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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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July 2, 2004

"In Our Business, Seconds Count," Says Dan Rather. But is That Really So?

The story broke at 2:30 am in Washington: handover moved up, sovereignty passed to Iraqis. Surely big news for the networks. But the seconds or minutes that elapsed before the news could be broadcast... do they matter at all? Dan Rather says yes. I say: what clock is this man on? The political moment mattered a great deal. The seconds hardly at all.

Dan Rather, known for his cosmic weirdness at times, had another one of his moments after Monday’s surprise ending to the transfer of sovereignty in Baghdad. To head off spectacular acts of violence, the Pentagon and the new Iraqi leadership decided to move things up; and they kept their plans secret. Rather told Howard Kurtz that he didn’t mind missing the ceremony itself. But he would have been disappointed “if I had been locked in that room and found out someone else had broken the story.”

He also reminded Kurtz, “In our business, seconds count.”

But do they, really? Let’s think about it: What mattering map does Dan Rather consult when he explains to us, through Kurtz, that seconds count (meaning differentials involving seconds may matter) in the business of news; and of what possible relevance is this to events in Baghdad this week?

For U.S. audiences, the story broke at around 2:30 in the morning, Eastern, 1:30 am Central, 11:30 pm Pacific. MSNBC had it first, according to Kurtz, at 2:23 am in Washington (quoting diplomatic sources), followed by Fox at 2:30, CNN at 2:33. Rather and his CBS crew weighed in at 2:43, and Peter Jennings at 2:52 with an eyewitness account. (Rather, on assignment elsewhere, did not make it to the ceremony.)

Tom Brokaw figured NBC was already on it with its cable division, so he waited for the Today Show. “Honestly, the other guys don’t have anywhere else to go up but their network,” said Mark Lukasiewicz, chief of special events coverage for NBC News. “We do, and that’s where we came up.”

Thus within 25 minutes all the major electronic news firms we’re on the air live—or “came up,” as Lukasiewicz said—reporting the same story. Just by glancing at the clock in the Baghdad bureau, one knew the great bulk of the audience was going to learn the news when it awoke, many hours later. Kurtz says of the correspondents on the scene: “at the moment that they realized they were watching an abruptly scheduled transfer of power from U.S. authorities to the new Iraqi government yesterday, most of America was fast asleep.”

So this is the first question we need to put to Dan Rather, once we get him to think about his (clichéd) observation, “in our business, seconds count.” In whose experience does the counting occur? Does it count to me, a typical East Coast television viewer, for example, whether MSNBC beats CNN to the news by ten minutes at 2:30 in the morning? Do seconds count for you on this story?

It would seem not. From the information consumer’s point of view, it might matter how quickly the news system as a whole got the big word out—that is, it matters when “the world” learns the news— but the relative performances of different firms within a bundle reporting the same story do not signify much. If the minority of people who want overnight news turn to the Internet, then I suppose a competitive advantage could be had if they’re trooping to your website ten minutes early. But then diffusion is so rapid online that this edge cannot amount to much, either.

Most of the time, “seconds” don’t factor one bit into the user’s experience, and the fact that we can think of a situation or two when they might—like September 11th in lower Manhattan—should tell us that almost always differentials of seconds or minutes are irrelevant, even when they involve large items of news. “In our business, seconds count” must refer, then, to some other experience, or situation. It is not common sense. Nor is it common experience.

Professional sense, then. There, we know it’s important to be first with the news because this is one way of building reputation, winning peer respect and keeping score with rivals across the dial. We’re familiar with patterns like that. Professionals have a way of creating their own intramural competition, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Wanting to be first is an engine of news gathering; it makes things come alive with activity. If we want journalists to be discovering new stuff, digging for truth, then our knowledge of human nature, and our understanding of competition, would have us accept the race to get it first. That drive is not inherently perverse.

But “seconds make a difference” is perverse in the actual situation before Dan Rather in Baghdad. He and the other network anchors were there for the handing-over ceremony, but also for the “moment” of transfer, a political, quasi-legal, and ultimately mystical event that can barely be seen, and yet it involves the transfer of real power, and has many grave consequences in the real world. Such is politics, made of durable fictions. And this is especially so when matters of sovereignty are involved.

The network crews in Iraq had a date— Wednesday, June 30th. This was the date they had repeatedly endlessly in news stories because it was a deadline set by President Bush. They associated this date with the “moment” when Iraqis would re-take official ownership of the state. But in fact journalists did not know when this moment would come, and that was a clue to what would happen.

There had been no announcement of time and place. Rumors were circulating about an early transfer; the CIA had predicted major acts of violence timed to June 30th. The press itself was more and more confined to the protected Green Zone in Baghdad because of the ongoing war, and there were known fears that the ceremony itself would be a bomb target. Over the weekend reporters were told the handover had been moved from Wednesday to Tuesday.

Since preventing an attack—not ceremony planning—had to be the top priority of American and Iraqi officials, there was no reason to expect anything but a sudden announcement, and an improvised ritual, mostly shrouded from public view. Everything argued for this course; the risks of doing otherwise were too great. And since there is nothing television does as well as public ceremony with a script, there had to be some disappointment among network producers, especially because they had moved the anchor operations across the ocean to cover the transfer, an expensive decision.

They had scheduled a big show for Wednesday. But on Monday when it actually happened the handover took all of five minutes, reporters had their cell phones confiscated, there was only one television crew there, incompetently placed (almost missing the actual “moment,” the passing of a blue portfolio) and after there were no questions allowed, at least according to the Post account. The new Iraqi President and, apparently, United States ambassador Paul Bremmer did make brief speeches. (The Post story said no Bremmer speech, but blogger Tim Blair has the links that say there was one, and a question or two from reporters also. Hat tip to Patterico.)

One thing this event was for was to accomplish the transfer, in a signed document, copies-to-both sense. That happened when the blue portfolio changed hands. Another, harder thing was to accomplish the transfer symbolically, and make it convincing to key audiences ringing outward from the Green Zone: the city of Baghdad, the nation of Iraq, Muslims in the Middle East, allies in Europe, and of course concerned Americans back home. (Al Queda too.) This part barely happened.

In fact, one of the striking things about the transfer as it finally unfolded was how uncommunicative it was— in part because of security threats and the improvisation required, but not wholly so. Three facts to illustrate this strange decision:

1.) Ambassador Paul Bremmer, the man who handed over sovereignty for the United States and who had taken on the task of re-building the country, took no more than two questions at the ceremony. The dramatic endpoint of all his efforts had just passed, and instead of telling the story of what the United States had accomplished, (instead of being asked questions by the Iraqi press, now “sovereign” too) he hustled to his helicopter and left the country without any further word.

A possible justification for this is the laying low defense. Ceding the stage to the Iraqis means just that: no big press conference for American honcho! But here is what I mean by non-communicative. Bremmer is perfectly capable of getting up on stage, in front of the international press, and pointing backward to the position of power he had just vacated, in order to make the point (which was the best point he had) that the power he and the Americans once held is now an Iraqi possession, just as we said it would be. That isn’t getting in the way, that’s demonstrating what way was chosen.

2.) The event could have been held entirely in secret, with a military camera recording it, and the world told after the fact. But that option (the safest) was not chosen. Why not? Because having the news media there authenticates what happened far more effectively. People in the White House who think they don’t need journalists and who call the press a special interest should think hard about this detail, and the options not selected. Open press access was not selected. Instead, there was controlled access, and a clumsy attempt at a 100-minute embargo. A single “pool” camera was permitted; but placement was wrong, so it was hard to see the principles as they transacted their business.

3.) According to Philip Kennicott of the Washington Post, the Arabic satellite channel al-Arabiya, a key source of information for Iraqis and others in the Middle East, was not even notified:

No one, it seems, had bothered to call the Arabic-language channel that says it has the largest viewership in Iraq. Their cameras were not even in the room when Iraq was reborn as a sovereign nation (or “so-called sovereign” in the local parlance).

“I don’t know what they were thinking — they didn’t tell anybody,” said Abdul Kader Kharobi, an assignment editor at al-Arabiya, a few hours after the transfer at 10:26 a.m. local time. There was no frustration in his voice, just disgust and a lot of weary irony.

American reporters were luckier. They were told only to hustle into the Green Zone for a background briefing, those insidious occasions when officials give out news, but not their names. Kurtz describes what happened:

Jennings and Rather were planning to spend time with U.S. troops elsewhere in Iraq when they heard of the supposed background briefing…. they broke off the trip and CBS staffers were dispatched to the occupation headquarters.

Amanpour was told not to bring a camera crew because a pool camera would be there.

When about 30 journalists and photographers, including a Washington Post correspondent, arrived, they were not told anything about a transfer of sovereignty.

At 2 a.m., authorities took the reporters’ cell phones and placed them in brown envelopes to prevent them from calling their news organizations. The journalists were then told that the handover ceremony was about to unfold, but that the news was embargoed until 4 a.m.

