Failed American Journalism

This story about President Obama’s trip to India costing U.S. taxpayers $100 million a day was most likely a bogus rumour attributable to an unnamed Indian official, but picked up and circulated by the political right.  Its taken time, but Friedman shows he does have some good writing/reporting left in him: (New York Times).

Says Friedman, “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact-checking, we have a problem. It becomes impossible for a democracy to think intelligently about big issues — deficit reduction, health care, taxes, energy/climate — let alone act on them. Facts, opinions and fabrications just blend together. But the carnival barkers that so dominate our public debate today are not going away — and neither is the Internet.”

But kudos for the original fact checking goes to CNN’s Anderson Cooper who felt compelled to check the facts after right-wing nut job Michele Bachmann used Obama’s trip as an example of where the U.S. could cut its deficit.

Branding a Bailout/Stimulus

It just struck me how important branding is and how well the Obama administration has used it in the brief weeks since Jan 20th.  The $700 million “bailout” negotiated by the Bush controlled white house was given a negative connotation right from the beginning simply because the media and politicians very quickly called it a bailout.  Of course, no one with self pride wants a bailout, and no one wants to give a bailout to to someone (in this instance, banks) who don’t deserve it.

On the otherhand, everyone does want to do something to “stimulate” the economy and hence a $825/$890/$(whatever it is right now) billion stimulus package seems to have much more general support than I remember the bailout package ever having.  Sure, there is much more to these two packages, including their official names, but I just thought this was interesting.

Regulating Disclosure

According to a blog post on USAToday, the US Congress is debating a bill that would require call-center workers in foreign countries to disclose the country that they are from.  This will likely gouge this bill under a “right-to-know” argument.  I’ve heard many complaints about people not being able to understand foreign call-center workers and vice-versa. Mixed up airline bookings, wrong mailing addresses, incorrect credit card numbers are all part of the lore of the call made to the call center.

However, I believe that this is a problem that will work itself out.  If a company has employed a call center in India, Mexico or Philippines that leads to constant customer dissatisfaction, the company will be forced to make changes either by:

  1. Finding a different call center that will result in fewer dissatisfied customer
  2. Move the call center, or certain core parts of it, back to the US
  3. Give the customer an option to either have the call routed to a foreign country or (for a certain tradeoff), have it taken in the USA.

If a company does not care to take note of their customers complaints, they will simply move elsewhere.

E-Loans is a compnay that is actually employing this third option.  It is an interesting twist to the whole outsourcing controversy. The customers are told that if they choose to have their loans processed the through a US call center, it could take longer than if they got it done in India.

A More Effective Big Brother: Politics, Free Market and Propaganda

Can an allusion of free press exist in a climate of extreme political propaganda? Apparently so. And successfully, if the propaganda is controlled by market interests and not political ones. Most of the information in this ramble is gleaned from here but the feelings and emotions are all personal.

I think the term Big Brother is often misunderstood as those in power ‘spying’ on and following the activities of their people, i.e. keeping a close watch for misconduct and potentially dangerous activities. This (almost communist) approach was tried and its shortcomings are obvious. But having Big Brother in charge can also mean keeping a populace under control through feats of disinformation that do not (and will not) result in revolts, that are either physical or intellectual in nature. And a key player in this is the dominant media. This propaganda service by the mainstream media takes place because the dominant media is owned by elite interests who are closely linked to corporate-funded political establishment. And local media outlets, most often look to the larger media/news conglomerates as their primary source of national and international news. How many residents of Hicktown, VA actually read anything but the DailyHick? And how many editors of the papers like the DailyHick could afford to send a reporter to Iraq to cover the War on Terrorism in an unbiased manner?

So the USA is at war with an enemy – terror. It doesn’t have a face. It has currently taken the form of Saddam Hussein and Iraq. The claim is that Iraq posed a serious national threat to the USA. They had weapons of mass-destruction, including chemical and biological grade weapons. Let’s even give ol’ Georgie the benefit of the doubt. Press reports are handed out to all the media giants, along with aerial images of possible locations of the threats. Within minutes, the television stations have run with it. It has spread like wild-fire on the internet. And every publication has it on their front page the next morning.

Where are the counter-reports, that would only be fair to mention that the United States, and its allies in the area, namely Israel, posses’ weapons of much greater destructive strength. Use of weapons that Iraq was supposed to have possessed would be nothing short of suicidal. A liberal and freethinking journalist occasionally mentions that that Saddam was gifted these weapons in the early 1980’s by a Republican government, to use against Iran. Never is it considered that during the Gulf War I, Saddam did not use his stock-piled WMD’s because he knew what the end effect would be. What about the alternate theories behind the war? To gain more control over the worlds oil and energy supply. To gain poll points for the next elections after the disaster of September 11, 2001. To eliminate a hostile power in the area so that further attacks on Palestinians by Israel could be effectively covered up. And of course, to avenge the man who tried to kill his father.

