Case Study: Redesigning Media Matters For America

media matters for america

In 2005 I collaborated with Khoi Vihn (a founding partner and Design Principal at Behavior Design) as a contract information architect to redesign the Media Matters for America website.

The organization had launched only a year prior in 2004, but with the explosion of political blogs beginning to make a dent in online conversations (pre-social media), their platform couldn’t handle or take advantage of the overflow of new traffic. If you’re not familiar with the media tracking platform, here’s how they describe themselves:

Media Matters for America is a Web-based, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.

The team we worked with was led by a handful of senior research fellows who were mostly in charge of the position pieces on the site. While the incoming goal of the engagement was centered primarily around re-architecting the site to make specific content more findable and visible to users, the team knew that they were posting blindly to the web with only the hope of satisfying audience needs.

Who Actually Needs Monitored Media

In leu of a large research budget, we decided the next best thing was to run a session with our staff of in-house political consultants and subject matter experts. Armed with sticky pads and markers, we set up shop in their war room in downtown Washington, DC and started in at the beginning:

  • What do we know about the people who come to the site today?
  • What do they visit often? What do they do there?
  • As bloggers, how can we better serve their needs?
  • Who isn’t currently aware of MMFA that should be aware?
  • Is there a chance to develop programs or community around misinformation?
  • etc.

When designing an information heavy, public website—as opposed to a task-oriented, internal application—it can be a slippery task to craft design personas that will present even pseudo-exacting context scenarios.
mmfa-personas

In this case, we were able to start the conversation with a solid understanding of a user base that had particular needs (political bloggers), and then extrapolate outwards to see if similar users might exist with even more discrete goals. Our generic “embed and share” user began to show enough tendencies for us to divide the profile into three primary design personas:

  • Jonathan Kenney represented the archetype of a journalist that MMFA knew was using the site for research purposes. Upon fleshing out his experiential and career goals, we recognized the opportunity to design a program that fed content into his topic-specific research needs
  • Jackson Martin represented the scores of political bloggers that were on the rise at the time. This was pre-social media, but the scenarios were similar: Make content findable, digestible and shareable.
  • Efrat Zori represented the mass of anti-war and left leaning activists who simply didn’t appreciate being lied to. MMFA can become a community for her to spend time both commenting and sharing media tips.

Somewhat outside our purview, and deeper into the objectives of MMFA itself, lay a fourth potential persona. Dharia Hsin represented a political staffer who was dealing with the media, putting out fires and suggesting policy strategy her congressman. We believed that she might also be pegged strategically by MMFA as a conduit to share misinformation research and video with her boss to assist movement on the hill.

Moving From Strategy To The Interface

Once we had our personas in play, we crafted a number of scenarios that positioned our users within their daily context and imagined, in the most optimal manner, how they might interact with MMFA. This narrative exercise allowed us to design solutions without the constraints of the interface. We then walked the client through each scenario, and made changes where necessary. Once we were in agreement on the strategic approach concerning user needs, I began to document lower-level scenarios—following key paths throughout this yet-to-be-sketched interface.
mmfa deliverables

The key paths began to resemble functional requirements, but not as an out-of-context collection of direction; rather, much more of an an organic semblance of explicit interface needs steeped in user goals—from particular widgets to search results hero campaigns to column requirements. We used this process to iterate internally and then with the client, eventually leading to design sketches… but with a twist.

As I began low-fidelity template sketches that were heavily laden with modular features, I visually assigned our personas to each content area. From the home page to content pages to search results, it helped to communicate the bridge between the strategy work and the interface to the team.
mmfa wireframes

Form there, as my sketches gained in fidelity and Khoi—probably the most renowned grid designer on the web in this era—worked with the team to establish interface details and a more sophisticated palette, we iterated on module placement, widget behavior and a metadata scheme. Previously, MMFA wasn’t tapping into tagging as an approach to make their content more available, either internally or externally. We made it a priority that all content published—research, video, article, etc.—would have an explicit approach to tagging, which helped the team align more closely with the citizen media launch spots (think: Technorati) of the time.

In the end, the MMFA team loved the work. Our strategy improved their community building efforts and laid the groundwork for MMFA to become the go to place for both bloggers and journalists looking for misinformation in the media.

Ten years after launch, not only can you experience the vast majority of the architectural foundation we put in play, but the domain has skyrocketed in popularity. The advent of social media most definitely fueled such an explosion, but our thinking at the time didn’t limit the domain when a new vehicle for discovery appeared on the horizon.

