From: Helen Stewart (hjsmagicat_private)
Date: Fri Jul 03 1998 - 09:36:34 PDT

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    What's needed is education in all levels of academia on what propaganda
    really is.  On why and how it evolved.  I just read an old book 1968,
    "Propaganda:  The Formation of Men's Attitudes" by Jacques Ellul, it's an
    excellent book going through the evolutionary process of propaganda.  A
    great reminder how most of the public depends on following media for
    defining survival and lifestyles, instead using critical filtering and
    thinking skills to understand what objective evidence is really presented
    for determining judgements over opinions.
    In this information age, it's time to start integrating this type of
    education into all levels of schooling (including grammer schools).   We
    could be loosing in a collective sense, when determining if our Nation is
    using critical thinking skills.   We might find that we have been all been
    taken over and consumed in memetic-mush.   This is just my OPINION.
    -Helen Stewart
    7Pillars Partners wrote:
    > I'm going to make an assertion, and comment on some things that
    > might be worth a discussion about.
    > Assertion:
    > If CNN/TIME did in fact work on the TAILWIND story for at least
    > 8 months as they claim, and interview hundreds of sources, it strains
    > credibility beyond the breaking point that they now claim to be
    > 'absent malice' in going on air and to press with their story.
    > How is it that with all that data and effort, a more objective view
    > of the same material can be made in -roughly a week- that requires a
    > retraction and apology?  Can professionals with this level of
    > experience truly have convinced themselves so thoroughly of the
    > inherent dishonesty of the US military that they would ignore the
    > flaws in their own reporting?  What does that say for the news
    > organization and news process itself, as well as the news consuming
    > public, that these are respected players?
    > Comments:
    > We're going to hear a lot of people beating up on the media; this
    > is a Good Thing as far as I'm concerned.  What used to pass for
    > journalism (reporting facts) has turned into something else (moving
    > around opinion--and remember, when you have facts, you don't need
    > an opinion; interpretations of facts are called 'judgment,' FYI).
    > This is propaganda, by the most loose of definitions--the substitution
    > of opinion for judgment.
    > The press, in all its forms, have become our observational proxies.
    > By definition, in fact--if you aren't a direct witness to an event,
    > you're using a proxy.  In this modern world of global communication,
    > distance has eroded, -if- you rely upon the proxies to bridge all
    > that distance for you.  Part of being an open source professional is
    > learning how to 'triangulate'--use multiple proxy sources to get
    > some rough approximation of objective facts.  I'm sad to say that
    > I notice a considerable tendency on the part of professionals to
    > spin and add bias, which only compounds the problem of the spin and
    > bias from the proxies.  The media consuming public, however, is in
    > even worse shape than we professionals are.  They're out there, and
    > they keep taking it on the chin.
    > Worse than the press/media turning into proxies, where we have to
    > continually calculate trust assessments into dealing with what they
    > report, is how they've turning in brokers for reputation capital.
    > This is going to take a view words of explanation, so bear with me.
    > Reputation capital is poorly understood, but we use it in all of our
    > relationships: how much do you trust those around you, and in what
    > problem domains?  You want to trust a physician to do his/her work
    > professionally, objectively, competently.  The same with police.
    > Judges.  Teachers.  Violations of that trust are met with great
    > levels of intolerance, and justifiably so.  So you want to trust a
    > physician to do their job, but do you ask them how to manage your
    > money?  Physicians are -notoriously- bad at this sort of thing (get
    > a few drinks into a stockbroker and ask them which accounts they can
    > churn most often).  Physicians themselves have a hard time
    > understanding where their competence stops.  "What's the difference
    > between God and a doctor?  God doesn't think He's a doctor."  For the
    > most blatant example of reputation capital gone wrong, look at the
    > media portrayal and public worship (sorry, that's the only word that
    > really fits) of celebrities.  Who honestly should care what they have
    > to say or think about on world affairs?  Do they have a -judgment- or
    > just an -opinion-?  I can respect how a professional athlete performs
    > in his/her sport, but I'm not about to ask them about foreign
    > policy -unless they have domain expertise-; the same goes with rock
    > stars, film stars, etc.  When we start confusing opinion with
    > judgment in the political arena, that's when my blood runs cold.
