Archive for the 'media' Category

Magicians and Bunnies in the Newsroom

16 January, 2009

by Matangmanok (aka Sufjan Simone)

Magicians are in a trade. They satisfy an audience’s craving for the fantastic, the impossible, the breathtaking. They know the best contraptions to use, the best colours of smoke to release, the slightest gesture to reveal and conceal at the precise moment. They suck you in a narrative of sorts, preparing and priming you for that special moment, and then a quick flourish and VOILA!

They know the tricks of the trade, so to speak.

Mainstream corporate media is in a trade. They are run with the intent to sell texts and images and, unlike the distant origins of journalism that strives to reveal the uncompromising truth, mainstream media aims to keep the status quo and not rock the boat of complacency. There are exceptions, of course, but in more recent times there have been fewer and fewer brave media people willing to risk their jobs and even their own lives by going against approved storylines and perspectives.

Those who put out “news” have many ways of revealing and concealing things. Some tricks are easy to spot as outright lies and fabrications. Some “news reports” are mere repetitions or muffled Amens to greater powers – political, corporate, religious, military, etc. – and, by mere repetition, are assumed to be facts by the less critical reader or “consumer” of news, details not meant to be questioned.

These types of media people view their readers as uncritical and feed them the same information from the same sources but spiced up or slightly changed to add some variety. Their positions remain the same.

It would be quite easy to pinpoint outright lies in a news article. Some tricks are more subtle and so we shall reveal just one of them for now.

In the aftermath of the historic “Throwing of the Shoes at Outgoing President Bush” – which to some people may seem a mundane and totally irrelevant event in world affairs – there has been an unprecedented flurry of activities from protest rallies in various parts of the world to show support for the reporter, proliferation of internet-based games depicting alternate scenarios, and numerous articles full of accurate or fictional information.

When will we see the end to this current media frenzy? As of this writing, a week after the event, the reporter who was catapulted to fame has not been shown in public. A judge who has seen him says he has been badly injured.

In a 19 December 2008 Associated Press article entitled “Iraqi judge says shoe-throwing reporter was beaten” credited to Jim Heintz and Patrick Quinn in Baghdad and Matthew Lee in Washington we find a very interesting narrative. Most of it is written in an objective voice, detailing the show of support for the reporter from Iraqis and the world over. Shoe throwing, it seems, has become a powerful statement against occupying powers.

Here is a link to the full article.

What I would like to focus on is the last part of the article that goes:


In London, about 50 protesters shook their shoes at the U.S. Embassy in a show of support for al-Zeidi.

In the West Bank village of Bilin, Palestinians hurled shoes rather than the usual rocks at Israeli soldiers in the weekly Friday protest against the Israeli separation barrier, which slices through their fields.

And the head of a large West Bank family offered one of its eligible females as a bride for al-Zeidi. Ahmad Salim Judeh, 75, said his 500-member clan had raised $30,000 for al-Zeidi’s legal defense.

Many supporters of al-Zeidi hold Bush personally responsible for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

On Friday, a Baghdad police official said seven disembodied heads and two complete corpses were found in a deserted building in Sadr City. The victims appeared to have been killed about two years ago, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.


There is a very strange last paragraph there, as if inserted not by the original author but by someone else. How does it link to the bulk of the story? Where does it come from? An uncritical reader would pass that off as just another bit of information. Another might say it was merely bad writing and editing.

What is the aim of that last paragraph?

Since it has no direct relation to the original narrative, we must seek a different one for it. In that paragraph the key words are “anonymity,” “disembodied,” “deserted,” “not authorized to speak to reporters” and lastly “two years ago.”

Remember our magician? Like him (or her) the authors of this news article have come up with a quick sleight of hand, a flourish of smoke, a wink of an eye. We are given an unrelated bit of information – whether real news or a fabrication, we are not allowed to question because of the phrase “not authorized to speak to reporters.” The source will never be revealed. It might have been the easter bunny.

Note the namelessness that goes with “disembodied” and “deserted.” It fits nicely with the unauthorized source. These are mere corpses or missing body parts that were randomly discovered, it seems, and news of this must urgently be added to a news item that has no connection to it whatsoever. And the most damning detail here is that the killing probably took place “two years ago” – not on the day of the shoe-throwing incident or even close to it.

