Deo volente.

Our Responsibility to the Our Media

I wrote about the big picture of the responsibility the media takes when it acts as the messenger for terrorists here. In the light of the latest dust up over an irresponsible media outlet, Reuters, it is probably time to clarify the position. I asked some pretty abstract, but pretty important questions, delineated here:

  1. [I]t is worth considering whether a free press that does not choose its own ethical course is really free.
  2. It is also a worthy question to ask whether the press is really free when it is manipulated with such elan by foreign dictators and organizations like Hezbollah.
  3. Should the freedom of the press, which is so intertwined with our other freedoms, be given leave to damage those other freedoms?
  4. By the same token, is the press that would destroy its own freedom really free?

Let’s take a step back. Forget for a minute the obvious liberal slant that goes with most of the opinions that journalists put into their articles, article selection, and editorials. Forget even the issue of terrorism itself. Look at what the media actually is: It is a delivery mechanism for information from source to consumer. That means that the information has to be conceptually understood by the media both as information and information content. In software, we call this the difference between the computation model (how stuff is delivered, in this case) and the information model (what is being delivered).

Why is this important? With the rise of the Internet and the new media elements such as the blogosphere, it should be recognized by everyone concerned that the content is not necessarily synonymous with the content delivery. We should all acknowledge with clarity that the mass media own and govern the distribution mechanisms for information, regardless of what the information actually is. So there is a concept of ownership of the mediums of distribution. There is also the implied concept of advanced technology benefitting the owners of the medium – more pipes equals more eyeballs. And there is the all important notion of self-governance that goes with freedom. You see where I’m going – where would the concepts of private property or self-governance lie under a fascist regime? This is the jist of the fourth question above.

Now consider the notion of information. Again, leaving aside, for the moment, the quality of the information, there are a few points to make about the content-heavy world in which we live. Content consumers have access to a host of tools and other sources of information that allow an unparalleled level of fact-checking and technologiical sophistication. This is nothing new to most of you reading this – maybe you even take it for granted. It’s a symbiotic relationship that is still evolving – the bogosphere relies on cheap or free access to information to bring their message to light, while the mediums appreciate the additional eyeballs.
The recent dissembly of delivery from content and the rise of sophisticated content consumption radically alter the landscape for media companies in certain, specific ways. A lot of these fall into finger-wagging categories that are adequately covered in the Pajama’s Media mission statement – I won’t repeat them, but they are important. There are a few more, however, that are more abstract that need to be made explicit.

First, let’s agree that we all benefit from access to the information. We couldn’t consume the content if the content wasn’t available to us. This is an arrangement that benefits us all: the world of micro-casted content models is aided by access, and the value of providing access is aided by different content models.

Second, let’s acknowledge the difficulties of the business models for companies like Reuters and AP. Their business is to collect information and distribute it. But how to get info from every hot spot, especially as they spring up over night. They do a good job of getting raw content from stringers and employees, they have a dedicated system in place for managing and publishing the content, and they have a revenue model that continues to fulfill the need.

Third, let’s all realize that there is a level of responsibility that goes with being a Watchman on both sides. Ace, LGF, Allah, and others are quick to criticize, but they are also equally quick to print a retraction. Good on ’em. Both sides of this tension need to act as responsible parties.

Fourth, and especially important is the the corollary to number three: that when Allah makes a mistake, 20,000 or so people see it, and then see the retraction. The Major Media Outlets make mistakes and have a reach that are much longer in duration and larger in scope. Part of this is because of the nature of their primary sources of distribution, but part of this is that they are providing the pipes (tubes, really) that deliver the content even to Allah in the first place.

Publishing content that is slanted or is based on propoganda is harmful. Publishing content that shouldn’t be published because the source is questionable is equally as harmful. 920 photographs by Hajj got pulled this morning, but should they have been there in the first place? And now that they are gone, it’s not a matter of editorial fact checking so much as it’s a matter of what the hell he was trying to accomplish in the first place. The issue of SWIFT was never in the public’s interest, only in the interest of a circulation beleaguered New York Times. Abu Ghraib was never about outrageous torture, but about BDS.

And so we come to the decision points mentioned above, and we come to a moment of decision.

To recap, the media have a good businessmodel for their mediums through which flows information. Implicitly or explicitly, these media outlets also rely on the West’s culture of freedom and vital interests to continue to gain value from that business model. Yet, as I detailed here, the execution of the business model can deliver of information that is:

  • from questionable sources
  • that is explicitly anti-Western in character
  • that is expressly harmful to the United States
  • that is expressly harmful to the Global War on Terror

or, of course, e) All of the above.

It’s tempting at this point to say, “Oh what a joke the MSM has become. Forget it and let it go.” But be careful of being dismissive. Three reasons:

First, whether you like it or not, the media still manages and/or controls the primary information gathering resources around the world. In times of conflict or hot flashes, they are the ones who can organize people to perform journalism. Since they are the medium through which information passes, they are an essential link in the chain. The Dextrosphere should be cautious in attacking the institutions that the Western Free Press relies on in performing their mission.

