No Media Coverage Of the TPP Amid Negotiations

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As the second day of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations go on in Salt Lake City between 12 countries, protest continues:

Touted as a free trade agreement, rights groups have called it “NAFTA on Steroids” (and they don’t mean that in a positive way).

Mark Weisbrot, writing a column for the Guardian, argued that “the TPP and its promoters are full to the brim with ironies. It is quite amazing that a treaty like the TPP can still be promoted as a “free trade” agreement when its most economically important provisions are the exact opposite of “free trade” – the expansion of protectionism.”

According to Lori Wallach, writing for the Nation, TPP negotiations were originally begun under President Bush in 2008, then were initially paused by the Obama Administration “to develop a new approach compatible with candidate Obama’s pledges to replace the old NAFTA-based trade model,” but by 2009 were back on track. As a result, over the last few years “US negotiators have proposed new rights for Big Pharma and pushed into the text aspects of the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would limit Internet freedom, despite the derailing of SOPA in Congress earlier this year thanks to public activism.”

Unfortunately the majority of these talks have been entirely private, along with the documents being discussed. “The United States Trade Representative and the Obama administration have kept the treaty texts secret from the public,” political science professor at George Washington University Susan Sell told the Washington Post. “However, they have shared texts with 700 or so “cleared advisers,” all of whom come from intellectual property rights holders’ industries.” In contrast, only select members of Congress have viewed the texts, with large sections redacted. It is international economic policy being written by industry, for industry.

What has been seen publicly is largely in thanks to Wikileaks. The extent to which provisions in the TPP will circumvent congressional authority and curb civil liberties of various kinds––almost all entirely unrelated to “free trade”––is astounding. Hopefully public outrage will stall the implementation of this disastrous policy before it wreaks worldwide havoc.

Acts of Protest Can Bring Focus to Oil Lobby

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Today, as Democracy Now! went to broadcast from the climate talks in Poland, a piece of inspirational news that built on the tails of positive news from the talks yesterday. Here’s the video, although the gist of what it covers is addressed in the following paragraphs:

According to RTCC.org, the website of climate change web-newsgroup Responding to Climate Change:
“Greenpeace, Oxfam, WWF, Actionaid, Friends of the Earth, the International Trade Union Confederation and campaign group 350.org will all leave at 2pm local time.”

“Talks like these amount to nothing if countries refuse to come to them and negotiate in good faith or worse, try to drag the process backwards,” the WWF’s Sam Smith said in a statement.
This is the first time in 19 years of climate talks that something like this has happened.
Why? Certainly, the need for action on climate change is more pressing with each passing year, and the recent tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan only serves to amplify that need. But it seems there’s another reason: increased opposition from wealthier countries––or at least a continuance of the status quo by those countries while they’ve publicly professed to act (which essentially amounts to the same thing).

Amy Goodman wrote in a column for Truthdig thatthis year’s meeting has a new feature: corporate sponsorship.” 

She quotes Pescoe Sabido, a worker for the Corporate Europe Observatory, which published the pamphlet “The COP 19 Guide to Corporate Lobbying: Climate Crooks and the Polish Government’s Partners in Crime.”

“This is perhaps the most corporate climate talks we have ever experienced,” he told Goodman. Admittedly, there has been corporate influence in past years, according to Sabido, but “what’s different this time is the level of institutionalization, the degree to which the Polish government and the U.N., the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], have welcomed this with open arms and have actively encouraged it.”

One particularly ironic result of the vast array of support the conference received from the oil lobby was the emblazoning of the LOTOS Group logo (the second-largest Polish petroleum corporation) on the 11,000 tote bags handed out there.

Yesterday, 133 developing nations with the support of China walked out of talks at the conference related specifically to “loss and damage” compensation from wealthier countries to poorer countries for climate change damage already incurred. The thinking goes that the wealthy countries who have primarily caused the climate crisis should be the ones to pay for the effects. The wealthy countries were attempting to push any discussion of loss and damage down the road until 2015.

While these successive walkouts have received little mainstream coverage (Hello, New York Times?) they have received more coverage than the talks did before the walkout, and really are the only logical way for these NGOs and developing countries to respond. Developed countries know their GDPs will suffer from legitimate climate change action, and are willing to march us further on down the path of self-destruction in order to preserve economic gain as a result.

As in all forms of social change, from the most micro-level, to this macro, intercontinental level, when the system is so rigged against you, you’ve got to band together in solidarity, and demand that your voice be heard.

