Green Room

The Exorcism of News: getting back to the facts

posted at 5:42 pm on July 7, 2010 by

Blood and guts war movies are commonplace entertainment for most of us, but there’s something about live war footage that turns your stomach a thousand new ways.  After hearing about the official charges against Manning yesterday, I watched “Collateral Murder”, the video released by WikiLeaks in April.

For this aspiring newswoman, the dated scene is still disturbing: a camera-toting journalist identified as an “armed” target and shortly after gunned down [along with other men] by a helicopter.

As many of us will remember, initially the blogosphere sank its teeth into the military for its “cover-up”, riding on the backs of sources like Huffington Post.  The situation was initially assessed as a blatantly malicious, cold-blooded killing of innocents.  Thankfully, bloggers like AJ Martinez stepped up and introduced some vital facts to counteract the venom.

Unfortunately, flaming fact-loose stories like this one leave burn marks on the minds of the American public.  Most of us have some general mistrust of The Man—bureaucracies, corporate big guns, the military—that runs the American universe.  Every story feeds an opinion, and builds onto a worldview.  News feeders are responsible to truth and accuracy because false information leads to wrong belief, which leads to irresponsible action.

As my philosophy professor says, “Knowledge is a pre-condition for responsibility.”

American voting power is only as strong as American knowledge. Our ability to steer this nation is reliant upon understanding. The blogosphere is becoming a giant in the world of information and as such news bloggers become just as responsible for factuality as any newspaper.

Unfortunately the ridiculous piggybacking and fact-sharing that surrounded “Collateral Murder” is alive and well in a news culture that demands fast, juicy stories to maximize clicks and comments.

In fact, there is a story circulating now that exhibits irresponsible blogging and reporting:  “Coast Guard bans reporters from oil cleanup sites.”  Let’s take a jaunt through the mud, shall we?

The Raw Story broke the above headline Sunday and bloggers pounced.   The following paragraph was spewed all over the net:

Journalists who come too close to oil spill clean-up efforts without permission could find themselves facing a $40,000 fine and even one to five years in prison under a new rule instituted by the Coast Guard late last week.

I loaded this paragraph into Google and over 10 pages of results containing all or most of this paragraph showed up.   Many of the sites I checked out consisted of the above paragraph, bolded and italicized where the author saw fit to emphasize his outrage, surrounded by a BP/Coast Guard berating session.  Also all over the place are quotes and video clips of the authoritative Anderson Cooper and his key phrase, “We’re not the bad guys.”

I am not criticizing bloggers and reporters for sourcing material.  I am criticizing bloggers and reporters for not checking past one level of source material and neglecting to ask difficult questions.  Most of the blogs containing this paragraph source back to the Raw Story, but I wonder how many linked back to the original statement issued by the Coast Guard:

Vessels must not come within 20 meters of booming operations, boom, or oil spill response operations under penalty of law.

The safety zone has been put in place to protect members of the response effort, the installation and maintenance of oil containment boom, the operation of response equipment and protection of the environment by limiting access to and through deployed protective boom.

In areas where vessels operators cannot avoid the 20-meter rule, they are required to be cautious of boom and boom operations by transiting at a safe speed and distance.

Violation of a safety zone can result in up to a $40,000 civil penalty. Willful violations may result in a class D felony.

Permission to enter any safety zone must be granted by the Coast Guard Captain of the Port of New Orleans by calling 504-846-5923.

Now I’m a young reporter, but the last time I checked, a vessel is not a person.  Therefore, this is not a direct restriction of journalistic personnel as implied in Raw Story.  Additionally, I have done many stories that required me to contact people ahead of time in order to cooperate with the event, get the facts, and avoid disruption.  Is it such a terrible thing that a journalist must call ahead to enter a restricted area? Thirdly, the language of the mandate is aimed at vessels disturbing the clean-up process and causing safety hazards; not journalists.

Now of course there is a good possibility of that BP or the government is trying to prevent coverage, or that there was misconduct in the Baghdad helicopter incident; but possibility does not mean credibility.  Give me the stories from journalists down in Louisiana, and testimonies from the soldiers on the ground and in the air.

