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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Managing the news, and making journalists like it.

At the First Amendment Center, Paul McMasters explains how the US government has become a master of news management over ther past few decades. By controlling journalists' access to public officials, and everyone's access to information, the government is increasingly able to ensure that the media conveys mainly the messages that suit the government's purposes. The really pernicious part of this is that, by and large, journalists have cooperated with this — and often enthusiastically participated in 'massaging' the news.

Like many other media critics, McMasters warns how this news management is dangerous not only to the credibility of the press, but to democratic institutions in the US. His article is loaded with examples from the war in Iraq and the 'war on terrorism.'

The press experience in Iraq should come as no surprise. The military was merely borrowing from White House and federal agency information policies that have marked press-government relations for some time. These techniques belong to no particular administration, party or persuasion. They have evolved over the years as the most effective way for government to turn the press to its needs.

Public officials regularly require reporters in the Washington press corps to run a gauntlet of public affairs and other screening mechanisms for even the most routine of interviews. Some will speak only as anonymous sources. Others invoke arcane and slippery definitions of “off the record” and “deep background.” Government wordsmiths vet and revise officials’ quotes before they are released.

White House, department and agency spokespersons are well schooled in the art of staying on message, making no news other than that intended, and reminding reporters who’s in charge. On occasion, they call up network and newspaper executives to warn or scold them about coverage, or publicly harangue reporters who get out of line. Reporters who ask impertinent questions face banishment to the back of the room.

Prime-time presidential press conferences are not viewed as a responsibility to report regularly to the American people, but rather as a tool for advancing an agenda. They have been rare events in the Bush administration. The one just before the war was openly “scripted.” Other presidential “press opportunities” are carefully timed and controlled.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:02 AM | Get permalink




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