Media

Anonymous and Unaccountable

The news media, apparently, doesn’t need to be held accountable these days. There is a lot of writing, publishing, reporting, and broadcasting based solely on “anonymous” sources. This is a troubling trend that has taken hold and has become acceptable, whether it is good practice or not. It appears that we, the consumer, have gotten so far away from a reliable media that we rarely question where the information came from and the motives behind the release or reporting? We just assume now that it’s true and that’s that?

It’s been happening for a long time, but two recent stories have dominated the never-ending news cycle these days. The stories pertain to a meeting between President Trump and some Russians, as well as a memo written by former director of the FBI, James Comey, after a meeting with President Trump.  (Yeah, yeah, I can hear all the eye rolls from the people with an ax to grind for one reason or another against Trump. This isn’t to defend him so much as to question the integrity of the information we are being spoon fed…)

What we know about the Russian meeting:

(1) A meeting took place between some high level Russian officials and some high level American officials in the Oval Office. (2) There were a very limited number of people, from both delegations, who attended said meeting. (3) We don’t know what was discussed at the meeting.

We don’t know what was discussed? Wait, what, how can that be? But the people who first reported it, the Washington Post, and the people who have highly cited that original article, The New York Times (and every other news agency), say we know what was said at that meeting. How can you say we don’t know what was said?

The original article published by the Washington Post cites two people, both of whom were not at the meeting. The article’s cited sources were “current and former U.S. officials…” and they said “‘This is code-word information,’ said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies.” These supposed sources were never named and thus can’t readily be held accountable nor can the information be verified to any degree. Simply relating there were two sources doesn’t simply mean the information is true and we shouldn’t believe it as such.

Based on what was reported, we are to assume that these “sources” talked to people who were at the meeting. If that is the case, as they are having us believe, then that would mean someone from the small group of people who DID attend the meeting is talking outside of the meeting. This seems like a rather small group of people to track down and found out who talked. However, everyone who attended the meeting, has said what was leaked to the media wasn’t actually discussed at the meeting.

Additionally, that would lead us to believe the people leaking the information were fully briefed and fully knew for themselves the information President Trump shared was highly classified. Should that happen to be the case, well, then you have people who are not authorized to share classified information sharing classified information (a crime). If the president chooses to share something, the president can choose to do so if he wishes.

What we know about the Comey memo:

(1) Comey was the director of the FBI. (2) He made several controversial moves before the election. (3) Trump is the president and has the ability to fire government officials within the Executive Branch if he deems it necessary. (4) There was a meeting between Comey and Trump after Trump became president.

Again, like the previous meeting, we don’t know what exactly was discussed. We don’t know the tenor of the meeting. We don’t even know the understandings that may or may not have been taken from the meeting. The only thing we supposedly have from that meeting is a memo (or personal notes), supposedly written by Comey, about his interpretation of the meeting. And, again, like the previous issue we have people who have no direct knowledge of the meeting (because they were no there) talking about something they have no firsthand knowledge of.

This time it was reported in a New York Times article. The NYT article reports “…according to two people who read the memo…Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.” The article makes several other assertions with only “…the two people said” and “…according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.”

Did these “associates” write this stuff down? Take a copy? If not, we’re just going off of their recollection. The quote above says the associate read part of it to a times reporter. Why? If the memo existed, why not just hand it over so it could be published in its entirety? Was this person just cherry picking portions? Again, we have NO IDEA if the memo even exists!

The REAL issue(s) at stake

Reporters/journalist/the media reporting with little to no verification or hard facts.

The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” just so happens to be contributing to the death of democracy as well by hiding many of it’s sources in the dark, not allowing for scrutiny of the source or the motives of the source.

These days it seems pretty easy for a reporter to find someone who has an ax to grind, promise said person anonymity, and then publish whatever the person says, sometimes with minimal to no corroboration. As long as it generates site visits (hits or clicks), sells advertising, or generates viewership, the integrity of reporting is lost. We should never accept reporting based solely on anonymous sources, ever. What we have instead is a lack of accountability, both from the source and the reporter.