The embargo plan did not hold because the BBC broke the story using diplomatic sources, so everyone rushed to their terminals and began to report the news: it happened, handover complete. But did seconds count in that situation? It’s easy to see how the illusion is created. From an AP report:

When the transfer was complete, officially at 2:26 a.m. EDT, the reporters couldn’t get to their phones fast enough.

“There were a lot of heavy bodyguards who were extremely physical in the way they tried to keep me away from my phone,” [Amanpour] said. “It caused quite a few tempers to flare.”

One can imagine it well. What burly guards are trying to keep you from doing becomes that much more important to a journalist. But for somebody like Dan Rather and Christiane Amanpour, what really matters is not exactly when you tell a waiting world that a handover happened, or who is on the air first, but your ability to say what happened, and to comprehend fully— but quickly—the nature and meaning of the event. Sure, the clock is ticking, but it is a very reductive view of the clock Rather has when he says, “seconds count.”

There’s the clock showing sixteen months from March 2003, when the war to oust Saddam started, until June 2004. It “ticked” forward in a big way during the handover, compared to a very small way like going up at 2:23 am vs. 2:43. There’s the clock that began in 1979 when Saddam became the sovereign. This would figure greatly in the week’s events, as the Iraqis began to put him on trial, and he argued with the judge about who indeed was sovereign. There’s also the clock—or story span—in which the military situation had deteriorated so badly that a moment hard earned and seen by all sides as necessary, when the mysteries of political power were transacted in the Iraqi people’s historical favor, had to go underground and on the hush-hush. Kennicott of the Post noted that what might have been

the most public, ceremonial moment in the birth of a new country was a private, invitation-only event. A war of images, of toppled statues and looted museums, of captured Americans and mangled children, a war whose ending was marked with a premature victory celebration on an aircraft carrier more than a year ago, was given another ambiguous marker. Iraqis were once again nominally in charge of their country, but al-Arabiya, for the moment, had no way of proving it to its viewers.

It’s not the seconds in the information market that counted— but the political moment transpiring between Iraqis and Americans, Iraqis and their past, Iraqis and their wholly uncertain future. When exactly it happened is a detail. So is what time of day we found out about it. Who won the race to tell us first is less than a detail, it’s a footnote for insiders.

So if “seconds count” explains anything deep and true to Rather about his business this week in Baghdad, he does not understand a reporter’s business this week in Baghdad. And if he was not upset about missing the ritual itself, not being there, then he does not understand political ritual and its use of “charged” moment.

To be at the event is one thing; to be conscious of the moment in time we’re at is another. One needs a feel for the mystery in who’s sovereign? as a question in politics and a riddle of power. For while that mystery is always there, underneath the settled patterns of government, it comes right into the room when a government changes hands. You can almost see it. Every detail speaks in such a setting, if you bring enough knowledge to it.

Why does PressThink conduct an argument with a harmless cliché of the news business? Because it is time that our journalists learned how to tell proper time, and bring the priorities of their business into better alignment with common sense, civic experience, and an enlarged historical sense. It’s good to compete with peers who are trying to get the story. But it’s better to have a firm sense of when such competition has internal significance only, and no public import at all.

There are times, I suppose, when ticks of the second hand might figure in the larger world beyond the news trade. But there are many more times when journalists will be tempted into that illusion, and they should resist. They should resist because finding a time frame for narration that is appropriate to a particular event involves a critical and sensitive act of judgment in journalism, without which the news comes up lame. But problems of judgment can be skirted, repressed, just forgotten about, and often the work of forgetting is done by a reporter’s lazy convention or an anchorman’s tired cliché.

AfterMath: Notes, reactions & links…

Fred Kaplan in Slate: Let’s hear if for the handover:

Intelligence analysts expected new torrents of violence to erupt in the days leading up to the handover. With an Iraqi government put in place now, any future terrorist attacks can be reclassified from “anti-occupation” to “insurrectionist.”

The distinction is not merely symbolic—or, to the extent it is, the symbolism might be sufficiently potent to alter popular attitudes and behavior.

Kaplan’s is a distinction you don’t see too much— between symbolism that is impotent and symbolism that is important. For journalists, it’s a far more useful set of terms than “symbol” vs. “substance” or “ceremonial” vs. “real.”

Howard Kurtz, Phoneless Reporters Can’t Make the Call.

Tim Blair on the Bremmer speech missing from the Washington Post account. He quotes the San Francisco Chronicle on what Bremmer said: “You are ready now for sovereignty, and we think it’s an important part of our obligation as temporary custodian to return the sovereignty to you. I have confidence that the Iraqi government is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead.”

David Folkenflik in the Baltimore Sun:

The event was notably low-key, said Marcy McGinnis, CBS’ senior vice president of news coverage. When she reviewed the ceremony, she said, it looked a lot like “five men in a room.”

The coverage required hard work to convey news occurring at a time of night when the networks get a modest fraction of their primetime audiences: from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m., for example, Fox News averages nearly 400,000 viewers, while CNN attracts 209,000 and MSNBC 123,000. By contrast, The O’Reilly Factor, Fox News’ top-rated program, typically pulls in nearly 1.9 million viewers, and CNN’s Larry King Live at 9 p.m. draws more than 1.1 million people nightly.

From Cable Newser on the day of the handover:

Why Wasn’t Coverage Wall-To-Wall This Morning? When I turned on the television this morning, FOX was in a commercial and CNN was airing 90 Second Pop. I was stunned that the cablers weren’t covering the handover story exclusively this morning. One e-mailer agrees: “I would have appreciated more wall-to-wall, commercial-free programing all morning, especially when people are getting ready for work and surprised to see such a shocking development,” he says. Will there have to be a terrorist attack in Baghdad in order for the country to get coverage?…

One source offers his reasoning for not going overboard with coverage: “The handover story is important, but it’s not as if breaking info continues to come out of it. Instead, it’s an event that’s passed and now we pull in experts to analyze. Don’t forget, commercial free coverage isn’t free to the cable channels.”

David Bauder, AP television writer: Media scramble to cover early Iraq news.

Marine Corps Reservist Eric M. Johnson, who was in Iraq, on the Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief:

Iraq veterans often say they are confused by American news coverage, because their experience differs so greatly from what journalists report. Soldiers and Marines point to the slow, steady progress in almost all areas of Iraqi life and wonder why they don’t get much notice – or in many cases, any notice at all.

Part of the explanation is Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Baghdad bureau chief for the Washington Post. He spent most of his career on the metro and technology beats, and has only four years of foreign reporting, two of which are in Iraq. The 31-year-old now runs a news operation that can literally change the world, heading a bureau that is the source for much of the news out of Iraq. (via Andrew Sullivan)

Chris Allbritton, Reaction to handover ranges from jeers to jubiliation.

Fouad Ajami in the Wall Street Journal: “We now stay under new terms—a power that vacated sovereignty 48 hours ahead of schedule, and an Iraqi population that can glimpse, just a horizon away, the possibility of a society free from both native tyranny and foreign control. There is nervousness in Iraq: the nervousness of a people soon to be put to the test by the promise—and the hazards—of freedom.”

Cori Dauber, @ Ranting Profs:

Fair enough, it was a rushed ceremony and there’s no hiding that or the reasons for it, but lets also be honest about the fact that had there been an elaborate ceremony — particularly if the Arab channels had received special invitations — then the complaint would have been that the thing was stage managed to manipulate Arab opinion. The writer assumes that there’s some way to win a rigged game, and that’s never been true.

Ritual matters to people, and at some point there’s going to have be some kind of elaborate ceremony or ritual or party to mark officially the end of the occupation and the beginning of a new Iraq. But you can’t force people to feel a particular way through a ritual they feel is imposed over a situation; it has to be organic and it has to feel appropriate. Yesterday was not the moment. Soon, but not today.

The Prime Minister of Romania, Adrian Nastase, on the handover: Lessons for Liberty in Iraq. (Boston Globe, June 29, 2004).

Blogging the watchdogs, columnist John Leo of US News writes about clued-in-bloggers shaming the out-to-lunch Los Angeles Times on Paul Bremmer’s farewell speech to Iraqis, which the Times said never happened, though bloggers from Iraq and the U.S. were writing about it. Then the Times compounded the error with an editorial blasting Bremmer for giving no farewell speech, and it compounded it again with a lame and inadequate correction.

One blogger wrote: “Bremer’s farewell address had been common knowledge among readers of Internet blogs since at least June 30,” four days before the Times criticized Bremer for having given no speech. Apparently nobody at the Times reads the American press either. Margie Wylie’s Newhouse piece discussing the Iraqi reaction to the Bremer talk ran five days before the Times said the speech hadn’t been given. (July 19, 2004 issue)

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 2, 2004 6:12 PM   Print


I have to challenge the assertions that Bremer "took no questions at the ceremony" and "left the country without a word." Tim Blair has reported that, although the Washington Post's report is consistent with your assertions, abundant evidence shows the Post simply got it wrong. For example, the San Francisco Chronicle reported:

U.S. administrator Paul Bremer gave a short speech and answered only two questions from the media before rushing off in a swarm of bodyguards.

