26 August 2006

Separating stories, news, analysis and facts in the Media

I have previously spent time looking at the means and methods the MSM and factual reporting media, be they traditional (print/publication), electronic (CD distribution, physical media of electronic storage) or online, to actually make their 'first cut' edits of history available to the public. Initially I laid this out in an overview some have called the 'photojournalist code of ethics', but what I think of as the means and methodology to ensure that factual reporting is *not* distorted by manipulation of images.

A follow up on that is how to institute a review board or distributed community of reviewers to then examine images of an event, place them in geospatial context and then derive timelines of events with defined levels of uncertainty. Within the digital media capture systems available today, and for some number of years, metadata indicating camera type, shutter speed, focal length, flash or ambient lighting and many other pieces of information are captured at the instant of the photo itself. It is easy to manipulate the metadata, but difficult to do that enmass and retain a coherent timeline in regards to others that do *not* manipulate their metadata. Further, images captured by known arrays of silicon have definite hard physical data capture attributes within the color spectrum and in good old resolution. It is the former that becomes more difficult to simulate although it is possible to set up an alternate color space for image manipulation and then work on images within that color space. Doing that, in combination with manipulating metadata is not easy and demonstrates malice aforethought when they are done. Once fully acceptable images are verified a full recounting of events using geospace objects (buildings, roads, items in the images) and time setting (both from metadata and from physical characteristics of the background lighting) can then put error bounds on place, position, direction and time that an image can be taken. To get this done for multiple cameras for multiple reporters is difficult unless the fact based reporting industry is open and honest about their work and make their archives available. Closing archives and not making them available must now be seen as not having faith in the images taken, the editorial review/oversight upon them and is indicative of blatant hiding behind a wall of 'we didn't have to do that yesterday!' mentality. Times change, storage is cheap, network access is cheap and copyrights can *still* be honored as using archival and non-used images for forensic analysis is 'fair use' by all definitions of that term. Profit is not going to be *made* from such, but careers will be made and ended based on the transparency and honesty of those who do make their work available. As a side-light some number of these images will most likely get *bought* for publication or 'for profit' use, thus adding a low stream of income from purely archived and unused material.

The reason to do this *now* is that computer storage, processing and rendition capability are moving much more sophisticated tools from the realm of hollywood studios to the desktop. Creating realistic characters and, indeed, entire photorealistic movies is now within the realm of possibility as seen in the recent Final Fantasy film, and various other films that rely heavily on computer graphics animation. Thus the ability to stage entire scenes, using animated actors and give it a verisimilitude is closing in upon the masses. And the temptation to fraudulently stage an entire scenes via desktop computer graphics will be pressing hard upon the bounds of depictions of 'reality'. Without these things are not unknown in the graphic arts and media industries and have been hot topics for a decade. The reaction of: 'we didn't think this was possible' or 'no one thought to look for this' is an absolute fiction and direct lie. No one who *works* in the factual reporting and graphics industry thinks that these things would *not* be a problem. And to address these problems newer means and methods *beyond* the editorial desk are necessary to establish just who is and is not an honest broker of image captures of reality.

The purely text-based media *also* has its problems of misreporting, misrepresenting and outright fabrication of events. One does not have to dig back years, but mere weeks to find such things and find that they are ongoing and continuous. The Washington Post was called to task on its misreporting of the reconstruction effort in Iraq. In that article the reporters lied by omission (by not telling of ongoing work in lieu of past work) and lied by misrepresenting past Inspector General reports from three years ago as ongoing problems. They also lied by not properly casting the work being done within the bounds of the Federal Budgetary cycle, which is a huge gaff for ANY newspaper that is based in the home town of the Federal Government. By not reporting that and the necessary background on HOW Federal contracting works, the reporters also lied by commission by neglecting to put current work into context. They report the figures and say how bad they are when, in point of fact and actual knowledge of the Federal Budget cycle, the figures are *wonderful*. They were taken to task on this misreporting, misrepresentation and set of falsifications by the General in charge of the the suite of reconstruction efforts in IRAQ.

