Tag: media (page 1 of 2)

ForeignPolicy.Com Fail

As I noted last week, for the final project in my linked seminar this year, my students have to design and launch a website to promote their fictitious human rights NGO. In prepping for the course and in developing the grading rubrics, I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading the literature on what makes for a strong and effective website and how to integrate design, functionality, and content. My students’ websites are evaluated on all of these aspects. The content and text should match the sophistication of the targeted audience — generally it should be smart and focused. The aesthetic should include visual appeal, professional appearance, color harmonies with elegant and clear and easy to use design functions to visually guide readers through the content.

All of this makes me wonder what the hell are the folks at Foreign Policy.com thinking? Continue reading

FYI: Washington Post and No Paywall for .mil/.gov/.edu

You might not have been aware of this when the Washington Post paywall went up back in June, but there is no paywall if you have a .edu/.mil/.gov email address. Go here to obtain your free access. From the website:

By registering with a valid .gov/.mil/.edu email address, you will get free, unlimited digital access to washingtonpost.com whether you are at work, at home or on your mobile device. Continue reading

Friday Nerd Blogging Way Early

Despite the geekiness of my previous post today, I had to double dip with this:

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North Korea is an ‘Upper Volta with Missiles’ who Cried Wolf Too Often

The North Korea flap seems to be calming down, so here I reprint my original essay from the Diplomat a few weeks ago on the crisis, plus a follow-up ‘response to my critics’ essay from the China Policy Institute Blog of the University of Nottingham and e-IR. Together, I think they make a nice whole, although it’s a little long for a blog-post. I would like to thank Harry Kazianas of the Diplomat, John Sullivan of Nottingham, and Max Nurnus of e-IR for soliciting me.

“North Korea is the ‘Boy who Cried Wolf’: There will be No War” (first essay, from April 10)

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The Awful State of US Punditry on the North Korea Crisis: Bill Richardson called Kim Il Sung ‘Kim Yun Sum,’ or something like that, on CNN Yesterday

North Korea 2012 279I know what you’re thinking, I’m being a show-off area specialist, Asian language names can be hard for anglophones (and vice versa), and who cares about KIS anyway, because this crisis is about Kim Jong Un? All of that is true of course, especially the first one, but come on…

Richardson isn’t just any old hack like me on North Korea. (Here’s my take on the crisis.) He has been a regular point man for the  US on NK for more than a decade and markets himself as such on the talk-shows. And if you study NK in even the most basic way (here’s a good place to start), you know who KIS is. He’s everywhere. He founded the state in 1948 and ruled it until 1994 as his own personal fiefdom. The whole country is built around his personality cult. The regime even started calling its ideology ‘Kimilsungism,’ giving up the fictions of Marxism, communism, etc. KJU has called NK ‘KIS country’ and explicitly models himself after KIS in his clothing, hairstyle, and girth. Statues of KIS are everywhere, and Richardson has been there apparently eight times. I went there just once, and I’ve got my propaganda down pat about the Great Korean Leader, Comrade KIS’ heroic construction of socialism in our style under the revolutionary guidance of the Korean People’s Army defending the peasant and workers against the bourgeois imperialist Yankee Colony..… (I could keep going like that for a few more sentences if you like).

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Guest Post – David Kang: The Media Coverage of the Korean Crisis is Inflammatory

359344-funny-images-on-leader-kim-jong-unMy own thinking on the current Korea flap is on The Diplomat. I argue it’s a faux crisis, which promptly got me accused of being an air-head academic in the comment section. Lovely. I was also pleased to respond to Kim Jong Un’s threat that I should leave the country. And I managed not to explode laughing when a reporter asked me point blank on live TV if Kim Jong Un was ‘just bonkers.’ Was itching to say yes to that one actually. Good times… Never waste a missile crisis, right?

Anyway, here’s David Kang suggesting the cable and satellite news services are overhyping this thing, a point I argue in the Diplomat as well. Regular readers will know that Dave is my good friend and a far better Korea/Asia hand than I’ll ever be. A professor of international relations and business at the University of Southern California and director of its Korean Studies Institute, I’d certainly recommend his work. Here and here are his previous guest posts.        REK

The Non-Crisis on the Korean Peninsula

In a poll released by Dong-A Daily last week, 4.5 percent of South Koreans think North Korea means to start a war. In contrast, a CNN poll reveals that 51 percent of Americans think the latest round of name-calling will only end in war, and 41 percent think North Korea is an “immediate threat” to the U.S. So – either South Koreans are incredibly naïve, or Americans over-reacting. Hmmm…I wonder which it is.

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5 Fox News Myths about the Fiscal Cliff – and no more ‘Cliff’ Metaphors either… please! stop!

11-30-12-stewart-sg-cropped-proto-custom_2

Does anyone else find Fox News strangely appealing to watch? For some reason I watch it all the time. As ideology that is inadvertently entertaining, interwoven with a veneer of ‘news,’ it’s a freaky, terrifying wonder to behold. It is vastly more interesting – maybe because it’s akin to experiencing an alternate reality –  than it’s-so-bland-what’s-the-point-anymore CNN. Watching Fox is like watching yourself become dumber, all while being shamelessly entertained by gorgeous teleprompter-readers and militant American nationalism. It’s like the news + ‘Call of Duty’ + ‘Baywatch.’

