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New York Times''s self-criticism

 
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rbyrne
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The NYT's self-criticism article http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/26/international/middleeast/26FTE_NOTE.html?ex=1086580800&en=e08c0830981aeb0d&ei=5070&8dpc
might offer some insights into the way the media works. I'm not sure how much time it's worth putting into critques of critques of the media as the discussion might all become very abstract, however I've come accross at least two mentions of this article which I thought were interesting, and resulted in me sending these mails. No replies. The main point is that they avoid mentioning the structural failures of the media in favour of chasing down other , I suppose, less threatening details.

Just one point comes to mind: in the video of "Manufacturing Consent" there's an interview with an editor from the NYT where they ask him how comes the NYT missed the story of the invasion and killings in East Timor. The editor says well, you know, there's a lot happening in the world, that's a small place we slipped up and missed that story. They put that to Chomsky who says well, ok they may have slipped up there. But it's curious that typically when they slip up the slip tends to favour the US foreign policy position. In other words what they try to pass off as slips is really a strategy or direction.

In the case of WMD in Iraq they "happened" to slip up by believing Iraqi defectors whose information supported the Bush administration case for war.

Rob.

--

Dear Today Program,

Re your piece on 31st May at 8.45 on the New York Time's "apology" for not
getting the coverage of WMDs right before the Iraq War.

Firstly, I think this important topic deserves much more time than the two
minutes that you allocated to it. If you did then you could start to seriously
look at what the NYT editorial actually said (It's on May 26th titled
"The Times and Iraq"). So let's leave that aside and turn to the coverage
you did give this story.

Between your reporter and the guest the most enlightening points you could
highlight were:

1. The NYT journalists were kind of swept along by pro-war sentiment.

2. The idea that it was all a "conspiracy", which you immediately rightly
dismiss.

What doesn't even enter the discussion is the idea that the NYT
_systematically_ favours the point of view of the establishment, in this case
the Bush Administration. All that was happening was that the NYT was
correctly reading the pro-war sentiment of the US administration and,
following it's usual journalistic practice (favoring offical sources, not
seeking readily available other views, showing limited self-critical
capability...) it produced copy that quite naturally favoured the Governmen
pro-war point of view.

This role of the media as what Hermann calls a "well oiled propaganda machine"
is well documented: see "Manufacturing Consent", this relevant example by
Edward Hermann http://www.zmag.org/ZMagSite/May2004/herman0504.html or for
example on the subject of the BBC's coverage of the
Iraq war http://www.cf.ac.uk/news/02-03/030708.html
More extensively see the media alerts at medialens.org

That your journalists choose not even to mention these ideas that the media
structurally favours establishment views and that your journalists rather use
their limited time to follow the trite "conspiracy theory" line is at first
surprising. A little reflection though reveals that this approach is simply
symptomatic of the very problem I am asking you to address.

Rather despairingly yours,
Robert Byrne.

--

Dear Paul,

Re your article "To Tell the Truth" http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/28/opinion/28KRUG.html

Although your article has a critical tone of the role of the media supporting Bush and his administration in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq I'm afraid that your article leaves me little hope of any change for a more genuienly critical media that could act as a brake against further folly.

The reason is that although you propose several reasons for media compliance (patriotism, intimidation, incredulity of predidential untrustworthiness, a fear of losing access to sources....) you do not mention what is in my opinion the most significant factor. Namely the idea that the NYT _systematically_ favours the point of view of the establishment, in this paritcular case represented by the Bush Administration. All that was happening was that the NYT was correctly reading the pro-war sentiment of the US administration and, following it's usual journalistic practice (favoring offical sources, not seeking readily available other views, showing limited self-critical capability, not offending advertisers...) it produced copy that quite naturally favoured the US Government pro-war point of view.

This role of the media as what Hermann calls a "well oiled propaganda machine" is well documented: see "Manufacturing Consent", this relevant recent example by Edward Hermann http://www.zmag.org/ZMagSite/May2004/herman0504.html or for
example on the subject of the BBC's coverage of the Iraq war http://www.cf.ac.uk/news/02-03/030708.html

Your passing referenece to "losing access to source" could well have led you in the direction of discussing the fundamental problems of sourcing of information and thence on to other key problems of media independence from power. That you avoid addressing this fundamental structural problem of the media shows me that the next time around, be it a war or climate change or health reform, the powers that be will be able to rely on the NYT to come to heel with copy that, on the whole, will support the establishment position.

Also, a more gracious admission of failure might reference others, who at the time, got it right (cf for example Media Lens http://medialens.org/alerts/2003/030228_Outrageous_Omissions.html ). That would have the further merit of helping posing real questions on "how come we got it so wrong".

There is something deeply cynical about what sems to me to be a cosmetic self criticism after the fact. Even if the media do now go after Bush, the US has achieved it's goal of controlling the Iraq/Afghanistan region and it seems likely that even a Democratic successor to Bush would not change policy significantly (One is reminded of one of Michael Moore's old web pages "101 similarities between Bush and Clinton").

yours,
Robert Byrne.

--
Sat Jun 05, 2004 11:10 pm
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