Friday, April 18, 2003


Internet Kills the Television Blahs

By Farai Chideya, AlterNet
April 14, 2003

A few days after the start of the war, I was sitting in a hotel restaurant having breakfast. At night, the eatery was a sports bar. But that morning, fifteen television sets, some as large as five feet square, broadcast war coverage.
Over my eggs, toast, and coffee, I watched the last night’s bombing raids, big red blooms of fireballs. Interspersed were animated graphics of military maneuvers and equipment, like a sophisticated, nihilistic video game.
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t look away. Television is mesmeric, engaging, and according to scientific research, addictive. Last February in Scientific American, award-winning researchers Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi presented their findings on television addiction. It’s a term they reluctantly came to accept because the viewing patterns of Americans (who average 3+ hours per day) fit the classic definition. No shocker here: We feel relaxed while we’re channel surfing. But Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi were surprised that "the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue." In other words, we end up feeling slodgy and powerless right after a big TV binge.
But online news consumers have found a very different – and highly active – way of getting their information. Some of the most sophisticated news consumers, including progressives worldwide, have become the "blog"-era equivalent of news editors. By both receiving and distributing information via email, they vote with the click of a mouse on what information matters.
"It's nice to have these `intelligent agents’ – my friends and list neighbors – passing along the worthiest columns and news stories," says musician and radio producer David Gans. He receives information via listservs, discussions boards, and the online community The Well, whose Media conference he hosts. Individuals like Gans, informed and discerning about what they send out, become hubs in this distributed information network.
Net use has grown exponentially since the first Gulf War – the "television war" – a decade ago. Says Australian writer Richard Evans, "I prefer [online news] to watching television as I have more control of the kinds of images and stories I read. I also use the Google news service as a way of getting a quick overview of a variety of sources." Studies also show that Americans find the web outlets of major media (like more trustworthy than their parents.
Print and online publications that make it easy for readers to forward material have seen a jump in traffic. The New York Times sends out 3.7 million headline alerts each day. But their "Most Emailed Articles" feature – which allows online readers to see what other readers have forwarded – has come into its own. New York Times Digital spokesperson Christine Mohan says that in March, the highest-traffic month so far, the average number of articles emailed was about seventy-five thousand per day. But in the days preceding the war, readers emailed up to 120,000 stories daily. "When you send something to your colleague, the person is much more likely to open it. It’s that inherent trust," says Mohan.
Novelist Danzy Senna ("Caucasia") uses the New York Times’ system to email articles to friends and family. She also passes on alerts about upcoming peace marches and acts of civil disobedience. Judging by online outreach for recent peace rallies, the ability to customize and control the flow of information produces action as well as education. And alternative news sources may have benefited from the online news surge even more than major-media ones. In my admittedly unscientific survey of individuals who received and forwarded war-related news, most (including Senna) sent and received more independent than major-media coverage.
The downside? Not all information is credible. Web producer Emily Gertz finds some people on progressive listservs passing bad information on. "As part of harnessing the power of networked information," she says, "there needs to be a steady level of education about net resources and etiquette from those of us who've been online for a long time (in my case, over ten years)."
People who forward too much volume or too little of interest find people begging off their lists. And unique or "sticky" information, like Tamim Ansary’s letter about Afghanistan after 9/11, travels the world lightening quick, which opens the door for clever hoaxes.
The system is largely self-correcting, however – and growing. The only thing that could block news "intelligent agents" from their mission is the question of revenue. For now, most outlets don’t charge for accessing or forwarding information, happy simply that they’re getting more eyeballs. In this world, readers and publishers share the burden of distribution. Online information fans have turned Fox News’s slogan on its ear, telling outlets "You Report, The World Decides."
Farai Chideya is the founder of


