Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lies, Truth and Newspeak

Glenn Greenwald has a compelling article in Salon, The Fundamental Unreliability of America's Media. Greenwald laments about the role journalists now play in the dissemination of false information.

Consider the record of the American media over the last two weeks alone. Justin Elliott of TPM documents how an absolute falsehood about the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing -- that Abdulmutallab purchased a "one-way ticket" to the U.S., when it was actually a round-trip ticket -- has been repeated far and wide by U.S. media outlets as fact. Two weeks ago, Elliott similarly documented how an equally false claim from ABC News -- that two of the Al Qaeda leaders behind that airliner attack had been released from Guantanamo -- became entrenched as fact in media reports (at most, it was one, not two). This week, Dan Froomkin chronicles how completely discredited claims about Guantanamo recidivism rates continue to be uncritically "reported" by The New York Times and then inserted into our debates as fact.

As I documented two weeks ago, government claims about which "top Al Qaeda fighters" were killed by our airstrikes turn out to be untrue far more often than not, yet are always mindlessly featured by our media, ensuring little questioning of those actions; and now, at least two of the three Top Terrorists claimed to have been killed by our recent airstrikes in Yemen -- and possibly all three -- are quite likely alive. As Greg Sargent writes, one of the most provocative and inflammatory claims of the trashy Halperin/Heilemann gossip book -- that Bill Clinton told Ted Kennedy that Obama would have been "getting us coffee" just a couple years earlier -- is not only completely unsourced (like virtually every one of their sleazy claims), but also "paraphrased."

Aside from falsity -- and the fact that they become irreversibly lodged in our political culture as fact -- what do all of these deceitful reports have in common? They're all the by-product of granting anonymity to people and then repeating what they claim as fact, with the falsehood-disseminators protected by "journalists" from any and all accountability for their falsehoods.
Greenwald claims that "unjustified anonymity -- especially when mindlessly repeating what shielded government sources claim in secret -- is the single greatest enabler of false and deceitful "reporting."

David Sirota in his article, Right is not Center, but 2010 resemble 1984, has another perspective of the problem of truth in journalism when he says, "newspeak can destructively alter the public’s perception of acceptable and unacceptable, possible and impossible."

“War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength” — more than a quarter century after those oxymorons were supposed to pervade an Orwellian 1984, today’s media make such newspeak even more preposterous: On economic issues, we are often told that right is center, center is left, and left is fringe.

For a year, national reporters (with help from conservative talk-radio goons) have depicted the center-right Obama administration and its corporatist policies as quasi-Marxist. We’ve heard that a government-run public health care option is a “liberal” cause, even as polls confirm that most Americans — not just liberals — support the idea. We’re told that legislators backing no-strings-attached bank bailouts are mainstream “centrists,” while bailout opponents are extremists — even as public opinion surveys say the opposite.

This is Washington’s “fair and balanced” journalism (or “journalism,” as it were) and as two of the most respected metro newspapers show this week, its distortions can bleed into local coverage.

The problem of false information is really more pervasive. Even without journalists, lies get disseminated through the web at the speed of light.

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