As a news station it is, of course, preposterous. Its presentations are astonishingly partisan. Even after 15 years, I am amazed at what Hannity, O’Reilly, etc. can get away with (try here or here in just the last few weeks). It does very little investigative/reportorial work itself. It generally repackages what other outlets have produced, or presents lengthy ‘Crossfire’-style opinionating, which is not really journalism. And it’s Michael Bay-style presentations, particularly its graphics and swooping necklines, make the news look like an action movie, not like, you know, the news.

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Friday Nerd(ish) Blegging: Is Soledad Obrien Taking Cues From HBO?

The Internets have exploded around Soledad O’Brien’s witty yet friendly push-back against numerous interviewees who refuse to be fazed by facts.

I don’t know about your interpretation of this. But watching her politely yet firmly refuse to look her viewers in the eye and lie about the facts reminds me of nothing less than the fictional newsroom of Aaron Sworkin’s new HBO series “Newsroom.”

Indeed, one might interpret this scene from early in the first season of Newsroom as a political manifesto rather than a form of entertainment:

Now, as an out-and-proud nerd, I’m much likelier to want to write about / reflect about the political significance of Battlestar Galactica or Game of Thrones than Newsroom. But since those are just examples of the broader question on my research back-burner about to what extent popular culture shapes politics (and how we might know), let me throw out a bleg on this particular issue to my more methodologically-inclined readers: how would one design a research project aimed at isolating the causal effect, if any, of HBO’s Newsroom series on trends in real-world journalism?

Plagiarism 2.0

The internet has exploded this afternoon with the revelation that Fareed Zakaria (a Harvard Government PhD 1993) apparently plagiarized significant elements of his Time magazine op-ed this week. As many in the media have noted, including Politico, several paragraphs in his piece about gun control are “remarkably similar” to paragraphs originally published by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on April 22, 2012. Zakaria almost immediately owned up to the deed:

“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right,” Zakaria said in a statement to The Atlantic Wire. “I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”

As a result, Zakaria has been suspended by Time for one month, pending further review. CNN has also suspended Zakaria from his Sunday television program.

On Twitter, a number of people have speculated that a careless intern, research assistant, or even a ghostwriter might be the guilty party at the root of the plagiarism. For example, journalist Chantal McLaughlin just tweeted:

The buck stops with Fareed Zakaria yet I can’t help but think that an #intern may be involved #DontOutsource

Earlier, neocon writer John Podhoretz tweeted,

“The irony: Fareed could never admit that he had an intern write the column….worse than plagiarism perhaps…”

The potential carelessness of a third party does not make Zakaria less responsible for the words published in his name, but it certainly adds an interesting twist to the incident. Indeed, the entire affair has reminded me about an odd exchange during an interview I watched on “The Daily Show” back on July 23. Host Jon Stewart asked Zakaria if he wrote the latest edition of his own book. Check out this video at about the 1 minute mark:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Fareed Zakaria
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

The Olympics Make You Care Less About Milwaukee

When Usain competes, U.S. aid plummets.

 At Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Beast, Patrick Appel offers a few hypotheses about why Americans seem to care less about the killing of Sikhs than the killing of moviegoers, including the observation that the timing of the Milwaukee shootings so soon after the Batman massacre have left many pundits unwilling to talk further about gun control for fear of sounding redundant. Appel also hypothesizes that low levels of media coverage may be due to the Aurora killings haven taken place on a slow news day while the Milwaukee killings happened during the Olympics. Robert Wright in The Atlantic proposes a potentially complementary hypothesis: that the mass American public has cared less about Milwaukee than Aurora because of a sense that the Sikhs are outsiders while the theatergoers were representative.

Research by Thomas Eisensee and David Stromberg (ungated) suggests that at least two of these guesses may be right. Eisensee and Stromberg studied the effect of news coverage of more than 5,000 natural disasters on policymakers’ responses to see whether policy responses were driven by media coverage or policy rationales. Their study hinges on a fundamental truth about the media business: during large-scale events such as the Olympics, television networks, which have a fixed time budget (even a 24-hour-network can’t broadcast more than 24 hours a day), have less time to devote to unplanned events like disasters because of the time they spend on the scheduled spectacle. As Eisensee and Stromberg write,

If two equally newsworthy disasters occur, we would expect the disaster occurring when there is a great deal of other breaking news around would have a lower chance of being covered by the news than the disaster occur- ring when there is little other news around. This crowding out is probably particularly strong for television news broadcasts that are usually of a fixed length (half an hour for ABC, CBS and NBC, and one hour for CNN).

If policymakers’ responses are driven by some inherent logic of disasters and policy rationales, then the magnitude of their reactions should be unrelated to the availability of news coverage; if policymakers instead only act when the public is watching, then their responses to similar disasters should

Their results are startling–and dismaying. U.S. policymakers react to publicity, not severity.

First, media coverage is driven not by the severity of a disaster but by factors such as how people are killed and which people are killed:

News biases relief in favor of certain disaster types and regions: for every person killed in a volcano disaster, 40,000 people must die in a drought to reach the same probability of media coverage. Similarly, it requires 40 times as many killed in an African disaster to achieve the same expected media coverage as for a disaster in Eastern Europe of similar type and magnitude.

Second, the effects of media coverage are noticeable and substantively important:

We find that natural disasters are more likely to receive relief if they occur when the pressure for news time in the U.S. network news broadcasts is low. Quantitatively, disasters are, on average, around eight percent more likely to receive relief if they occur when news pressure takes on its highest values than when taking its lowest, and five percent less likely to receive relief during the Olympics than at other times. Using another metric, to have the same chance of receiving relief, the disaster occurring during the highest news pressure must have six times as many casualties as the disaster occurring when news pressure is at its lowest, all else equal.

