Newspapers, Digital Media, Bush's Control -- Bill Keller talks about the News today

This is wonderful, two commentaries with different angles on the same article. Don't miss Aaron Barlow's front page piece on Keller - standingup

I received the link for this 11-29-07 article in an email this morning Not dead yet: the newspaper in the days of digital anarchy. It's the transcript of Bill Keller's speech at a memorial for the Guardian columnist Hugo Young. The entire piece is breath-taking in the ground it covers, and in my opinion, the courage it shows, though some may disagree with me.

My assignment tonight is to talk about the state of newspapers in America. No doubt you have read that newspapers, at least in my country, are beleaguered. That is undeniable. Let me count the ways.

To begin with, we have endured nearly seven years of the most press-phobic government in a couple of generations. I don't intend to blame the plight of the newspaper business on George Bush. He did not invent our great disrupter, the internet. (That, you recall, was Al Gore.) The Bush administration has merely fed a current of public antipathy that has been running against us for a long time, a consequence of our own failings and, perhaps, a tendency to blame the messenger when news is bad. But Mr Bush has contributed to that unwelcoming environment in at least two significant ways.

First, he has rejected out of hand the quaint idea of our founders that the press has a constructive role to play in American society, and that this role consists in supplying citizens with the information to judge whether they are being well served by their government. The Bush administration believes that information is power, and that like most other forms of power it is not to be shared with those the regime does not trust. It most decidedly does not trust us.

Whatever you think of its policies, the current administration has been more secretive, more mistrustful of an inquisitive press, than any since the Nixon administration.It has treated freedom of information requests with contempt, asserted sweeping claims of executive privilege, even reclassified material that had been declassified. The administration has subsidised propaganda at home and abroad, refined the art of spin, discouraged dissent, and sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review. The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration's determination to dominate the flow of information - from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army.

That last paragraph bears repeating... but maybe made into a list:

The Bush Administration has:

  • treated freedom of information requests with contempt,
  • asserted sweeping claims of executive privilege,
  • even reclassified material that had been declassified.
  • subsidised propaganda at home and abroad,
  • refined the art of spin,
  • discouraged dissent, and
  • sought to limit traditional congressional oversight and court review.

"The war in Iraq alone is a case study of the administration's determination to dominate the flow of information - from the original cherry-picking of intelligence, to the deliberate refusal to hear senior military officers when they warned of the potential for chaos, to the continually inflated claims about the progress in building up an indigenous Iraqi army."

Keller's article goes on to explicate exactly what major newspapers have faced in the last 7 years...the whole thing is worth the read. Here are another couple of paragraphs to whet your appetite for Keller's wide-ranging assessment of the news today:

The White House and its allies have done an excellent job of putting the press on the defensive. Much of my time in the past few years has been consumed explaining why the founding fathers entrusted someone like me with the right to defy the president. It's instructive, though, to turn the spotlight around, and pose this question: what are the consequences for our national security of the White House zeal to tighten controls on the flow of information?

For one thing, I strongly suspect that these attempts to enforce a single, authorised version of 'The Truth' have backfired. The evidence for that lies in the identity of some of our best sources. They are military officers appalled by the rosy portrayal of our triumphs in Iraq, government lawyers disturbed by what they see as a cavalier attitude toward civil liberties and the balance of powers, career intelligence officers who feel their work has been massaged to conform to what their superiors want to hear. As our media columnist David Carr once wrote: leaks tend to affect ships that aren't seaworthy to begin with.

0
No votes yet

Comments

It is certainly true that technology has lowered the barriers to entry in the news business. The old joke that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one is now largely inoperative. Freedom of the press now belongs to anyone with an Internet Service Provider. This is all unsettling to the traditional news business, but it is also an opportunity. In an easy-entry business, success goes to those who - and here you must supply those ironic quote marks - move up the value chain. That is, you succeed by offering something of real value that the newcomers cannot match.

And "in the world of blogs" -- as rba often reminds us: There are those that do offer useful, credible information, but so many many many other blogs and sites -- if one removes the vitriole and rant- would be blank white space.

Keller covers the main points rather well, I think. Like most of those in his position, the realization that (for instance) cross-linking to NOLA.com's reporting on New Orleans is not only acceptable, but is in fact a value add, comes slowly. (It's the reporters, stupid.)

Meanwhile, those of us in the hinterlands of white-spaced boxes will continue to monitor, correct, suggest, and nudge the juggernaut into the turn.

**

It seems to me that the NY Times has repeatedly withheld stories under pressure from the Bush Administration and thus furthered the efforts Administrations propaganda machine.

carol

and Keller can try to excuse their failure all he likes but they have repeatedly failed to provide the public with critical information.