The first Digital Crossroads of the year premiered Monday evening on Boise Community Radio. Listen to host and producer Radioactive Gavin focus on Fake News and Propaganda.
Download or stream the entire 30-minute program by clicking here… Digital Crossroads Fake News and Propaganda.
To view the spoof New York Times, go HERE.
If you want to hear the entire interview with Mike Bonanno of the Yes Men, click HERE.
To view the Indecision 2008 video, go HERE.
Here is the transcript for Digital Crossroads 2009 Episode 1:
It is really hard to research The Daily Show because the writing and acting is so damn funny. And now that most of the entire backlog of clips is available free online, the research process can go on for hours. On January 1st Viacom and Time Warner Cable reached an agreement in principle that avoided a blackout which would have prevented more than 13 million subscribers to Time Warner Cable in America from seeing The Daily Show and other programs on MTV, Nickelodeon, BET and a dozen other channels. According to Wikipedia, The Daily Show gets about 6 million viewers per week. In early October, election coverage on The Daily Show broke its own ratings records with an audience of 2.4 million, nearly a million more viewers than Hardball with Chris Matthews, according to the Washington Post.
A big attraction for viewers is political candidates who find late-night comedy shows easier for staying on message than interviews with pesky journalists. Candidates made over 100 appearances on late-night television, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University.
Professor Robert Lichter told the Providence Journal, “Candidates have figured out that you can reach voters through entertainment venues even better than news.” The shows also give candidates the opportunity to reach voters who might otherwise never listen to them. According to Lichter, George W. Bush had more time to talk in one appearance on David Letterman in 2000 than he had during a full month on the CBS Evening News.
The Daily Show’s Indecision 2008 coverage was painfully on-target, like the clip you just heard from Election night. When Jon Stewart asked senior foreign correspondent Aasif Mandvi for a report from Al Quaeda headquarters, the screen read “Live from the Hindu Kush Mountains.” Even though the information is clearly ridiculous and the entire premise is an outrageous farce, viewers of The Daily Show become more aware about what is really going on. The Pew Research Center released a study indicating that regular viewers of The Daily Show tend to be more knowledgeable about news than audiences of other news sources, including Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and even Jim Lehrer on PBS.
The Washington Post published a huge feature in November called Onion Nation. Writer Wells Tower reported that The Onion website receives more than five million unique visitors per month. In the past three years, the Onion’s New York staff doubled in size, to 50 full-time employees, as the print edition of the paper, which is free, added markets in Austin, Los Angeles and Washington DC. Management says the nationwide circulation is 630,000.
Tower writes, “According to Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review, the success of the Onion lies in part in the ability of satirists to penetrate the hypocrisies of the news cycle that the straight press is compelled to dance around. For instance, just weeks after 9/11, when the likes of Dan Rather were pledging their support for President Bush on network TV, telling Letterman “Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where,” the Onion was already presaging, from the safe bunker of satire, the leaps of credulity America would soon be asked to make in obeisance to the War on Terror. For example, an Onion op-ed published in November 2001 read, “If I Don’t Get My Medium-Rare Shell Steak With Roasted Vegetables In The Next 10 Minutes, The Terrorists Have Already Won.”
Niles told Tower, “The public’s frankly gotten frustrated with the convention of objectivity, the idea that you have to present both sides of the story, even if one side is completely bogus.” Niles cited as an example news reports on global warming in which the views of politicians and lay-skeptics get consideration equal to studies by climate science PhDs. Niles went on to argue that satirists gained additional traction in the post-9/11 news climate, when mainstream media outlets didn’t push back as hard as they might have against perceived intimidation of the press by the Bush administration.
“Take for example, Bush’s former press secretary [Ari Fleischer’s] chilling quote that all Americans ‘need to watch what they say,'” made about TV talk show host Bill Maher at a White House news briefing shortly after 9/11. Niles concludes “That should have been the moment that all the journalists woke up and said, ‘Screw that!’ But it was generally the satirists who felt emboldened enough to say the things that the mainstream news wouldn’t for fear of seeming too partisan.”