The News We Kept To Ourselves
Eason Jordan-CNN

Various Opinions
From NY Times 4-15-03

"A recent acknowledgment by Eason Jordan, CNN's chief news executive, that he withheld some accounts of Saddam Hussein's brutality for years to protect the lives of Iraqi sources came in for some withering criticism yesterday.
Several journalism professors and commentators said Mr. Jordan had compromised CNN's journalistic mission so the cable network could continue to report from Iraq. In an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Friday, Mr. Jordan revealed his knowledge of the Iraqi regime's use of torture and murder, information that he said he could not divulge until the fall of Saddam Hussein. Today, Mr. Jordan said the issue was not about access, but about life and death.
"It's very simple," he said. "Do you report things that get people killed? The answer is no."
According to the article, Mr. Hussein's secret police subjected an Iraqi CNN cameraman to weeks of electroshock torture in the mid-1990's as they tried to elicit confirmation that Mr. Jordan was an operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. (Mr. Jordan called the allegation against him ludicrous.)
Mr. Jordan also wrote that Uday Hussein, Mr. Hussein's eldest son, told him in 1995 that he intended to assassinate two brothers-in-law who had defected to Jordan, as well as King Hussein of Jordan. Mr. Jordan said he told this to the king, who shrugged it off. The two brothers-in-law were later assassinated.
The revelations were harshly criticized by commentators, both conservative and liberal, including Rush Limbaugh and Juan Williams. Bill McLaughlin, an associate professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, said CNN could have found a creative way to report the anecdotes Mr. Jordan had collected without jeopardizing people in Iraq.
Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute, said CNN had traded its ability to report the truth for a continued presence in the Baghdad. "In essence, he was caught over a long period of time dealing with the devil," he said.
Mr. Jordan said that CNN had made no such deal, nor would it, and that CNN's reporting about the regime was fair and tough-minded.
Mr. Jordan's admission pointed up a problem that many news organizations wrestled with in the months leading up to war, and during it.
Until the first statue of Mr. Hussein fell, Western journalists in the Iraqi capital often could not report detailed accounts of government brutality for fear of jeopardizing interview subjects.
In the end, Mr. Jordan said he came to a conclusion that others had as well: for all of the restrictions and dangers in Baghdad, it was better to be there than not.
Some of Mr. Jordan's colleagues at other networks indicated sympathy for his predicament. "If we thought that we were endangering somebody we had hired to help us to report, that would be something that we would weigh very heavily," said Michele Grant, BBC's director of development in the United States.
Alex S. Jones, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, said Mr. Jordan was being unfairly singled out. "I think every news organization has to make those kinds of calls from time to time," he said."

It is time to get fierce

" the midst of all this madness, where is the political opposition? Where have all the Democrats gone? Long time passing, long time ago. (Applause.) With apologies to Robert Byrd, I have to say it is pretty embarrassing to live in a country where a five-foot- one comedian has more guts than most politicians. (Applause.) We need leaders, not pragmatists that cower before the spin zones of former entertainment journalists. We need leaders who can understand the Constitution, congressman who don't in a moment of fear abdicate their most important power, the right to declare war to the executive branch. And, please, can we please stop the congressional sing-a- longs?
In this time when a citizenry applauds the liberation of a country as it lives in fear of its own freedom, when an administration official releases an attack ad questioning the patriotism of a legless Vietnam veteran running for Congress, when people all over the country fear reprisal if they use their right to free speech, it is time to get angry. It is time to get fierce."
Tim Robbins
From a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 2003
In whose interest is it for Iraq to be deconstructed, divided, burnt, de-historied, destroyed?

--It's easy for a reporter to predict doom, especially after a brutal war that lacked all international legitimacy. But catastrophe usually waits for optimists in the Middle East, especially for false optimists who invade oil-rich nations with ideological excuses and high-flown moral claims and accusations, such as weapons of mass destruction, which are still unproved. So I'll make an awful prediction. That America's war of "liberation" is over. Iraq's war of liberation from the Americans is about to begin. In other words, the real and frightening story starts now.--

--Why, Iraqis are asking, did the United States allow the entire Iraqi cabinet to escape?--

--Were they monsters, these men? Yes. Are they sought by the Americans? No. Are they now working for the Americans? Yes, quite possibly -indeed some of them may well be in the long line of ex-security thugs who queue every morning outside the Palestine Hotel in the hope of being re-hired by the US Marines' Civil Affairs Unit.--

--At the end of the Second World War, German-speaking British and US intelligence officers hoovered up every document in the thousands of Gestapo and Abwehr bureaux across western Germany. The Russians did the same in their zone. In Iraq, however, the British and Americans have simply ignored the evidence.--