A more direct affront to the public is the lack of contextual information for ongoing events, and here, again, I will use the fighting in Iraq as it is a prime example of what one is told and not told via the media. We are bombarded by 'how ineffectual the Iraqis are' and 'how they are not up to the fight' and that the US 'still is protecting their Nation and they are unwilling to help'. You can find these things on multiple news and commentary sites via the MSM. In point of fact, just the opposite is true. I reviewed the actual state of affairs as the MNF transferred full and complete responsibility for over 50% of the territory of Iraq to the Iraqi Army. Not only are Iraqis willing to take up the fight, as seen by their increasing casualty rates, but they are now operating autonomously in these provinces that are under their complete control.

The other thing used by the MSM is the 'death toll' on either the US Forces, MNF, Iraqi Army, Iraqi Police or Iraqi Civilians. Each bombing or shooting is given as a 'drumbeat of failure' and we have heard *that* from politicians on the Right and Left. Many have called this *police blotter* reporting. So, I took a look at the entire police blotter equivalent for the goings-on in Iraq, which is freely available to anyone on the net. I do leave out the 'drumbeat' stuff as it is mere punctuation against an ongoing roar... firm, continuous and not stopping... that roar is the daily capture of weapons caches, finding insurgents/terrorists/sectarian militias, rounding them up or killing them in firefights, their movement into the Iraqi judicial system and their convictions by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. A number of them are getting *life* sentences and being taken off the streets *permanently*. The entire 'police blotter' gives that, while the 'drumbeat' event here and event there do NOT.

By not reporting context the entire text and speech/visuals based media system misrepresents events and plays *up* blood on the streets and plays *down* ongoing and advancing work. It is difficult to report on 'peaceful areas with everyday life going on'. Much easier to use the equivalent of the drum heard once a day and claim it is the symphony entire. This set of 'facts' then plays into an ideological community that is looking for partisan 'bad news' to use as ammunition against their opposition and they incredulously take in these pre-digested 'facts' and then respout them in a method and manner to imply much worse things going on. I do a quick analysis of a part of one of these here, and find that I had to spend up so much time chasing down factual information that had been buried by misreporting and poor analysis that it is no *wonder* that folks might see this as *complicated*. When one has to spend two or three hours to find out what the actual facts are behind a glossy sentence indicting things, you find that the MSM, in feeding out misrepresentations now allows an entire ecology to feed on falsehoods.

If anyone looking to move to your town or city just used the front page of the local newspaper and scanned that, and only that, for a few months, I would dare say that the level of crime, deaths, fires, incompetent government, poor schools, bad libraries, fraud, ineptitude and ungrateful public would make someone want to look elsewhere... until they realized that they saw the exact same thing everywhere. At that point you either have to conclude that the entire world is rotten and nothing will fix it... or that those putting out headlines are doing so to grab attention and sales. Headlines only tell a story when they are about major, earthshattering events that change the course of history: The Constitution, Assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Fiery Sinking of the USS Maine, Sinking of the Lusitania, Attack on Pearl Harbor, 9/11 Attacks. If large and nasty things are *not* put on the front page, then they would be filled with lots of tiny stories, small pictures and no visually appealing 'headline'. Which is why people like to actually *visit* the neighborhood or town they will be moving to and check it out... because NOTHING is as bad as the media reports.

When David D. Perlmutter wrote a piece on fraudulent images and such for Editor & Publisher I was, frankly, quite astonished at the lack of veracity being given to the problem and wrote them about this and the need to address this from an institutional and profession-based standpoint by those professionals actually working with these things as their stock and trade. And gave similar commentary here. Instead they gave a platform to someone who decided 'to defend war reporters'. And here, again, I find the individual in question to take a purely partisan position that we should trust the media, itself, and then brings up something to show why this is so, but, instead, illustrates my very FIRST point on this problem EXACTLY:

Just this morning, a blogger emailed me his latest "scoop." Remember those photos a few days ago showing "Made in USA" signs posted here and there amid the rubble of South Beirut? This fellow is convinced that an AP photog wrote the signs, in a certain font, on his computer -- and pasted them into his image.