After breaking this paragraph down to its crucial parts, we can come to this revelation. It was added as a kind of smokescreen, something to deflect the mention of numerous and unwavering support for the reporter shown by people both in Iraq and other parts of the world. Imagine a magician forcing the audience to look at the cute bunny in his one hand as he slips something out of the other.

Aside from that, there is something even more interesting. Wouldn’t it be a horrifying thing to learn about these disembodied heads and corpses? But with the placing of this information at the very end of an article, and with such brevity, it is deemed unimportant to stand on its own and be given some investigative reporting.

It is given mention as if it were an acceptable daily occurrence, something that says “sinister” in a matter of fact way. As if to say “This awful deed is part of their daily lives” but not in those words. It is implied by way of presentation. Why? By whom? For what aim?

A subtle trick indeed, nearly unnoticeable. I have doubts the original writer knew his piece of journalism would end up like this: disembodied.


Note: This article was written in December 2008 and initially appeared on


The remarkable case of manipulation of the reader by Nicholas Kristof, New York Times columnist

15 January, 2009

Interesting how news articles can be revealing and obfuscating at the same time. Take, for example,  The Gaza Boomerang by Nicholas Kristof in a column he wrote for The New York TImes on 7 January.

The initial revelation, if one can call it that, is that – somewhat like the US managed to pull off with their support of the Mujahiddeen in Aghanistan at the end of the seventies, when it wanted to pull the Soviets into their own Vietnam – Israel helped nurture Hamas. This was done to frustrate Arafat’s Fatah movement, which was heading in a direction that the Israelis considered dangerous: they were ready to accept the existence of the state of Israel and to abide by the UN resolutions calling for a return to the 1967 borders.

At the time, Hamas was adamantly against such a position, which suited the Israelis well, intent as they were on grabbing every single piece of land remaining under Palestinian control. Hamas’ position has changed by now, which is highly inconvenient for the Israelis as they can no longer claim to be fighting for their survival.

Kristof’s article, revealing so far in its acknowledgment of the origins of Hamas, then suddenly takes a U-turn by completely omitting the origins of the current massacre being imposed by the Israelis on the Palestinians. Kristof claims Israel was profoundly provoked into its current killing spree by Hamas’ rocket shelling. It is worth looking at the actual timeline to assess Kristof’s depiction of the turn of events:

2008 Jun: With Egyptian mediation, Hamas and Israel agree to a six- month ceasefire in Gaza with militants saying they will stop firing rockets while Israel says it will stop offensive operations.
2008 Nov: Israel breaks ceasefire by sending ground troops into Gaza. Rocket fire resumes sparking exchanges.
2008 Dec 19: Attempts to renew ceasefire fail amid mutual recriminations.
2008 Dec 27: Israel launches operation Cast Lead attacking buildings and facilities connected to Hamas.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Centre, Isreal, published the following statistics:

  • May: 149 rockets
  • June: 84 rockets before ceasefire, 3 after (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • July: 8 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • August: 3 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • September: 3 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)
  • October: 1 (not by Hamas, according to Israel)

On November 4, Israel launches an attack in Gaza against Hamas, killing six, breaking the ceasefire.

  • November: 68 rockets
  • December: 52 rockets (before the Isreali pounding of Gaza)

Kristof, in other words, fails to mention both Hamas’ strict abidance to the June ceasefire during the months of July, August, September and October, as well as the Israeli failure to keep to that same ceasefire on 4 November. Absent that context, the 120 rockets fired by Hamas in November and December are indeed a profound provocation. Given the events, it was Israel that provoked Hamas into resuming its rocket fire.

As always, it is the civilian population that suffers the most. Hamas benefits from all the casualties that the Israelis are causing amongst Palestinian civilians (see Petiskas’ post earlier). This radicalisation of the Palestinian people translates into even more violence by Hamas and Israel.

Sanity is elsewhere.

do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 3

4 December, 2007

cholera is on the rise in iraq. according to the british newspaper the guardian,

Cholera is preventable by treating drinking water with chlorine and improving hygiene, but it is estimated that around 70 per cent of Iraqis do not have access to clean water. Many have been too poor or too afraid to go out to buy bottled water, relying instead on tap water, often from polluted sources. Companies responsible for collecting waste and sewage have been reluctant to enter Baghdad’s most violent areas.

worth repeating: companies responsible for collecting waste and sewage have been reluctant to enter baghdad’s most violent areas. violent areas? iraqis fighting amongst each others according to the us peace keepers or peace bringers, depending on the mass media myth of the day.

