Homeland Security now authorizes agency to monitor journalists

According to RT (previously Russia Today), under the Homeland Security rules, the National Operations Center Media Monitoring Initiative allows NOC to capture and store information on journalists using traditional and social media sources. The directive allow collecting information that:

“permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”

The new rules are a deviation from previous policy that required written authorization. RT notes that the new policy coincides with efforts by journalists who have reported on Wikileaks to prevent their Twitter accounts from being provided to federal prosecutors. RT also notes that the Boston Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney are trying to gain access to information from Twitter on people who had made certain posts about Occupy events.

The Nation offers advice for reporters covering protests

Thanks to The Nation for this interview with First Amendment attorney Jonathan Peters. A total of 38 reporters have been arrested at Occupy protests across the country. While most have had their charges dropped, these actions have raised legitimate concerns about whether reporters are being granted their First Amendment rights.

As Peters notes, most of the arrests were for trespass or disorderly conduct. He goes on to say that the First Amendment doesn’t provide cover for breaking the law, and even with press credentials, reporters are required to comply with legitimate orders from the police.

The question for me – not just for reporters but for citizens – is what constitutes a “legitimate” order. Some of the video from Occupy marches in New York City show troubling situations where police officers were either issuing contradictory orders, or they were intentionally encouraging people to do things such as move onto a roadway, for which they were immediately arrested.

An issue not addressed in the interview is how courts view the rights accorded to journalists and to bloggers and citizen journalists which was raised by this blog earlier. As The Nation article confirms, there is a difference between having rights in theory and in practice. Even more ambiguous is whether reporters can expect to prevail in court if they try to sue for damages.

End of meme

Consumerism cool co-opts everything in the long run

I knew the Sixties were over the day in 1970 when I walked into a K-Mart and saw a rack of fringed suede vests with beads. Say no more, say no more.

Traditional media FAIL in covering Occupy

Yesterday’s post criticized the mainstream media for its predictably narrow reporting on the police brutality clearly visible in the video of the peaceful protesters being attacked at the University of California at Davis. A quick tour of some alternative media sites shows that these “new new new” journalists do a far better job of covering these complex and important stories.

In less than 24 hours, more than 75,000 people have already seen the video of UC-Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi posted on lhfang86’s YouTube channel. The video shows Katehi walking through a crowd of students sitting in protest in stony silence. By refusing to chant or shout, the students created a stunning tableau beyond what words could convey.


Mainstream media often find themselves hamstrung by their rules in knowing what to do with such news. Many news organizations resist showing “amateur” video from YouTube, while alternative media embrace such first-person accounts.

The AP news story on the incident only included quotes from “officials” – couldn’t they find a protester to talk to or didn’t AP consider them worth quoting?

Meanwhile BoingBoing partner Xeni Jardin posted a great article that included an interview with a student who was pepper sprayed. A student identified only as W recounted what he and his fellow protesters suffered.

BoingBoing also reported that the large canister of pepper spray used by the campus police was military grade, which is not to be used on people within 15 feet, a prohibition the officers at UC-Davis clearly violated. Wikipedia, much maligned by the mainstream media, reports pepper spray’s dubious history, including the two-month prison stint served by the FBI agent who falsified the testing that authorized the use of this dangerous chemical by domestic police agencies. Of particular concern are reports that pepper spray could be lethal to people with various medical conditions such as asthma.

The Anonymous-themed 99% Legion Is Awakening site on Tumblr gives visitors contact information on one of the officers seen spraying students in the video, as well as for the UC-Davis chancellor and police chief among other officials. While the site urges people to “[p]lease be respectful in your condemnation of this act of brutality,” I think it’s a safe bet that Lt. John Pike, Chancellor Katehi and Police Chief Spicuzza found themselves fielding a few blistering phone messages.

Mainstream media set up to FAIL

Traditional news reporting techniques are proving inadequate to the task of covering a quicksilver movement that is evolving so quickly. The mind-numbing formula of sprinkling ‘he said/she said’ quotes from people with “standing” (experts, officials, academics, community leaders) leaves readers confused about what to believe and unsatisfied that news account fail to tell them what is really happening.

The leaderless Occupy movement poses a particular problem to traditional reporters because there is no “official” or “expert” authorized to speak for the group. Other than an occasional “man on the street” interview, the mainstream media devalue accounts from citizen participants, victims and witnesses, because of the rationale is that such people often have an axe to grind.

What the MSM fails to acknowledge is that their “experts” often spin events based on the desire to please their bosses or colleagues, or to sell a book, win an election or get a grant. A reporter friend who worked with torture victims in Europe was frustrated that editors were often reluctant to publish their accounts, while the torturers or the officials who protected them were quoted freely because of their credentials.

People crave analysis and context

Mainstream news organizations are struggling with the realization that breaking news is the low-hanging news fruit where fierce competition makes it hard to generate much revenue. Everyone has the same story, so it is hard to drive traffic to your site so that you can profit from page-views and click-through. By rejecting analysis as bias, the traditional press puts itself at an intellectual and economic disadvantage.

In a digital world, people absorb that news almost by osmosis. After a big new story breaks, I often ask my students where they learned the news, and most credit social media.

A trusted friend posts a headline link in a tweet or on Facebook, and my students pick up the news on their cellphone or laptop. Most don’t bother to click on the link back to the story because the headline tells them enough or because their experience tells them they will rest of the story will be mostly empty calories. For real nourishment, they go to non-traditional sites they trust, or they go straight to the source at the acknowledged Occupy Wall Street site or Occupy Headlines.