    > And herein comes the role of media/proxies as reputation brokers:
    > -- The anonymous source.  We don't know who they are, they 'leak' to
    > their journalist of choice for their own reasons, perhaps good or
    > not.  TAILWIND used a reported number of sources over two hundred,
    > with on-going claims from the now-fired producer of the story that
    > they have 'secret sources' who continue to push the story.  Since we
    > don't know who these sources are, or what materials they have or know,
    > we can't judge them--in other words, we only have an opinion at best,
    > we can't make a judgment.  We're forced to rely on the media to do
    > this for us; this is how they're reputation capital brokers--based on
    > what they know of their sources, past interaction, current activities
    > and relationships, -they- are supposed to exercise judgment.  In the
    > 'good old days' when I used to feel comfortable calling people
    > reporters, this also included what we open source professionals still
    > try to do--triangulation, or -have at least two/three (depends on the
    > media outlet) independent, objective sources with concrete facts to
    > back up the story-.  You'll note that the burden has shifted--the
    > media can no longer be trusted to perform this service, but -we- the
    > consumer need to.  This means the system is broken.  Don't look to
    > the Internet as the quick fix; after all, it's where Drudge came from.
    > -- The feedback element.  I know a few very professional working
    > reporters who have made two critical observations to me in the past.
    > One is that no matter how good their source, no matter how good the
    > proof, they always triangulate--and something more.  They do a contact
    > trace on sources related to the story; in other words, they're trying
    > to guarantee that their sources are truly independent.  This is, on
    > occasion, very difficult, particularly when dealing with this 'six
    > degrees of separation' and instant communication world.  But in their
    > professional experience, it was too easy to start a whispering
    > campaign--the words out of their source could be found going into the
    > ears and coming out of the mouths of seemingly independent sources,
    > thus the message wasn't independent.  Memes are frighteningly hard to
    > deal with--the message gets passed along for a lot of reasons, but
    > generally because it's too good to be true -and- people want it to be
    > true.  TAILWIND is an example, but I could just as easily point to the
    > many conspiracy theories, or the '200,000 attacks on DoD systems by
    > hackers,' or a lot of the other incredible, ludicrous 'factoids'
    > floating around.  And that leads to the second part of the feedback
    > problem--diffusion into the background.  The blurring of opinion and
    > judgment, combined with the polling process, has made the public
    > (read: masses, plebes) the driving force for politicians (those people
    > who make law).  Progressively less informed about the myriad elements
    > of the world (the world is impressively complex, and complexity
    > forces specialization specifically to cope), the mass collection of
    > opinion by media and political organizations and using it to tailor
    > the content of what gets presented, or to make policy and legal
    > decisions, is the logical conclusion of the feedback process, and
    > potentially the ultimate ruin of the democratic process.  What it
    > means is that someone takes a poll, finds out that a great number of
    > people are interested in something, which increases the coverage of
    > that something--which adds positive feedback (in the cybernetic
    > sense), causing more attention, and probably eventual political
    > action.  It cuts both ways:  good, such as increased funding for
    > various research; bad, such as increasing crime legislation and
    > criminalization, at a time when real crime is dropping, but media
    > attention to crime is increasing.  Extreme cases make bad law--and
    > with media coverage, extreme cases get -great- numbers of people
    > interested; sizzle sells, but it's screwing up the media -and- the
    > political process.
    > Answers.  Do I have any?  Sure, but you aren't going to like them.
    > Learn how to discriminate, but based on facts (which leads to
    > judgment), and not without them (which leads to opinions).  Don't
    > make significant moves based on opinions--particularly laws.  Learn
    > about reputation capital, and stop buying into the cult of celebrity.
    > Learn how to triangulate, which will teach you a lot about spin and
    > bias.  Most important of all, get a grip on responsibility; media
    > and political processes are turning into a 'tragedy of the commons'--
    > we aren't 'owners' of the processes, so we don't feel any great need
    > to do anything about them.  On the surface, this comes off as a
    > disenfranchisement--people claiming that they "don't have any say"
    > in the media or political process; by not asserting ownership, you
    > leave a vacancy that -someone- is certainly going to fill, and they're
    > going to be the one making decisions.  The best part of it, for
    > whomever that is, is they get authority without responsibility--both
    > the media and politics have evolved into realms of privilege where
    > being accountable for your mistakes is so rare as to be non-existent.
    > Incidents like TAILWIND and the CNN/TIME story and retraction, are a
    > small example of this ownership.  Enough people suddenly developed a
    > spine where the media content was concerned that those involved in
    > the operation even got an -apology- from CNN's CEO/President.  That's
    > great, but it isn't good enough--out of us.  We need to have that
    > level of ownership and feeling of responsibility consistently, because
    > without it we're going to get the media and political processes we
    > deserve.
    > Copyright 1998 by Michael Wilson.  (All rights reserved.)
    > Managing Partner, 7Pillars Partners
    > partnersat_private

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