"You are ready now for sovereignty, and we think it's an important part of our obligation as temporary custodian to return the sovereignty to you," Bremer told the Iraqis. "I have confidence that the Iraqi government is ready to meet the challenges that lie ahead."

According to this post by an Iraqi blogger, the SF Chronicle doesn't do Bremer's speech justice. Listen to the Iraqi's description of Bremer's speech:
Suddenly Mr. Bremer appeared on TV reading his last speech before he left Iraq. I approached the TV to listen carefully to the speech, as I expected it to be difficult in the midst of all that noise. To my surprise everyone stopped what they were doing and started watching as attentively as I was.

The speech was impressive and you could hear the sound of a needle if one had dropped it at that time. The most sensational moment was the end of the speech when Mr. Bremer used a famous Arab emotional poem. The poem was for a famous Arab poet who said it while leaving Baghdad. Al-Jazeera had put an interpreter who tried to translate even the Arabic poem which Mr. Bremer was telling in a fair Arabic! “Let this damned interpreter shut up. We want to hear what the man is saying” One of my colloquies shouted. The scene was very touching that the guy sitting next to me (who used to sympathize with Muqtada) said “He’s going to make me cry!”

Then he finished his speech by saying in Arabic,”A’ash Al-Iraq, A’ash Al-Iraq, A’ash Al-Iraq”! (Long live Iraq, Long live Iraq, long live Iraq).

It sounds like Bremer's speech was a moving experience for many Iraqis. It's not his fault if much of the American media didn't find it interesting enough to report here.

Posted by: Patterico at July 2, 2004 6:46 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the alert. I will work this in, Patterico.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 2, 2004 7:00 PM | Permalink

On public journalism and Shafer, see Spokesman for Press Priesthood Laughs.

Mark, let me say at the beginning of this thread: if you don't restrain yourself with fewer comments, and fewer insults to others, you will be bannned, and all your comments in all posts will disappear. You can cry about it at your own blog, and make any charges you want there. But this is a final warning, after many others have gone unheeded.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 2, 2004 8:43 PM | Permalink

You still quote the Post account as authority that no questions were allowed; as I point out in my comment above, the San Francisco Chronicle says 2 questions were answered by Bremer. Not a big deal, but I don't know that I would trust that particular Post account on any details at all.

I'm a little less "angry" about this mistake than I am about many others. It seems like a lazy mistake rather than bias. (However, I wouldn't expect to see the Iraqi reaction I detail above in any major newspaper -- and I do attribute that to a general anti-war bias, whether conscious or otherwise). I don't want to get the thread off topic on a bias issue; I'm just observing that I get much, much angrier than this. (Pretend I have put a smiley-face emoticon here.)

Posted by: Patterico at July 2, 2004 9:17 PM | Permalink

What standards do those in the media measure themselves by? I suspect:
1) Prizes and awards;
2) Pick-up, column-inches, and placement (or equivalent);
3) Breaking the story;
4) Respect of their peers;
5) And, gaining market share.

Other than the last measurement, all of these are self-referential within the media and supporting infrastructure.

By this measurement system, "seconds matter."

There is still the discussion on other blogs at this site, independent studies, and other media feedback that tries to express some dissatisfaction with the media. However, other than generalities, there seems to be little agreement on what specific standards the press should be held to.

I guess, if the press will not impose their own external standards, and the public will not hold them to any standards, then self-referential standards - or collegiate intra-mural competitions are all that is left.

What measurement system might alter behaviors? What behaviors are desired?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 2, 2004 10:53 PM | Permalink

Jay, I think you have to read Dan Rather's statement with a certain emphasis in order to see what he's saying. After thinking about it a little, I believe it's:

"In our business, seconds count."

That is, you just wrote a long piece about, roughly, The Verdict Of History not needing a stopwatch. But that wasn't what he was talking about. Instead, I think he was making an observation that AS A BUSINESS, he wants to be the one at the root of the echo-chamber. The moment the story "breaks", it may start echoing, and the one who gets the "As reported by XYZ ..." advertisement is the one who benefits.

For a generic story, that's not the one who does the smartest, more thorough, analytical job - it's simply generally the first past the post. That's all.

It might be that it didn't matter for this particularly story. But as a general observation, it's a fair comment.

By the way, let me shift a bit to note how much the above "breaking stories" idea is a "provincial" journalistic value. In my blog, I've occasionally "broken a story", in the sense that I was writing about some - admittedly minor - event, before anyone else was, not echoing a news report. For example, the introduction of the planned California Google Gmail bill, since I happened to have been checking the legislator's website, and saw the announcement go up late one evening, before the press cadre echoed it.

Honestly, I couldn't figure out why this should matter. I knew some people seemed to care about the concept, so I did it, but it was a mystery to me. The press was going to cover it anyway, so what did it matter that I was writing about it a few hours before the system did? It's not like anyone is going to read my D-list blog because once every few months, that might happen. What's the big deal? Frankly, who gives a damn?

When I realized that the term "break a story" has the significance, operationally, of "be at the root of the echo chamber", THEN I understood what the fuss was about.

I wish there were more translations of this sort for the jargon. It would make some things much less puzzling.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 3, 2004 1:44 AM | Permalink

In overvaluing the 'breaking' part of the news story, it seems that Rather was underplaying context and memory. To what extent does that show the values implicit in network TV news media?

And to pick up on John's point, to what extent is network TV news a community with the powerful incentive system of protecting its own norms?

1) Prizes and awards;
2) Pick-up, column-inches, and placement (or equivalent);
3) Breaking the story;
4) Respect of their peers;
5) And, gaining market share.

Other than the last measurement, all of these are self-referential within the media and supporting infrastructure.

My sense is that this happens in the blogosphere as well - any closed information production and consumption system will by necessity develop social mores. That's probably why uncool kid Al Jazeera wasn't invited, but they do get Osama's tapes.

Anyway, I'm sort of becoming convinced that a revolutionary component of the weblog community phenomenom is that blogs pretty much make explicit the values that drive them, and in doing so, reveal the value systems of other similar (but much bigger) commercial systems of media quite powerfully.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 3, 2004 10:17 AM | Permalink

Anyway, I'm sort of becoming convinced that a revolutionary component of the weblog community phenomenom is that blogs pretty much make explicit the values that drive them, and in doing so, reveal the value systems of other similar (but much bigger) commercial systems of media quite powerfully.

Exactly. If there is a point of optimism to be derived from the growing sphere of virtualization, it's that it affords an opportunity to reconstruct and "remember" the previously constructed social values that we've "forgotten" but still live by.

Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 1:50 PM | Permalink

"seconds count" is perhaps an unintended acknowledgement of Bill Gate's Business at the Speed of thought?

He probably wasn't thinking of Paul Virilio

Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 1:59 PM | Permalink


The changes to your post may have people wondering what in the heck I was talking about in my previous comments -- but I like the changes. They improve the accuracy of the post, and accuracy is (I think) always the goal, or at least a big part of it.

Posted by: Patterico at July 3, 2004 2:02 PM | Permalink


On that particular event, I agree that seconds were just not important. Being on left coast time (MST) and having been up late that night, I noticed the story when it brokeon Fox. But I could have waited until the next morning.

I think seconds count on live visual stories - which may be more voyeurism than news, but at least they give the viewer a relatively unedited view. If a battle is happning, I want to watch it. If it has happened, that isn't the same effect.

As to the failure to notify the satellite channel - I expect this was due to the sudden handover being a very closely held secret until the last moment. In other words, the press officers probably heard about it for the first time very close to when it happened.

This is a digression from your main theme. I hope you don't mind, but it came up as a result of your quote:

the most public, ceremonial moment in the birth of a new country was a private, invitation-only event. A war of images, of toppled statues and looted museums, of captured Americans and mangled children, a war whose ending was marked with a premature victory celebration on an aircraft carrier more than a year ago, was given another ambiguous marker. Iraqis were once again nominally in charge of their country, but al-Arabiya, for the moment, had no way of proving it to its viewers.

I have concluded that some amount of what I characterized as "lies" were a result of symbolic views of events substituting for the events themselves. If one hears Bush, for example, talk about a British intelligence report of an attempted uranium purchase from Africa, and then one hears about Cheney's request to check on Niger, it is easy to convert that into a symbol of how Bush justified the war, and that symbol ends up with Niger in it. From there, it is a short step to say (as many did) that Bush used bad intelligence when he claimed Iraq tried to buy Uranium from Niger (which, in fact, Bush never claimed - he never mentioned Niger, and a number of countries in Africa produce uranium).

