We live in a very data-rich era. And that means fantastic opportunities for journalism. But can journalism rise to the occasion?

I refer to the WikiLeaks release of a trove of 92,000 U.S. documents detailing efforts of the U.S. Army and Special Forces in the war in Afghanistan, published simultaneously with interpretive accounts from the New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel. As soon as this went up, you could feel the ground shifting under the media and governments: their traditional relationships were suddenly upended by this new architecture of information flows. From anonymous leakers to seemingly invulnerable transnational secret-exposing organization to journalists and to the public.

To those who say “there’s nothing new here,” I suppose that’s right in the general sense. But if you read some of these documents (or their excerpts), I don’t think they are so easily dismissed as old news. They paint a vivid picture of a daily reality that is absurdly complex, baffling and possibly hopeless. The sensation you get from reading through them is different than if you just read the words “complex, baffling and hopeless.” More different than if you read a policy paper on it. And more different still than if you watch the Pentagon’s daily briefings. There’s no substitute for primary sources, and the volume of information and breadth of topics creates an overwhelming sense of the drift of the war effort.

Does this represent an emergent form of journalism? (more…)

WASHINGTON - JUNE 29:  "Equal Justice Und...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I’d like to elaborate on my previous post on the recent spate of wild and/or false racism charges emanating from the Breitbarts and Megyn Kellys of the world. It was glib to ignore the longstanding complaints of conservatives about reverse discrimination.

First, for the sake of argument, some perspective: the United States has a brutal historical legacy of slavery and legalized oppression of African-Americans. It has gradually been mitigated, legally, politically, and socially, a process that continues. This process is one of the things that makes America great. But the legacy hasn’t disappeared, it remains a pernicious force in American society. There is, comparatively speaking, no significant legacy or history of black-on-white discrimination. There are black people who are prejudiced against white people, of course. Statistically speaking, some of them probably work for government agencies. But that’s not evidence of systemic anti-white discrimination.

However. (more…)

Entry in the Greenpeace BP parody logo contest

This is a constant drumbeat, but think about it: Isn’t it remarkable how transcendently awful BP’s approach to the Gulf disaster has been? At each and every turn, with the stakes impossibly high, BP has always chosen to do the wrong thing. There’s the substance – having no emergency worst-case contingency plans for a blowout, disingenuously refusing to estimate the amount of oil flowing. There’s the politics and image stuff, including CEO Tony Hayward’s lies and self-pity and the platoons of lawyers and PR people trying to keep cleanup workers silent and choke off media attention. It’s been an awesome display of every kind of 21st century corporate dick-itude.

If you’re cynical, then this is merely garden-variety corporate misbehavior, if on a grand scale. But we’re at an interesting pass here. Consider: for years BP has buffed its image with the green sunflower logo and the “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, portraying itself as a forward-looking, responsible corporate citizen. This nominally covered its left flank, but more importantly gave it a forward-looking, friendly image. Perfect mainstream mass-market positioning.

Meanwhile, the cult of the free market, which too often means letting big business do what it wants, retained a powerful hold on U.S. politics. (more…)

Steel sheet pile pulled from the 17th Street Canal floodwall breach, New Orleans

The Deepwater Horizon disaster has put a renewed media and political focus on the significant government failures of Hurricane Katrina, including the collapsed, flawed floodwalls and levees that put most of New Orleans underwater. There’s also an HBO drama now featuring John Goodman’s impassioned, expletive-laden speeches on that man-made disaster. The New York Times Public Editor recently devoted part of a column to discussing the subject.

But a selective amnesia still dominates for some reason. Take a look at this blogosphere exchange between NRO’s Yuval Levin and MoJo’s Kevin Drum:

Levin says, essentially, Katrina was an act of God for which no government could have been prepared, and, under the circumstances, things weren’t so bad: (more…)

Fox News Channel controversies

Image via Wikipedia

Responding to my “death of accountability” post, Shoq says I don’t lay enough blame on the conservative establishment of think tanks and media operations, which exploit traditional media customs of fairness and “objectivity” to advance ideological and/or Republican Party agendas:

I have been railing about the collapse of accountability for years. This article sniffs around the edges of the problem, and makes some important points, but it completely misses the role that right wing think tanks like Heritage, Media Research Center, and of course, Fox News and the broader corporate media have played in the deliberate deconstruction of accountability and social responsibility.

When the public is convinced that there are no empirical facts, and that one version of events is as valid as any other, they become desensitized to the reality of most crimes and their consequences, and are far more compliant and forgiving of those accused of abusing a trust, principle, law, company, office, nation, and population. (more…)

CHICAGO - APRIL 08:  Former Chairman of the Fe...

Image by Getty Images via Daylife

A recent Frank Rich column dealt with the almost complete lack of accountability for … well, almost everything. His primary evidence was Alan Greenspan’s retrospective performance evaluation: right 70 percent of the time. Maybe, but that other 30 percent was a killer. Rich continues:

This syndrome is hardly limited to the financial sector. The Vatican hierarchy and its American apologists blame the press, anti-Catholic bigots and “petty gossip” for a decades-long failure to police the church’s widespread criminal culture of child molestation. Michael Steele, the G.O.P. chairman, has tried to duck criticism for his blunders by talking about his “slimmer margin” of error as a black man. New York’s dynamic Democratic duo of political scandal, David Paterson and Charles Rangel, have both attributed their woes to newspapers like The Times, not their own misbehavior.

Rich treats this as a natural consequence of today’s overheated, short attention-span media culture; basically, if you commit a giant screwup, but can spin the media to give you a pass – at least until it moves on to the next crisis, which won’t take long – then you’re in the clear. Your place in history is safe. And this works! (more…)

Barge in backyard, Lower Ninth Ward

An all-star lineup of GOP pols has gathered in New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. But do they have any idea where they are?

Here’s what J.C. Watts told the conference-goers:

“Some might think that George W. Bush had his shortcomings,” said Watts, “but let me tell you something — history’s going to be kind to George W. Bush.”

Just up the street from the GOP’s venue at the Hilton Riverside is the New Orleans Convention Center, where tens of thousands of people gathered in the days after Hurricane Katrina and waited in stifling heat without food or water for rescuers who didn’t know they were there. Even though they were on TV.

That was probably the low point in a catastrophic breakdown of government capacities at all levels – local, state, and federal. (more…)

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