Mainstream political satire is taking shape in The Onion and The Daily Show. But 2008 was also a year when activists made news by publicizing their messages with political parody.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing a NYC activist who is protesting redevelopment efforts for New York City’s Union Square. Savitri Durkee set up a website parodying the Union Square Partnership, saying in a statement, “Union Square is where the U.S. labor movement was born and where abolitionists, suffragettes, civil rights activists and many others have fought for and exercised their First Amendment rights. It’s ironic that USP is now trying to keep me from using my parody website to speak out about the future of Union Square.”
EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry says, “Ms. Durkee’s site is a parody, so of course it mimicked USP’s site to some extent. That’s how parodies work. The parody site is plainly a fair use and protected by the First Amendment. This is a case about censoring speech, not about infringement.”
However, the Union Square Partnership, a group pushing to heavily redevelop Union Square, fired off multiple shots against Durkee to get her website taken down, starting with a DMCA takedown notice to Durkee’s hosting company, followed by a copyright lawsuit against Durkee and a claim that the domain name Durkee used violated their IP, demanding that it be handed over to them.
In June 2007 Palestinian-rights activists distributed over 10,000 copies of a parody of the Vancouver Sun in British Columbia. Media conglomerate Canwest filed a lawsuit in December 2007 claiming violation of the Trade-marks Act as well as BC common law by using the Vancouver Sun logo in the fake newspaper. After nearly a year, Canwest has dropped its lawsuit against retired college instructor Mordecai Briemberg, who always denied that he was involved in the production of the parody.
Anne Roberts, the co-chair of the citizens group the Seriously Free Speech Committee, formed to defend Briemberg and the other defendants, told the alternative weekly Vancouver Straight in November that Briemberg and his supporters are “celebrating a victory” over Canwest’s decision, which came after an extensive public campaign against the media giant.
Roberts said that Canwest is continuing its lawsuit against two other defendants, Gordon Murray and Carel Moiseiwitsch, in connection with the parody paper. Murray and Moiseiwitsch, two vociferous advocates of Palestinian rights, have publicly acknowledged that they created the newspaper parody, which satirized Canwest’s coverage of the Middle East. Canwest is seeking punitive and aggravated damages.
Here in the United States, the biggest story in phony news was the distribution of nearly one million spoof New York Times newspapers dated July 4, 2009. The real Times reported, “In an elaborate hoax, pranksters distributed copies… at busy subway stations around the city.” The lead story was “Iraq War Ends.” Other stories detailed similar wonders, including “national health care, a rebuilt economy, progressive taxation, [and] a national oil fund to study climate change.” The spoof “special edition” Times is also online, where it ‘reports’ that “new regulations carefully scrutinize government contracts with for-profit public relations companies. … The new rules would have forbidden the creation of the National Smokers Alliance, a front group formed by Philip Morris with the help of P.R. giant Burson Marsteller.”
The spoof paper, online at NYTimes-se.com has been linked to the Yes Men, a political satire group that’s previously targeted the World Trade Organization and Dow Chemical Company, as well as starring in their own movie, The Yes Men.
To mark the November opening of Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery solo arts exhibition of The Yes Men, on display through February 15th, Yes Man Mike Bonanno recorded a podcast interview with Marge Myers, associate director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry.
He told her it was “in planning for about a year. It involved hundreds of different groups, so its not really the Yes Men’s paper. Its the paper of thousands of activists, dozens of writers wrote for it.” Asked about the distribution of the phony New York Times, Bonnano said, “a countless number of newspapers go out. About 1000 people volunteered in New York City alone. The volunteers were organized through an email list and text messaging. A lot of people signed up to participate not knowing exactly what they were going to be asked to do.”
You can hear more on my website, Radioactivegavin.wordpress.com but in this clip Marge Myers asks Bonanno about conflict of interest in the Real New York Times.
So you’ve heard about activists using parody to generate public access to their ideas. But increasingly in the past few years, news outlets have lazily relied on pre-packaged news, produced by representatives of various industries, without always clearly identifying the material to help viewers understand its origins.