When I see that paragraph about a "war of symbols," and the list of the particular symbols, what I am seeing is the symbolic perception of the war by the author - a symbolic perception that indicates severe biases.

I certainly hope that the Kennicott piece was an editorial and not straight news.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 3, 2004 2:27 PM | Permalink

the [Pentagon's Revolution in Military Affairs] RMA begins with the application of the speed of light. This means that history is now rushing headlong into the wall of time. As I have said many times before, the speed of light does not merely transform the world. It becomes the world. Globalisation is the speed of light. And it is nothing else! Globalisation cannot take shape without the speed of light. In this way, history now inscribes itself in real time, in the 'live', in the realm of interactivity. Consequently, history no longer resides in the extension of territory. Look at the US, look at Russia. Both of these countries are immense geographical territories. But, nowadays, immense territories amount to nothing! Today, everything is about speed and real time. We are no longer concerned with real space. Hence not only the crisis of geopolitics and geostrategy but also the shift towards the emergence and dominance of chronostrategy. As I have been arguing for a long time now, there is a real need not simply for a political economy of wealth but also for a political economy of speed.


Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 5:38 PM | Permalink

I think Rather's "cosmic weirdness" is his form of resistance to his transformation into Network Automata. That is, he lacks the theoretical framework with which he could understand his position in the media revolution, so his resistance gets diverted into eccentricity.

I think when he says "seconds count", he is acknowledging a dilema which he does not understand and can not solve, but which orients his life, from the mundane commercial cue to the earth-shaking scoop.

Posted by: panopticon at July 3, 2004 7:37 PM | Permalink

There is a collaborative blog called The Command Post for which I am one of the "reporters." It was started during the invasion of Iraq with a goal of having the news as fast as possible. In other words, we had enough collaborators watching different sources that if a story appeared somewhere, we got it quickly onto the blog.

This is an example of a blog devoted to "Seconds Count." It was used extensively by the "seconds count" news organizations, including CNN, so that they would immediately know of stories reported by other organizations.

It apparently was pretty popular (I'm not one of the two founders, so I don't have the usage data) and is still out there today, although our coverage isn't full 24 hour multi-source like it used to be.

In any case, it is an example of new media feeding old media's thirst for "seconds count" information.

This doesn't say whether "seconds count" makes sense. I think it does - in the TV business, with multiple news choices available, many people want to know right away when something breaks. Also, notice that CNN and FOX have gone to continuous headling crawls, so you can get the headlines even while they are not focusing on a "right now" story.

They must see a need for this, as every square inch of that screen is worth money. News consumers - at least some percentage - will switch channels in a hurry if something is breaking and their channel doesn't have it.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 4, 2004 4:20 AM | Permalink

It would be a boring world. The joy of arguing based on innuendo would be forever gone from our lives. Replacing it would be the tedium of educated specialists, dealing in interpretation of facts, speculating on interplays of core strengths of one institution as it interplays with another institution. One group's ideas as they are played off against another’s.

What would the world look like if there were in fact reporting that reflected objective truths?

If the same rigor required of financial and capital reporting were applied to political, legislative, and social reporting - what would it look like?

In capital markets, there is frequent examination by independent commissions to determine reporting standards. There are laws as to what must be reported and how often. There are criminal penalties for those who flout those laws, or their intent.

The stakes in the financial markets are high. Grandmothers could lose their savings. Investors could be fleeced. Companies, with all of their employees can go out of business and their pension funds go missing.

Are the stakes lower for political, legislative, and social issues?

Is it not possible to have standards? Is the information product that comes from financial and capital reporting so much different from that of political, legislative, and social? Is there not in financial reporting the desire of special interests to put spin? Are there not multiple subjective realities that can be reported? Yet, still, there is something approaching objective reality that emerges from financial and capital reporting. It can still be wrong, but it is of high enough quality that the markets function. I posit that the quality of reporting on political, legislative, and social issues adheres to insufficient standards for there to be rational decision making based upon the reporting alone.

Posted by: John Lynch at July 4, 2004 10:47 AM | Permalink

Good example. People committed fraud. Reporting broke laws. Somebody will go to jail for erroneous reporting.

When has anyone gone to jail for misreporting on political, legislative, or social issues? Are they less important?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 4, 2004 11:52 AM | Permalink

When has anyone gone to jail for misreporting on political, legislative, or social issues? Are they less important?

You can probably find plenty of examples of punishment for "misreporting" in the history of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, not to mention a few democracies.

Posted by: panopticon at July 4, 2004 12:27 PM | Permalink

Mark York

find this double standard on posters' ideologies, if there actually are two of them since one seems more reason-based than "feeling" to me, curious. It may be that you're trying to attract the harshest press critics from the right and I'm messing with that?

Mark, I don;t think you're going to get validation from Jay because he is a non-ideological liberal.

He was an editor and contributor at Tikkun during the 1990's. Tikkun is the homebase of Michael "Politics of Meaning" Lerner.

Lerner has had two brushes with fame, once as an advisor to the Clintons (I'm not sure, but I think the "I feel your pain" rhetoric came out of that interaction), and more recently, as the result of an attempt to wrest the public image of the anti-war movement away from ANSWER, which is regarded as a front organization for the "Stalinist" WWP.

In short, Tikkun is ideologically in line with the "Third Way" anti-politics that is the dominant form of liberalism today, worldwide. Which is probably why the political nature of Bush's rejection of the press didn't express itself in Jay's earlier critique - because ideological politics isn't within his critical horizon. Here is a passage from Tikkun's core value page:

It is our contention that social change and inner change go hand in hand. We are building a movement in which we can talk about love and caring for each other--and this is the only way we can overcome the old left/right dichotomies and dead policy debates that fill academic journals, leftie magazines, the insipid television confrontations between shouting talkiing heads, the vacuity of so many of the speeches at leftie anti-war demonstrations, and the rhetoric of elected officials...

The truth of the matter is, many of us are wary of any organization—they remain human institutions, susceptible to the ever-present reality of human frailty. The capacity to underwhelm, frustrate, disappoint, and madden is common to all human organizations, whether spiritual or secular, whether on the left or the right or in the middle.

So to the extent that you identify yourself without reservation as an organized "leftist", you are not going to get a sympathetic response.

To the extent that Jay's view's coincide with the general principles set forth at, your regard for a reasoned ideology will be regarded as passe.

Plus, your style of commenting is off-putting in that you allow resentment to too often warp your intellectual output.

Posted by: panopticon at July 4, 2004 1:30 PM | Permalink

This is not wholly accurate, Pan. It's true I was involved with Tikkun from about 1989 to 1996 as media editor; and I knew Lerner well then. His embrace by the Clintons via the catch-phrase, "the politics of meaning" was mostly bull-- a press illusion.

The entirety of the contact between the two was that the phrase appeared in one speech of Hillary's, and they met once in a meet-and-greet at a White House ceremony. But since Lerner was a controversial figure whose pronouncements could sound to some quite looney at times, the right wing press (and some liberal writers too) did everything they could to link the Clintons to Lerner, and columnists repeated it for years: "Hillary Clinton's politics of meaning..."

Sadly, Lerner himself played up the connection for reasons of ego. But there was almost nothing to it. The Clintons invited scores of academics, writers and thinkers to the White House to have dinner and bat around ideas. Some (like Robert Putnam and Michael Sandel of Harvard) were consulted on things like the State of the Union. But Lerner never got such an invite, and I would describe his political influence on the Clintons as amounting to zero. But he was useful to the Right's attack machine, so many still believe it.

There is one exception to this, however. Lerner and Tikkun magazine have been an important voice on Israel and Palestine because his perspective--his ideology, if you will--is pro-Israel, Jewish of course (Lerner is a rabbi in the Bay Area), anti-Sharon, and in favor of Palestinian rights. This stance is in tension with both the organized Jewish community and the activist Left, and thus it creates political space. Clinton made use of that space in striking the Camp David accords.

"Non-ideological liberal?" I would say I am suspicious of ideology, but try not to take it so far as to become anti-political, because I am suspicious of that, too. I never could swallow Lerner's psychologizing of politics, or the New Agey feel of "... a movement in which we can talk about love and caring for each other." To me, that's anti-political language.

Not sure what you mean by: "the political nature of Bush's rejection of the press didn't express itself in Jay's earlier critique." To me, this is entirely a political move on Bush's part--and part of the radicalism of this White House. I thought I described it exactly that way.

If you really want to know where I "fall" politically, two books I admire greatly may help: Todd Gitlin's Twilight of Common Dreams (pre-9/11) and Paul Berman's Terror and Liberalism(post-9/11).

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 4, 2004 3:49 PM | Permalink

Yet another news organ repeating the story that Bremer gave no speech. This time it's the L.A. Times, suggesting on its front page that Bremer's alleged failure to give a speech shows that he a coward!

