Chomsky: Media, Democracy and Indoctrination

noam-radio

I stumbled across the no one’s listening podcast site and their interview with Noam Chomsky yesterday. The interview was entitled, Fake News; a title fitting his perspective on the American media. I have to admit though, after reading most of Noam’s work from the 80’s and 90’s, it was good to hear that he’s optimistic about the future.

The following is a transcript of part of the interview:

Noam: The effect [of the media] on the public isn’t very much studied, but to the extent as it has been, it seems that among the more educated sectors, the indoctrination works more effectively. Among the less educated sectors, the people are more skeptical and cynical.

Irene: Right… so what can we do because now I’m depressed. [nervous laughter]

Noam: I think it’s a very optimistic future, frankly.

Irene: Really? You wrote 90 books…

Noam: Look, very much so. There’s something we know about this country more than any other: we know a lot about public opinion. It’s studied very intensively.

Irene: That it’s fickle?

Noam: But it’s very rarely reported. You can find them, it’s an open society, you can find them. What they show is very remarkable. What they show first of all is that both political parties and the media are far to the right of the general population, on a whole host of issues. And the population is just, you know, disorganized, atomized, and so on. This country ought to be an organizers paradise. And the, that’s why the media and the campaigns keep away from issues. They know that on issues they’re going to lose people.

So therefore you have to portray George Bush as a, look he’s a pampered kid who came from a rich family, went to prep school, an elite university and you have to present him as an ordinary guy, you know, who makes grammatical errors, which I’m sure he’s trained to make, he didn’t talk that way at Yale and a fake Texas twang and he’s off to his ranch to cut brush or something.

That’s like a toothpaste ad. And I think a lot of people know it.

Given the facts about public opinion it means what’s needed is something, you know, not very radical. Let’s become as democratic as say the second largest country in the hemisphere: Brazil. I mean their last election was not between two rich kids who went to the same elite university and joined the same secret society where they’re trained to be members of the upper class and can get into politics cause they have rich families with a lot of connections. I mean people were actually able to vote and elect a president from their own ranks. A man who was a peasant union leader never had a higher education and comes from the population.

They could do it because it’s a functioning democratic society. Tremendous obstacles, you know: repressive state, huge concentration of wealth, much worse obstacles than we have, but they have mass popular movements, they have actual political parties which we don’t have. There’s nothing to stop us from doing that. We have a legacy of freedom which is unparalleled, its been won by struggle over centuries, it was never given, you can use it or you can abandon it.

It’s a choice.

So… I guess the question is who’s ready to begin sacrificing to elicit change?

Should Bloggers Share The Rights Of Journalists?

bloggers

I’m not concerned with the debate over pedigree and process. Anyone caught up in that discussion isn’t seeing the forest through the trees. What I’m asking is whether or not bloggers’ rights should be considered equal to journalists’ within the  Free Flow of Information Act of 2005.

The way I see it, once you strip away the editorial and advertising system that relegates a journalist to certain coverage (and the conviction found within), the only difference between a journalist and a blogger is that the former can lose his/her audience and/or be fired based on poor reporting, where the latter can only lose his/her audience.

That one difference is huge in the conversation of controlling the “free flow of information.”

My POV is from a op-ed perspective, but served with journalistic integrity, as I disseminate topical information and craft perspective without peddling a product in my content. So after reading the first draft of the act—especially the perspective of Senator Richard Lugar (R – Ind)—it seems as though the conversation is being held within the parameters of a business conversation, focused on the issues of veiled product peddling. Here’s one quote from Lugar:

Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?

The messy and potentially polarizing part of this issue would be debating the rights of individuals to become a part of a revenue stream while not being controlled by an editorial presence.

Why is that messy?

Well, quite frankly, blogs represent a revolutionary change to the current forum of public debate, political discourse, and all types of commentary that the mainstream media provides, at cost, for sector, industry and entertainment products. Those “closed” arenas all have price tags and salaries attributed to them; blogs don’t.