One problem with the theory: E&P happens to have photos taken by others that show exactly the same thing – but the blogger will no doubt now claim that all of these highly competitive photogs conspired on this.
That is *not* a problem with 'theory' it is the ENTIRE PROBLEM encapsulated. News organizations are NOT TRANSPARENT and have no reason to give assertion that what they are saying is truthful, accurate and verifiable. This is not a glowing example of how truthful the media is, but an example of how, by not showing transparency for their reporting and coverage, they give rise to questions about their ability TO report truthfully. If this individual wants to *end* conspiracy theories, then he would SUPPORT full and open transparency by the media in all of its forms. He then goes on to cite an example by the NYT that was uncovered by individuals DOING multiple image analysis across multiple media sources who pointed out the misapplication of coverage by the NYT... and cites this as if it was the media correcting ITSELF and not the outsiders who were doing the correcting. That is pure fabrication and insulting to the intelligence of anyone following these stories. His following example of a dead child being put up for multiple picture examples is purely missing the point:
Another photog, Stuart Isett, asked, referring to rescuers displaying the body of one child over and over: "How are the pictures misleading? The child is dead and the subject was showing this to the cameras -- that's how any intelligent reader would view these images. The man in the image has every right to show this dead child to the world -- this happens all the time in terrible situations.
It is not about the child being dead. It is about the totally heartless way that partisans in a conflict are displaying dead bodies, including those of children, for media photo ops and continuing to do so long after the body should have been in an ambulance to a morgue. Strange how all of these photographers can get there quickly, dead bodies displayed for HOURS, the photographers LEAVE and *then* the bodies taken away. That is pure partisan display of the dead for propaganda purposes. If the reporters never ask themselves: 'how could I get here and leave so quickly and yet they could find NO vehicles to transport their dead away?' then anything reported from that site is NOT news. It is pure reporting for propaganda purposes and entirely without context of basis of showing ANY respect for the dead.

In his second look at the photo coverage in Lebanon, this same individual is given further space by E&P to continue his assertions that ethical coverage is going on. And lots of fine quotations from individual photographers are given and summed up with: 'The best we can do is our best to give ethical coverage', and gets an 'Amen to that' by that writer. What is lacking, in whole, is that reporting on set-up, staged and other such events without reporting the context of the events is UNETHICAL in and of itself. It is a lie by omission of surrounding circumstances and facts. It is a complete and thorough abdication of the responsibilities of an ethical reporter to tell those circumstances instead of trying to get 'the story'. If one is being presented with a fabricated scene, then the reporting on the context of that scene IS the story. By reporting the scene one is reporting propaganda and not labeling it as such. That is allowing a purely partisan viewpoint to be purported as 'reality' and abhorrent to the concept of 'ethical reporting'.

Yes, photographers take images, but they also have eyes, ears and a mind to use them and MUST, as ethical journalists, report on the REST of their sensory apparatus and thoughts. They are the proxy for the public and by presenting images we are being denied the full input of that proxy for us. They are abdicating their responsibility to the public, their profession and, finally, themselves, for behaving in an unethical manner when they do not report these things.