(Correction to appear, it at all, in a small box on page A2.)

Posted by: Patterico at July 4, 2004 4:38 PM | Permalink

Thanks for the clarifying your position, Jay. I find that speculative inaccuracy can be a great heuristic device.

Too bad about Berman and Gitlin, though. Berman waxes anxious over those who would dare to question the fundamentals of liberalism. I haven't read them, but I know they are disliked by the radical left.

This is the type of fragmentation that the right really doesn't have to endure. All it ever really needs is to wait for the center to move its way as the result of post-ideological anxiety.

Posted by: panotpicon at July 4, 2004 5:30 PM | Permalink

They are disliked by the radical left because they don't go in for automatic thinking. Gitlin was quite eloquent on the stupidity of supporting Nader before the 2000 election. The radical left didn't listen. Here's Berman on how to hate Saddam and despise Bush-- an un-automatic position. (New Republic, subscribers only link, I think.)

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 4, 2004 9:57 PM | Permalink

Right. The radical left goes in for automatic thinking. I should have known. Who are you talking about, exactly? 19 year old college students with placards? The Counterpunch crowd? A warehouse worker who reads Marx? A fifty-year-old Cultural Studies professor? Who is this radical left that Berman froths about? Somebody you met at a cocktail party and didn't like? Do they all belong to the WWP? It's not like there's a Republican party of the left.

Accepting liberalism as inevitable is automatic thinking at its worst.

Are you accusing these marginal leftist groups that are always at each others throats of conformism? Conformism, to what? Disagreement?

Posted by: panopticon at July 4, 2004 11:31 PM | Permalink

Why does PressThink conduct an argument with a harmless cliché of the news business? Because it is time that our journalists learned how to tell proper time, and bring the priorities of their business into better alignment with common sense, civic experience, and an enlarged historical sense. (emphasis mine)

Nail. Head. Struck.

The greatest sin committed daily in ink and electrons is the lack of historical context that brings not only depth in what is supposed to be the "first draft of history", but a glimpse into the future. What Austin Bay described as the "the second day answers" in John Burn's interviews.

"Seconds count" when the media is performing the role of "closed-circuit TV" during a live event for its consumers, as it did during 9/11 - or as an open-source forward observer and bomb damage assessor.

Realizing the difference between getting the story "out there" and getting the right story is what's lost in much of today's iterative 24/7 journalism.

Instead, the post-modern "first draft of history" is too often contextualized by its impact on attitudes and perceptions in the next poll results, the horse race, or the utterances of the opposition or talking head "experts" who are paid to prognosticate on how the reporting of this event will change the future in some imaginative way.

It's soap opera journalism, and that's what Rather has forwarded with his cliché. "Seconds count" has more to do with Days of our Lives incestuous intrigue than the thought of a public servant in the 4th estate, much less a serious thinker about the role of the media and the events in Iraq.

Posted by: Tim at July 4, 2004 11:36 PM | Permalink

Good post. Lots of interesting links.

The SPJ Ethics get to a little of what might be a more meaningful measurement system than 'seconds count.'

There is a difference between guidelines, which is what I take these to be, and standards – which can be verified and measured.

Even so, if there cannot be meaningful standards, which do not necessarily have to be constraining to the point of removing a 'free press,' then whose first amendment is it?

Posted by: John Lynch at July 5, 2004 12:29 AM | Permalink

The greatest sin committed daily in ink and electrons is the lack of historical context that brings not only depth in what is supposed to be the "first draft of history", but a glimpse into the future.

Yeah, but how do you place the present into historical context? That would assume that there is a vantage point outside the present from which the present can be judged while it is still present.

The media are more and more "immediate". And that structural condition is the context of the contextlessness.

So if you wanted to place the news into context, you would always have to mention the impossibility of placing it into context. And that is the context.

Rather than Rather's undiluted soap opera Ham factor, let's acknowledge that he is giving voice to the actual historical context of the reporting: that there is no context.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 12:54 AM | Permalink

This is the type of fragmentation that the right really doesn't have to endure. All it ever really needs is to wait for the center to move its way as the result of post-ideological anxiety.

The right has all sorts of ideological fragmentation it must deal with. This is always the case with a major movement in America - it can't be major (or "big trent") without internal contradictions.

Examples of tensions on the right: church/state issue; nation building vs. Realpolitik; hedonistic values (Schwarzenegger) vs. puritanistic values (Marriage Amendment), isolationism vs. engagement (although isolationism is dying - the Buchanan wing has wandered into insane irrelevancy); drug war vs no drug war (National Review has long been anti-drug war); easy immigration (Wall Street Journal Ed Page) vs. tightly controlled immigration (any journal with sense... err, I betray a bias there :-).

So don't imagine that the right is monolithic or without ideological fissures and fights.

John Lynch
You mention the SPJ Ethics. Once again I think it at least bears discussion of whether it should contain any words about journalistic responsibility to the country that gives the First Amendment, or whether no duty at all to the nation should continue to be the rule. Yeah... There's an opinion easily discernable there, too.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 5, 2004 12:57 AM | Permalink


Rather than Rather's undiluted soap opera Ham factor, let's acknowledge that he is giving voice to the actual historical context of the reporting: that there is no context.

I think you've given Rather too much credit.

Everyone contextualizes the present. Some more intelligently and knowledgeably than others.

Are you arguing that Rather's exhortation of journalism without reason is accurate (immediate and unreasoned)?

What I ask for is reasoned context transparently communicated about unreasonable people and events.

Is that too much to ask?

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 1:42 AM | Permalink

Panopticon: "I haven't read them, but I know they are disliked by the radical left." Those are your words. And that is the radical left I am talking about-- the one you mentioned.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 5, 2004 10:02 AM | Permalink

How much of Rather's "In our business, seconds count" is simply reflective of the economics of automatic thinking in the news media? (emphasis mine).

Is the risk (or Bernulli's error) overlooked by that statement the unrealized cost of the context lacking in our news?

What are the cognitive bias artifacts of such automatic thinking in the news product by people that rationalize the de-contextualizing of news to meet illusory "standards" of objectivity and an impulsively imposed "time frame for narration" measured in seconds?

Can we measure these artifacts based on the automatic thinking construct framed by structural, professional and individual biases?

Or am I just being cute?

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 11:40 AM | Permalink

Panopticon: "I haven't read them, but I know they are disliked by the radical left." Those are your words. And that is the radical left I am talking about-- the one you mentioned.

I mentioned the "radical left" because in Terror and Liberalism Berman talks about a "radical left", among whose avatars he singles out are Noam Chomsky and Edward Said. So when I referred to Berman's reified "radical left" as disliking him, I'm simply using his own formulation: e.g., people who appreciate Chomsky's work dislike Berman. But you can't draw from that, like Berman does, that there is some kind of ideological uniformity across the left that is responsible for the rise of Islamism, because the left is now *post-ideological*.

Also, Berman, now that his WMD rationale has fallen through, is confusedly harping on liberalism and human rights as the pretext for the war. But folks like the decidedly non-liberal Stratfor can't get behind that type of excuse:

It could be argued that in a democratic society like the United States, it is impossible to lay bare the cold-blooded reasoning behind a war, and that the war needs to be presented in a palatable fashion. This might be true -- and there are examples of both approaches in American history -- but we tend to think that in the face of Sept. 11, only a cold-blooded plan, whose outlines are publicly presented and accepted, can work. We could be wrong, but on this we have no doubt.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 11:55 AM | Permalink

Here's an example of Berman's monolithic view of "the left".

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 12:17 PM | Permalink

Everyone contextualizes the present. Some more intelligently and knowledgeably than others.

The present no longer exists, it's been replaced by the instant.

Are you arguing that Rather's exhortation of journalism without reason is accurate (immediate and unreasoned)?

I don't think Rather is exhorting journalism without reason. I think he is denoting the reality. I think the technological changes that produce "Journalism at the speed of thought" induce thoughtlessness.

What I ask for is reasoned context transparently communicated about unreasonable people and events.

Is that too much to ask?

Not at all. Try Noam Chomsky, for instance. He's not exactly a galvanizing speaker or brilliant writer, so his public political influence is limited, but he is probably the pre-eminent example of a context provider. That's what he does. He's a context machine. A permanent witness to the past.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 12:49 PM | Permalink

Try Noam Chomsky, for instance. He's not exactly a galvanizing speaker or brilliant writer, so his public political influence is limited, but he is probably the pre-eminent example of a context provider. That's what he does. He's a context machine. A permanent witness to the past.

That's a good point, and a good example. Ramsey Clark might be another. Micheal Moore might be an example of reasoned context transparently communicated with greater public political influence (TBD). Although unintended consequences may imply a reversal of fortunes as it has with Wes Clark and the "politics of meaning" being subsumed by the more perpetual meaning of politics.

So, all these thoughtful men have been discredited in favor of "Journalism at the speed of thought" induc[ing] thoughtlessness?