The BBC policy on the use of video and audio news releases states, “Such material may purport to cover stories from an objective standpoint, but is usually slanted to promote the viewpoint of the supplier. We do not normally use any extracts from such releases if we are capable of gathering the material ourselves. If we do use such material for sound editorial reasons we should always ensure that it is clearly labeled on-air.”
In 2006, The Center for Media and Democracy released two multimedia reports on American television stations’ use of VNRs, based on 16 months of original research:
* “Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed” was released on April 6, 2006 and co-authored by Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price. It tracks 36 different VNRs, identifying 77 TV stations across the United States that aired the segments.
* “Still Not the News: Stations Overwhelmingly Fail to Disclose VNRs” was released on November 14, 2006 and co-authored by Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price. It tracks 33 additional VNRs, identifying 46 TV stations.
The website Sourcewatch.org is a great source on the deceptive profit-driven fake news practice, highlighting a growing industry for PR companies who feed biased stories to news outlets.
But in April 2008 the New York Times published an expose on a government program of misinformation with serious legal and political implications. From early 2002 forward, Allison Barber and other Defense Department flacks did their best to turn some 75 media analysts into Pentagon “message force multipliers.” Corporate media presented the so-called experts often without
At the 2008 National Conference on Media Reform, hosted by Free Press, I sat down with Diane Farsetta and asked her about her research into the Pentagon Propaganda scandal, and the work of Allison Barber.
Author and University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen said in an interview on this show, ““We shouldn’t expect an institution to undermine its own credibility, and that’s what we would be asking the corporate media to do, to report on how they have become tools of propaganda for the government.”
Before there can be real accountability, real investigations need to happen, not a whitewash, no toothless rulings. Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for “a real and thorough investigation” by the FCC and the US Justice Department. Noting that “it took the FCC over two and a half years to issue a citation” in the Armstrong Williams payola pundit case, Adelstein stressed that “this investigation need not, and should not, take that long.”
Keep in mind, this pundit program was at its peak under the watch of Donald Rumsfeld but it continued under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who President-elect Barack Obama is keeping in his cabinet. Senators John Kerry and Russ Feingold told the Government Accountability Office to do their job. The Pentagon Inspector General’s office is investigating itself. And Commissioner Adelstein also called on the Justice Department to determine whether the Pentagon pundit program violated federal anti-propaganda laws. “Congress has specifically outlawed the use of federal funds for covert propaganda,” he said.
Diane Farsetta told me accountability has to start with pressure from the grassroots.
You’re listening to Digital Crossroads
1. The day after the U.S. presidential election, Fox News reporter Carl Cameron gave an interview with Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly. During the interview, Cameron said that McCain’s advisors had told him about their unhappiness with Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential running mate. Citing anonymous sources within the McCain campaign, Cameron recited a litany of complaints, including their claim that Palin was so ignorant she didn’t know Africa was a continent.
2. A blogger who calls himself “Martin Eisenstadt” soon after stated that he was the anonymous source for Cameron’s story. However, the New York Times reported in an article titled A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence that “Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes. And the claim of credit for the Africa anecdote is just the latest ruse by Eisenstadt, who turns out to be a very elaborate hoax that has been going on for months.”
Apparently, Fox News is standing by the original story.
Part of what is so exciting about the phony New York Times is the use of the familiar newspaper format to distribute real vision for the future of the country. It is like a map for society, of how to pressure the powerful, for example the NYTimes-se.com site has a story about reviving Civics education in schools, claiming the change happened as a result of organized school strikes around the country after a report was released showing a profound ignorance of government structure and citizens’ rights. Millions of Americans still have no idea the government and TV networks carried out propaganda at the highest levels, others think it is unavoidable, the way it has always been and the way it will stay. Fortunately dedicated people are fighting back with research, writing, organizing and even satire. As Diane Farsetta says, the people at the grassroots really do have the ability to influence the powerful in this country but the powerful structures of corporate media and federal bureaucracies are designed to centralize power and profit. Hopefully 2009 will be a year of clear vision for progress. And never underestimate the power of Fake News.
Digital Crossroads is produced in the studios at Boise Community Radio and airs on Radio Free Moscow and other community radio stations.