except, there is a precedent:

Basra attacks down 90% since British troops left

The British army says violence in Basra has fallen by 90% since it withdrew from the southern Iraqi city earlier this year.

wrote the irish independent last month: occupying forces leave the area and violence goes down. how surprising.

in other words, more likely than not, the us occupation is causing ninety percent of the violence. good reason to get out? too bad, says the us, because the independent (why does no mass media outlet point out in this context that iraq’s total dependance on the us is a grave qualifier?) government of iraq is about to request its occupiers to stay:

Iraq’s government is prepared to offer the U.S. a long-term troop presence in Iraq and preferential treatment for American investments in return for an American guarantee of long-term security including defense against internal coups

according to the associated press. between asking its occupiers to leave and reduce violence by 90 per cent (and allowing companies to resume collecting waste and sewage, amongst others) and more of the same, the independent (not; see earlier) government of iraq chooses the latter, awarding the us for its occupation with preferential treatment for its investments. go figure: no wonder us invasions are so frequent.

so: between fact and fiction, why do the mass media not connect the dots?

us could avoid cholera crisis by leaving iraq: prefers to stay in return for preferential treatment of its investments

now that would be a refreshingly truthful way of reporting.

do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 2

3 December, 2007

venezuelans yesterday went to vote on two constitutional reform packages. mass media furore was particularly evoked by the proposal to remove the presidential term limit. neither of the two packages made it through the referendum.

judging by the venom aimed at venezuelan president hugo chavez, such as doubting his democratic credentials and claiming dictatorial tendencies, the country is effectively an authoritarian dictatorship. bypassing the obvious question what role referendums play in a dictatorship, here is another thought exercise.

here is hugo chavez’s reaction to his referendum defeat according to the bbc:

“To those who voted against my proposal, I thank them and congratulate them,” he said. “I ask all of you to go home, know how to handle your victory.”

cbs posted a ‘light’ version of this, reporting rather chavez’s reaction after voting instead of his official announcement as quoted earlier:

“I’m very sure that everything is going to go very well,” Chavez said after voting, holding his newborn grandson in his arms. “We’re going to accept the results, whatever they are.”

at the same time, cbs did not fail to underline what would have happened if the constitutional reform packages would have passed – a remarkable way to ignore the facts on the ground:

In addition to extending Chavez’ ability to repeatedly run for office, the proposed constitutional changes would have improved his odds, by allowing him to suspend civil liberties and handpick local leaders under a redrawn political map.

(bonus points to those who observed that the us president already enjoys these two benefits.)

would it not have been correct for cbs to note that their earlier accusations regarding chavez’s dictatorial tendencies have been proven wrong by his official reaction?

does it mean that they will continue this miss-characterisation of hugo chavez despite his actions, failing this opportunity to straighten their record? if it does, are they playing the corporate and government card in demonising a figure they are afraid of?

to summarise: having lost the referendum, chavez accepts the results. cbs insists on accusing him of being a closet dictator in the face of evidence to the contrary. are their opinions more important than facts on the ground?

clearly, i cannot look into the future (unlike cbs, who are even able to predict what would have happened if chavez had won the referendum), so i can only hope the situation in venezuela will remain as stable as it looks right now.

do the mass media engage in government propaganda? – 1

3 December, 2007

the administrators of medialens came up with an interesting thought experiment in one of their alerts in 2006 about how corporations do their best to keep the public ignorant about the contradictions between corporate profits and public environmental concerns. paraphrasing, this is the thought experiment, which i also posted on the helium forums:

some time ago, bbc radio advertised a phone-in discussion on iraq with the following line:

are 100 british soldiers’ lives too high a price to pay for democracy in iraq?

the stated intention of the us and uk administrations, ‘to bring democracy to iraq’, was now being presented as an actual goal. imagine if the same programme had suggested:

are 100 british soldiers’ lives too high a price to pay for us corporate control of iraqi oil resources and to maintain global us hegemony?

this would undoubtedly have drawn intense flak for being unbalanced and unfair. similarly, the financial times published an article last year which reported that warnings on the consequences of climate change

have prompted tony blair, the prime minister, to make tackling climate change a priority for world leaders in the coming year’

which is another instance of turning a stated intention into an assumed actual objective.if the mass media find it acceptable to present government communications as fact, are they not simply reporters of the official view? does that mean that they engage in government propaganda?