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 1:19 PM | Permalink

Do you actually think I am advocating journalism at the speed of thought?

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 1:29 PM | Permalink

Ramsey Clark and Michael Moore are nothing like Chomsky. They are partisan propagandists of differing skill; Clark is an idiot; Moore is a powerful communicator. That you mention them in conjuction with Chomsky is some kind of fallacious "guilt by association" argument meant to discredit Chomsky.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 1:34 PM | Permalink

John Moore, the left is fragmented in a far more profound way than the right. The right is unified in its respect for capitalism.

The left, or the progressive movement, split over this issue in the 1930s, when liberalism was born as an anti-communist, pro-war faction of progressivism.

In the 1960's, the split deepened when the liberal "neoconservatives" came together in support of the anti-communist Viet Nam war.

Now, with the collapse of communism, liberals, who throughout their history have always been looking for an enemy to fight, have produced people like Berman, for whom communism as a threat has been replaced by Islamism - i.e., the most active form of resistance to capitalist modernity. So the fragmentation continues in a far more profound way than you have on the right, which is united in its pro-capitalist stance except for some nearly invisible anti-capitalist ultra-fascist organizations, I suppose.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 2:07 PM | Permalink

Here's a better link to the stratfor analysis

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 3:10 PM | Permalink


It is true that the right respects capitalism, although it is not uniform in its views of secondary aspects - regulation (environmental externalities, for example), taxation, labor safety net. The right is re-thinking the health care payments system, as the current approach (ironically, created by labor unions in WW-II) has too many gaps, and that re-thinking of course creates minor schisms.

The problem with the left perhaps is that it represents "everyone else." Furthermore, much of it was taken over by the pro-Communist or, to a lesser exten, Communist accepting radicals - as a result of the anti-Vietnam War movement. One problem I have with the idea of a democratic administration is that too many of those misguided liberals (Strobe Talbott of the Clinton administration comes to mind) would be on the cabinet.

I certainly don't study the schisms of the left, preferring to pay attention to the parts of the left who have significant influence and cause most of the trouble - especially in the press, where they are most dangerous this year. I don't understand the part of the left today that hates George Bush. Hate is a very strong emotion for a large American opposition movement. And yet, based on my experience and what I have seen (which includes going to anti-Bush demonstrations), it is clear that foaming, rabid hatred exists. It is so strong that I worry that some nut might kill Bush. It would be the left wing equivalent of a right wing nut killing an abortion doctor, but of far more significance.

While the Right had various reactions to Clinton (including some of the sillier conspiracy theories like Vince Foster), hatred at this level did not rise to the top of the right. Limbaugh, for example, used ridicule, and for the most part was never enamoured of hatred. The same wass true of the sources I read.

Back to the left... there are plenty of capitalists on the left. In fact, the "limousine liberal" stereotype is very real - I know some. But the mainstream left has grown more radical - not away from capitalism, but on other axes - such as the War on Terror (where the current left is clearly behaving as a disloyal opposition), and on social issues where there are several major fissures in the body politic.

I think the harder leftists - anti-capitalists like yourself - are doomed to irrelevancy simply by the successes of capitalism and the failures of socialism. This could change under some circumstances (if "outsourcing" got way out of hand), but I think the existing parties are capable of holding onto the vast majority by adaptation. So Chomsky (whom I detest) and others can inspire naive young people and a few older folks, and other leftist icons can do the same, I see no reason for socialists, communists, trotskyists and all the other varieties that I am unfamiliar with to have any success.

One more comment on Clinton: all of his pecadillos and his tendencies were well known to the right before the election. The Democrats might have been advised to pay attention to them, but most were buried by the MSM. Clinton created a historic Republican majority in the House and Senate (although, contrary to what many think, not a governing majority). Bill Clinton was remarkably talented, but his severe narcissistic personality disorder led him into trouble. If I were a Democrat today, I'd keep Clinton's ego well fed, so he doesn't upstage Kerry at some critical point, just out of ego needs.

On the other hand, if Hillary is not the Veep, expect the Clintons to subtley damage the Kerry campaign. This, btw, is not an unsupported conspiracy theory, but the opinion of someone who know all of the players personally and well.

Posted by: John Moore at July 5, 2004 3:25 PM | Permalink


Do you actually think I am advocating journalism at the speed of thought?

Speculative inaccuracy?

That you mention them in conjuction with Chomsky is some kind of fallacious "guilt by association" argument meant to discredit Chomsky.

Actually, that hadn't crossed my mind, anymore than I would judge the strength of your posts by the degree Mr. York associates himself to them.

But I did think that by contrasting the three I could gain a better understanding of your position.

If I insulted an icon of yours by doing so, my apologies.

Chomsky has proven himself quite capable of bringing credit or discredit upon himself without my associations.

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 3:30 PM | Permalink


Journalism at the speed of thought IS the expediency of automatic thinking in journalism:

As creatures who favor automatic thinking — intuitive, fast, effortless and emotional — over “rational” thinking — reason-based, slow, effortful and rule-governed — we’re “adequately successful,” Kahneman said.

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 3:56 PM | Permalink

Speculative inaccuracy?

Merely a conversational ploy, retroactively invoked with irony - i.e., a joke. Did you think I'm advocating speculative inaccuracy in journalism? Why is it one can't mention something without being construed as an advocate? You mention postmodernism, that makes you a postmodernist. You mention Virilio's dromology and you are an advocate of speedy journalism? Where does this literalism derive from?

The problem with the left perhaps is that it represents "everyone else." Furthermore, much of it was taken over by the pro-Communist or, to a lesser exten, Communist accepting radicals - as a result of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

Wrong. The progressive movement wasn't anti-communist until the cold war liberals formed a faction. In the 60's, you saw a reaction to that split as the broader progressive movement reunited - that is, socialist and non-socialist progressives found a common cause against the war and for civil rights. It wasn't a taking over, it was a reassertion of a unity that had existed prior.

You're right that people hate Bush. It's surprising where you find that hate, too - it's not confined to leftists. I've seen pious people who I have never heard express a truly hateful word towards another human being smolder with stoic rage over Bush.

I can't explain it. At least it's over a significant public policy, rather than a tawdry affair.

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 5:04 PM | Permalink

Sorry, Mark, I've got to protect my sources.

You know how it goes.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 5, 2004 5:17 PM | Permalink

Dan Rather is a renegade simulacrum!

Posted by: panopticon at July 5, 2004 9:33 PM | Permalink

Getting the story out vs. the right story:

When Saddam Fell: How the Press was Misled from Day One of the Occupation of Iraq

Posted by: Tim at July 5, 2004 11:30 PM | Permalink

Information Dominance

Speed, as military strategy, moving across the media topos.

Posted by: panopticon at July 6, 2004 12:14 AM | Permalink

Well, Mark, I had read that story earlier. It has the usual LA Time bias, mostly in leaving out some relevant facts, but overall, for the MSM, it's not that bad.

As far as partisan bickering, suffice it to say that you have no clue about the Vietnam Veteran's experience, and furthermore don't know what the Swifties went through. As a Navy Vietnam Veteran, I'm not going to try to enlighten you. You apparently don't realize that soldiers from both parties are involved in condemning Kerry, showing the lie in your term "partisan."

As far as I know, there has never in the history of this nation been a situation where the entire chain of command of a junior officer, through CINCPAC, turned up decades later to unanimously declare in a letter that individual unfit for command. That in in addition to over 200 more Swift Boat Vietnam veterans who signed the letter. The ovverall commander of Swifts, now a retired Admiral, said last week that John Kerry was a traitor. Mark, for your information, an Admiral is a high ranking officer in the US Navy (flag rank - at least 2 stars).

The LA Times is doing what the Globe did earlier - pointing out that some soldiers who served with Kerry were unhappy, while ignoring the historic event where those soldier joined together to publicly condemn him, and event that is obviously in the context of the story.

But then the LAT has very low credibility. They do things like run polls with massive sampling bias (way too many Democrats) and then use the results to show false election trends. If I were to rate major dailies, to least objectionable would be WAPO, with NYT and LAT in the "liar" category (they should come with a warning on the wrappper: read with care; may not be true; you may encounter financial hazard if you believe what you read here and act on it.")

By the way, what does this have to do with the subject of this blog entry? Seconds hardly count when you are talking about 30 year old history.

Posted by: John Moore at July 6, 2004 3:33 AM | Permalink


"Well, as any con man will tell you, a scam works best when the victim WANTS to be scammed." - Jay Bookman (check out his new book, Caught in the Current)

Take you, for instance. You are entirely predictable and easily manipulated.

Once again, you have flooded the thread, 23/70 comments belong to you alone. I'm mentioned in 4 of them extemporaneously for no other reason than flamebait. Twice, before I had even posted to this thread.