Telecom Giants Are Winning the Battle Over Net Neutrality, But We’ll Win the War

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My personal feeling around the battle over net neutrality is that the telecom companies are winning; we the people are slowly losing net neutrality until we will barely be able to remember it ever existed in the first place. Small legislative affirmations of Net Neutrality that still chip away at its protections are in no danger of stopping, now that the telecom giants are more powerful than ever. But there is a positive counter-reaction to corporate and government dominance of a medium that so many believe is vital for the future of equality and commerce. As leakers and activists have exposed government spying, corporate data-mining, and a host of other privacy concerns, the public has become more aware and informed. We may be losing the legislative battle, but since Snowden the amount of people thinking outside the box when it comes to maintaining internet freedom is quite encouraging. From the idea of launching massive servers on the world’s tiniest micronation so that it could serve as a data-haven, to creating personal networks beyond the scope of companies or governments, people around the world have already moved on to the next step of democratic action after the current internet is divided into fast and slow lanes. They’re thinking of what the next version of the internet can be, an internet that can keep on being by the people, of the people, and for the people.

Citizens Are All Potential Journalists––So Let Us All Have the Same Protections

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I’m always a bit bemused when a government official, some Feinstein or other––even journalists themselves––try to make a case that citizen journalists shouldn’t experience the same perks and protections as “established” journalists. The issue’s presentation is generally greatly distorted in my view. The most common argument––seemingly logical, but utterly shortsighted––goes something like, “every guy in his parents’ basement typing up a blog can’t be considered a journalist.”

Yes, this is true, but so far there hasn’t really been a reason for us to do that. Every guy in his mom’s basement isn’t disseminating information vital to national interests, or even significantly popular, and thus is never facing public scrutiny or governmental prosecution.

So who cares about 36-year-old-unemployed Todd writing 9/11 conspiracy theories with gaping holes in them from a his stepmom’s garage in Santa Monica?

While credibility can be earned and lost for mainstream outlets, the potential credibility of a blogger is also very much built upon their track record, at least for the most part. Due to how much easier a blog can be discredited and picked apart, it is usually in a blogger’s interest to put a lot of effort into being thorough. The mainstream doesn’t really face this problem since (as I’ve noted before) credibility is far easier to exploit in a non-linked medium, as “objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links.”

Only bloggers with enough tout to be cited and referenced by the mainstream really affect the larger public understanding of a media narrative. These people are the Glenn Greenwalds and the Mayhill Fowlers, who believe in transparency at unrivaled levels, but don’t buy into oldschool journalism beliefs of there being an acceptable level of cronyism between journalists and public officials.

The problem, I suppose, is that we still have the Matt Drudges and Andrew Breitbarts, the three-quarters-of-the-time wrong but consistently-cited-and-shared category of journalists.

But don’t these gossip-machines exist in the mainstream too? The New York Post doesn’t exactly have great track record when it comes to accuracy (the Boston Bomber debacle alone calls up reminders of a trove of transgressions). So let’s just call Drudge the Post of the Blogosphere––the widely disseminated trash of its category. There will always be garbage, no matter what the medium. In the blogosphere, that garbage can be shared by a hardcore niche base, but won’t be seen as legitimate by anyone outside of it until it is referenced by a “legitimate” outlet. Original mainstream content is much more independently valid in the public’s perceptions, and its accuracy is often seen as absolute (How many times have we all heard: “No its true! It was in the Times”?).

And then there are the (pre-bittergate) Mayhill Fowlers, attempting to build a reputation, but without wide enough dissemination to have real prominence or impact. Yet in today’s day and age, someone like her––particularly if working through a larger website––can suddenly burst into the mainstream with a hard-news bombshell. How, then, do we decide that person has transitioned to a new level of legitimacy and is thus deserving of different protections? In the case of bittergate, there was no anonymous source to keep confidential, or any real scrutiny over her actions, but the ethical implications of Fowler’s presence at a closed media event were certainly debated.

This country and most intentionally don’t stipulate that a professional license must be obtained to be a practicing journalist, as this limits access to a field vital to public interest by making it accessible only to some. How then, can we argue that journalistic legitimacy must be proved through other means which are only accessible (or likely to occur) to some, be it number of readers, newsworthiness of content, or salaried employment?