The longer the power structure doesn’t mention this explicitly in public, rest assured, the more you can be sure that it’s a disconcerting issue for them. Check out this other quote from Lugar:

I think, very frankly, you can make a case that this is a special boon for reporters, and certainly for their role in freedom of the press […] At the end of the day what we will come out with says there is something privileged about being a reporter, and being able to report on something without being thrown into jail.

Does anyone else read that as “we can go after those rumor spreading bloggers” and not “we’re going to protect free speech?”

Politicians and/or corporate executives obviously feel more comfortable when an organization provides over-the-shoulder editorial direction to ensure credibility. Apparently, letting people choose to believe what they want to believe only works when the words come from salaried reporters, pundits and entertainers.

The debate is well under way, with Ken Fisher asking some important questions over at Ars Technica, while Stephen Newton, a PR consultant, presents his perspective on marketing blogging.

Do you even care about the future of blogging?

Yahoo!: A Change Agent At Work

kevin-sites

About a month ago, the Economist published an article about Yahoo!’s schizophrenic nature as a company. Yahoo!’s history as an Internet pioneer moved me to christen them as a change agent for Web 2.0—the complete opposite of a flaky AOLish operation.

Well, those wacky Yahooligans are off their meds again. God bless ’em.

In a few weeks, Yahoo! plans on releasing In the Hot Zone, a first person, solo journalism (SoJo) effort by Kevin Sites, who’ll cover the most war torn areas of the globe; areas which receive little to no mainstream coverage in the US. Here’s a taste of the Yahoo! approach:

Our Principles:

We will be aggressive in pursuing the stories that are not getting mainstream coverage and we will put a human face on them. We will not chase headlines nor adhere to pack journalism but vigorously pursue the stories in front of and behind the conflict, the small stories that when strung together illustrate a more complete picture.

We are professional journalists and will apply to our work the ethical code of conduct as outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists:

  • To seek and report the truth.
  • To minimize harm.
  • To act independently.
  • To be accountable.

We strongly believe, as stated in the preamble of this code, “that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”

We also will add four more criteria to our work that will take us above the journalistic code. We also pledge in our reporting and storytelling:

Transparency
An honest and authentic accounting of both our failure and successes, to pull back the curtain on our editorial and technological process. We refuse to propagate the myths of the omniscient, infallible correspondent.

Vulnerability
We will strive to live, breathe, and experience the lives of the people we are covering — including the daily dangers they’re exposed to from combat, disease, and hardship.

Empathy
We may not always agree with our sources, but we will make every effort to understand their positions and report them with clarity, so that our audience may have context and perspective.

Solutions
Our site will contain links to organizations and groups that are working to aid victims of these conflicts and assist in their peaceful resolutions.

Will Yahoo! succeed in this venture? I don’t know, but it really doesn’t matter, because by just making this announcement, Yahoo! has already set the tone for alternative news reporting in a mainstream, internet portal format. Even if they fail in the tactical attempt based on any number of conflicts (remember the Chinese reporter incident?) more sites will undoubtedly take on the challenge and pick up the baton running. A change agent, when all is said and done, is about the change. Steering change through it’s evolutionary course isn’t necessary the goal.

Yahoo! is leading at the point where Web 2.0 crosses over into the real world. Sweet.

Newsweek Blog Talk: An Innovator?

blog-talk

Newsweek and Technorati are in bed together and I’m really hoping it isn’t a monogamous relationship.

I’m not sure when this started, but Newsweek is now citing “Blog Talk,” creating a contextual column from the Newsweek article page that links to a full Blog Talk page which presents the last 10 blogs posts that have linked to the Newsweek article. This is being done automatically, sans any editorial review.

I’m currently working on a project for which I presented this exact context scenario for our blogger design persona. I couldn’t believe the serendipity. So to ensure the API and execution would support our needs, I ran a quick test and posted a response to the “I’m So Sorry” article, linking back to the story URL. Within 10 minutes of pinging Technorati, my post appeared on the Newsweek page. Okay, that’s very progressive. Sure, it’s only a glorified trackback system, but the underlying philosophy has huge implications.

We’re quickly moving to a sustainable model for presenting the individual perspective on the same level as mainstream media’s editorial-driven journalism. It’s a win-win; a site like Newsweek gets an increased blogger readership and bloggers have the opportunity to share their perspectives with people that may not even know how to navigate the scattered blogosphere.