I find it interesting that this individual, himself, has wholly fabricated a story early in his career (hattip: Protein Wisdom)and saw fit to 'come clean' about it... then not bother to have THAT mentioned when he talks about the veracity of OTHER reporters. There, again, he seems to be oblivious to the purely corrosive nature of the problems that factual misrepresentation and absolute fabrication have upon the public trust of the media. A month into his career and he had already seen fit to fabricate a story:
Since the press seems to be in full-disclosure mode these days, I want to finally come clean. Back when I worked for the Niagara Falls (N.Y.) Gazette (now the Niagara Gazette), our city editor asked me to find out what tourists thought about an amazing local event: Engineers had literally “turned off” the famous cataracts, diverting water so they could shore up the crumbling rock face. Were visitors disappointed to find a trickle rather than a roar? Or thrilled about witnessing this once-in-a-lifetime stunt?

I never found out. Oh, I went down to the falls, all right, but when I got there, I discovered that I just could not wander up to strangers (even dorky ones wearing funny hats and knee socks) and ask them for their personal opinions, however innocuous. It was a puffball assignment, but that wasn’t why I rebelled. I just could not bring myself to do it.

So I sat on a park bench and scribbled out a few fake notes and then went back to the office and wrote my fake story, no doubt quoting someone like Jane Smith from Seattle, honeymooning with her husband Oscar, saying something like, “Gosh, I never knew there was so much rock under there!”
So, puff pieces have no basis in reality nor in fact, I guess. Does he see 'puff piece' journalism as 'unworthy' journalism and not to adhere to ethical standards? And how hard can it be to interview TOURISTS? Now, granted, quite a few of them are from Japan and festooned with cameras, but their tour guide should be able to do a quick translation for you... I know, I lived in the WNY area and got to see the tourist population quite a bit. And beyond the 'puff' part of it, the hard and factual ENGINEERING could have gotten a bit of examination BEFOREHAND and then used as a 'did you know?' question to elicit responses to THAT work. Suddenly a little 'puff piece' turns into an understanding of hydrodynamic engineering and public perception of it. Neat stuff, if you were a journalist that took your responsibilities AS a journalist seriously. A little bit of puff can turn into something of mild interest with a bit of context.

I end where I began. The lack of context for reporting is killing the trust and faith of the public to have reporters be our proxy for news coverage. Stories are drowning out facts, pathos going over to become bathos... all because those doing the 'first cut of history' want to hide their work and give you 'finished product' instead of factual reporting separated from analysis. For the image capture world this is easy. For the text and speech world, this requires stepping back into the reportorial role and away from the analytical role and story coverage concept.

Tell us the facts so that they can speak for themselves.


luc said...

Thanks for your reply about stats at Belmont Club; it is interesting. I do not know if you saw my post regarding
If not here is a copy:
luc said...
jamie irons,
“What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the United States is this: the Arabs now possess—and know that they possess—the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people.” Andrew J. Bacevich

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Do the Arabs possess the capacity to deny us victory or they have learned how to use against ourselves our capacity for compassion? It seems to me that the only thing they posses for now is the capacity to die and make us feel guilty; this may change in a short time.

8/26/2006 07:54:47 PM
luc said...
rufus said... 8/26/2006 10:03:34 PM

“It's just timely nonsense.”

I agree with your point of view. As I posted earlier the only thing new the Muslims possess, until Iran gets nukes, is an illusion that they have become invincible, while in reality it is only continuous MSM propaganda describing their “victories” coupled with our lack of resolve to finish the fight. I submit that what is happening in Iraq since the war ended after only three weeks is not that much different from what happened to the German army in Yugoslavia during WWII. The difference is that the Germans did not worry about civilian casualties and so they managed to fairly well slow down the partisans.
It is amazing how the MSM has invented a “new” weapon for the Iraq; the IED or more ominous sounding VBIED. What is the real difference between these “new” weapons used by the insurgents in Iraq and the mines, dynamite and bubby traps used by the partisans in Yugoslavia? Not much! The main difference is the nationality of the dead soldiers and our society’s inability to accept casualties unless they are provoked by “super special weapons” wielded by “super smart worriers”. If I want to be cynical I would say that probably the Pentagon finds the idea of “super mines” useful to explain casualties; because as Wretchard’s post shows this is the obsession even if the numbers are very low.
With respect to Andrew J. Bacevich’s article referred to by Jamie, I would like to submit that the reason some find it seductive is because it proposes no ACTION only more study on how we should change our ways. At this point I will confess that Andrew J. Bacevich’s most recent book title, “The New American Militarism” sounds to me like something coming from the Soviet propaganda machine.
Good night!