There aren’t many examples of domain designs that have stood the test of time for more than a decade. That’s very gratifying.

10 years after the engagement, the interface works and looks pretty much the same
10 years after the engagement, the interface hasn’t changed much

The Crossroads of Hip Hop

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Dr. Walter Greason: […] “Hip hop—the only social force to create an equitable, participatory, democratic, and global system of politics and economics over the last three decades—will vanish into history under a fascist backlash, consume the soul of our generation with consumerism, or evolve to inspire greater intelligence, creativity, and faith among ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.

The crossroads we face is no less than the choice about the direction of our species and our planet. This essay hopes to open a conversation about the tools of culture hip hop may provide for our uplift and empowerment.” […]

Capital Controlling Media To Keep Us Thirsty For Violence

war

Noam Chomsky once explained the driving force behind the war machine as one that won’t begin to slow down until corporate America realizes that the majority of its customers are against a particular conflict. For when advertisers adjust to the collective vibe of the people (in order to sell product), the message is brought home to politicians in ways they must take seriously in a state-capitalism system.

I can’t remember where I read that—probably in Understanding Power—but it reminded me of his synopsis of the Vietnam Syndrome:

[…] The bewildered herd never gets properly tamed, so this is a constant battle. In the 1930s they arose again and were put down. In the 1960s there was another wave of dissidence. There was a name for that. It was called by the specialized class “the crisis of democracy.” Democracy was regarded as entering into a crisis in the 1960s. The crisis was that large segments of the population were becoming organized and active and trying to participate in the political arena.

Here we come back to these two conceptions of democracy. By the dictionary definition, that’s an advance in democracy. By the prevailing conception that’s a problem, a crisis that has to be overcome. The population has to be driven back to the apathy, obedience and passivity that is their proper state. We therefore have to do something to overcome the crisis. Efforts were made to achieve that. It hasn’t worked. The crisis of democracy is still alive and well, fortunately, but not very effective in changing policy. But it is effective in changing opinion, contrary to what a lot of people believe.

Great efforts were made after the 1960s to try to reverse and overcome this malady. It was called the “Vietnam Syndrome.” The Vietnam Syndrome, a term that began to come up around 1970, has actually been defined on occasion. The Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz defined it as “the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force.” There were these sickly inhibitions against violence on the part of a large part of the public. People just didn’t understand why we should go around torturing people and killing people and carpet bombing them. It’s very dangerous for a population to be overcome by these sickly inhibitions, as Goebbels understood, because then there’s a limit on foreign adventures.

It’s necessary, as the Washington Post put it the other day, rather proudly, to “instill in people respect for the martial virtues.” That’s important. If you want to have a violent society that uses force around the world to achieve the ends of its own domestic elite, it’s necessary to have a proper appreciation of the martial virtues and none of these sickly inhibitions about using violence. So that’s the Vietnam Syndrome. It’s necessary to overcome that one. […]

Enter into the conversation: The Dixie Chicks.

These three women made plain what they felt was true in the run up to war in Iraq and now—three and a half years into this unjust war, their message is shared by a majority of Americans (65% want out of Iraq and more than 60% disapprove President Bush’s job).

So if you buy into the analysis that it’s necessary for a state-capitalism system to overcome such “sickly inhibitions about using violence” in order to flex all foreign policy options, then the actions of one of the last defenses in the current corporate line—the über-conglomerate NBC Universal—shouldn’t surprise you.

Even though CBS moved forward with an ad buy, NBC has steeled up and decided to not run ads for the Dixie Chicks documentary entitled, Shut Up and Sing.

Here’s part of their rationale (with my emphasis):

[…] While the Weinstein Co. had shown NBC its ads, it had not inquired about buying commercial time, he said. Generally, when an ad is rejected, prospective advertisers return and work with the network on ways to make it acceptable—as was done with the Michael Moore film, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11,’ he said.

But NBC heard nothing more from makers of “Shut Up and Sing” until portions of what NBC executives thought were confidential business correspondence showed up in a news release, he said.

“There was no attempt to come back and have a conversation,” Wurtzel said. “There are times when some advertisers get more publicity for having their ad rejected.” […]

NBC’s positioning for making the trailer more acceptable is akin to the central theme of a documentary called Shut Up and Sing. Are they really surprised that the band walked away and went to the press? Ten years ago, such a tactical play by NBC could’ve crippled an independent film’s message due to lack of exposure, but not now, not in the information age. NBC can stick to their “standards” and play all the games they want, because as Chomsky so eloquently analyzed, the people are on it.