No, none of these are mentioned, because a journalist would be risking everything: further promotions, ire of his boss and the general public, and maybe even his career and safety if he dared to report the other point of view. He would be called unpatriotic. So he stays quiet, and happy to keep his job, the media giants are happy, and so is the government.

Is this any less than a totalitarian system of governance? It may not be, in the typical, communist sense, but it is. And it works better than it ever did for the former Soviet Union, because this time around, it is controlled by the market. In the Soviet Union, it was obviously government-controlled, heavy-handed, and iron-fisted and did not convince. The U.S. system is not government-controlled (merely government aided), provides the illusion of diversity even as it follows a set propaganda and disinforms a populations while having a much greater impact in mobilizing public support for actions that actually do not serve that public.

Let’s examine now, some key terms in use by Big Brother government and the media:

1) Defense Department/Defense Budget: It is not possible to blame just the USA for this, since no country would truly call their allocation of money on weapons the offense budget, or call the controlling department the war department. But for America, the defense is really offense. Being the undisputed military heavyweight, is defense or protection really that much of a key to its survival? The word defense is really just a useful and soothing word that makes citizens feel that money is being spent on their protection, while it is actually being siphoned away to meet the interests of the select few who control the market and government.

2) National Security: It seems like American national security is threatened very easily, which is strange for a country that has a stock-pile of over twenty-five hundred nuclear warheads. The bearded, turbaned fellow in the caves of Afghanistan; the despotic dictator of an Arab country whose GDP is less than three-thousandths the United States; or by a bunch of rice growing, essentially peaceful people, who were supposed to have been subjects of internal aggression by one of their own. In reality though, National Security is just a cover up for commercial and corporate interests. With the help of the mainstream media, this creates a favorable climate for American investments.

3) Missile gap: Going as far back as the cold war, the term missile-gap or window-of-vulnerability was created. This was done to push the arms race with the Soviet to its peak, by claiming that if more money was not pumped into research and development, the US military would fall behind and be threatened by the Soviet Union. This was not acceptable. These so called gaps and windows were later said to be mythical, according to Herbert York, military advisor to Dwight Eisenhower. But once the media caught a whiff of these terms, they never let them go. After all, they made for such sensationalism in the news.

4) Rogue State: This is another excellent term, said to have been coined under Bush, Sr. It creates an allusions of a country of thugs, brandishing AK-47’s and spending all their free time manufacturing weapons grade plutonium. In actuality though, countries are moved in and out of the United States list of rogue states, depending on their serviceability to American interests. Iraq was very much in favor, during its 8-year war with Iran because Reagan was pleased have Saddam attack a country that was their enemy of the moment. But no mention is made of other thoroughly undemocratic countries (Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia) or states that ritually practice(d) ethnic cleansing (Israel, South Africa).

5) Axis of Evil: This is another term that, just like rogue state, conjures up images of secret underground meetings between the leaders of countries, where briefcases full of money are exchanged for briefcase nuclear devices. In reality though, no connection has ever been proven between North Korea, Iran and Iraq. And of course, terms such as axis of evil and rogue state are too good to be passed up by the media giants. They are like cattle fodder, being fed to a constantly hungry public.

6) War-on-Terror: Not a day goes by that I don’t see or hear this term being uttered on the radio, television, newspapers or internet. It has become a part of the daily vocabulary. Anyone care to wager on how soon before Merriam-Webster includes it in their dictionary?

7) Crusade against Terror: It was a big booboo on the part of George W. Bush when he uttered these words, post September 11, 2001, while promising his nation that he would hunt down those responsible for the atrocities committed. The crusades, are generally considered to be a series of wars that lasted two centuries, between Christian Europe and the Islamic Middle-East. Notwithstanding, the press has run away with this term, using it often enough to describe the current war with Iraq.

8) Weapons of Mass Destruction: Another useful and sensationalized term that is used to only describe weapons that are owned by Iraq and North Korea. The press and media conglomerates conveniently forget the vast collection of such weapons by the Americans themselves. Also is forgotten that the only nation to ever use a WMD is America, against Japan.

9) Terrorism: These two terms are probably thrown around the most, without caution for how they are used. A standard dictionary definition of the term would go somewhat like this: violence committed by one group against another in order to intimidate them into granting their demands. Somehow, the United States and its allies never engage in terrorism themselves, but are always warring against it. But Libya, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Cuba have all, at one time or another, been terrorist nations and were heavily condemned for their acts. Still, Israeli bombings of Palestine are never questioned.

10) Preemptive Attack and Humanitarian Intervention: In order to morally justify despicable acts of violence these two terms and brandied about carelessly too. Some threat that is foreseen to be a problem needs to be completely wiped out, without sufficient or demonstrable reason. Or to preserve human rights, a village needs to be destroyed in order to be saved.

George Orwell, arguably the greatest writer and critic of a totalitarian government and the inventor of “newspeak”, the truth-denying language, would himself have been awed at the level of double talk and misinformation created by past and the most recent American governments.