Free-Floating Hostility

Friday, May 20, 2005

Royal Fuck-ups and Conspiracy Theories

I'm not all that interested in the saga over at Newsweek because mistakes happen in the news business, and some of those errors are actually royal fuck ups. So when someone mentioned to Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay were habitually desecrating the Qu'ran, he ran with it. Understandably upset at this news, Muslims in Afghanistan used their new-found freedoms to protest this treatment and 14 to 17 of them were gunned down by security stories. Now it seems that story was wrong.

The White House press secretary demands satisfaction from Newsweek, whatever that means. Maybe a duel. I think that's sort of in vogue in Washington these days. The anecdote about flushing the Qu'ran down the toilet came from an anonymous source, which brings up all sorts of issues about the way news is reported. The problem with journalism, as it's currently constituted, is that the PR industry knows us too well. There are so many holes in the way news gets from source's mouth to printed page that a few motivated individuals can get an invented story into print. All I need to do as a media director is distribute the same talking points to people who seemingly don't know each other. Sure it's the reporters job to exercise skepticism, but if lots of people are telling you the same thing, it takes on the ring of truth.

If one believes in conspiracies, and believes that the current White House wants to sandbag the free press, then it's not that hard to figure out that an incorrect story was planted. Take the CBS scandal last year. Bush operatives proved the documents CBS went on the air with were falsified, but they never actually proved that the president showed up for national guard duty. But the mistake trumped the facts and became the story. The vast majority of the electorate doesn't pay close attention to these machinations, so they learn the shorthand. But discrediting a specific media report is far different from actually telling the truth.

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