It also turns out that the Olympics are the most important stories generating “news pressure”–the crowding out of foreign and disaster news–on the U.S. media, much more than the World Series, the Oscars, and the Super Bowl. Other sources of news, pressure, such as the O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict, perform similarly.

Eisensee and Stromberg conclude by asserting that although their story focused on domestic media coverage’s effects on U.S. policymakers’ efforts abroad, “it seems likely that the underlying mechanisms would be equally active for domestic policy.”

A Failure to Communicate?

Political science, alas, has been facing much hostility as of late.  Selected out by a Republican for de-funding, attacked by one of our own in a highly publicized and reputed piece, it is time that we wielded our tools to figure out what is going on.  Thankfully, Huber, Dowling and Hill have done some social science: surveys with some random selection to assess how people feel about Political Science compared to Psychology and Computer Science.  They find that people in general support NSF funding for political science less than for the other two with independents and Republicans far more negative to political science (although Republicans are not that fond of NSF funding of any of these dark arts) and psychology is only slightly preferred.

The scholars asked a batch of questions with these findings about what kinds of stuff people will support, broken down by party id:

Support for Different Purposes of NSF Funding
Overall      Democrats     Independents     Republicans    
To develop new technologies, products, and therapies 0.70 0.82 0.74 0.60
To improve basic understanding in the natural sciences 0.68 0.77 0.73 0.56
To train students  0.67 0.76 0.71 0.55
To improve basic understanding of human behavior 0.64 0.77 0.66 0.52
To support faculty and student research 0.63 0.73 0.67 0.52
Note: Cell entries are mean scale scores (weighted), where 1=Strongly support, .75=Somewhat support, .5=Neither support nor oppose, .25=Somewhat oppoes, 0=Strongly oppose

What we see here is an 7-8% preference for new technologies over faculty/student research or improve understanding of human behavior.  The authors conclude:

In the abstract, however, Independents are more supportive of understanding human behavior than they are of Political Science funding in particular, suggesting political scientists would do well to highlight their contributions in that area. Likewise, training students and supporting faculty and student research are reasonably popular among Independents. Perhaps the more general point is that it is hard to know what the mass public thinks Political Science funding supports, nor what elements of that work it finds objectionable. These results suggest, however, that the public, even Republicans, are more supportive of NSF funding of academic research than opposed, especially when evaluating the abstract goals that the NSF pursues. More effort highlighting these contributions, perhaps related to new technologies and the training of students, might be a fruitful way to foster support for continuing NSF funding for academic research in the social and behavioral sciences.

Interesting stuff.  I do think that political science is very much misunderstood, which may have something to do with this.  That is, we study politics, and politics is seen as dirty and unpopular.  In my experience, when I tell someone I study politics, their responses are usually focused on my ambition to be a politician or my interest in being a lawyer.  Given how much disrepute those two professions are in, it should not be surprising that we are not held in the highest esteem.

To be clear, I think our discipline has been targeted by Republicans of late because of two basic realities–we are low-hanging fruit, and we end up presenting inconvenient truths.  First, because of the existing PR problem that people don’t know what we do, we are easy to attack.  A politician hostile to any government funding of research finds it easiest to attack political scientists because we do not provide patents and other obvious markers of benefits to humankind.  I would not be surprised if Flake and others did some polling before they proposed attacking NSF funding of political science–that it plays better than cutting cancer research, for instance.  Second, we ask some damned inconvenient questions like: do politicians actually represent their constituents? what is the impact of foreign aid on repression? Why do people have political opinions that are counter to their interests?

Aside from making fun of lawyers, what can we do?  In the short run, not a whole hell of a lot.  Everything we have borrowed/stolen from the cognitive and social psychologists tells us that it is awfully hard to persuade people to change their minds.  In the long run?  Well, we are all dead, or so the economists tell us.  In the medium run, we can perhaps do a better job of connecting our research to the problems in the world.  The whole academia/policy gap that we make much noise about–the more we bridge that gap and bridge it visibly, perhaps our added value can be more apparent.

The good news is that we seem to be doing far more outreach now than in the past.  More and more political scientists are blogging, tweeting, and podcasting.  This is all to the good, as the more and more people see what we think, get snippets of research in more digestible forms, and hear our arguments, they can see that we are not aspiring politicians or lawyers but scholars seeking to understand the political world.  That politics is the making of decisions big and small that affect how communities are run (why Montreal’s roads are akin to World War I battlefields), that determine that the response to the current economic crisis should be austerity, that shape interventions into Syria and other conflicts or not.

My realization tonight is that my blogging and my media appearances are not just for my own narcissism but are for the good of the profession (as long as I am not too mistaken).  The more the public sees political scientists providing some insight, some perspective, the more we can change the perception of what we are and why our work is worthy of some public support if governments are going to be in the business of supporting research.

Of course, we disagree with each other as much or more than economists disagree with each other.  That noise sometimes makes it hard to appreciate what we bring to the table.  All we can do is convey our perspectives and hope that people see some value in our views.  They don’t have to agree.  They certainly will not much of the time.  But the more we step out of the ivory towers, the more we can influence how we are perceived.  Or at least, that is my wishful thinking for this night.

What else can we do to change how political science is viewed?

