Tuesday, January 18, 2005

All the News That's Fit to Fit

The most salient difference between the Global War on Terror and the great conflicts of the 20th century, such as World War 2, is that there is literally no more front line. It therefore came as no surprise that the media -- that is to say the newsrooms, editorial desks and reportorial -- proved but one more foxhole in the conflict. The Jerusalem Post (hat tip: The Counterterrorism Blog) describes how some representatives of major wire services and news agencies were in the paid service of terrorist organizations. A small sampler of dubious connections is given below:

Meanwhile, the Associated Press and Reuters, which have their own TV production services, rely almost entirely on footage provided to them by Palestinian crews covering events in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The material, distributed to thousands of subscribers worldwide, mostly focuses on Palestinians as victims of IDF operations; the cameramen decide from which angle to film and which material to send at the end of the day to their employers in Jerusalem. The Associated Press also has a journalist -- Muhammad Daraghmeh -- who works for the PA's Al-Ayyam. "It's like employing someone from the [Israeli] Government Press Office or one of the Israeli political parties to work as a journalist," comments a veteran foreign journalist based in Israel.

The Counterterrorism Blog asks: "Well, excuse me, but how about the 'journalists' in the Arab world who were either on Saddam's or Arafat's payroll? Why hasn't the media seen fit to pursue those secret arrangements and admit that perhaps those payments twisted the coverage of those two thugs by Western media?" This can only be a rhetorical question. It is entirely probable that there is no, and possibly was never any collectively responsible, self-policing, ethically consistent 'media' able to act as single organism. Saddam and Arafat discovered this long ago and its audience is only belatedly realizing it now.

This process of corruption has pulled a curtain of suspicion over all information products. No longer is it possible to rely on the assurance of a brand name. Each item of news must now be sniffed, examined, poked and weighed to determine its authenticity. Collateral confirmation, once the staple of skeptical intelligence analysts, is now the task of every sophisticated newsreader -- at least those who want to avoid being taken for a ride. Once the media itself became an informational battleground the most natural greeting in the dark became 'who goes there?' That skepticism has in part, empowered the blogosphere, which provides some filtering for readers too busy to do it themselves. Yet the blogosphere is not in principle immune from any of the corroding influences of fear, money or influence, as the readers of Armstrong Williams and the Daily Kos discovered to their disillusionment. We are, in James Jesus Angleton's famous phrase, in a 'Wilderness of Mirrors', though he himself had the idea from T. S. Eliot.

I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
How should I use it for your closer contact?

These with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium,
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
With pungent sauces, multiply variety
In a wilderness of mirrors.

Fortunately for most there is the salvation of the common senses: the ability to observe the real through the packaging, and to learn from the airplane crashing into the tower facts we could not read in the newspapers. One of the strangest consequences of the development of Internet was the reimposition of the need for each individual to learn things for themselves. It is a task most would gladly do without, but it is the burden of sentience and the price of freedom.