Saturday, November 26, 2005
Journalists as stenographers: I've said before that journalists shouldn't simply sit there and write uncritically about whatever a powerful official or special interest group wants. Well, I'm afriad that today's Union-Tribune has an example of journalists doing just that.
I'd like to preface the rest of this post by pointing out that I do work at the Union-Tribune and absolutely nothing that I say reflects any official position of the paper. I personally believe that the only reason that this blog hasn't been shut down by higher-ups at the paper is that, while I am in the newsroom, I am about as far away from dealing with content as you can be and still be in the newsroom.
With that out of the way, I direct your attention to this story which has so much speculation and caveats in it as to be little more than a case study in how to manipulate the media.
Alleged plan to raid camps of migrants condemned
Activists cite e-mail sent by 'border-watching group'
The first word in the headline is "alleged" -- that's a good start because there's a whole lot of alleging going on.
RANCHO PENASQUITOS – A small group of immigrants rights activists gathered at a nature preserve yesterday to denounce the efforts of a border watch group they claimed was planning to raid nearby migrant camps.
Five volunteers from Gente Unida held a morning news conference at Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve to announce they had seen an e-mail from a border watch group, titled "Operation Canyon Sweep."
This group has claimed to have "seen" an e-mail. According to the story, they never actually produce this e-mail (which is easy enough to fake anyway), and they refuse to name the border watch group that distributed it.
The two prominent border watch groups contacted by the newspaper deny having sent the e-mail. The police can't tell you which border watch group sent the purported e-mail either.
San Diego police Sgt. Natalie Stone said the department received information earlier in the week that a border-watch group might show up at the preserve.
"My belief is really that there probably won't be any minutemen showing up," said Stone, who is currently serving as acting lieutenant for the Rancho Peñasquitos area.
She said that so far, no border-watch groups have claimed responsibility for the e-mail.
Which suggests that the "information" the police received was provided by this Gente Unida group, and the cops didn't get the actual e-mail either. Of course, the police have to CYA in case something actually does happen, so there are 20 cops on hand just in case. And nothing does happen. No minutemen or other border watch groups actually showed up.
So, you want to manipulate the media? You do it just how Gente Unida did it.
- Get a group of friends together (you don't need more than five) and give your group a catchy name.
- Claim to have seen an e-mail that you're outraged about. You don't have to produce the actual e-mail, just claim to have seen it.
- Call the police and warn them about the e-mail and suggest that there could be a confrontation.
- Send out faxes to the press and hold a news conference at the site where your manufactured event is set to occur.
- Sit back and watch as the news media become your stenographers.
Journalism's wounds are self-inflicted.