Multicultural Panic Comes to Korea

This recently ran on Korea’s largest broadcaster in primetime news slots until the outburst controversy grew so loud, it got pulled. Don’t miss the guy in the white shirt and tie behind a desk to lend academic credibility to it all. For some analysis, try here.

Here’s a response video that is very funny.

Invisible Children – Pretty Dang Visible

KONY, WE GON’ FIND YOU – as soon as I buy my bracelet!

Anyone who has been on Facebook and Twitter over the past 24 hours has probably seen impassioned pleas to watch a high-production video by Invisible Children, an American NGO (whose Board of Directors just happens to be entirely white American males). And anyone who is following many of the IR tweeters out there, you have also probably began to see the backlash.

For those of you who do not know what is going on, the video produced by Invisible Children discusses the conflict in Uganda with the Lord’s Resistance Army and in particular the crimes of the movement’s leader Joseph Kony – calling upon the world (particularly the United States) to act by signing a petition and, apparently, buying bracelets.

There is no doubt that Kony is – to put it mildly – a gigantic AAA asshole of the highest order, responsible for crimes that would make anyone’s stomach sick. And it is great that this video is spreading awareness of these crimes.

However, the solutions that Invisible Children (and other organisations, such as Human Rights Watch – now getting in on the #KONY2012 action) advocates are problematic. Others (see this article in Foreign Affairs) have pointed out that military humanitarian intervention in Uganda has been tried and tried again – always ultimately failing and managing to make matters a lot worse for civilians on the ground. Worse, in advocating for these policies, organisations such as Invisible Children, are giving a misleading and simplistic impression of what is actually happening on the ground:

In their campaigns, such organizations have manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil. They rarely refer to the Ugandan atrocities or those of Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, such as attacks against civilians or looting of civilian homes and businesses, or the complicated regional politics fueling the conflict.

 Mark Kersten at Justice in Conflict writes along similar lines:

It is hard to respect any documentary on northern Uganda where a five year-old white boy features more prominently than any northern Ugandan victim or survivor. Incredibly, with the exception of the adolescent northern Ugandan victim, Jacob, the voices of northern Ugandans go almost completely unheard.
It isn’t hard to imagine why the views of northern Ugandans wouldn’t be considered: they don’t fit with the narrative produced and reproduced in the insulated echo chamber that produced the ‘Kony 2012′ film.
‘Kony 2012′, quite dubiously, avoids stepping into the ‘peace-justice’ question in northern Uganda precisely because it is a world of contesting and plural views, eloquently expressed by the northern Ugandans themselves. Some reports suggest that the majority of Acholi people continue to support the amnesty process whereby LRA combatants – including senior officials – return to the country in exchange for amnesty and entering a process of ‘traditional justice’. Many continue to support the Ugandan Amnesty law because of the reality that it is their own children who constitute the LRA. Once again, this issue is barely touched upon in the film. Yet the LRA poses a stark dilemma to the people of northern Uganda: it is now composed primarily of child soldiers, most of whom were abducted and forced to join the rebel ranks and commit atrocities. Labeling them “victims” or “perpetrators” becomes particularly problematic as they are often both.
Furthermore, the crisis in northern Ugandan is not seen by its citizens as one that is the result of the LRA. Yes, you read that right. The conflict in the region is viewed as one wherein both the Government of Uganda and the LRA, as well as their regional supporters (primarily South Sudan and Khartoum, respectively) have perpetrated and benefited from nearly twenty-five years of systemic and structural violence and displacement. This pattern is what Chris Dolan has eloquently and persuasively termed ‘social torture‘ wherein both the Ugandan Government and the LRA’s treatment of the population has resulted in symptoms of collective torture and the blurring of the perpetrator-victim binary.

Beyond this, I find the entire nature of the campaign to be problematic. As this excellent post at King’s of War argues:

Will simplistic explanations of long-running wars, delivered in a Facebook-friendly manner become the future of foreign policy? If the opinion of Rihanna and George Clooney is going to dislodge ‘technocrats’ who do things like read the Military Balance, then what’s to stop intervention in Syria? Pretty much everyone with a passing interest in military affairs says “that is a very bad idea and lots of people will die” but I’m pretty sure that a bright person with access to youtube can come up with a better argument for a brighter world in which taking Assad down is an expression of democratic empowerment. The point about war and military affairs is that at some point, it requires restraint. That restraint is entirely arbitrary (and unfair) but it stops people getting killed. If Angelina Jolie in combination with Condoleeza Rice are to dictate American strategy, then restraints to force will disappear into a blur of “Let’s go get the bad guy” activism that is almost entirely ignorant of the second and third order effects of those decisions.

Last year I wrote a post that was critical of those who are concerned about the use of media which re-emphasizes the idea of “Africans as victims”. I argued that in times of famine, pictures of said famine are useful for generating much needed donations for use by reputable organisations who are combating famine in, say, the Horn of Africa. But this is something altogether different. Invisible Children has been accused of manipulating numbers in order to generate money for its cause. Worse, the vast majority of the money is not actually put towards victims of the conflict, but for advocating military intervention in Western countries. This is basically Save Darfur 2.0.

To put it simply, the situation on the ground in Uganda is complex. Military humanitarian intervention has serious consequences. Ham-fistedly intervening in a conflict of which few have a nuanced understanding of the conditions on the ground, where local actors are already engaged in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution, is not going to help and may in fact serve to make a difficult situation worse. Buying a bracelet from an American run NGO will not change this.