UPDATE: Lawrence Lessig speaks to a previous media denial encounter with NBC that fell into a similar “not very flattering to the president” category.

(via Baron over at TwangNation)

Charles Brantley Aycock: A Monumental Lie

charles brantley aycock

To make a point, I’ve tweaked one line from the glowing write-up Charles Brantley Aycock received at The Architect Of The Capitol site, which proudly displays his memorial bronze, to read:

Charles Brantley Aycock was born on November 1, 1859, on a farm near Fremont in Wayne County, North Carolina. Though his father died when he was 15, his mother and older brothers recognized his abilities and determined that he should go to college.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1880 with first honors in both oratory and essay writing, he entered law practice in Goldsboro and supplemented his income by teaching school. His success in both fields led to his appointment as superintendent of schools for Wayne County and to service on the school board in Goldsboro.

His political career began in 1888 as a presidential elector for Grover Cleveland, when he gained distinction as an orator and political debater. From 1893 to 1897 he served as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, and he was elected governor in 1900 after participating as a primary conspirator in the murderous 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, which proved to be the one and only coup d’etat in United States history.

His greatest achievement in office was in education, to which he was dedicated after watching his mother make her mark when signing a deed. He felt that no lasting social reform could be accomplished without education. He supported increased salaries for teachers, longer school terms, and new school buildings; almost 3000 schools were built during his administration. Other reforms he supported included laws to establish fair election machinery, to prevent lynching, to erect a reformatory for boys, and to restrict child labor. He resumed his law practice in 1905, but in 1911 he yielded to pressure to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate. He died on April 4, 1912, while campaigning.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time, nor the energy to get into a battle to add the contextual facts to his Wikipedia entry or confront the University of North Carolina at Greensboro administration over their similarly named auditorium.

Sources:

The Greensboro Massacre On Steroids

wilmingtonraceriot

Exactly eighty-one years before the mess of 11/3/1979, a coalition of white leaders and white supremacists took to the streets in Wilmington, North Carolina, killing over a hundred African-Americans in the process of performing a coup d’etat.

The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 was tragic on three distinct levels:

  1. A group of white political and business leaders stole an election, where African-Anericans had successfully served in positions of local government just 25 years following the end of the Civil War.
  2. Not content with the speed of the political change over, the newly “elected” powers overthrew the established leaders by launching a riot, resulting in the hundreds of deaths, while driving numerous more African-Americans out of town.
  3. The progressive nature of African-Anerican citizenship and inter-racial political cooperation in North Carolina absolutely preceded the national civil rights movent of the 50’s and 60’s. This one event completely reversed the course of civil rights in all of North Carolina and served as a signal to the nation that African-Americans continued to have zero civil rights.

Fun fact: The next five governors of North Carolina had all participated in the coup and riot of 1898, including former governor Charles B. Aycock. Greensboro residents should be distinctly familiar with that name.

The 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission released their report just five days after the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission‘s report went public. Considering that the events of ’79 pale in comparison to the massacre – coup d’etat of ’98, and based on the often chilly, local conversation surrounding the GTRC report, I can only guess how many supposed “progressive” North Carolinians will view the recommendations of the State President of the NAACP, let alone the final recommendations to come later this year.

Not to sound like a PSA, but our collective, understood history too often defines our future actions in defining community. For those of you with limited time to investigate this issue, take a listen to this amazing State of Things broadcast, which dissects the history of the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot, provides context to the political and cultural isses of the day and discusses how the NC State legislature might proceed from the soon-to-be published recommendations.

(hat tip: Andy)

Net Neutrality and Hip Hop

davey d hip hop activist
Davey D
An Open Letter to Hip Hop About Some Real Important Shyt

Dear Folks who say they Love Hip Hop,

I wish there was a way to make this issue of Net Neutrality more interesting. I wish there was a way to spice it up and make it compelling like some sort of beef within the rap industry. Maybe I should get Brad and Angelina to talk about it instead of their baby. Maybe Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton can utter a few words and force us to take more of an interest.

