about some new tobacco legislation. So obviously, the first thing I do is call the largest tobacco company in the world, Philip Morris. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: So can you tell me how you think this new bill will affect the tobacco industry?
PR lady: Did you read our website?
Me: Yes, but I wanted to speak to an actual person. Can you tell me how you think this new bill will affect the tobacco industry?
PR lady: (huffy) You should read our website. I'm not going to say anything that isn't on our website.

So, I move on, call R.J. Reynolds, the second largest tobacco company. Spokesperson David Howard was lovely and charming and oh-so-happy to talk to me. Then he fed me lines that might as well have been straight of the movie
Thank You for Smoking!:

"We go to great lengths to ensure that we are operating in a principled manner. Kids should not smoke. Period. We want to communicate -- and do communicate -- with adults who have made the choice to smoke."
I could barely keep from laughing out loud. I love it when PR flak tries to sweet talk me! It's always done in the manner of a guy throwing out pick-up lines. (Speaking of, I have a rather interesting experience with a PR guy attempting to charm me in a bar, but that's another entry for another blog entirely. )

So, I'll recount one more short incident for you before getting on to what Hilary Clinton has to do with this.

Another time I was working on an article about Josh Wolf, an imprisoned journalist (in fact, the longest imprisoned journalist in US history) and I was asking why Nancy Pelosi spoke out of behalf of the journalists on trial in the BALCO (baseball steroids related. they were ordered to give up their sources by the court.) case, and not for Josh Wolf, who was from our district. I asked one of her press spokespeople -- Andrew Stoddard--- over and over why she wouldn't speak out on Wolf's behalf, but he ignored my question and just kept repeating:
“She [Pelosi] supports a federal shield law that will help with these situations.”

So what do Hilary and Bill Clinton have to do with this? (see article)
Basically, a GQ reporter was going to do an article about some rivalry among people working on Hilary's campaign. However, they were also going to later do an article on Bill Clinton for their Man of the Year issue. When they found out about the Hilary story, one of Bill Clinton's aides threatened to restrict GQ's access to Bill for the Man of the Year issue. Rather than standing up to Clinton aides and running the Hilary article , GQ pulled the Hilary article at the behest of Clinton's people. The journalist who was supposed to do the story told the Washington Post:

"GQ told me it was a great story and a hell of a reporting job, but they didn't want to jeopardize their Clinton-in-Africa piece. GQ told me the Clintons were unhappy and threatened to revoke access to Bill Clinton if the Hillary story ran."

This is what journalism has come to, huh? I'll be running with this thought some more in Part 2 when I discuss media manipulation and the Iraq War.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Iraq Position Locator

I want to link you to's Iraq Position Locator.

It's a chart of politicians, pundits and reports and their original views on the war, current views on the war, view on the surge, suggested solution and whether they have ever been to Iraq or not. What's important to you? Is it that a person is against the war now, even if he or she wasn't initially? Is it that he or she always was and still are against the war? Is it consistency, no matter what he or she believes?

The Iraq war is one of the major issues of the 2008 election and one of the more, if not one of the most, significant events that we will see in our lifetime. It's also, I'm sure, going to be one of the most talked about issues during this election. For this reason, it's important to have an understanding of exactly what's going on here.

This is another article from Slate, by columnist Christopher Hitchens, whom I adore: Which Iraq War Do You Want to End? It explains some of the intricacies of the war and the multiple conflicts-within-a-conflict that are taking place.

PS A little side note on Hitchens. You should check out his book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything Even if you're religious and feel that you might be offended by Hitchens' relentless atheism, it's still an interesting read on the tremendous influence religion has had in the world.

I also added a poll to the page about the '08 election. See the sidebar and vote now!