I am increasingly getting the feeling that if this is the future of international politics and humanitarian intervention, there are high-definition troubled waters ahead.

Other interesting  posts on Invisible Children from around the web:


How Matters


Unmuted 


Visible Children – a no doubt hastily constructed Tumblr, but one that effectively critiques the Invisible Children video.


Washington Post’s slightly less critical take of the issue that highlights the different sides of the debate.


Edit: The very darkly humoured Kony 2012 drinking game! (via Alana Tiemessen)

Editing an Incident

The chasm between Pakistani and Western reactions to last week’s NATO attack on Pakistani forces seems to be growing if official actions/statements, media reports, conversations with friends on all sides, and ad hominem twitter flame wars are any indication.

It goes without saying that Pakistanis are still in mourning for the death of their soldiers in what is a major national tragedy for a country that has had many national tragedies in recent years. But there is more going on than the understandable hurt and anger that follows a tragic friendly fire incident. This incident appears to be intensifying the sense of humiliation felt by a large number of Pakistanis and the sense of deep mistrust felt by many Westerners after the Abbotabad raid.

There are probably a dozen other reasons why the tension is increasing at this point in time, but one that strikes me is the role of the media in fanning the flames of distrust, particularly as I see the kinds of articles being posted on social media sites by Pakistanis and Westerners.

It is obvious that the national press helps to frame and shape public opinion in any country, what is more interesting is how. (I want to be careful here: I am not making any argument about why this is being done — frankly, I don’t know why; I am not arguing that there is a conscious decision by newspaper editors in Pakistan to fuel greater distrust. I am only stating that selective or careless editing and reporting seems to limit the scope for dialog and create even more misleading impressions, although there is no doubt that the relations between Pakistan and its Western allies have been deeply strained for sometime and not without cause, i.e. some of the strains are not due to misunderstanding but to understanding one another all too well.)

Exhibits A&B: The Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper ran an article on Friday titled “Nato Plans to Quell Pakistan Based Insurgents: Guardian” which was based on the Guardian article, “Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan Based Insurgents.”  Since it was obvious that the Dawn article lifted passages word for word from the Guardian article, I thought it would be interesting to compare what was changed from the original to the version aimed toward a predominately Pakistani audience.  Using the compare document versions / track changes function on MS Word, it is easy to see what the Pakistani edits look like (see below).  Text inserted by the Dawn is underlined, text deleted by the Dawn has a strike through. Here are some initial observations — the document with tracked changes follows afterward:

1. The first and most obvious change between the two version is the different pictures which accompany each article. The Guardian shows a crowd of Pakistanis burning an effigy of President Obama, while the Dawn went with a file photo of General John Allen.  Here the credit goes to the Dawn for not choosing an inflammatory image.

2. An entire paragraph explaining how Western officials had been encouraged by the results of drone strikes in North Waziristan was deleted.  The fact that these drone strikes occurred with the cooperation of the Pakistani military is obviously critical to providing a complex framing of the events.

3. The idea that Pakistan’s army might permit a “free fire zone” in the tribal areas has also been deleted, but perhaps because it is speculative and somewhat absurd to begin with.

4. The possible explanation that NATO might have accidentally thought the fire from the Pakistani side was coming from insurgents is deleted.  This is a serious omission by the Dawn.

5. Evidence that Pakistani officials had cooperated to defuse a similar incident only a few days after the deadly attack is deleted.  Later, the Dawn also deletes the part of the Guardian story which mentions that General Allen had met with General Kayani only the day before last week’s attack to try to coordinate cross-border efforts against the insurgents’ havens in Pakistan.

6. The statistical evidence cited by ISAF which might explain why there will a planned push in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan is deleted.

Obviously, this is only a comparison of two news items in what is by now a massive and growing number of articles on the incident. So there is no way to say anything even remotely definitive. However, this little exercise makes me wonder whether these kinds of omissions in the way the incident is explained are replicated in other Pakistani accounts.  And I also had to wonder what aspects of Pakistan’s side of the story are being omitted in Western narratives…


LONDON:
Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan-based insurgents

Exclusive:
 Isaf aims to reduce threat to Kabul by insurgent groups and has not ruled out cross-border raids into Pakistan commanders are planning a substantial offensive in easternAfghanistan aimed at insurgent groups based inPakistan, involving an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and have not ruled out cross-border raids with ground troops, The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.
The aim of
the
offensive over the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders like the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir &and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Nato hopes to reducethe level of attacks in the eastern provinces clustered around Kabul to the point where they could be contained by Afghan security forces after transition in 2014.The move is likely to add to already tense atmosphere following recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that resulted in death of 24 Pakistani soldiers.


The move is likely to add to the already tense atmosphere following the recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. On Thursday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani,ordered his troops to return fire if they came under attack again by its ally.
While drawing down forces in Helmand
&
and Kandahar, the US will step up its presence in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, bringing the long-festering issue of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistanthe Pakistanitribal areas to a head. MessageThe message being given to Pakistan military the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate insurgent the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves, reportthemselves.

Western officials had been encouraged by the fact that a blitz of drone strikes against commanders loyal to insurgent leaders Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, and against forces loyal to Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan, had produced few civilian casualties and no reaction from the Pakistanis. Consequently, an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a free-fire zone – have not been excluded.

