Sonntag, Oktober 02, 2005

Sein und Schein/Being and Appearance

A comment over at David's Medienkritik raises a fundamental question about the difference between journalism and blogging that I think needs to be reviewed.

/start quote
If we are talking about reliable reporting, accountability, reproducable sources, editorial oversight, research and journalisitc integrity here, DMK is just a web address. The evangelising that pervades some of the comments does not exactly strengthen the case.
/end quote

Hi -

This is the reason for DMK: we don't trust the MSM for reliable reporting, accountability, reproducible sources, editorial oversight, research and journalistic integrity, because we see how the media in Germany violate all of these precepts time and time again. DMK might be "just a web address", but their track record to date has been one heck of a lot better than many others.

I repeat: almost every day when I read the newspapers and magazines in Germany, I can see sloppy journalism, inaccurate reporting, opinion masquerading as fact, an appalling lack of research, failure to properly disclose political and commercial affiliations and a failure of editors to stop this sort of sloppy behavior. Think I'm kidding?

I'll give you one example I saw today in Der Spiegel, 39/2005, page 22: in an article about EADS and a project to outfit civilian airplanes with anti-missile technology against hand-held anti-aircraft missiles, the writer brought up an example of the US Stinger missile that was given out by the hundreds in Afghanistan to the Taliban and implied that these were the threat against which this system was designed, that the US had armed terrorists.

First problem: the Soviets/Russians/Chinese have been selling literally thousands of these to pretty much anyone with cash. Not mentioned in the article: misleading reporting by failing to indicate that while the US developed the weapon type, others sell them world-wide to the highest bidder. Hence the threat isn't from American weapons, but rather from Russian & Chinese weapons.

Second problem: Stingers of Afghanistan vintage can no longer be used, as their shelf life has been long exceeded and are no longer operational. They rely on a very specific voltage supplied by a special battery that uses a thermal process to generate enough energy to cool the IR seeker of the missile and to launch it. A typical failure profile of this battery is to explode, since the chemical mixture has become unstable. Stingers are kept as trophies, a reminder of US help in the Afghanistan time of need. This is not mentioned in the article: inaccurate reporting.

Third problem: lack of disclosure. EADS is an advertiser in Spiegel, taking full-page ads and getting some pretty nice articles and interviews placed as well (see Spiegel 40/2005).

Fourth problem: the US delivered Stinger not to the Taliban, as reported in the article, but rather to a number of Afghan rebel groups. The Taliban came later. This is sloppy reporting that should have been picked up by a decent editor.

This sums up to be sloppy journalism and is typical of Spiegel when it comes to discussing military affairs. There's also the problem that EADS is doing work that Israeli firms did more than 5 years ago, and EADS is advising the government on a project that it'll probably benefit from. Spiegel acknowledges that this is a problem.

In one paragraph four major errors. Three of these only serve to make the US look bad. This is, for me, indicative of the kind of journalistic errors and errors of omission that make a site like David's Medienkritik critically important: it is, if you so prefer, speaking truth to power. Journalists like to think that they are the ones doing so: it is a conceit that defies belief.

And that is where we all come in. Welcome to our world: we don't acccept arguments from authority, but insist on the facts. The internet makes access to the facts simple: the journalists that I have come across don't even understand how the world has changed in this way. We can check up on these kinds of stories and point out the factual errors, the opinions hiding as supposed facts and the like.

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