The press game in the Gulf and the Iraq video scandal are warnings of a news corps that would rather present their opinion than let people come up with their own,  prefers making everything into a scandal, and contributes more to ignorance than to intelligence.

Get the facts straight and give ‘em out straight.  That’s news, folks.

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Oh, you’re trying to report the “news”

Silly Rabbit!

It all “entertainment” now!

Get with the program Missy!

Opposite Day on July 7, 2010 at 6:04 PM

Sensationalism was virtually a complete semester course that my sis took during her communications arts major many years ago. Looking in the sky one night roughly during her junior year, she saw some lights and remarked “a UFO!!!” with great excitement.

I reminded her that our home was in the landing pattern for the local airport and that the red and green wing-tip lights were a give-away, along with the jet engine noise, that in fact it was a commercial airliner. She felt obligated to argue that until proof positive came from an expert that I had no business speculating on her discovery.

She’s outgrown her youthful enthusiasm. But my guess is that some so-called journalists don’t. Sensationalism sells.

Robert17 on July 7, 2010 at 6:47 PM

Give me the stories from journalists down in Louisiana, and testimonies from the soldiers on the ground and in the air.

Ask and you shall receive. :-) If I link to too many it’ll throw the comment into moderation, but if you Google “reporters restricted gulf oil spill” you’ll find a lot.

They’ve been restricting access, both officially and unofficially – and probably illegally – as far back as May. That’s beach and marsh access. I agree it’s understandable to restrict access in the water near booms, and to restrict flyovers. But there are many documented instances of restricting specifically reporters from beaches and marshlands.

For example, from that link:

AP photographer Gerald Herbert has been covering the disaster since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20. He says that access has been hit or miss, and that there have been instances when it’s obvious members of the press are being targeted. “There are times when the Coast Guard has been great, and others where it seems like they’re interfering with our ability to have access,” says Herbert. One of those instances occurred early last week, when Herbert accompanied local officials from Plaquemines Parish in a police boat on a trip to Breton Island, a national wildlife refuge off the barrier islands of Louisiana. With them was Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of Jacques, who wanted to study the impact of the oil below the surface of the water. Upon approaching the island, a Coast Guard boat stopped them. “The first question was, ‘Is there any press with you?’ ” says Herbert. They answered yes, and the Coast Guard said they couldn’t be there. “I had to bite my tongue. That should have no bearing.”

Laura Curtis on July 7, 2010 at 9:26 PM

Great post.

Always, always, go to the original source. And always verify it that it is, indeed, the real original source. If not, keep digging.

Always cite your source.

And don’t spin the facts, just serve it straight and let the people decide.

Conservative Samizdat on July 7, 2010 at 11:29 PM

Wow, it must be something in the water – no one here seems to understand that “news” isn’t about facts, its about agendas.

There are rare exceptions, but while I wish we had some profession dedicated to finding out and reporting important facts, but we only have something that claims to do that but usually doesn’t.

Maybe someday someone will try to start up a profession like that. I wonder what you would call it? “Reporter” and “Journalist” are already taken by the other thing.

Merovign on July 8, 2010 at 10:11 PM

Now I’m a young reporter, but the last time I checked, a vessel is not a person. Therefore, this is not a direct restriction of journalistic personnel as implied in Raw Story.

Yes that is true but without a vessel it’s awfully hard to get thirty miles out in the Gulf unless you’re a very good swimmer.
It’s like if a hundred years ago a belligerent govt. knew they couldn’t ban free speech but wanted to.
They just outlawed manufacturing ink.

NeoKong on July 8, 2010 at 11:36 PM

Bloggers are Trolls now.

Observation on July 9, 2010 at 2:41 AM

Thanks Laura…the problem was that a lot of the blogs/news sites I looked at were not linking to real stories. They were copying and pasting from Raw, and that’s really crappy journalism.

And Opposite, thanks for the tip, but I think I’ll stay out of the program :)

Amy Ritter on July 13, 2010 at 10:42 AM