“The Pakistanis may not have the strength to defeat the Taliban and the Haqqanis on their own, even if they wanted to,” a western diplomat
said.
It is unclear to what extent
the
killing of 24 Pakistan soldiers in Nato air strikes last Saturday will have on the Nato strategy. An investigation is underway into the incident. incident, which appears to have started with an exchange of fire between Pakistani and mixed Afghan-Nato forces, with the latter calling in air support. Nato sent in aircraft believing the fire from the Pakistani side was from insurgents.
As a consequence, Pakistan
has
closed supply routes used by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)(Isaf)and barred the US from using a Pakistani air base to launch drones.However, Nato officers said that Pakistani forces had been co-operative in a similar incident on Tuesday, helping prevent it from escalating.

Isaf statistics published earlier this week showed a 7% drop in insurgent attacks across Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period last year. The decrease in the Helmand area was 29%. But in the eastern provinces the figures show a 21% rise in attacks, now the most violent area, accounting for 39% of all attacks.

The
Isaf commander, General John Allen, said the need to confront the sanctuaries in Pakistan was “one“oneof the reasons we are shifting our operations to the east”.east”.
In an interview in Kabul, Allen, a US marine, did not give specifics of
the
strategy and said nothing about cross-border operations.The day before the fatal border clash, he had met Kayani, to discuss cross-border co-operation ahead of the eastern surge, clearly hoping the move against the sanctuaries would be a joint effort.

According to The Guardian,
Allen said he did not know what the long-term consequences of last Saturday’sSaturday’sclash would be, describing it as a “tragedy”,“tragedy”,but made clear that the push to the east would continue.

“Ultimately
“Ultimately the outcome we hope to achieve in the east is a reduction of the insurgent networks to the point where the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces(ANSF)] can handle them, reducing them in 2012, if necessary going after them in 2013,”2013,”Allen said.

“I
“I won’twont go into the specifics of the operations but as we consolidate our holdings in the south and as the population centerscentres there in the Helmand River valley and in (Kandahar,)[Kandahar], we will conduct substantial operations in the east … the idea being to expand the security zone around Kabul.


In particular we are going to pay a lot of attention to the south of Kabul,Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Zabul.

Because in the end if you have a population in the south that feels secure and it’sit’ssecured by the ANSF, and you have a population in the east in and around the centre ofthe gravity of Kabul, and those two are connected by a road so you have freedom of movement, you have a pretty good outcome.”outcome.”

Be Concerned but not Informed: Radical Islamic Terrorism and Mainstream Media since 9/11

The website e-IR asked me to review how mainstream media have represented radical Islamist media in the past decade, and what this means for the spread of radical discourses more broadly. Here is my reply, and you can read the original at e-IR here.

Mainstream media’s presentation of radical Islamic terrorism since 11 September 2001 is simply a continuation of how mainstream media have represented political violence for many decades. Moral panics about enemies within, journalists following agendas set by ministers, scandalised yet sensationalist coverage of violence, victims and perpetrators – all familiar from the post-9/11 period, but also thoroughly documented in the classic studies of media and violence in the 1970s and 80s. The focus on Islam has been hugely damaging for many people across a number of countries, but what is at stake is more fundamental. Modern societies have not found a way to manage the boundaries between their mainstreams and margins. In 20 years’ time, other groups will be demonised, journalists will continue to fail to explain why violence occurs, and many people trying to go about their daily lives will find themselves anxious, suspicious, and ill-informed.

Each society imagines its mainstream differently. Media are the condition for imagined communities, as Benedict Anderson put it, but also imagined enemies. Russia, Israel, France, Thailand – in any country we find journalists, artists, and political leaders routinely making representations of their own values and of groups that might threaten those values. The ‘war on terror’ label enabled a diverse range of states, each with their particular social antagonisms and historical enmities, to represent their struggles as part of an overarching conflict between themselves and radical Islam. They imagined their own community, and an international community, at war. Although some journalists challenged this, journalism as a general institution was a delivery mechanism for the very idea of a war on terror and for all its local manifestations. Reporters on newspapers, 24 rolling news and even ‘highbrow’ news analysis shows accepted the framing assumptions given by military and political leaders, and repeatedly and unthinkingly stitched together disparate attacks into one global narrative.

One of the most striking aspects of this decade was that the enemy became a visual presence as never before. ‘Radical Islam’ could be seen. Indeed, Islam itself became a spectacle for all around the world to gaze upon and think about, the historian Faisal Devji argues. Al-Qaeda took advantage of real-time 24 hour media to project violent events onto all our screens in sporadic but spectacular ways. At the same time, religious views returned to everyday political debate as religious leaders and communities used the internet and TV to promote and discuss their dialogues, concerns and beliefs. This increased visibility created difficulties for many ordinary Muslims, who on the one hand wanted to argue that Islam is one religion and Muslims a united body of people, but on the other complained when the resulting single image grouped together Al-Qaeda’s terrorist iconography with everyday multiculturalism in the West, the rich diversity of Muslim-majority countries, and the terrible suffering of Palestinians. The struggle for the image of Islam took place in large part through mainstream media; if a Muslim person appears in Western news, statistically there is a higher chance it is in a story about terrorism and criminality than if it was an individual of another ethnicity. Lone figures – the angry bearded man and the veiled woman – are the stereotypes media reporting has bequeathed us from the 2000s. While many herald the emergence of social media and the shift from mass communication to what Manuel Castells calls ‘mass self-communication’, it is likely that mainstream media will continue to be a chief venue for the struggle for Islam’s image in the next decade.