In your haste to discredit anyone that is not echoing the political rhetoric from the Democratic party (that passes for liberal ideology today), you have continued to demonstrated your own illiteracy and incuriousness. You are firmly entrenched in the automatic thinking of one side of a shallow debate.

This after claims of being "trained at the graduate level in evolutionary biology" and "I'm a Journalist so I have a vested interest in this including what is approaching years of training."

How was commencement, Mark?

There is a moral to the story, Mark, one you could benefit from. You just need to stop, listen, read, be more open-minded/less illiberal, more rational and less automatic -- less predictable.

So, you can continue to generalize, stereotype, and argue fallacies - proving I've only fed the troll - or change course.

Up to you.

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 8:52 AM | Permalink

Regime Collapse (searh for "Toppling the Statue")

There was a large media circus at this location (I guess the Palestine Hotel was a media center at the time), almost as many reporters as there were Iraqis, as the hotel was right adjacent to the Al-Firdos Square.
The Marine Corps colonel in the area saw the Saddam statue as a target of opportunity and decided that the statue must come down. Since we were right there, we chimed in with some loudspeaker support to let the Iraqis know what it was we were attempting to do. The reporters were completely surrounding the vehicle, and we started having to ask the reporters to move out of the way, but they would not move. We were getting frustrated, but we were also laughing about it. We dismounted the vehicle again and just started puching the people out of the way. They were starting to really inhibit our ability to conduct our mission. The tanks ... formed up into a perimeter around the square, with the statue in the middle.

Those reporters, can't fool them, even when you broadcast what you're doing over loudspeakers. What a scoop, exposing the secret government plot/cover up over a year later.

One more Pulitzer for the LAT, please.

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 10:32 AM | Permalink

Did the LAT write about this toppling recently? Statue Liberties

It sounds to me like you cite Army sources who defend covering up the scene and presenting it contrary to wehat reporters were told by them at the time. Again, lack of reason and bias from an automatic thinker: press bad: army good.

"contrary to wehat reporters were told by them at the time." - By whom, Mark?

I don't see a graduation date. Why should a man of your obvious lacking credentials be believed aside from the biased sourcing of at best US Military propaganda, and at worst right-wing kooks?

Mark, why should you believe me if I told you my credentials? Would you suddenly respect my view because I was better educated than you? Because I have professionally achieved more? Because I have been published in trade journals and refereed conference proceedings?

No, Mark, the only credentials that matter here are yours.

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 11:32 AM | Permalink

So do "seconds count" when the press gets the story wrong? Timing does matter in the news world, for all the reasons Jay mentions (a lot of which are mostly personal for the individual reporters). I come from the print world so we're far more focused on being the place to "break" a story, but we (or at least the weekly and daily newspapers I worked at) didn't think in terms of hyperbolic "seconds." In fact the idea of "breaking" a story really often meant covering something that your competator had to do a follow up the next day (or later). That was "breaking" a story. It wasn't just about putting out there something that EVERYONE would have at about the same time give or take a half hour. (Like for example the Edwards pick as VP...quick can anyone tell me who was "first" in reporting this? Was is the NY Post? Ooops.)

Let's say Rather is correct and somehow seconds matter...doesn't this all become moot when the press GETS THE STORY WRONG? The fact the Washingotn Post left off the moving speech by Bremer is a horrible omission. There are certainly worse example of being-first-being-wrong. Maybe seconds don't matter because, minutes later the story is corrected.

For example, I recall on 9/11 for a very long time during that first day there was a report that a bomb went off at the State Department. (What everyone actually was seeing was smoke from the Pentagon). I believe there was even an official story on CNN or about it at some point that didn't go down until the next day. Did the "seconds count" on a story like that? I suppose if they were right it might have, but being wrong it was a terrible mistake.

Posted by: catrina at July 6, 2004 12:11 PM | Permalink

If the NY Post "wanted it to be Gephart" then they weren't just reporting but actually trying to influence events. (and we know the press NEVER tries to inject itself into a news event. [i]rolls eyes[/i]).

I actually doubt that the NY Post story was wishful thinking and more like bad reporting. Maybe they were mislead by their sources. Being the NY Post is Murdoch's paper i could easily see some "Democratic operative insider" deliberately leaking bad news to the NY Post. This would, of course, alienate the NY Post...but its not like the operative has much to gain from the Post being friendly. And for its part, even if the Post was deliberately mislead it can hardly whine about it and point finders "Well so-and-so from the Kerry camp TOLD us it was Gephardt and he clearly lied to US! The NY Post..."

But this issue about whether its better to be "right or first" is an old chestnut in the journalism business. Usually those who were first would say "first!" and those who broke a story later would say "right!" and the general public didn't notice or care. Since the advent of 24-hour-news and the expansion of the internet "first!" has just taken over whole-sale as a guiding principal.

Posted by: catrina at July 6, 2004 1:32 PM | Permalink


And this is the LA Times fault? It's deliberate military deception. I'd say it worked and now it makes the picture much clearer and the position of the administration even less credible if that's possible. Again you've got the blame on the wrong horse. Who had the reins?

So, taking down the statue was a military deception operation rather than a necessary symbolic act to communicate the end of Saddam's regime?

If you read the report, the PSYOPs guys were informing the crowd, Iraqis and media alike, of what they were going to do (topple the statue) and rallying them. The crowd took it from there as did the media. The PSYOP was not to "fool" anyone about spontaneity. That was added by the media.

I would be interested if that aspect of the media report got started through the speculation of "experts" or "talking heads" watching the video since any Arabic speakers on the scene knew what was happening.

I do find it interesting, though, that you think the military "had the reins" controlling the media reporting. Would that include the choices of television angles framing the crowd, the individuals shown, and the what was written and said by the independant reporters in the square and back in the US studios?

Since only one of us has the backbone to say who we are, I think that says a lot about values, quality, and integrity.

Do you feel the same about all the journalists that write, or have written, under a pseudonym or anonymity?

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 2:07 PM | Permalink

I am glad to hear that the Marine psy-ops people were on the ball. There have been too many psy-ops failures in the war.

But this incident does tie into the "seconds matter." The incident was broadcast on live TV. It appeared to be a historic event.

The reporters were fooled. How could that be? There were a whole lot of them present. The incident took place right in front of the two hotels where reporters were housed during the war. According to the report, loudspeakers were used to ask Iraqi civilians to assist. Why didn't the reporters figure out the truth? Here is a case where the event took place right in front of them, on many live TV cameras, and yet they were fooled.

A possible future subject, Jay?

Another interesting question is: how phony was the event? Obviously, the idea that Iraqis instigated the toppling of the statue was not true, although early on, before the Marine vehicle arrived, there were Iraqis trying to damage the statue. Were these Iraqis doing so because of what the loud speakers said? The article is silent on that subject. Were the Iraqis who cheered when the statue came down, and those who were seen happily putting the soles of their shoes on the statues mere shills? Or were they representative of the feeling that day in that area? Again, not addressed.

Based on live TV video from an embed with the Marines as they rolled through the streets, it would appear that indeed they were welcomed by many happy civilians, at least in part of Baghdad.

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 6, 2004 2:37 PM | Permalink

"So if "seconds count" explains anything deep and true to Rather about his business this week in Baghdad..."

It's a metric, one that's particularly easy to measure. And since what's easy to measure is what _does_ get measured, audience perception is likely to be that the organization that gets it first (and not 100% wrong) is "best". To a business, audience perception matters.

But if you believe the press has a mission to inform its audience, and that "informing the audience" should be more important than "appearing to inform the audience", then yes, the "seconds matter" focus does seem off the mark.

More annoying to me than "seconds matter" is "if it's not new to _us_, we're not going to cover it" - even if it _would_ be new to the readers.

p.s. In Usenet there are killfiles, so you can configure your newsreader to skip posts from a particular originator(s). Does Moveable Type have anything similar?

p.p.s. glad to run across the mattering map in someone else's interpretive toolbox...

Posted by: Anna at July 6, 2004 4:07 PM | Permalink

Saddam's statue blogged at Oh, That Liberal Media: LA">">LA Times Fails Research 101

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 5:34 PM | Permalink

Tim's link shows that the situation was more complex than was reported at the time, and more complex than the Los Angeles Times reported.

So now, we have the question: who do we believe? The anti-Bush reporter from Slate who was on the scene? The LA Times? The military personnel who had a personal interest in taking credit for the operation.

I think the LA Times, in their normal search for stories damaging to the right, was once again too credulous, accepting an army report (of a Marine operation, but nobody seems to care that it was Marines only on that side of the Tigris) at face value.

A more likely explanation (but we don't yet have a full explanation) is that the Iraqis went to take down the statue, the Marines saw this and their psyops folks saw a golden opportunity, used their loud speakers to increase the crowd, and in the long run, the psyops folks claimed credit for the event.