Second, a Free Press is essential to the mechanics of governing and living in the West. Any student of Western history can show 1,000 incidences of the power of the press helping freedom spread and take root. The feedback loop perpetrated by an energetic and active Free Press. We cannot cede this essential aspect of our Western identity to the Left or to Fascists.

Finally, the West’s ability to allow its institutions to govern themselves in their own best interests is vital to the success of the West, but only if those institutions do not disconnect from the essential protections and freedoms that the West provides. As a last resort, the West has at its disposal the tools of all governments, and like all governments bent on protecting its citizenry, it should use any and all means. Should the Free Press of the West be seen to be an obstacle to survival instead of a facilitator, then the obstacle should be removed or disabled.

There is no imminent event on the horizon of the US government suspending habeas corpus or of muffling the press, but the wheels of necessity have been set in motion. The SWIFT affair, Abu Ghraib, the Reuter’s scandal: all are instances of bad information or bad editorial choices that damages the essential efforts that the West has undertaken. The ability of our precious institutions to self-govern is a referendum of sorts – a check on whether the West still has the moral courage to apply self-discipline to our own disadvantage in the face of the enemy.

Because it is precisely this lack of discipline, this soft-shelled reactionism, this myopic freedom from authority that the Terror Masters are exploiting. For us to win the GWOT, we have to win this battle with our own Free Press. Like it or not, if the GWOT is to come to a victorious end, then the Western Press must decide that its best interests lie with the Classically Liberal West. Individual rights, secular government protecting religious freedoms, and a Free Press are all at stake here, both from the named enemy and from our enemies within.

The Free Press is the nexus of this conjoining of interests – at once the target and the messenger for the staged events that signal discourse. The press is used and manipulated by groups as philosophically diverse as International ANSWER and Hezbollah. They are threatened, if not by the groups specifically, then by their philosophies. They are the target for staged pantomime and in reality by enemy combatants. The Press is the force multiplier for the groups who now call themselves the enemies of the West, and so there is no better place to draw a line in the sand.

The Western Free Press, in all of its iterations from the blogosphere to Reuters to AP to CNN to Fox, can and should acknowledge:

  1. that it needs to put in controls to deal with questionable sources so that there are no more Hajj-like replays.
  2. that it is an essential aspect of the terrorist’s method and strategy, and should allow for that in their editorial decisions.
  3. that a Free Press can and could do damage to the West, and to its War on Terror.
  4. that its best interests lie with the interests of the West, and that to fundamentally damage one is to damage the other.

So consider this a call for a petition, a referendum, a resolution from the Citizens of the United States and from the West to our vital institution of Free Press. I will be crafting such a resolution – if you have ideas, let me know either by email or in the comment section.


August 7, 2006 - Posted by | Philosophy of the Commons


  1. […] At any rate, this is a little serious. And a lot long – so it’s over at my site. Feel free to comment on it over here – this is bigger than the two of us. […]

    Pingback by Innocent Bystanders » You know the J@ck A$$ in school who … | August 7, 2006 | Reply

  2. “[I]t is worth considering whether a free press that does not choose its own ethical course is really free.”

    Yes, it is truly free. It is a freedom that can lead to self-destruction, but that does not diminish the nature of the freedom.

    Consider: in this free country of ours, I am free to become a raging alcoholic, leave my family, quit my job, live on the streets, and contract all the diseases and bad habits associated therewith. As a free citizen, I believe I have a responsibility (to myself, to my family, and to society) to avoid that kind of self-destruction, but even if I ignore that responsibility, unless I am constrained I am still free.

    I guess the question is, freedom from what? Freedom from government interference? That is the only freedom that interests me, even if that means the freedom of a newspaper to slant its reporting, or my freedom to live irresponsibly. Freedom from the consequences of my actions? Ah, that’s a “freedom” of a different type, in which I have no interest whatsoever. And newspapers are not free from the consequences of their actions (see e.g. the suspension of Adnan Hajj, and the latest stock report for the New York Times), but that is no freedom worth protecting.

    And as concerns the suggestion that Reuters et al are dupes of foreign governments — sure they are, but as they are willing dupes (honestly, the Hajj hoax was so terrible that the only way to miss it is to want it to be accurate), they are no less free for it.

    Comment by Sobek | August 7, 2006 | Reply

  3. There is freedom from and there is freedom to. Freedom from onerous authority is half the battle, but an adult conceptualization of freedom includes a positivist notion as well.

    The Free Press has whined and exercised its freedom “from” until we are all blue in the face. Now it’s time to proceed with a sense of responsibility.

    Comment by John | August 7, 2006 | Reply

  4. […] This is what I was talking about here. It is incumbent to our victory on the GWOT that the Western Media take a reflective look at what they are doing and why they are doing it. […]

    Pingback by Our Responsibility to our Media: Redux « AnalogKid | September 21, 2006 | Reply

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