The video, “Can You Trust the Press?,” is a great video about journalistic integrity and standards, discussing how they have steadily gone downhill from past best practice. This is a good place to start to see the problem Americans are facing these days. We can’t just wholly accept information, from any source, as truth without questioning it and then holding that source accountable for making sure the information is both accurate and complete.

Another issue, which is again showing what was discussed above, is the leaking of classified information simply to justify someone’s point of view, grind an ax, or just because they disagree with policies of the government. Some media outlets are starting to get the picture on this one, but it there hasn’t been much said about it with either of the subjects mentioned previously. The media seems to want to ignore the issue since it is generating increased exposure for their outlets.

Just today, the NYT has published yet another article that involves sensitive information and the questionable citing of sources. This time the article involves both the Russians and Comey. This new article should be questioned because it uses anonymous sources, “…according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official…” and the leaking of internal documents, “The White House document that contained Mr. Trump’s comments was based on notes taken from inside the Oval Office and has been circulated as the official account of the meeting. One official read quotations to The Times, and a second official confirmed the broad outlines of the discussion.”

We need to hold our press/media/journalists/reporters to a higher standard than we have been and we need to do it soon.

 

History: In Living Color

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Every once in a while I come across a website that piques my interest. Some are cool, some are strange, and some are just down right fascinating. This one was both fascinating and frustrating, so I thought I would share and see what your thoughts are on it.

The website is for Marina Amaral, an artist who uses Photoshop to painstakingly add color to historical photos that were taken in black and white. To see her work, click on the link and then either click into the “Portfolio” or “Blog” pages. She does a fantastic job on the transformations through research to try and match the reality of the time the picture was taken.

It is cool to see photos that I have only seen in black and white come to “life.” It is fascinating to see the life flow through the people and places in the image. That part is cool and adds a sort of unknown depth to the photo.

HOWEVER, that is also the frustrating part as well!  One thing we have to be careful of is not letting these photos stand alone to become part of the historical record. I believe they are best viewed with the original photo, side by side. The reason is that we, in our search to “know” everything, tend to let changes to history go without challenging them. When we stop challenging them, they actually become the history we wanted to view through a different lens. Whether it is intentional or not, there has to be caution in such recreations of history. We can’t let the historical record change so that the only pictures we view in the future of these subjects are the ones that have had the color added.

Let me offer an example from personal experience. In the past, I have shown historically based films in my classroom. The first caution I have always gave before showing the film was that it was someone’s interpretation of the history, not the actual history – regardless of how well the movie was done and tried to follow the historical record closely. I always encouraged the students to study the subject further to find out if what they saw was accurately portrayed or not. The students used to complain, complain that the film was in black and white. “Why is it in black and white…”, “Isn’t there a film about this in color…”, etc etc. Their first inclination was that it was boring if there was no color, even if the film was a modern film but done in black and white for theatrical purposes (such as Schindler’s List).

Our students (and maybe our society as a whole) has a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction, so studies show that Americans (and probably others) tend to think that what they saw in a historically based film is true. They accept it as fact. Thus, when we look at photos that have been colored in such a realistic and beautiful way, I am afraid the original photos will lose relevance in a world where “reality” and “facts” mean so little.

Does that make sense? Do you worry about the same thing? Or, am I just making a big deal out of nothing? What do you think?

What the Legislators Aren’t Doing

This is a great visual representation of what the Washington state legislature IS NOT doing in regards to funding schools in Washington. The state supreme court found the state legislature in “contempt of court” in September of 2014, yet the state legislature continues to make little progress towards the goal they set in their testimony during the trial. This chart shows, quite obviously, that the state isn’t living up to their promises and that ANY money being added to education this year is only “catch up” money, NOT additional funds as they claim in their press releases and speeches to the media.

Don’t you think it’s about time to fund education fully?

ISIS: Who Is Responsible?

Want to know where ISIS (IS, ISIL) came from? Want to get a better picture, the whole picture, of their history? Want to know more than the 30 seconds to three minute blurb you get on the evening news?

