Relying on the mainstream media to debunk foreign propaganda is increasingly difficult. Errol Morris, writing on the New York Times opinion blog, discusses the Photoshopped Iranian missile launch. This case, like an increasing number, was caught by “New Media” effectively acting as an “Old Media” watchdog. While many papers issued retractions after the catch, the impression was set. The clarifications that rarely, if ever, received the same front-page treatment as the error they were correcting may not have been noticed.
Twenty years ago, Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman noted that changes in the media were changing the information landscape in the United States. The increased concentration of media ownership changed the motive from a duty to inform the public to one of profit and an increased dependency on outside sources from the government, corporations, or “elite” experts for analysis. The recent Pew Research report shows that twenty years later the trend is worse as media has further retreated from the realm foreign affairs.
The result is easy manipulation of domestic by foreign and domestic communicators. The photography as a weapon discussion is aspect of this. Another is the Pentagon Pundits (aka “Hidden Hand”) scandal where substantial blame properly rests on the media as forewarned by Chomsky, although they have deflected much of what they’re due. (On this subject, see also this post.)
Outside the scope of this post is how do you reconcile the trashing of transparency and truth by Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke who both orchestrated the leveraging the military analysts and “outed” the Office of Strategic Influence to protect her turf. Her skill at manipulation and disinformation in exposing an office that was essentially a public diplomacy office within the Pentagon (no, the place it should be, but it was 2001 and State is just now stepping up in 2008, so cut some slack) had no place in strategic communication, public diplomacy, or public affairs. Clarke manipulation highlights the failure of the media to investigate and understand the news it covers.
Read the discussion at the New York Times.
Also, for the truly interested, I suggest Robert Entman’s Projections of Power: Framing News, Public Opinion, and U.S. Foreign Policy.