Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"Second Draft" spotlights Pallywood: watching sausage being made

It'll be like having a look behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.
--Richard Landes, originator of Second Draft, in an interview at Solomonia.

By now you may have heard the buzz about Second Draft, a new media watchdog website (I was originally alerted to its existence by Daniel in Brookline).

Second Draft is a site that needs to be publicized and visited by as many people as possible, and so I'm trying to do my part. It shows what the internet can accomplish in opening up and expanding our ability to get at truth, and evaluating the honesty of what we read in the MSM and elsewhere, a topic I've discussed (perhaps ad nauseum) on this site.

Here's a quote explaining Second Draft's mission:

This website is devoted to exploring some of the problems and issues that plague modern journalism. In this age of globalization, the media has unprecedented influence on the way we see the world. And yet, whether out of misplaced good intentions, unconscious agendas and predispositions, or unwarranted faith in false information, they can get the story dramatically wrong. Therefore, we want to revisit and critique journalism's "first draft of history", and hopefully produce a more accurate second one. In our current investigations we present the story the way the mainstream media initially told it, introduce further evidence, and let you decide what you think really happened.

Right now, founder Landes, a professor of history at Boston University, has been concentrating on the work of what he calls "Pallywood." It's an ironic pun on India's "Bollywood" film industry--but Pallywood, unlike Bollywood, is not for entertainment purposes.

Here is Second Draft's explanation of Pallywood:

The material we show here constitutes a tiny fragment of a much larger phenomenon, raw footage from Palestinian photographers working for major western media outlets. From this material, our news agencies prepare news reports that shape our perceptions of what is happening in the Middle East Conflict.

We think that a close analysis of this material defies all expectations of what such footage should resemble, and suggest that Palestinian photographers do not at all share the same production and journalistic values espoused by a free press. We leave the experience and the judgment to you...

We feel that the material you are about to see bears witness to a failure of our MSM culture comparable to that of the Emperor and his court when he paraded naked in front of his public. Moreover, that error is kept from us only by our media's refusal to let the public see their sources. Only the chance circumstances that brought this material to a few people's attention, and the existence of an open internet where we can post the material, makes it possible for the public to consider this costly media embarrassment.

Future projects are to be announced; the site will not be limited to Pallywood and the Palestinians, or even the Middle East.

How and why did Landes take on this project? His background as a historian seems to be part of it, as well as in interest in the history of communications, and in the ability of experts to be duped by forgeries. Landes, who self-identifies as a leftist in this must-read Solomnia interview, sounds like a thoughtful man who doesn't mince words when describing his current view of the MSM:

Look, everybody says that journalism is the first draft of history, but in this case, the first draft is so wrong that as a historian I feel like I need to step in and say Hey, wait a minute you guys. Even as a first draft, this stinks! [laughs] As a professor of history, I've got to say that if a graduate student wrote a first draft that was as credulous in its use of sources as the media has been in the case of the "second intifada," then I'd say he wouldn't make it through the first semester of grad school.

Solomon asks Landes whether, in his opinion, the the press was "duped, or did they play along with it? Were they willing participants?"

Here is Landes' reply:

We want the web site to raise these questions and let people make their own judgments. Now, we think we have some answers, but we're post-modern enough to think there isn't only one answer. So for instance, in answer to your question, if we were to take a pie and slice it up, there would be a slice of journalists just out to make their living by providing their bosses in the West with action footage, another slice of people harboring some sort of bad faith or resentment -- some kind of strong anti-Jewish feelings -- then you've got another chunk of it who are people who really believe they are helping the Palestinians by recycling their propaganda. There's this great line by Bob Simon [of 60 Minutes], 'In the Middle East, one image can be worth 1000 weapons.' I think that there's a prevalent view in the press that since the Israelis have most of the weapons, the media can "level the playing field" by giving the Palestinians the media victory.

Solomon asks Landes whether he will be considered a conservative for the stance he's taken on this issue, and Landes replies like an old-fashioned liberal, one of Norman Geras' "principled leftists":

No, it's a liberal issue! Look it's...the thing people don't understand is that 'our' conservatives - the people like George Bush and Ariel Sharon - are so far to the left when you place them in the framework of say Arab politics that it's a joke...OK? There's no Arab leader that would tolerate the kinds of attacks that George Bush has tolerated without making sure that the people who did it were severely punished for their effrontery. The Arab Michael Moore who exposed the lies told by the Palestinian media that Arafat used to dupe the Palestinians into a losing war would never have survived long enough to show it.

