07 August 2007

Addressing the problem of ethics and accountability, my response to RWN

Rick Moran, over at Right Wing Nuthouse, poses a problem on what is, in actuality, accomplished by the Scott Beauchamp story being thoroughly discredited at TNR:

This is the reality outside of Blogdom. Exposing Beauchamp was a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But holding TNR and their soon to be ex-editor Franklin Foer to account for their laziness, their bias, and their incompetence is enough. That and putting a poultice on the black eye Beauchamp deliberately gave the military is all the victory that blogs can claim in this matter.
Indeed, this is the exact same problem I have been addressing for over a year, off and on, about the accountability of the MSM to *anything*. He worries on what the outcome for blogging will be from this:
I only know a growing sense of unease elicited by the notion that by overhyping stories like the Beauchamp caper, the credibility of the medium suffers. For that reason alone, it may be time to put down the blood stained hatchets and begin to seriously examine just what we should be doing that will increase our influence rather than make us look like a bunch of one dimensional attack dogs.
Well! Needless to say I have been poking at this long enough so as to formulate a reply, which I did.

Yes, this is another one of those pieces in which my response to someone else's piece is the crux of this piece. As I always do I present my response verbatim, no bits left out, spelling errors intact and twists and turns in logic on display for all to see:
When I look at these stories and other things being done by the MSM and other sources, like the AQI/insurgent sniper videos run at the NYT website and CNN, or the actual lack of understanding about a subject, like the criticism of the WaPo on the rebuilding effort in Iraq last year that misses the key concept of 'Federal fiscal year in budgeting', my problem is not with the pieces, per se, but with the abysmally low ethics of the reporters, editors and everyone in the 'loop' of control at those publications.

As a lone blogger I try to ensure that my readers have articles that can be backed up and I give extensive quotes and links so that they can decide for themselves if I am giving them the 'real deal'. With the Reuters problem of last year I put together a series of pieces on what various individuals and institutions could do so as to provide proof of their veracity and the legitimacy of their stories.

That first article covered
still and motion imagery and how to work agreements with the major 'for pay' image hosting sites so that ALL of one's work was available for review for a given session. That is not done by *law* but by photojournalists and motion imagery journalists being willing to do this thing known as 'show all their work'. The originals are housed safely with other organizations and news editors can examine an entire run of images and actually broker for them. And when hiring on such a journalist you can get an idea of just how they compose and composite shots by 'seeing their work' in full. And if any question about the legitimacy of the imagery is brought up, then all of the metadata from cameras, scanners and processing programs is also available.

This then gives the evidentiary basis for a non-partisan group of image experts, analysts and others in various fields to be brought together whenever problems arise with the veracity of images and their time-sequencing for events. Such
a review panel could be kept on retainer or have time donated by universities and other organizations that serve as the basis of image sciences to ensure that such images were taken by such cameras in the places purported at the time given for them. This is in the interest of the MSM so as to have an outside checking system that is not composed of journalists but those with forensic skills necessary to find if what has been imaged is correct.

We are
heading into an era where fabrication of 3D scenes will move very quickly in the next few years onto our desktops at a reasonable price. Without such organizations working hard to ensure the legitamacy of such images that will be rendered from them. The still imagery folks warned about this in the mid-1990's and now the 3D community is giving similar warning signals.

The print/text media do not escape this, as we have seen, and the cure is to 'show all work'. When digital storage was expensive, that was difficult, but that is no longer the case and releasing source documents and interviews days or at most weeks after a story is released should be satisfactory to demonstrate that proper editorial oversight and review has taken place with stories. For lone individuals, such as myself, I do my best to put up the links and text and have even started to use online notebooks so that even more of that is available to go through. There is *no* replacement for showing the foundation of one's writing and the era of 'limited column space' and 'expensive storage media' are no longer excuses for full and open access to source documents and historical archives of same to be opened up to the public. Protection of 'anonymous sources' is something that can be done by having redaction of names and full names held not just by the journalist but by the editorial board(s) involved at publications.

Finally, however, there are some areas where I feel that the ethics of MSM organizations have stepped over the line of legality during reporting on wars. The Treaties signed by the US and any Nation involved with such multi-lateral Treaties are in full force upon those collecting, editing and disseminating information. The 'freedom of the press' is a subordinate part of 'freedom of speech' and is fully accountable to the laws put in place to restrict coverage of events via Treaty. Primary restrictions are put on by the Geneva and Hague Conventions and the restrictions are not onerous, but rigorous. One of the main ones that I have had extreme feelings on is the publication of those sniper kill videos shot by 'insurgents' or AQI and released to the press which immediately puts them out. That is a direct violation of allowing governments due time to find out who was killed and properly contact family and next of kin and publish such names afterwards. It also shows NO respect for the recently killed and that is a paramount part of wartime: respect for the dead is enforced at all times and places, and the press has severe limitation on what can and cannot be immediately shown. This is not just lack of ethics, but crossing over into the Nation State Treaty concept which we hold ourselves accountable to via the US Code and other Nations by their Nation's civil criminal code.
My view on the TNR publication was not on the truth or lack of same, but the lack of ethics and breaking of the US Code by the publication of such material.

Apparently, holding folks accountable to the actual Treaties negotiated for warfare and the EXACT SAME ONES they resort to so as to bash others is something that is just not done and are all just 'political' in nature. That is not 'equal enforcement of the law' without regard to race, religion, color or politics.

I a not worried, overmuch, by the whistleblowers crying 'foul'.

I am extremely worried that the freedom of speech no longer has ANY limits upon it and that common laws held between the citizenry can be broken for political need at no cost. That is not the road to a civilization holding up equal enforcement of the law as its standard. That is heading down the road to authoritarianism and totalitarianism and the miasma of Orwellian speech where any word means just exactly what you want it to mean and nothing else... until it is changed yet again... and again... and mere words are meaningless.
Yes, that is the case. It is not that personal accountability is enough, but there must be a sense of larger responsibility to the community as well. As an individual I do try to provide that with my heavily link infested works, long extracts of text so you can know I am *not* misquoting someone or otherwise mangling their viewpoint so as to give a fair response to them.

The MSM, with its 'vast resources' can do just the same and, indeed, individual photojournalists can utilize commercial operations or any of the Creative Commons sites as depositories for their original work. This would actually help to establish their credibility as reporters, show the quality of their work and give editors some idea of just how much work normally has to be done to make an image presentable. On the text side, just show the background material.

Truly it is just that simple.

And just that complicated as one is held to what they have found and expected to stand by their work.

For there is accountablity for 'free speech' and the 'freedom of the press'. Not just ethics, but the responsibility to the community of readers and to the Nation as a whole via the Treaties and laws involved. If those cannot be upheld by reporting, then just how *good* is that reporting to start with? And if we will not hold people accountable to their words and the laws, just why do we have such laws? Or is it really 'anything goes' and the chaos of authoritarianism that comes from that?

For that, too, is a goal of the Volunteer Fifth column. And their press rules are corrosive as it skews all reporting by those following it and destroys commonality of community and responsibility to the community of readers to fairly address topics and subjects.


Rick Moran said...

Excellent as always, Alan.

A Jacksonian said...

Alan - My thanks!

This lack of accountability business is something we will pay for... I don't like what is happening on the political/governmental side and that is exacerbated by the utilization of the freedom of the press to attack the Nation and not be held accountable.

No good shall come of this.