After bittergate a lot of pundits noted that the controversy over her presence at the event should’ve been seen as irrelevant, as public officials shouldn’t be stating different opinions in closed events than public ones. So shouldn’t we all be able to use the same journalistic protections or reasons for access, providing, say, no further requirement than proof of a planned location for publishing (as this assumes the public could potentially find that published material to be of public importance?).

If only this debate were actually framed around what the purpose of Journalism is––to serve the public interest––rather than how to define the legitimacy of the profession, which is supposed to have no effect on journalistic activity. Shield laws and blogger access to political events should be extended further rather than limited, as they’ve only served the public where “established” outlets have failed to do so.

If Transparency isn’t the New Objectivity it Damn Sure Oughta Be

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I couldn’t agree more with the argument in David Weinberger’s article “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

While socially we’ve valued transparency as a virtue for some time, the bureaucratic nature of a lot of information made transparency hard to define or even declare as necessary. As Weinberger says, “Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links.”

So while we valued transparency as an overall virtue, during the Age of Paper it wasn’t something that affected the journalistic medium. Sure, attribution has been used to some extent for a long time, but the ability to assert a false attribution no longer exists. Yet, for some unexplained reason, print media has been far more affected than other media forms by these new levels of transparency. Television and radio pundits still seem to get away with murder by being so powerful that no one can destabilize them from their positions as the end-of-the-road on a range of assertions.

Sure to some extent this isn’t true, the internet is a fact-checking tool the likes of which we’ve never seen before, but the lack of ability that that fact-checking tool has to influence the norms of how television and radio operate is confounding. Hannity, Rush, and Beck all spew blatant lies, and only the most egregious are fact-checked by other mainstream players in a fashion which actually holds them accountable.

“Transparency subsumes objectivity,” Weinberger argues. And it would appear that he is more and more right with each passing day. Sure, objectivity is still valued, but if you can’t back up your “objective” viewpoint with documentation that objectivity ain’t worth a damn thing. In Weinberger’s words, “Anyone who claims objectivity should be willing to back that assertion up by letting us look at sources, disagreements, and the personal assumptions and values supposedly bracketed out of the report.”

This, in fact, is the very argument Glenn Greenwald often expresses on journalism, most recently in his email argument with the Times’ Bill Keller last month.

David Carr, while a bit more sympathetic to the goal of advocacy journalism than Keller, professes what seems to be the stereotypical Timesian argument against quote-unquote advocacy journalism in his column “Journalism, Even When It’s Tilted.” Carr admires Greenwald’s tenacity to bring justice to certain civil rights but does  say that “I do think that activism — which is admittedly accompanied by the kind of determination that can prompt discovery — can also impair vision. If an agenda is in play and momentum is at work, cracks may go unexplored.” This is true, but Carr doesn’t address the fact (which in my opinion was the argument that Greenwald beat Keller with in their email exchange) that an agenda isn’t MORE likely to drive the content of a story simply because one is forthcoming about it. The Times also has an agenda, they just don’t say so.

Additionally, when one is as open about a viewpoint as Greenwald, those wishing to check his assertions have more of an understanding of why he might have asserted or argued something, whereas that reason is often unclear in “objective” journalism.

I’m always shocked when I hear fellow journalism students say that they think there is no place for opinion within journalism––and that’s an opinion I’ve heard twice in the last week. Yet, for a long time we’ve accepted opinion on the margins of conventional journalism. Every major paper endorsed national politicians (yet individual journalists themselves seem to think that if they reveal who they’re voting for then their work is untrustworthy). The only explanation I can come up with, is that these narratives of objectivity are so entrenched in our journalistic and educational models, that even though the media structure has begun to crumble, most aspiring members of that structure are too frightened by the growing cracks in the existent model to admit that their futures will be unpredictable.

Why Haven’t More People Copied Josh Marshall?

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One area of journalism which has had multiple births and deaths in the United States––and currently seems to be undergoing a rebirth in a totally new formulation–is that of investigative journalism. Towards the late ’80s, the post-Watergate surge of investigative reporting fizzled out (before the internet really took hold), there was another dearth of American muckraking. If the current journalistic business model had been allowed to remain intact, it likely would’ve been another decade before the American appetite for hard-hitting investigations was realized within the mainstream as a profitable enterprise.
 Yet the rise of the internet and participatory-journalism interrupted this somewhat-controlled ebb and flow to prove that, while revenue models for its sustenance still need working out, the American appetite for investigative reporting is more voracious than it’s ever been.