Landes understands the potential for the blogosphere to change things. He turned to the internet because the MSM, not too surprisingly, wasn't especially interested:

I teach the history of communications revolutions. I know the impact that the printing press had on the sort of imbedded manuscript culture that came before it. The internet will be in the 21st century to print media what the print media was to manuscript in the 16th. That's why I'm going to the web, to the blogosphere. In the mainstream media, busy covering its naked ass, I can't get the time of day. As one guy at ABC who admitted he was convinced by my material put it -- "I'm not sure how much appetite there is for this stuff here."

So I'm doing my best to show the ABC guy that the appetite is strong for viewing original sources and letting the reader be the judge.

Perhaps the MSM doesn't understand the force of allowing the reader access to original footage and source material. Or perhaps it does, and that's the problem. It could be that many in the MSM have the attitude that making news is like making sausage--they fear that if they let you see how it's actually made, you might lose some of your taste for it.


At 2:31 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Daniel in Brookline said...

It could be that many in the MSM have the attitude that making news is like making sausage--they fear that if they let you see how it's actually made, you might lose some of your taste for it.

That could be true, although I suspect people wouldn't mind watching newsmaking... if they knew it was being done well. As Landes points out all too vividly, it's not being done well at all.

There's probably some elitism involved as well. The analogy with 16th-century printing presses is an apt one. Before that, you had to count on manual copiers to get a manuscript out -- and then, suddenly, it seemed that anybody could get a broadsheet out. What was once the realm of a select few people -- trained and talented in their trade -- had become open to the masses.

And I wouldn't be at all surprised if Big-Media journalism feels the same way towards the upstarts in their pajamas.

Daniel in Brookline

P.S. -- thanks for the link!

At 3:06 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Richard Landes said...

thank you for the post. one of the best i've seen. i couldn't ask for a better presentation of what we're trying to do at Second Draft.

the next stage will be interesting: so far the posts have all been favorable, by those who welcome what we have to say. what next? the blogs who will be hostile to our message? or the mainstream media? stay tuned... :-)

At 9:29 PM, September 20, 2005, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

An amazing site. Thank you

At 1:24 AM, September 21, 2005, Blogger Troy Stephens said...

"the thing people don't understand is that 'our' conservatives - the people like George Bush and Ariel Sharon - are so far to the left when you place them in the framework of say Arab politics that it's a joke..."

An aptly articulated and much-needed check on our perspective! It's a refreshing rarity to hear someone of liberal-left identification apply the kind of skepticism to our opponents' potential for maniuplation that is customarily reserved (more in the form of cynicism) for our own present leadership.

Thanks for the pointer. -- I'll be interested to see how the project develops, and what sorts of reporting issues they take on next.

At 10:12 AM, September 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the desire to render the journalistic process opaque is motivated by the desire on the part of some journalists to corrupt the process for their own ends. As long as you don't look too closely at the memos, it looks like a factual news story, right?

If any process is to be trusted, it MUST be completely transparent. Today's media is demanding that we trust them without agreeing to full transparency in return (ostenaibly under the rubric of "protecting sources"), and that's why the public is rebelling against them.

At 11:42 AM, September 21, 2005, Blogger troutsky said...

Im shocked, just shocked to discover the press has a bias! Thanks for suddenly discovering that and bringing it to our attention.You don't suppose we are getting the capitalist perspective on world events just because huge corporations own the media?
That certainly explains why the poor, oppressed Zionists always get such lousy coverage ,and hence, no public support from the US while those devious Arabs get all the good spin! Keep up the brilliant analysis!

At 7:20 PM, September 25, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

I'd be interested to see to what levels the art of persuasion may be produced by these revolutions in information technology.

I have already see the manner in which the Left have produced propaganda with their inherited control over world wide media, and I have also seen which side has benefited by this distortion. But propaganda need not be a distortion, it in fact may reinforce a truth and make it appear truer than it really is.

