The Exorcism of News: getting back to the facts
posted at 5:42 pm on July 7, 2010 by Amy Ritter
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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