Ironically, despite the routine presence of Al-Qaeda in mainstream news, journalists have not always been willing or able to explain what or who Al-Qaeda is, or how it functions. Equally, the term ‘radicalisation’ only became a public term in the 2000s, but journalists have used the term as if its meaning is obvious without actually explained how radicalisation works. Admittedly, these two confusions both stem from the fact that security policymakers lack reliable knowledge about Al-Qaeda and radicalisation themselves, or at least won’t release full information to journalists. Meanwhile a ‘radicalisation industry’ of so-called experts has emerged, willing to speculate on air about radical Islamic terrorism (witness the first 24 hours after Anders Breivik’s killings in Norway this year).These people are rarely challenged by journalists.

As a consequence of these media failings, audiences are routinely presented with the image of an angry bearded man, possibly a clip from a video linked to Al-Qaeda, and then an unspecific warning of an imminent threat. Audiences are asked to be concerned, but not allowed to be informed.

What does this mean for the spread of radical and radicalising groups in the future? Three interlocking, structural tendencies must be considered. First, the state will continue to assimilate all non-state violence as a single threat to international order and the domestic social mainstream. “Violence must not be allowed to succeed”, remarked a British official in the 1970s. It is a simple, unchanging principle. In April 2011 in London, Patrick Mercer OBE, Conservative MP for Newark and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Transatlantic and International Security, warned that the three security threats facing Britain are Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, violence ‘attached’ to student protests, and ‘Irish terrorists’ attacking the royal wedding. Drawing a parallel between students and those engaged in terrorism suggests a failure to appreciate that vibrant democracy requires space for dissent and disagreement. From the point of view of the state, however, it is all actual or potential non-state violence. Meanwhile, the latest version of Prevent, the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy, has switched attention from addressing violent extremism to simply ‘extremism’. Extremism is understood as divergence from ‘mainstream British values’, defined as ‘democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind’. Society is asked to imagine itself as a community bounded by shared values, but this necessarily puts some people on or outside that boundary. Even if they are not violent, they might one day consider violence, and violence must not be allowed to succeed.

Second, it is a challenge for journalists to observe how political leaders are re-drawing and redefining these boundaries, since they – as responsible, professional insiders – will be asked to categorise and condemn those deemed on the radical outside. News values endure. The drama, simplicity and immediacy of acts of political violence will keep terrorism and violent protest on the news agenda while allowing a new cast of radicals to come to the fore.

Finally, radical Islamic terrorists or any radical group will play cat-and-mouse with security agencies as they try to use digital media to mobilize potential recruits and supporters. This game will be largely invisible to ordinary people. Nevertheless, we will be asked to endorse cybersecurity policies and work within modified internet infrastructures without being given any systematic data on connections between radicalism, radicalisation and cybersecurity. Journalists will be no better informed, but will be obliged to report as if there are connections.

These intersecting pathologies might leave the reader pessimistic. Opportunities for change seem minimal. On an immediate level, it is a question of changing behaviours. Can security journalists bring a more informed manner of reporting to mainstream audiences? Will the state decide it has a stake in a more informed citizenry? Will citizens themselves bypass mainstream media to find alternative ways to be informed? On a more profound level, it is a question of finding new ways to conceive and manage the relationship between social mainstreams and margins. The implicit equivalence of margin with radical and radical with violence makes for perpetual insecurity. Finding a more mature approach, however, opens up fundamental questions about the state, society and individual which few have begun to ask. This is where the challenge lies.

Is there a time and place for (humanitarian) shock and awe?

Don’t feel bad though. It’s disempowering.

Look. I get the whole ‘stop the portrayal of Africans as victims’ debate. I really do. Empowerment and portrays of empowerment are important.

But I can’t help but be slightly frustrated with this entry at UN Dispatch which discusses the “shock and awe” approach to fundraising for disasters.

Penelope Chester (apparently a professional Canadian humanitarian) quotes Peter Gill (who has written on the Ethiopian Famine) stating that the West :

certainly has no proper answers to the conflicts and dislocation that lead to starvation and deathIn northern Kenya, to which so many thousands of Somali pastoralists have fled in recent months, the West does have an answer of sorts – it can feed people in the world’s largest refugee camp, in the thin expectation of better times back across the border.

And that:

Ethiopia must keep addressing the image of destitution and the reality that too often underpins it, but it needs to promote other images as well. Instead of the risk of starvation, it also needs to be able to draw attention to impressive annual economic growth figures. Instead of food hand-outs, it also needs to be able to emphasise its big drive for inward investment.

She then comments:

In highlighting Gill’s argument, I’m not suggesting that the international community should eschew necessary emergency aid and interventions to help protect vulnerable populations. Instead, I think there is an important truth in the notion that images of Africa as a continent full of powerless victims are part of a vicious cycle of irresponsibility.
Aid and international organizations, western donors (governments and individuals) and African governments are caught in a western-centric approach to humanitarian relief, where the effective mobilization of funds and good will seems to be proportionate to the inevitability of a crisis. In other words, there is still a lot to be done to appropriately deal with threats and improve local capacity to prevent famines – whether it be through the development of strong early prevention systems, improved strategic food reserves or improving access to agricultural and pastoral technology. The Guardian’s concluding paragraph in an editorial on this issue captures the sentiment: “As it is, aid agencies race from one drought to another. And the fact that the shortfall in WFP funding is 42% in Somalia, and 67% in Ethiopia and Kenya, speaks volumes about the mentality of donors who are only moved to act when it is too late.”