Propaganda that distorts truth, to a certain level, has perpetuated the need for propaganda. Because usually, old WWII propaganda used to aid the war effort stopped after the war ended, because the propaganda's purpose had been fullfilled. That propaganda's purpose was to elevate the good qualities in war and to diminish the bad to nonexistence, but once the war ends then there is no need to elevate the good qualities of something that no longer exists.

Current media propaganda serves the opposite purpose seemingly. They elevate the bad qualities, and diminish to nonexistence the good qualities.

And the method of this propagation is not leaving out the bad parts, it is leaving out the good parts and only reporting on the bad parts. But the thing is, when the war ends, the bad parts will not exist anymore, but the propaganda must continue to produce more bad reports simply to prevent someone from finding out the good that would invalidate the bad.

In WWII, once we found out the bad (Omaha Beach, the tanks sinking, and the casualties), the result is not that such diminishes the good. Which is an advantage to persuasion techniques that emphasize instead of distorts. Because once you emphasize the good without the bad, reporting the bad then actually enhances the public relations of the good.

Another example of the differences in propaganda technique, between emphasis and distortion of the truth, is also in the subject of the truth. If the subject of the propaganda is really true, then you won't need the propaganda permanently, cause it is only a tools to aid in dissimilation of reality. But if the subject of propaganda is actually false, then you require propaganda ad infinitum, or else the whole project will collapse because of being exposed to reality.

Such a collapse is seen in Nazi and Islamic propaganda. Much of their claims of the Master Race and the Jews being the fault of everything, is blatantly not true and is in fact a lie designed to facilitate their destruction and someone else's elevation.

The internet, may produce some other combination than the ones currently in use, I speculate.

For an example of incompetent propaganda, the techique of using the art of persuasion, look at troutsky post above.

He is trying to sarcastically present some refutation or counterpoint. But what he ends up accomplishing is confusing people because he did a double assumption, and usually in propaganda you can't base your technique upon the assumption that your audience is psychic or "in the know". That would defeat the whole purpose of persuasion.

Usually if you are using satire, you present the opposite of what you believe, using stylistic devices to both communicate your disbelief and to also wound the opposing person's viewpoint.

In other words, you make the opponent's viewpoint into a strawman and make fun of it cause it is easily blown over.

But T changes his style from satire to direct viewpoint communication halfway through. Instead of perpetuating the opposite of his viewpoint, he starts communicating his viewpoint as if his viewpoint is the opposite of his own viewpoint, and that is a nice way to confuse the audience. And when the audience is confused, they start to think, and thinking is not what you want if you want to persuade someone. At least thinking that isn't like what you meant for them to have. Cause people who start to think based upon some outside stimulus, becomes then a randomized process that you can't predict.

The media probably knows this, and does not want to confuse the audience. For whatever reason, some of them have begun to think the audience must not be confused because they do not have the intellect to process information correctly. *Shrugs*, I doubt a propaganda machine tries not to confuse people because the people are too stupid to know truth from reality. If there were people like that, you wouldn't need a propaganda machine in the first place. You'd just be able to tell people what they will believe.

Obviously the media doesn't do that, cause everytime they talk about Iraq they don't say "You must tell President Bush to pull out of Iraq and admit his mistakes".

No, they use more subtle methods of persuasion than that. Not that subtle, but subtler than direct thought control.

I hope to see a method of propaganda, a technique of persuasion if you will, that is a sort of hybridization of the two previous techniques. The one we see today in the MSM, an the one we saw before in the MSM in WWII.

But, unlike a normal hybridization, I don't want a mix of the two, I want something totally new.

I want a propaganda philosophy that sets out to expose the truth, but neither diminishes the good nor the bad news to get success. I want a technique of persuasion that allows people to understand the subject (the truth that is propagandized), without requiring omission of truth or distortion of truth.

In other words, I hope for a self-contained self-replicating technique. The beginning looks good, since the website claims to want to give the audience enough information for them to come to the right conclusions. They must be confident of a certain truth, and they will even tell us that in one way or another.

Some people may ask, how can you do propaganda if you tell everyone the truth, about everything. And I would say, what is better than truth at persuading people to believe in it?

Truth is power. And a subtle one at that.

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