From my perspective, this is the first step to truly legitimizing the blogosphere.

What’s next? Well, if Google, Yahoo! and other mainstream news aggregators begin to index blogs for their search queries, we’d be one step closer to breaking through the mainstream media stranglehold on information for the average American that receives their news on-line. All of this is what the promise of Community TV was supposed to provide twenty years ago, but ran into the obvious production challenges.

This is really good. It’s good for business, good for bloggers, and most importantly, good for bubbling up numerous perspectives of a story to the surface. This is discourse.

Tag! We’re it!

Alright, I admit it—I didn’t get out (or online) much while I worked for Ameritrade. 60 hour work weeks for two straight years while building a design practice and a forward-thinking trading platform will do that to your peripheral vision. Well, I’m making up for lost time, slowing down to explore the web… big time.

The IA in me is smiling. No, not for the sheer joy of seeing community indexing, the IA in me is smiling because it’s becoming clear to me where the web is heading, and it’s not following a topical, structured, media-filtered path.

Take Technorati for example; the approach is like a Bizarro perspective of the mainstream media.

bizzaro

Technorati isn’t dumb, ugly, inhumane or bizarro as a nemesis dimension in a comic book, but they are backwards in their approach to presenting a political/news media lens of corporate America… in a very good way.

The mainstream media presents the news by using explicit filters to ensure that what is published or broadcasted supports the primary objectives of capitalism. In the past, I’ve ranted about the much needed expansion of the Google and Yahoo! news model to place blogs into the mix when drawing from indexed sources. Well, Technorati flipped the model entirely with a communal approach to exposing and digesting information. There are no “vanilla” labels of a topical navigation, splitting the world into simplified categories and driving a pre-conceived notion of “valuable” content (i.e. politics, business, sports, etc.) into the skulls of society.

Technorati leverages tagging to present information based on our desires.

Run a tag search on “free speech” and you get a descriptive page of the latest blog entries, flickr images and a contextual list of social bookmarks which include mainstream media articles (based on del.icio.us and Furl tagging). It took me a few returns to stumble upon the revolutionary aspect of this approach. I mean, three months ago, I would’ve been happy if Google News simply added a column of contextual links of blog post that corresponded to a search query. Technorati has flipped the script and featured bloggers, reducing the media to a column of “see also’s.”

This is how you build community. I love it.

So where can this go? Can this approach sustain a movement towards fundamentally altering how American society exposes and digests information? Man, “it depends” is such an understatement.

  • If Technorati can reach a tipping point, similar to Google a few years back, and devise a marketing campaign, where, say, Tony Soprano is shown “Technorating” waste management on his computer, the impact on society could be huge. People will start to look for information from other people (sans an editorial slant), which flips the trust and credibility model
  • If Technorati partners with a Google to provide user-generated content within their results pages, society will begin to experience contextual alternatives to mainstream reporting, entertainment, et al without being forced to have to go search for it through RSS and other technical means.
  • If Technorati is bought by a Google, all bets are off. Only time would tell if Chomsky’s “propaganda model” proves itself to be a truism or if new media and its superstars are exceptions to the rule.

It’s obvious that the web’s semantic synapses are continuing to form. This is only the beginning.

All News Is Good News

they-live

A few years ago I ranted about my fear of a society where the media is absolutely controlled by corporate interests.

My head wasn’t in the sand; I obviously realized that we were already living in such a world, as money drives practically everything in this country. I was more concerned with the audacity of the FCC to even consider the type of deregulation it ended up approving. Sure, it happens every day; legislation lobbyed for by those in power increases the empowerment of those same people. I mean, this is how the free market works. But this legislation goes beyond just making money for the upper class.

The fact is that Americans are glued to the tube and this type of conglomerate legislation—spanning all media (television, print, radio and the internet)—has now allowed for a greater possiblity to create a lasting, singular, corporate perspective in the psychology of the moment and beyond. Consume messaging has been given even more proximity to our children’s brains.

They Live shades are looking pretty good right about now.