I wish Cam’ron spent his vast money holding press conferences, dissing punk ass Congress for taking tainted money from Verizon, SBC, and Comcast instead of going after Jay-Z. Im glad Jay-Z ignored Camron, unfortunately he remained silent as the President of Def Jam on this important issue. We’ll see what happens after Def Jam finds it difficult or too costly to send out their e-post cards alerting me and others of their latest releases

Im sorry Miss Jones on Hot 97 was so upset and enraged that she felt compelled to make headlines calling Mary J Blige a bitch for not shouting her out at last weeks Summer Jam. Its too bad that she didn’t use her 3-4 hours a day of airtime in the nations largest city to call the greedy Congress people who accepted money from these corporations Bitches. There ain’t gonna be any shout outs if the Senate follows Congress in passing this bill. Maybe she’ll step it up when her parent company Emmis finds that folks from all over the country can no longer easily access their archived interviews on their website.

It’s too bad that many of us found this issue ‘too complicated’ and ‘too overwhelming’ and hence directed our attention to Ludacris and Ice Cube’s beef with Oprah. This is the feedback I got after stories ran on my website as well as AllHipHop.

Shyt I’m sorry Oprah was too busy telling Ed Lover that she really does love Hip Hop and that she listens to 50 Cent and his violent ass all damn day instead of alerting her millions of viewers about the issue of Net Neutrality.

Im sorry that KRS-One and others used these Internet airways to tell us about the Hip Hop Nation they want to build, but didn’t issue a call to action to protect a main arm of our communication. Whether youre a Hip Hop or Rap Lover the elimination of Net Neutrality is gonna impact you..

Here’s what’s happening folks. The house has gone passed the COPE bill and rejected proposals to insure Net Neutrality. Those who sided with the Comcast and Verizon are well aware that the ability of ordinary people to communicate to the masses is a problem because its been the only thing holding them accountable. For the last 5 years, the biggest stories about government corruption, corporate swindles, global warming and no weapons of Mass Destruction has come through Internet bloggers who were able to push an issue to the masses and force Fox, CNN and other News outlets to pay some sort of attention.

Anyone who is an activist and championed causes ranging from Election fraud and Diebold Machines, police brutality Freeing Mumia, Global warming, Media Reform and Saving the South Central Farm in LA just to name a few this is will especially hit you hard, because the Internet and its neutrality provisions have enabled many of us to counter biased mainstream media outlets get information out about particular causes all over the world.

Yesterday that ability took one step closer to coming to an end. The mantra being sung on Capitol Hill is Shut it down, Shut that shyt down and redirect traffic to a handful of places and media outlets that they can influence and control.

Like Ice Cube said ‘Laugh Now and Cry Later’, because many of us will soon be crying when we see the Internet gets parceled up and we start paying outrageous tolls for basic amenities. And speaking of which why didn’t Ice Cube talk about this issue instead of not being invited on Oprah?

Anyway your next steps should you choose is to call your Senator’s office and tell them to stand up and protect your interests. Ignoring this, waiting for others to take on your responsibility or acting like the issue will simply go away will not change this.

While many of you may shrug this off and think it doesn’t apply to you, stop and think of all the activities you do on the daily that involve the Internet. Such activities range from using phone cards which use Internet connections-(Many of y’all didn’t realize that) on down to peeping your favorite blog… Many of y’all like to surf and check out my site, AllHipHop, Sohh, HipHopGame etc.. Folks that shyt is about to change in a big, big ,big way.

You’re soon gonna be left with only being able to peep monthly issues of The Source and XXL, who neglected to address this issue. The Source bypassed this in their Media Watch column and Elliot Wilson from XXL obvious saw his shyt talking editorials as more important then keeping you informed. I guess I can understand, all these Hip Hop Internet websites were eating into business.

All you artists who felt like you can easily get your music out there via Myspace and the other sites, that’s about to change. Oh yeah lets not forget the punk ass RIAA who like to sue everybody. They stayed silent on this and in fact while all this is going on they have quietly been lobbying Congress to change laws so that they can fundamentally change the copyright laws in such a way that it will make it damn near impossible to pass things around via the net or do Internet Radio.

Also let’s not let Steve Jobs and his vast iTunes network off the hook. Perhaps I missed it, but I didnt see him alerting us when you went to download your favorite song or stepped into his stores. Perhaps he figures he’s rich enough to pay for the inevitable increases while the rest of us cant. In other words controlling 90% of the market is not enough.

