By Seana Sperling
The Daily News has changed so much over the last two decades. Newstainment: heavy on soft news and gossip, spiked with violent incidents (public beatings, vandalism) just to keep the public on edge. There is the hot news; gossip/allegations of suspected sex offenders, murderers, robbers, etc. and soft news; lion cubs at the zoo. The largest concern however, is the fact that accusations are aired copiously with little concern about what impact it will have on the accused.
Sex scandals are the latest witch-hunt. As during the McCarthy era, an accusation alone can ruin a person’s reputation and their community may harass them as a result. On KIRO 7 News 7/18/13 there was a story about a Professor at the University of Washington who had allegedly been caught looking at Child Pornography, then they flashed to an earlier report of yet another professor who had been accused of the same thing. They interviewed one of the latter’s colleagues who stated that, the accused should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. That is due process. (At least they let the colleague speak on the accused’s behalf. This story was a little more balanced than most I have seen on other stations.)
One of my friends, a professor who was very active against racism and involved in other social justice issues, was accused of this same thing. Was something planted on his work computer? This is a smart person who I doubt had any inclination to look at that trash. Also, why would he view it at work where someone else could access it? Something could have been planted on the other two professor’s computers as well. We do live in the age of set-ups and smears.
The vilification of social-justice Educators, Community Leaders and Dissidents has been common for centuries. Noam Chomsky speaks of The Vilification Industry in the documentary: Noam Chomsky on the World: The Chomsky Sessions. Targets of this type of slander are generally activists, whistleblowers and change agents.
Accusations and especially sex scandals are being used to punish dissenters and chill dissent. Mainstream media seems to be moving the scandals forward. Accusations of rape against Dominic Strauss Khan (after he was interviewed in the film Inside Job), Julian Assange (Wikileaks), the stings on ACORN and Planned Parenthood by Neo-conservatives, the obvious set-up of Larry Craig (after he took a stand against war) all point to a puritanical nation obsessed with sex, punishment and scandal.
It’s not just sex scandals, however. There seem to be many other news stories that are intended to embarrass or shame certain people. There was a 2011 KOMO 4 News story about James Bible, Head of the Seattle Chapter of the NAACP. The reporter claimed Bible had embezzled funds from the organization. It was a very short clip showing him in court standing at the Judge’s bench. (Isn’t he a Lawyer? It would be natural for him to be in court.) I would not call this balanced reporting since they had no comment from the accused. I have to wonder if he even knows about this airing. The camera captures the scene and any narrative can be inserted. A simple voice-over can change the scene dramatically.
Over decades, people have been conditioned to trust mainstream news and when the News airs a story about someone accused of something, most people assume there must be some truth to it. Unfortunately, if something is on the Television News or written about in the Newspaper, most people won’t even question it.
In Soviet Russia, the mainstream newspaper was called Pravda, meaning Truth, but it was a vehicle to spread propaganda. In Nazi Germany, censorship and propaganda were both used frequently and enabled the Nazis to recruit. Propaganda was also used to pacify the public. Collaborators like Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl created propaganda films showing the public a very different reality than what the Roma, Jews, Dissidents, LGBT and other victims of The Holocaust were really experiencing in the camps. Her films showed happy people exercising, working or just going about their day.
When mainstream news strays from facts and reports on hearsay, it resembles the Yellow Journalism techniques used by William Randolph Hearst in his early years.
“Yellow journalism, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism..” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_journalism
It was not so many years ago that the Nightly News would not report on a mere allegation. Allegations alone were not considered newsworthy and responsible Journalists knew that allegations on the news could ignite terrible problems for the accused. Our news in the new millennium has become rather Orwellian and innocent people can be accused, have their reputations destroyed and then be harassed by citizen watch groups as a result.
It seems that Mainstream News has also popularized something akin to a Citizen Paparazzi. 7/17/13 KIRO 7 News reported that a woman convicted of drunk driving, was restricted from driving, yet had been caught driving. They had some footage of her driving along in her car. How did they know this? Perhaps her neighbors were watching and actually filmed her and sent the clip to KIRO. This is blatant abuse of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution and reminds me much more of Communist Russia than a Democratic country. According to Estonian friends of mine when I was in Peace Corps Estonia, the Communists were always watching their neighbors and reporting. (Perhaps the Driver’s neighbors like to tattle. As a child I remember that no one respected the Tattletale. Now it seems that tattling is in vogue.)
Reporting on your neighbor. Many people are calling TIPS and other tattle-lines to snitch on or even slander their neighbors. John Ashcroft popularized this behavior with his 2002 speech calling for people to be the eyes and ears of the country. (The Progressive, Amerisnitch) Many, including the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU responded with alarm.
“By asking neighborhood groups to report on people who are ‘unfamiliar’
or who act in ways that are ‘suspicious’ or ‘not normal,’ our government
is unconstructively fear-mongering, and fueling the already rampant
ethnic and religious scapegoating,” says ACLU President Nadine Strossen. http://www.progressive.org/node/1572 Amerisnitch, The Progressive
What about false reporting? With modern technology, they can film the person just walking down the street and later PhotoShop them into whatever scenario they wish. Then Channel X News reports without one comment from the accused. Just because you read, see, or hear something on the news or on the Internet, does not mean this is a reality. One vengeance stalker can sew a seed to ruin a life with a “tip,” and then Mainstream News circulates the slander.
The Sixth Amendment was designed to prevent Whisper Campaigns against citizens. Obviously, The Patriot Act and other unconstitutional laws have made a shambles of our Constitution, so first we need to restore our Constitution and Bill of Rights and second, but equally important, we need Mainstream News to return to real reporting.