Even absent a new revenue model, there have been numerous examples of concerted investigative efforts led in a grassroots, open-source manner with no need for funding. As this Alternet article about Josh Marshall’s and TPM’s successes points out, “the U.S. attorney’s scandal story was the result of a blog’s willingness to use and give full credit to a number of newspapers — all of which had picked up one piece of a coast-to-coast puzzle.”

This was an investigative story, no question, but the pieces were already there just waiting to be picked up. Pre-internet it would’ve required traveling to the different locations where attorneys had been fired and actually probing into the reasons for the firings. Going about all this just on a hunch is something most media outlets wouldn’t go for without additional evidence, but in the digital age is made possible by crowd-sourcing efforts such as Marshall’s, since it doesn’t require an upfront investment. The internet provides opportunities for investigative reporting that would’ve been fundamentally impossible without a participatory model inclusive of the consumer.

That said, it seems to me that TPM’s string of success would’ve triggered more outlets with pure muckraking aspirations, yet by and large bloggers and cultivators of online media focus on media narratives (what the media is or is not focusing on, etc.) rather than looking for the scoops to factually prove the pervasive mainstream shortcomings they constantly complain of.

Traditional journalism still doesn’t have the money that it once did to put into investigative reporting––it’s expensive, and you usually have no idea what you’ll get out of it. But the last few years outlets like ProPublica, focused on the “journalism as a public good” mantra, have attempted to define a new business model for investigative reporting that can be socially powerful without requiring the business incentives that a traditional outlet’s investigation would (Maybe a portion of Greenwald/Omidyar’s “NewCo” will resemble this model as well).

While ProPublica often does great work, and a business model that isn’t advertising-revenue-based is certainly better than one that is, the participatory and democratic nature of how Talking Points Memo broke the attorney story is a much more fundamental change to media creation-consumption trends. Unfortunately it has taken a back burner the last couple of years, but the potential for more participatory outlets to cover stories with a national or international scope is still possible. When a reader base is involved in creating the content it is consuming, a more knowledgeable and democratic society becomes possible as well. While Greenwald is a lover of reader-participation (and at this point its proven itself as a tool of profit if used correctly), fat-cat-funded journalism won’t be the ultimate answer to the problems with American media (and consequently American democracy). Even if funding journalism comes out of a desire to do public good (as in Omidyar’s case) there will still be an inherent level of elite interest in how that outlet operates.

This surge of millionaires wanting to support journalism in an age where its financial viability is tenuous, misses one key point: TPM’s scoop didn’t really cost much of anything. The power of this business model is far greater than the ProPublica model; it gets scoops faster and cheaper than a re-invented model of 20th century investigative journalism, and it builds a hard-core and devoted base that will buy all the non-corporate SWAG you can dream up.

Idolization of Official Sources

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Newsweek published an article by Kurt Eichenwald today that is a shocking example of reliance on official-source reporting,(not to mention the construction of a false narrative around events without direct association). Titled “How Edward Snowden Escalated the Cyber-War with China,” the piece angles its sources and quotes with an obvious agenda: to create a direct link between the Snowden revelations and harm to American enterprise (because if this thing has economic consequences, that hurts everyone). Eichenwald paints a picture of American business secrets being stolen on a mass scale by Chinese companies to be used to make them more competitive.

“If an American business invests hundreds of millions of dollars in developing an industrial product only to see the work stolen…it will eventually die,” Eichenwald writes.

“Now, though, with the world raging about the NSA secrets exposed by Snowden, the threat to American companies by Chinese hacking is being ignored once again, opening up the possibility that the threat that for so many years raised so much concern behind closed doors in Washington could now grow more destructive than ever.”

Other than citing heads of security-contractors who obviously share US government interests, Eichenwald only quotes an unnamed government official: “Snowden couldn’t have played better into China’s strategy for protecting its cyber activities if he had been doing it on purpose,'”

Where are the conflicting opinions that offer at least a challenge to this broad assertion? If the connection were as direct as Eichenwald would have us believe, and if US trade secrets are being stolen at such a rate, then how come this hasn’t been a larger issue before the Snowden leaks, and why have others not raised it post-leaks as a reason for NSA spying to continue?

Of course, Eichenwald will never be accused of creating a false connection between Snowden’s actions and non-existent adverse effects on American businesses, let alone bias for only referring to those with an interest in saying the Snowden leaks had been harmful. May the mainstream idolization of government and business officials continue.