--Even the unshredded files contain a wealth of information. But again, the Americans have not bothered -or do not want -to search through these papers. If they did, they would find the names of dozens of senior intelligence men, many of them identified in congratulatory letters they insisted on sending each other every time they were promoted. Where now, for example, is Colonel Abdulaziz Saadi, Captain Abdulsalam Salawi, Captain Saad Ahmed al-Ayash, Colonel Saad Mohammed, Captain Majid Ahmed and scores of others? We may never know. Or perhaps we are not supposed to know.--

--Iraqis are right to ask why the Americans don't search for this information, just as they are right to demand to know why the entire Saddam cabinet -every man jack of them -got away. The capture by the Americans of Saddam's half-brother and the ageing Palestinian gunman Abu Abbas, whose last violent act was 18 years ago, is pathetic compensation for this.--

--Now here's another question the Iraqis are asking, and to which I cannot provide an answer. On 8 April, three weeks into the invasion, the Americans dropped four 2,000lb bombs on the Baghdad residential area of Mansur. They claimed they thought Saddam was hiding there. They knew they would kill civilians because it was not, as one Centcom mandarin said, a "risk free venture" (sic). So they dropped their bombs and killed 14 civilians in Mansur, most of them members of a Christian family.--

--The Americans said they couldn't be sure they had killed Saddam until they could carry out forensic tests at the site. But this turns out to have been a lie. I went there two days ago. Not a single US or British official had bothered to visit the bomb craters. Indeed, when I arrived, there was a putrefying smell and families pulled the remains of a baby from the rubble.--

--No American officers have apologised for this appalling killing. And I can promise them that the baby I saw being placed under a sheet of black plastic was very definitely not Saddam Hussein. Had they bothered to look at this place-as they claimed they would- they would at least have found the baby. Now the craters are a place of pilgrimage for the people of Baghdad.--

--Because there is also something dangerous and deeply disturbing about the crowds setting light to the buildings of Baghdad, including the great libraries and state archives. For they are not looters. The looters come first. The arsonists turn up later, often in blue-and-white buses. I followed one after its passengers had set the Ministry of Trade on fire and it sped out of town.
The official US line on all this is that the looting is revenge explanation that is growing very thin ..and that the fires are started by "remnants of Saddam's regime", the same "criminal elements", no doubt, who feature in the marines' curfew orders. But people in Baghdad don't believe Saddam's former supporters are starting these fires. And neither do I.
The looters make money from their rampages but the arsonists have to be paid. The passengers in those buses are clearly being directed to their targets. If Saddam had pre-paid them, they wouldn't start the fires. The moment he disappeared, they would have pocketed the money and forgotten the whole project.
So who are they, this army of arsonists? I recognised one the other day, a middle-aged, unshaven man in a red T-shirt, and the second time he saw me he pointed a Kalashnikov at me. What was he frightened of? Who was he working for? In whose interest is it to destroy the entire physical infrastructure of the state, with its cultural heritage? Why didn't the Americans stop this?--

--Why, for example, did Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence, claim last week that there was no widespread looting or destruction in Baghdad? His statement was a lie. But why did he make it?--

--In whose interest is it for Iraq to be deconstructed, divided, burnt, de-historied, destroyed?--
Robert Fisk
The Independent UK


"While we've been watching the Iraq show, many past achievements of U.S. foreign policy have been disintegrating. Through neglect and arrogance, the United States has squandered the good will it built up in Latin America in the 1990's. For half a century the U.S. has regarded the drive toward free trade as a key part of its global strategy; now trade negotiations are falling apart from lack of attention.
Even in Iraq, we're starting to see that winning the war was the easy part, and U.S. officials — previously dismissive of "old Europe" — are suddenly talking about an international peacekeeping force. But to be effective, such a force, like the one in Afghanistan, would surely have to include French and German soldiers.
The truth is that we can't go it alone. But by the time that truth sinks in, there may be a lot of pieces to pick up. "
Paul Krugman

"For the overwhelming political lesson of the last year is that war works — that is, it's an excellent cover for the Republican Party's domestic political agenda. In fact, war works in two ways. The public rallies around the flag, which means the President and his party; and the public's attention is diverted from other issues.
As long as the nation is at war, then, it will be hard to get the public to notice what the flagwavers are doing behind our backs. And it just so happens that the "Bush doctrine," which calls for preventive war against countries that may someday pose a threat, offers the possibility of a series of wars against nasty regimes with weak armies.
Someday the public will figure all this out. But it may be a very long wait."
Paul Krugman
NY Times 4-15-03