I would advise you to watch the FRONTLINE episode, “The Rise of ISIS.” (see link below) Published back in October of 2014, this program brings the issue into focus, gives you an excellent idea of where we are at the moment, and where it is going in the future if something isn’t done soon. **Warning: There is very graphic violence in the report**

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/

The conflict is much larger than the evening news (or government) would have you believe. There is lots of good, relevant history in this reporting. Definitely an eye opening report. Beyond that, there are other very informative reports regarding this topic as well.

Most of all, what needs to be done to resolve it?

Current Favorite Version of Christmas Music

Every year we are treated to a month (plus or minus) of Christmas music. For most people, that is about all they can stand. For others, they can’t get enough and play it all year round.

I am mostly in the first group because of the fact that there are very rarely new Christmas songs and the old ones get played over and over, just with someone new singing them. I mean, really, how many different versions of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” can there be? 5,279?? I don’t know, but it seems like a lot (and that’s only in English…) Every singer, it seems, has done their rendition of it. I swear there are times where you can hear the same song six times in an hour, just done by a different artists.

So, each year I look forward to Christmas music (typically played AFTER Thanksgiving) in my house with a little trepidation. However, this year there was a new entry into the Christmas music catalog and I have to say that it might be my new favorite version of a classic song.

I include it here for your listening pleasure. Turn up the sound and sit back.

I hope you enjoyed it. Check out some of their other stuff too. I am not being paid for advertising, I just happen to like their stuff – especially this song.

I am not an Idiot: Celebrity Endorsements

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Dear Capitol One (or any other advertiser),

I am NOT a idiot, though you keep insisting that I am.

Why do you keep running ads with a celebrity endorsement that you had to pay too much money for? Do you think I am that weak minded enough to run out and get your product just because a celebrity holds it in their hands?

Just recently I saw your ad, “Musical Chairs,” with the likes of Jennifer Garner praising the merits of your travel miles credit card. Why, oh why, do you think this would compel me to get your credit card? She isn’t going to sell it to me any better than Samuel L. Jackson, or Alec Baldwin. I didn’t get your credit card then, so what makes you think I am going to do it now? Really? Like those two are gonna sell anything to respectable adults.

How much money do you have to pay these celebrities to hock your wares? Does Jennifer’s husband, Ben Affleck, not make enough money so she is out earning a living again?

Why don’t we make a deal? How about we agree to leave each other alone? You stay off my television/computer, stop clogging up my online shows with your stupid commercials (and my mailbox for that matter) and in return, should I need a credit card, I’ll seek you out. I’m sure I know where to look if I need you. Deal?

And to you celebrities, knock it off! Has your shine worn off enough that you prostitute yourself to any company that will pay you? It doesn’t matter the product, or even if it is a charity. I DON’T CARE! Entertain me. That is all. That is what I pay for. Not your opinions or your endorsements. You only show how desperate you are to stay in the limelight that faded long ago.  Stop. Please.

Please, Capital One, if you are going to run lame commercials, don’t employ B-list (or any other list) celebrities.

Not so sincerely,

Smartus Assimus

Social Media Faux Pas

I admitted it.

I apologized for it.

I promptly deleted it.

It’s slightly embarrassing since I have been known to rail against it in the past.

The other day I made a mistake by falling for a news story from a satirical “news” website. The article was titled, Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle. Man, oh man, did I blow it on this one!

Being a history teacher, and a Christian, I was excited to see a story like this. What could be better than historians proving what I already believe to be true? However, I was skeptical so I went to the website’s home page and looked at other stories they had posted. Seemed fine (granted this wasn’t extensive). I even went to the “About” tab, seemed legit. What I failed to notice was the tab labeled “Disclaimer” to the right of all the others. Yeah, there was proof. How did I miss it? I really don’t know.

I normally don’t like to “share” stuff on my social media site because I am often bombarded by massive amounts of stuff my friends have shared, much of it not worth looking at. For that reason, when I do share stuff I tend to make sure that it is accurate, worth reading/viewing, and has a purpose. This particular post managed to make it past my own filters.

Time to recalibrate.

Have you ever fallen for a FAKE news story and what made you believe it? What was the story about?