Wolves appearing as sheep at Aspen Ideas Fest
Dear Editor:Richard Cohen from The Washington Post at the Ideas Festival’s first evening event “Sorting Out the Truth: Fake News, Spin and Inaccuracy in the Media” took the humble step of admitting that the press had made two massive mistakes recently: Clintongate and WMD stories he said both fell flat after extensive coverage. Occasional self-criticism from the mainstream press seems to heal minor scratches. But this mea culpa, too little too late, will not cure an industry’s major illness. Other systematic self-deceptions throughout media probably need to be exposed. Can we find them?Self-deception and frequent use of loaded language are found throughout the mainstream and the blogosphere where without the self-censoring influence of economically enforced uniformity, truth and relevance occur naturally but in a confusing context. From the point of view of a homogeneous corporate press, minor streams of relevance have almost dried up and simply cannot offset a misguided juggernaut of a story. Is it enough to ask innocent questions: Is there a liberal bias in the press? Is our press objective? Is objectivity still achievable or even honorable? These are not the only relevant questions. Do big budgets and Baghdad bureaus actually produce more fair or truthful reports? Do more truthful reports naturally survive against those which are more false?News turned to entertainment contains strategic incentives to buy products and political concepts such as wars. Widespread truth, fairness and relevance have been given the back seat as early as the arrival of the shocking Gutenberg invention. Like a greedy Robin Hood, the presses took the power to represent “truth” and create consensus away from all individuals and gave it to press owners who gradually consolidated their power. It is only recently that this power has been briefly, slightly, restored by the still net-neutral Internet. You probably recall a different spin on this story.Yes, Clintongate and WMD are grievous mass deceptions. Are there other ongoing self-deceptions which may never see the light of day? Reports about 9/11 could be optimistically described as a self-organized process of healing, protecting 9/11 family members, covering up confusing details and transferring national angst into a short-term partisan political movement for waging war. What is little reported upon is the unsettling replacement of National Transportation Safety Board transparency by FBI secrecy and the partisan bias of the reputedly “independent” 9/11 Commission. Reporting of 9/11 is least of all about sorting out the truth yet the mainstream keeps up the appearance of sorting.Does polarized framing (left vs. right; proponent vs. critic) fully serve the uncovering of truth? In a structured court of law it is depended upon. But doesn’t our highly diverse culture deserve a multifaceted perspective in the press where the legal structure is absent? Who is replacing oversimplified polarization with something more healthy and intelligent? James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly may be a rather unique example.When the Aspen Institute and the public ask the right questions, perhaps some interesting and surprising changes will result. In the meantime watch for wolves in sheep’s clothing amongst the Aspen Ideas.Harvie BranscombEl Jebel
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