The LA Times doesn't have to be real time. Did they verify that the details of the psyop matched what they wrote? Do we really know when, in the events that day, the psyop started? Do we know if the psyop got the Iraqis to start the attacks on the statue, or if that was spontaneous? Did the loud speakers contain explicit instructions to stamp on the statues head, a major insult in Iraq, or did the Iraqis do it themselves?

We have several reports - the Slate report, the LA Times metareport, and whatever we each remember of the event. More research would no doubt turn up hundreds of stories.

Where is the truth? We all know the events - we saw them live. What narrative goes with them?

Posted by: John Moore (Useful Fools) at July 6, 2004 9:11 PM | Permalink

Baghdad falls
John Koopman, embedded with 3rd Bn/4th Marines


The Marines came into central Baghdad feeling like liberators. They arrived at al-Firdos Square, in front of the Palestine and Sheraton hotels, home to the international press corps covering the war from here.

Several hundred Iraqis poured into the square. "Saddam no, Bush yes," a gleeful boy shouted.

Then some in the crowd attacked a giant statue of Hussein that dominated the square. First a couple of sturdy young men climbed the 25-foot pedestal and tied a rope about the statue. Then they moved to the base and used sledgehammers, breaking chunks out of it.

Nothing seemed to work. It looked like the bronzed Hussein, with his right arm raised, would survive, until McCoy got permission from his superiors to use an armored vehicle to help bring down the statue.


Then the press corps showed up. They'd lost their escorts and minders earlier in the day, and felt at risk from looters, robbers and Fedayeen.

When McCoy saw them, he asked permission from senior officers to proceed to the Palestine and Sheraton hotels area, where the Marines would set up a defense for the press corps and for local hospitals. Permission granted.

That led to what turned into the triumphant march to al-Firdos Square and the toppling of the Hussein statue, a picture the Marines knew would be an instant symbol seen round the world.


March 19 2004: One year after the iconic toppling of the Saddam statue in Firdous Square, those involved in the events of April 9 2003 tell their stories to Guardian reporters

Posted by: Tim at July 6, 2004 10:03 PM | Permalink

Whiskey Bar, with tons more traffic than PressThink, goes comment-less...

over the past few months I've noticed a definite deterioration in the quality of the conversation here at the bar. Trolls I can usually give the bum's rush pretty quickly - at least most of the time. But I'm seeing more and more stuff on the threads that strikes me as marginal at best - people who seem to get their main kick out of insulting or picking fights with the other patrons; people who don't have anything particularly intelligent to say, and aren't very articulate about saying it; people who don't seem to have anything better to do with their time than to cut and paste long passages from mainstream media stories, or the unabridged lyrics of old rock 'n roll songs; people who appear to be mentally unbalanced, and not always in a good way.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 6, 2004 10:22 PM | Permalink

Another aspect to Rather's cliché are the seconds of lull during media enthralled live coverage of an event. Those seconds need to be filled with automatic thoughts. Did the speculation of spontaneity, and the paranoid theorizing of mass manipulation conspiracies find a birth in those anxious seconds?

Q: Some of the liberal critics of the coverage as well as the policy said that these pictures were staged, one thinks of the flag over the statue of Saddam Hussein’s face, some people likened it to the Iwo Jima raising of the flag during World War II. Any of this staged or was it all spontaneous?
Whitman: No, there was nothing staged about anything that you saw out there. What you saw was really how well trained, how well equipped, and how well led America’s military forces are. I think you got to see an unvarnished look at professionalism and dedication that they all have out there.
Although I think the toppling of Saddam's statue was frought with historic context and, since carried live and widely witnessed, might be considered a situation where "seconds count" in getting the story out rather than getting the right story, I should not overlook the fact that my complaint about this one LAT story of the event, published more than one year later, concerns a single newspaper.

Call it a related charge.

Posted by: Tim at July 7, 2004 9:22 AM | Permalink

LAT. Hole. Dig. Stop.

Posted by: Tim at July 8, 2004 10:06 PM | Permalink

I just want to tell you how interesting your site is. A lot of great stuff for everybody. See you again my friend.

Posted by: jenny at July 9, 2004 5:54 AM | Permalink

What a chatty bunch! I did not read the LA Times article. I did see the documentary Control Room last weekend where the Al-Jeezera editor indicated that the Saddam toppling was staged. It did take my breath away. What he said was a bunch of boys all the same age and that they were not from iraq. he says in the documentary..I'm was born in Iraq. i lived in Iraq and they did not have iraqi accents.
During this week i have spent some time wondering why this isn't a big story.
is it a scandal waiting to happen a la Trent Lott whose comments went unbothered for days before the fire storm caught on? or will the story die a quiet death in blogs?

For those of you looking for context, I recommend Control Room. Unlike Farheneit 9/11...this is more a true documentary...albeit showing one point of view but what it does is allow those of us who get our news from the American media to see who this very powerful media thinks. It's a good watch.

As far as the" every seconds count" thought that started this conversation. what Rather doesn't understand is that TV is like a high school popularity ... even if you get the story first, most people will click the dial to get the story from their favorite reporters.,
Being first is no longer important..its whose telling the story that counts. It's like news cliches: The foxers, the cnners and the networkers.

Posted by: ELANA at July 10, 2004 9:36 AM | Permalink

..I'm was born in Iraq. i lived in Iraq and they did not have iraqi accents.

Elana, do Iraqis have a single dialect or accent? If not, are you able to recognize different ones? How diverse is Baghdad across semantic dialects and accents?

Does the movie, Control Room, provide enough information to determine that the event was staged, and by whom?

Does the LAT reporter conclude that the Army admitted it staged the event, and does the Army report support that conclusion?

Posted by: Tim at July 10, 2004 12:10 PM | Permalink

Hey Tim,
The comments about the staging of the Saddam statue were made by one of the key editors at Al Jeezera. By the time he made these comments he had appeared in the documentary quite a bit and I got a sense of who he was and I definitely started trusting him. NOw, maybe I was being manipulated but he acted and spoke like a journlist with strong ethics..and I have to say I went into the documentary with a definite anti - Al Jeezera bias. So I was surprised that as I watched, I gave what they were saying some credence. The editor basically said that they were not Iraqi. I know nothing about Iraqi accents-- I wish I were more knowledgeable. He went on to say that there was just this group of guys all about the same age tearing down the statute. He asked...if it weren't staged, wouldn't people of all ages come out to support the action. Instead, according to the editor, it was just this small band of guys which he says did not have an Iraqi accent. Again, in context as I watched the documentary, I did begin to believe this guy --but at the same time I was skeptical because I couldn't believe that the media had not investigated this. Then, when reading this article I saw that LA Times had just reported on it. So that's all I know. I haven't scooted over to the LA Times to read their article. I will do that now.

Hope that helps. Thanks for responding to my post.

Posted by: Elana at July 10, 2004 6:37 PM | Permalink

Elana: Thank you for adding more to your post.

I have not seen Control Room. I don't have a good read on the journalistic standards of al-Jazeera, but try to visit their English site to see what they consider to have "news value" for their non-Arabic readers.

After reading your post, I thought I'd try to google an answer an was only able to find this so far.

One theory is that Chalabi's INC was involved somehow. There are many theories.

At this point, these theories seem to reside in the conspiratorial or paranoid realm. Good to be aware of, best not believed yet.

However, LAT took it out of those realms, gave it credentials, and assigned blame.

From what I can tell, it was an error to do so. The fact no one else has picked it up makes me wonder if others looked at it and saw something different than David Zucchino reported. In addition, reports from on the ground and witness accounts reported later (but before the Army report) contradict Zucchino's report.

It was a Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians, as was widely assumed from the TV images — who decided to topple the statue, the Army report said. And it was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.
Ultimately, a Marine recovery vehicle toppled the statue with a chain, but the effort appeared to be Iraqi-inspired because the psychological team had managed to pack the vehicle with cheering Iraqi children.

Posted by: Tim at July 10, 2004 8:33 PM | Permalink

This seems to be another example of a bias against ambiguity in the media (noise).

Posted by: Tim at July 10, 2004 10:57 PM | Permalink

Al-Jazeera Pledges Honest News Coverage

DOHA, Qatar (AP)--The popular Arab news channel Al-Jazeera, which the United States has accused of bias, has issued a code of ethics, vowing to ``uphold journalistic values'' and to be sensitive to the victims of the wars and disasters it covers.[snip]The station said it will distinguish between news, analysis and commentary to avoid ``falling in the trap of propaganda and speculation.''
It also promised to ``acknowledge any mistake as soon as it is made and take the initiative to correct it and avoid repeating it.''
Recently, Al-Jazeera has begun reading statements from militant groups instead of broadcasting their tapes, an attempt to limit rhetoric. It also has been editing out particularly graphic segments of militant videotapes.

PR spin? Crisis of conscience? Bowing to pressure?

Posted by: Tim at July 14, 2004 9:18 AM | Permalink

From the Intro