Shame on former Black Panther, Congressman Bobby Rush for selling us out and supporting these corporations. Shame on the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and any other Civil Rights group pretending to represent our interests while selling us out and taking the money to front for these groups. And while Im glad former Congressman Ron Dellums did well in his Mayoral bid in Oakland, we should not forget that he’s also a lobbyist with one of his main clients being Verizon so shame on him as well. How’s Oakland gonna be a world class city that is a beacon for new technology and innovation when his client is one of the main people trying to shut down the Internet?

In closing I’m gonna say this and it may be sobering for some… It’s what my pops told me after I got caught fuccing up and then went home and tried to kiss up to him so I wouldn’t get in trouble. He told me to stop acting like a wuss and start acting like a man. He told me it was time I grow up and accept responsibility. He then punished me for 3 weeks not for the fucc up, but for me trying to kiss his ass instead of owning up to my mistakes. This is about to happen to all of us…

My point is this. Hip Hop is over 30 years old. We’re not kids no more. This industry is not run by kids. To not involve ourselves in shaping the institutions that we rely on to get our information and music out is irresponsible. Thats some thing to pond about. Here’s another breakdown on this issue courtesy of http://www.playahata.com

Peace out for now
Holla at your Senator before you holla back at me…

Davey D

(via Navaho Gunleg)

The Haditha Massacre, Media and Patterns of Warfare

haditha map massacre

With the massacre of Haditha already drawing comparisons to the My Lai massacre — where up to 500 unarmed Vietnamese men, women and children were killed in cold blood by American forces — proponents of this war are holding fast against this incident becoming the tipping point of complete anti-war sentiment.

Local blogger, Joe Guarino:

[…] We cannot take these unfortunate events, and then somehow generalize and amplify the Big Message they convey to suggest that the overall war effort is unworthy. We cannot make general assessments of the war in Iraq (or in Vietnam, for that matter) on the basis of tragic events that do not reflect the overall pattern.

The media would be wrong to muster a drumbeat on these stories, but if they do in stereotypical fashion, the public should ignore it.

Unfortunately for Joe and his agenda, the American public will discuss the role this atrocity plays in the overall war effort.

Whether Haditha represents an accurate assessment of the US military’s tactical MO or not, it has marked a clear shift in our collective perception of modern warfare. No longer do we live in a fantasy world of surgically precise operations; we’ve all awoken to the reality that combat-stressed groups of men and women in a war zone are capable of murdering civilians on their own accord.

That 21st century, smart-bomb warfare meme is kaput; we’re now all aware that the US is knee-deep in a grudge match.

But in the end, it truly doesn’t matter if this one incident is indicative of the pattern to the entire war effort or not, because to the Iraqi people — the people on the other end of the gun barrel in any circumstance — it signifies a terrifying escalation of chaos, murder and occupation that cannot be erased with clarifying words.

The Overall Pattern In Iraq

From pg. 39 of the September 2004 Strategic Communication report, by the Defense Science Board—a federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the secretary of defense:

2.3 What is the Problem? Who Are We Dealing With?

The information campaign—or as some still would have it, “the war of ideas” or the struggle for “hearts and minds”—is important to every war effort. In this war it is an essential objective, because the larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists. But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended.

American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.

  • Muslims do not “hate our freedom,” but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
  • Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that “freedom is the future of the Middle East” is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World—but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
  • Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
  • Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack to broad public support.
  • What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of “terrorist” groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
  • Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic—namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is for Americans—really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.

Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of “dissemination of information,” or even one of crafting and delivering the message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility. Simply, there is none; the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the “loud and clear” channel: the enemy.

That last sentence (with my emphasis) represents the overall pattern that I see in the Iraq war. We’re a 100,000 strong force of monolinguistic, armed men and women on a foreign soil. Our soldiers have little to no training in the local customs of the Iraqi people, and practically no one can verbally communicate with either civilians or the enemy.

Essential building blocks of communication with the Iraqi people—humane, personal connections via idle chat during a convoy exercise, supportive conversation in local establishments, calming direction provided during a house raid—all become lost opportunities to gain a semblance of trust or credibility.

This simple inability to communicate waters the fields of insurgent seeds.

So when an atrocity such as Haditha occurs, the Iraqi people’s understanding of the act can’t be contextualized or messaged into obscurity by our military. Worse even, the sheer brutality of such an incident doesn’t need to be framed or spun by operatives of al Qaeda or the leaders of local insurgents to build a greater resistance to American forces.

The atrocity speaks for itself, with a clarity of message delivered via a deafening tone of dead relatives, neighbors and friends, all never to be seen again.