This is a generation that turns to Jon Stewart and The Daily Show and not Brian Williams and the NBC Nightly News to learn more. For young digital natives to follow a link back to your story, you must offer them better analysis, new insights, a thoughtful point of view, satirical humor, multimedia or interactivity that allows them to feel they are making a difference.

The mainstream press also exhibits a bias against open expressions of emotion, as if feelings taint rationality. Yet don’t we all struggle to figure out how to fell about the news we hear?

Part of this bias may stem from the fact that males still dominate the decision-making at most traditional news organizations, and competitive, highly educated men are often more uncomfortable with feelings than their female counterparts. In his book The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation, Professor Drew Westen notes that it is a mistake to think that rationality is a superior form of decision-making. He argues that males in particular succumb to savagery in places like Darfur or Abu Ghraib if they are freed from a conscience that requires feeling emotions such as horror, compassion or remorse to make the right decision.

The mainstream media instead tries to lure young people on the basis of their hard-won reputation for objectivity, credibility and trust. To which, I can only reply – really?

The New York Times epic fails of Jayson Blair’s plagiarism and Judith Miller’s weapons of mass destruction/mushroom cloud debacle undermine the argument that the mainstream gatekeepers deserve our uncritical trust. If even the “best” news organization in the country gets it so terribly wrong, why not give BoingBoing a try?

It wasn’t a blogger who helped propel us into the Iraq War that has cost us 4,480 US troops killed and more than 32,000 wounded, as well as $800 billion of our tax dollars. (Yes, there is obvious irony in linking to statistics on the Christian Monitor site, but perhaps that simply underscores why news consumers need a spectrum of news sources to choose from.)

The problem with objectivity is that it all too often turns reporters and editors into mere stenographers. When the top-ranking GOP presidential candidate, currently Newt Gingrich, says that Occupy young people who go get a job – after they take a bath – the news organization that repeats such garbage as if it offers balance loses rather than gains credibility.

In the latest issue of Adbusters magazine, the Culture Jammers who launched the Occupy meme, an article on “postcool” says that young people have moved beyond the pose of irony and individualism to an intense commitment to building grassroots solutions. Finding ways to report on these new initiatives will pose problems for traditional reporters without ties to those new communities and whose editors would view serving their needs as taking sides.

My apologies in advance for showing my Sixties roots, but the Occupy movement is forcing the media to decide whether it will be part of the solution or remain part of the problem.

Making online headlines – the good, the bad and the truly ugly


The Good – This image demonstrates how easily the Occupy meme can be “attached” to almost anything. Artist Mark Read and his friends used a projection unit to paint messages such as “Occupy Earth” and “Mic Check” on the NYC building colloquially known as the Verizon Building, visible to everyone on the Brooklyn Bridge. A creative and eloquent way to say that you cannot evict an idea, Occupy is literally and figuratively in the air all around us.


The BadMotherBoard reports that the police confiscated computer gear at Zuccotti Park, including the free wifi setup owned by Isaac Wilder of the Free Network Foundation. The police apparently dumped all the gear at a site on East 57th Street, open to the air, the elements and cats with full bladders passing and pissing by. Wilder, a 21-year-old from Kansas, was part of OWS’ Signal Corps. Groups such as his demonstrate how much the OWS accomplished during its two-month tenure in the park to demonstrate how people can organize for the common good when the focus is on community not corporate profits.


The Truly Ugly – In the first 30 seconds of the video, a police officer at the University of California at Davis unleashes a huge swath of pepper spray in the faces of peaceful protesters, as the crowd begins chanting “shame on you.”

The mainstream media seems to be losing interest in the Occupy movement despite the escalating police violence. Thinking back to the media coverage lavished on the corporate-sponsored Tea Party, it seems surprising that anyone would argue liberal media bias anymore. Yet for the digital generation, validation by the mainstream press may be less valuable to the cause than these images that rip through the social media universe at warp speed. A graduate student at Davis may have said it best, “We are the drum—the harder you beat us, the louder we’ll get.”

Radicalizing reporters one by one

OWS protesters before the police struck

The conservative website Daily Caller reports that two of its journalists were attacked by police during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City on the movement’s second anniversary.

DC reporter Michelle Fields and videographer Direna Cousins are quoted as saying that the protesters were being beaten with batons by police, as were the two reporters and journalists from other news organizations. Both Fields and Cousins said they were struck, but neither required medical treatment. Fields also noted that protesters quickly came to their aid:

The protesters came up to me right away and asked if I needed any medical assistance. They were actually very kind and helpful. It was the police officers who were very aggressive.

If a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. And a liberal is a conservative who has spent time in prison. Then what, pray tell, are two conservative journalists who have been beaten by police while doing nothing wrong? Still Tea Party followers?

Kudos to Casey Neistat, citizen journalist extraordinaire

The raid on zuccotti park from Casey Neistat on Vimeo.

On his Vimeo page, Casey posts:

My office isn’t far from Zuccotti Park and when I heard it was being cleared I went down with my camera. I ended up filming for 18 hours until the Park was reopened at 6pm on November 15, 2011. The police presence was overwhelming, more than I’ve ever seen – more than during the blackout, more than the days after September 11th.