So without the prospect of landing a pair of alien sunglasses, what exactly can be done to defend ourselves from this destructive approach to creating a consumer culture at all costs? As a contributor to public discourse, I’ve always believed that the ‘net (in 1997), and specifically, blogs (over the last five years) were a key development in the fight to present a perspective to battle corporate marketing and/or government disinformation.

  • With blogging, there’s no managing editor around with advertising pressures to censor (or generate) a particular perspective. (well, that is until the corporate structure jacks blogging to apply its usefulness to its bottom line, thereby reducing its effectiveness in the wild)
  • Blogs are also a time permitting endeavor; you can publish many times a day or once a year. There isn’t a revenue figure to drive towards, which allows for individual perspectives to be expressed at will

This break from the days of publishing via the standard print revenue generation model is something akin to the advent of the printing press, yet with the merchant nation-state taking the place of the previously empowered Church. Okay, maybe that’s a little pre-mature, but the possibilities are there. And what are the possibilities?

Over the past few years, the blogging revolution has become more and more accessible and mainstream with the advent of RSS and aggregate readers. With Yahoo! adding access to RSS feeds to their My Yahoo! content modules, blogs are one step closer to being mainstream. But this last step is a big one, steeped in moral conviction.

Until blogs are automatically indexed as viable, alternative feeds when running, say, a news query at Google or Yahoo!, they are going to, at best, sit on the periphery of the conscious of the world’s inhabitants. The average person does not have the time, nor the patience, to sift through the pedagogy of managing RSS. Bookmarks are about as much as they can handle. Blogs do return in general search queries, but this “general return only” pre-supposes a value level to the quality of the information being retrieved. You know, a perspective or opinion or even investigative research presented by a blogger has less value than a feed from the New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.

That’s why this information retrieval concept would have to be one generated out of moral conviction. By keeping news sources limited strictly to incorporated, staffed and vested (in the economic structure of) newspapers, Google (or any other news search engine) is basically saying that only these sources can report and editorialize news. Even though Google has gone a long way in presenting perspectives from small and foreign sources, providing the chance opportunity for conflicting perspective, it’s still not enough.

It seems to me that with a search capability, news aggregator and a blogging tool, Google and Yahoo! are best poised to create convergence between the “professional” news organizations and blogging communities, within the boundaries of their individual interfaces. How accessible blogs become in the presentation, will be a litmus test of their commitment to providing contextual channels within the information age, while creating usable interfaces for digesting a world of information overload and disinformation.

It’s completely doable and an ongoing commitment to data mining and information presentation doesn’t seem to indicate that such domains will shy away from heading in this direction. Well, as long as blogs don’t impact their institutional investors or advertisers in a negative light.

Art Prophesying Reality?

three-days-of-condor

It was around 1989 when I read Six Days of the Condor, a story chock full of deceit, murder, paranoia, sex, intrigue and spies; a perfect story for an 18 year-old kid. For some reason, possibly my attention span at the time, the end of the book threw me for a loop. So tonight, I kicked back with my Netflix choice of the week and watched the film adaptation: Three Days of the Condor.

It was made 28 years ago, yet the plot line has come to life in eerie fashion over the last few years. I don’t want to ruin the movie for you, so if you are going to rent it, don’t read on.

Condor (played by Robert Redford) is a spy, and per chance, misses a hit on his office that leaves the all seven of his colleagues executed. After some brilliant screenwriting, we come to find out that one of his previous reports sent off to Langley hit a nerve within a secret faction of the CIA that just happened to be playing war games concerning the overthrow of an unstable regime in the Middle East in order to gain control of oil reserves.

Sure, the US has been meddling with numerous foreign spots in the Middle East over the past 50 years to keep a stranglehold on power, but shivers the size of nine inch nails traveled down my spine just the same.

The rogue CIA unit ordered the execution of the entire office after reading Condor’s spot-on investigative report, so he does the only thing he can and goes off the grid to plan his next steps. After outwitting numerous suits over the course of the film, he ends up confronting the CIA Director directly in front of the New York Times office in Manhattan.