Iraqi citizens have lived with the fear of a potential Haditha massacre for years now. Their daily lives are filled with various degrees of similar experiences with American forces as we consistently sweep through house after house in the middle of the night, searching for insurgents. A Haditha massacre does only one thing: it confirms their worst fears, leading to more fear and more aggression towards our troops.

No matter what we want to tell ourselves, perception is reality.

The DoD knows we’ll never be able to control the perception of Iraqi’s, so this cry of the right to look at the big picture of the war is a nothing more than panicked attempt to control the perception and reactions of Americans that might question this war effort.

To suggest that the American public should “ignore” the “media mustering a drumbeat on these stories”—these atrocities—in order to protect the overall pattern of the war in Iraq is a failed intellectual position. This incident might only be one data point in the overall pattern of war, but it’s a glaring one; one that exposes more elements going wrong over there than going right.

The Role Of The Media

Iraqi war planners aren’t overly concerned with critical journalism, such as the March 2006 Time magazine exclusive on Haditha, affecting the average American’s take on the state of the war.

Sure, it’s a concern, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

If not managed, the mainstream media can become a major threat to war efforts because it is exists via the same capitalistic infrastructure as the government it supposes to watchdog.

In other words, when media institutions begin climbing onto editorial limbs, foregoing their inherent responsibility to the interests of corporate advertising, it clearly signals a shift in times to American corporations who become placed in a position to make certain decisions they’d rather not have to make:

  • They can remove themselves from media buys that are beginning to serve the reflected will of the consumer (poor PR) or
  • They can keep their advertising in place as a public relations strategy, while implicitly distancing themselves from our government’s effort to wage war

See, the real concern isn’t with the common people in as much as it is with the flow of money, for once the majority of corporations are off the bandwagon of a war effort, its future becomes rather short-lived.

An Example Of The Power Of Media

Lieutenant William Calley—the American officer in charge at the My Lai massacre—faced the scrutiny of the much more centralized, mainstream media of 1970. Advertising legend George Lois provides context to the media exposure of the atrocity at the time by describing the decision and experience of placing Calley on the November, 1970 cover of Esquire magazine:

LieutenantWilliamCalley

“Lieutenant, this picture will show that you’re not afraid as far as your guilt is concerned. The picture will say: ‘Here I am with these kids you’re accusing me of killing. Whether you believe I’m guilty or innocent, at least read about my background and motivations.'” Calley grinned on cue, and we completed the session.

When I sent the finished cover to (Esquire editor, Harold) Hayes he called to let me know that his office staff and Esquire’s masthead bureaucrats were plenty shook up.

“Some detest it and some love it,” he said. “You going to chicken out?” I asked. “Nope,” he said. “We’ll lose advertisers and we’ll lose subscribers. But I have no choice. I’ll never sleep again if I don’t muster the courage to run it.”

The notion that some editors might feel a sense of duty to a global community—and not just to a sovereign position or a bottom line—marks the potential for transforming the media into the greatest, political equalizer on the face of the earth.

In 1970, the attack on the “liberal” media—outlets that didn’t explicitly recognize corporate interests over human interests at every turn—was eerily similar to the conservative banter of today. From Into The Dark: The My Lai Massacre:

[…] On April 1, 1971, just two days after the verdict, Nixon ordered Calley to be placed under house arrest while his appeal worked its way through the courts. “The whole tragic episode was used by the media and the antiwar forces to chip away at our efforts to build public support for our Vietnam objectives,” he wrote.

Across the nation, there were many demonstrations of support for Lt. Calley. The American Legion announced plans that it would try to raise $100,000 for his appeal. Draft board personnel in several cities resigned in groups. Several politicians spoke out in public criticizing the government’s prosecution of the soldiers at My Lai. “I’ve had veterans tell me that if they were in Vietnam now, they would lay down their arms and come home,” Congressman John Rarick told the New York Times.

But prosecutor Aubrey Daniel also did not remain silent. He wrote a highly publicized letter to President Nixon criticizing him for releasing Calley to house arrest: “How shocking it is if so many people across this nation have failed to see the moral issue—that it is unlawful for an American soldier to summarily execute unarmed and unresisting men, women and babies.” […]

In the end, we have to recognize that an atrocity such as Haditha is a symptom of the behavioral patterns of all warfare. To brush it aside as a random act of violence would be to remove the complicit nature of war planners from the equation and lay it squarely on the shoulder of the souls that serve our country, no matter the call to duty.