Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Traditional journalism is dead. We all know it. The body is still warm, to be sure. Stinking gases still noisily leak out of the orifices; reporters write columns –but with fewer and fewer readers. Online articles, blogs, and reports now dominate our information delivery. Media analysts scratch their heads in an attempt to discern the reasons. Most websites are free to view they reason; this trumps quality. The masses are too ignorant to understand the importance of professional writing anyway. Don’t they get that the health of democracy depends on a “reputable” journalist class? But the public does get it. They get it in a deeply intuitive manner. The commercial media does not have their interests at heart. But the internet: now, there’s something they can believe in.

As I wrote in last week’s blog entry, in 1988 Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky published “Manufacturing Consent”, describing how the Western media conforms to a model of propaganda comprising five elements that filter and distort the news stories: 1) ownership, 2) funding, 3) sourcing, 4) flak and 5) ideology. The power structures in society –chiefly corporations (including the media firms and their advertisers) and governments –pursue their shared, overlapping interests while propagating only a narrow spectrum of thought that supports their values. And it has worked –until recently.

But then along sauntered the internet, that completely incoherent techie marvel with its cacophony of muddled messages. Ask it a question, any question whatsoever, and listen to the chaotic jumble of answers it produces. It’s as if God Himself has returned to Earth in the form of your eccentric ol’ Uncle Hank. It’s hard not to be seduced by Uncle Hank: liked by all, understood by none, and always generous with his rambling, sometimes self-contradictory, opinions on any subject under the sun. The internet’s truly sublime traits are its lack of condescension that it knows best, its non-possession of an ideology, and the freedom it gives us to form our own threads of understanding. It supplies the information; make up your own mind.

Wikileaks exists in this online territory as a revolutionary news agency. And the propaganda system described above contains it about as well as a shoe box would hold a mongoose. Being a non-profit outfit with no advertising, wikileaks runs off donations and has no particular compulsion to surrender to flak or abide by any ideology other than the one of bringing naked information to the public. However, its true genius is its sourcing. Not only doesn’t wikileaks rely on official pronouncements by the elites for its information, but it exposes information that the elites specifically do not want exposing, their non-official views.

Other alternative news agencies will dodge the elite sources of information and bring news from the grassroots, but their information always comes with element of speculation. Maybe the interpretation of what the powerful are doing is wrong. Or when we are sure that the interpretation is correct, we’re never certain that the government or business leader isn’t just committing a mistake and really, truly means well. However, a wikileaks leak can remove all speculation about interpretation and may even reveal shameful lies. A mongoose is just the thing for snakes-in-the-grass.

Clearly the future of reporting will rely on the internet with its independent thinkers and whistle blowers. It will exist as a product of all of humanity and not as an item for mere consumption by us. And wikileaks fulfils the role of greatest importance, for it most effectively makes the elites’ propaganda impotent.

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What a story Wikileaks is. While most journalists bend over backwards to not offend authority, Wikileaks founder and journalist, Julian Assange, is the object of a veritable Pentagon manhunt due to the none too pleasing fact for Washington that Assange may be in possession of 260,000 classified diplomatic cables. And while Assange lies low, the world holds its breath waiting for the incriminating documents to come online where they will almost certainly discredit U.S. foreign policy and foreign governments in the mid East and beyond. Wikileaks has already raised the ire of the mucky mucks over at the Pentagon with its “Collateral Murder” video which shows US war choppers killing unarmed

In the Crosshairs

Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding children. But while Collateral Murder damns US military tactics, will the cables damn US State strategies? Intriguing stuff.

The irony is absolutely stunning if we take a big picture look at the story from its beginnings over four decades ago.

In the late 1960’s, Western society was quite literally blowing up. Minority races, women, and environmentalists were demanding a change to the social order. Martin Luther King’s assassination provoked riots in over a hundred cities. The Troubles had drawn blood in Northern Ireland. Two-thirds of France was on strike. Hundreds of protestors were massacred in Mexico City. The Russell Tribunal indicted the US government on charges of genocide. Tanks were rolling in Prague. And amidst all the turmoil perhaps a bigger revolution was unfolding: four IMPs were connected to form the ARPANET.

The significance of plugging together four microcomputers to form the larval internet would not be recognized for another generation. Originally, envisioned by its Pentagon funder as a distributed computer network robust enough to survive nuclear detonations, it has now metamorphosed into –not just the technological wonder familiar to us all –but the greatest irony of all time. The Pentagon Establishment, the greatest power centre in the history of humankind, an organization whose primary purpose for six decades has been to impose obedience throughout the world to the dictates of the money men,1 has, quite simply, enabled forces that are well on their way to undermining all agents of authority. Yesterday’s expert views are consigned to the yellowing, crusty pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica; the wiki-mass has taken their place. Children download movies while studios throw tantrums. The professional journalists are blogged out of existence. US copter cowboys slaughter a grouping of Iraqis for millions of youtubeans to witness. And now the Pentagon tries to close Pandora’s virtual box. Remarkable.

(One last point: Assange appears to be a free software hacker. Much more on this topic, anarchism, the internet, decentralization and Wikileaks here: On the Nature of Software Anarchism. It’s all connected.)

1 Here I’m reminded of the following quotation from Thomas Friedman, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas… And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”