After a quick verbal sparring over the morality of what our government was doing, Condor tells the Director that the story is out and the Times will be publishing it all. The film ends with the CIA Director asking Condor,

“What if they don’t print it, then where will you go?”

Redford’s face drops a bit as the last frame freezes on him.

Does Our Press Get Squeezed?

Forget the uncanny plot line that syncs up with the recent activity in Iraq and the coincidence of the NYC CIA office being found within the WTC. It’s eerie to experience this 70s flick being so prescient, but I’m more interested with the final jab.

I often wonder how free the press is in our capitalistic society, where over the years the fourth branch has moved away from reporting and more toward media. Our government has indoctrinated us to speak harshly against news practices around the world, especially during the eighties during the heart of the Cold War (when I was an impressionable teenager); the old “look, over there!” trick has build a sycophantic capitalist society of productive worker bees at home, much less apt to question authority or the authenticity of “news” when delivered.

Here’s something to ponder: Did you know that congress is on the verge of passing unprecedented legislation that allows media entities to merge with minimal to no limitations? Can you imagine what this could mean in an Orwellian novel? Or in this actual capitalist society where one individual, such as a Bill Gates, has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined?

A less competitive press = a singular perspective.

  • Advertising revenue begins to drive the editorial premise and impedes journalistic objectivity
  • Agendas are deployed and met
  • A top down, targeted media push (via news, marketing, advertising, programming, etc.) becomes the mainstay of communication operations

Our society has evolved from watching the news on TV at 6 and 11 (1970’s) to digesting news 24 hours a day on TV, radio, and the internet (1990’s) to having access to hundreds of thousands of individual perspectives of news events blasting on blogs (present). With all this newfound decentralized access we should feel both informed and empowered, right?

That’s what they want us to think.

For even the most invested netizen, information technology is still a hindrance when trying to decipher noise from news, and fiction from fact. Simple to use, individually operated publishing channels are now available to the masses through blogging, but actual reach to the mainstream, less tech savvy, older audiences is minimal at best as information is still presented in a hard-to-access online ecosystem.

I can imagine the power elite in media and government thinking something along the lines of:

Let the bottom feeders play with their toys—be it bloggers publishing opinions based on theory or fact—no one will be able to tell the difference. It’ll be our facts that they base their opinion upon. And the noise in the sheer amount of opinions projected outwards will make all opinions null and void.

Our organized, top-down messaging is so strong via advertising, marketing, media, etc., that the bottom-up representation of the people will become lost in the noise of the the mainstream media, as well as in it’s own scattered presentation.

We’ll then use their information as data to feed our strategic messaging and market right back to them.

Americans have turned into thought veal over the past twenty-years. We’ve been tenderized perfectly to be devoured oh-so-nicely in a propaganda system that is set up to succeed only if the masses over-consume everything from food to entertainment to material goods to political punditry.

This is the boogie man that lives under my bed.

sponsored by…

bush-on-911

the world has changed.
no shit, glad you’ve woken up.
we don’t all drink from the same fountain
or even from the same cup
but if the music’s right
and the air is clear
why confuse the good times
with political matters
we fear
nothing.
at all…
because “no fear” is a fucking brand
manufactured for morons
living in a testosterone dreamland
yeah, we’re all now awake
we now have an enemy to curse and blame
but do we really understand why
“they” burn our flag and name?
no.
but who cares?
we’ll bomb ’em till they quit.
yeah that’s a solid tactic
a top five rotation hit
now all the brands are buzzing
pulling at our patriotic strings
the marketing is subtle
yet sick and deafening
“united” is just that
ready to serve you across the land
and since they’re so “united”
they want us to go lend a helping hand
because, you see, they’re “with us”
a part of our verbal psyche
but what if their name was continental?
or fuddruckers?
or nike?
brand opportunity
awareness at an all time high
higher than they used to go
when consumers weren’t afraid to fly
so come on out and support ’em
get the business back on track
while you’re at it buy a rolex
shit, get a new cadillac
consuming is what matters
to a society built on exploitation
i wonder what “those people” would say
if we opened up actual lines of communication?
yeah right…
too late…
it’s all about annihilation.