May 2, 2008

The Media We Deserve?

Many thanks to Patrick Logan for bringing this New York Times article to my attention. It highlights the fact that the "military analysts" used (and paid!) by the major networks often appear to have business dealings and Pentagon relationships that cause blatant conflicts of interest with their independence as analysts.

My favorite quote shows that the networks feel they have something to hide, and in particular just exactly how "fair and balanced" Fox News wants to be:

CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.

NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”

Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.

CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.

Nothing like shutting up when you have something to hide. You can almost hear the ranks closing.

3 comments:

john said...

Ok, lets change the scenario. You code python for food I presume.

I come to you as a journalist and ask your opinion as to whether Python or Ruby-Rails is the better open source framework. I then post a excerpt of the whole interview. Now which is the better source? You or some schmuck off the street whose knowledge of Python is limited to a snake?

Under the purported criteria being espoused in the articles you as a source would be 'tainted' due to your industry contacts in using Python for profit. Yet you are exactly the type of source that SHOULD be consulted due to your intimate knowledge of the subject.

Finally if you draw this line of reasoning to its ultimate conclusion then anyone who is an 'expert' in any topic would never be used as a reference by journalists. Most experts are experts because they are paid for their services. By inference the end game is journalism articles devoid of meaning. Which in many cases exactly where we are at.

No one lives in a society purse as the driven snow. The question to be asked is -- does the 'expert' deliver the intended data based on a reasonable knowledge of the subject without bias were it reviewed by a jury of their peers?

Steve said...

@john: There's both a quantitative and a qualitative difference between your hypothetical and the story I reported. In the situation being reported the people concerned stand to make large financial gains if the war continues. Frankly I think you would be foolish to rely on my "unbiased" judgment if Holden Web stood to gain a contract for $3bn if the choice went to Python, and you would be doing your readers a disservice if you didn't disclose that fact.

Here's another quote from the article: "In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access."

That's why reporters aren't allowed to accept the kind of "assistance" that these "defense advisors" have been taking from the Ministry of War - sorry, Department of Defense. Full disclosure would at least let viewers make their own mind up about the biases of the commentators. Right now they don't have the necessary information, and the networks aren't interested in giving them it.

john said...

If your angst is a matter of scale, Ok. But there is nobody that does not whore a little in their daily economic pursuits. But the expectation that the pundit is 'pure of heart' is niave, at least from the perspective of what was reported. [I won't subscribe it to you as we haven't tipped a few.]

Mark me cynical as I never expect anything other than most parties are working to their own economic interests. Hell of a lot fewer surprises that way.

As a close. I would rather have your opinion on Python vs Rails than a man on the street opinion. I can filter out what is appropriate and what is not. But you have an informed opinion on the subject.