8/26/2006 10:46:46 PM

BTW am I wrong or is BC becoming a more of a "chat-room" where comments seem to be posted more for the pleasure to "hear" oneself talking father than having anything to say about the subject at hand?

If you care to reply, I will check later in the comments of this blog. Thank you. :)

A Jacksonian said...

luc - My pleasure and glad to give some insight on things.

BC is *definitely* becoming a chat room, and might be better served by that or by having a suite of topics areas to post at, with BC providing main links and then topics and sub-topics addressed within the bulletin board. That would allow for differentiation between differing outlooks and see how they cross and interact. Truly I can barely keep up with the cross-talk at BC and give that a pass most days.

I doubt that the VBIED actually started in the Yugoslav conflict as the conception of car bombs are easily traced back to the mafia and other criminal organizations circa the 1970's. Their use as a weapon of terror, instead of targeting a single individual or his cohorts, is an addition to the base concept, but not a recasting of it.

The media, however, concentrates on the drumbeat of bad news and purports it to be an entire symphony. Actually, from what I have seen, it doesn't even give good rhythm or timing...

Do feel free to wander around! As I say here, I mostly put my thoughts out for myself... and to give a 'life line' for people awash in a sea of desperation looking for something *better*. That, however, is in the eye of the beholder.

Note, blogger is acting up today... so things are not fun.

luc said...

I did not mean to imply that VBIED started in the Yugoslav conflict in WWII, I brought up that conflict as an example that long-term, organized, violent/explosive resistance to an occupation is nothing new, which the MSM states with regard to the conflict in Iraq. While in each conflict the explosives available at the time are used, the tactic itself is not new. What is new however, in my opinion, is the MSM non-stop propaganda against the currently elected government. I find this fact very disturbing because, in spite of the availability of news through the Internet, the MSM has a much greater impact than it is normally realized. To use as an example something other that the Iraq war, look at the fact that Nugin was reelected in NO in spite of all the corruption and incompetence shown during huricane Katrina last year; and now with the approaching aniversary of that event the MSM will again revise

A Jacksonian said...

I thoroughly agree with you on those things! The problem is not putting events into context or giving them connection with wider events so that a context can be created. That was my main concern with the 'fauxtography' problem and the entire disingenuous reaction of the media to it. This has been a stated problem in the graphic arts community for a decade, and even Scientific American did a write up on photomanipulation back in the mid-'90s. Without context, the actual timeline and meaning of events is lost.

Mostly in pursuit of this thing called a 'story'. What has also been lost is that events take place within a larger context and are not stories, save that they do have representational dileneations within a timeframe. By creating individual timeframe snippets and purporting that they *are* the story, the MSM lies by ommission. They lie by commission when they not only falsify factual evidence, but when they purport older factual evidence to still be in-place while events have superceded them.

I address these topics in the following:






And what a real police blotter reporting would look like in Iraq, here:


This covers the entire gamut from sheer ignorance to blatant fraud by the MSM in recent weeks. Quite frankly I don't know why anyone trusts them beyond basic facts, and even *those* they get wrong on a frequency scale to require double-checking. Trying to track down the bombings in Iraq on 25 AUG and I can find only two real reports, one by AP and the other by AFP. The first is sketchy and the second a diatribe with a fact or two thrown in. So, I wait for the police blotter to catch up.

In all we now have people that look like reporters but are reporting fictional news... perhaps we could get some fictional reporters to stand in for them: http://ajacksonian.blogspot.com/2006/08/fictitious-news-and-fictional.html