I suppose my biggest frustrations with the argument are twofold.

First, I can’t figure out who this is aimed at. The West? The media? Aid agencies? Donors? Who? Who is supposed to change this? And how and when?

Second, the “world weary” humanitarian lecturing tone to people that I can only assume are actually trying to feed some starving people. Yes, you think you’re doing a good thing, but really you’re not. You’re perpetuating an evil stereotype when you feel bad for those people on television.

It’s true – the West has a very strange view of Africa and famine. I need only look at my family, the people around me and my own memories to see this. Noting someone’s thinness, my Grandmother comments that they look like a “Biafran”. Some of my first memories are listening to “The Tears are Not Enough” on the radio to raise funds for the Ethiopian Famine in the 1980s. (It was Canada’s “We are the World”. It’s terrible, but had the cast of Les Miserables!). And one of my students made a comment about someone looking like a starving Darfurian a few months back. It’s like we can trace generations via the famines that have been marketed to them by aid agencies.

I also accept, that as Alana Tiemessen blogged here earlier this year that photos without context and understanding can strip individuals of their dignity. As she points out, the pictures (like the one used in this post) do not help us “understand the causes and conditions of state failure and nor do they prescribe solutions. They simply invite shock and awe.”

So I’m not saying this isn’t an issue. But as these aid agencies trying to raise funds in an emergency situation/impending famine, is it really the time to start explaining to my parents the dynamics of African development? Or give narratives of empowerment? Would these same narratives have raised £6 million in a few days? I’m all for re-thinking our portrayal of Africa, but I don’t think Chester’s arguments really answers these questions.

Is this a simplification of her argument? Possibly. In defence of Chester I suspect that she is thinking in the mid-to-long term rather than the immediate present. But there is also a real note of hypocrisy in the air: Oxfam’s internal reports may say: “The world is moving away from a western-inspired, UN-centric model of humanitarian action to one which is much more diverse and localised, and sustainable. This is both a trend and a desirable outcome.” But a visit to its website today said in gigantic red banner: “The worst food crisis of the century has left more than 12 million people in East Africa in desperate need of food and water. Support our biggest ever emergency appeal for Africa”. Not so much empowerment then, just trying to feed people.

Which is probably what they should be doing.

PS: I’m not a famine/African expert so happy to hear why I’m very, very wrong on this by Duck readers. 

Hugh Grant the Unlikely Victor in the News of the World Battle


The highlights of this story are largely well known: At a pub in Dover Hugh Grant secretly records former News of the World (NoW) reporter Paul McMullan detailing how NoW had regularly hacked into phones and raided the trash of celebrities to get the inside scoop. A feature is printed in the New Statesman. Further allegations come to the fore- including that the phone of former missing youth Milly Dowler, as well as the phones of deceased servicemen, have been hacked. Rupert Murdoch is shocked. The NoW is shut down as of Sunday July 10th.

It’s hard to know what to make of this story- complete with an absolutely unlikely list of characters. In keeping with all great news stories, this one has a couple of notable “good news/bad news” elements.
First, the good news is that the News of the World has been shut down. Seriously, with a list of headlines that include

My Big Fat Gypsy Divorce at just 19
FI Boss Has Sick Nazi Orgy With Hookers

Boozy bro Andy Carroll gave me black why eye

it can’t be considered much of a loss for the British media.

The bad news is that Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of NoW and current CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News International has managed to avoid loosing her job and avoid charges- despite reports that she knew about the hacking. Brooks seems to have enough friends in high places to allow her to walk out of this scandal untouched. There are stories of her and Prime Minister David Cameron going horse-back riding regularly and the best man at her wedding in 2003 was the director of the Press Complaints Commission. Is the end of NoW a case of destroying Frankenstein but not his creator?

Second, the good news is that Hugh Grant has been catapulted into the spotlight again after a few years of making largely forgettable films. Grant looked intelligent, professional, and- quite frankly- dashing.
The bad news is that it’s hard to know if Hugh Grant’s role in bringing The News of the World to its knees this week should be seen as a sign of Grant’s talent as an investigative journalist, or of the depressing state of the British media. Furthermore, Paul McMullan- whom Grant recorded- had himself been trying to blow the whistle on the newspaper for some time, largely to deaf ears. Does this mean that it takes the power of celebrity rather than an inside journalist to get the media and public’s attention?

At a final glance the only clear winner in this whole story is Hugh Grant. He’s redeemed himself for his own NoW scandal involving a prostitute in 1995 and eclipsed that story (and the image of his infamous mug shot) with a story of his own investigative journalism that led to the end of an era in British media history.

Stereotypes and suspicion: Nicer words won’t change anything

A new report was released yesterday, ‘Suspect Communities’, comparing how UK media and government have framed Irish and Muslim communities since the 1970s. The authors find that the ideas underpinning counter-terrorism measures and the way politicians, policymakers and the media discuss who might be responsible for bombings have not changed over four decades. The key finding is that ambiguity surrounding who is an ‘extremist’ or a ‘terrorist’ has led to hostile responses in everyday life – at work, in shops, on the street  – from members of the public who think they are under threat from Irish-sounding or Muslim-looking people whom they associate with that threat. Hence, the report implies that government and media language is impacting on the everyday lives of communities judged suspect and everyone else who must live with them. In a debate in Parliament yesterday, the solution put forward by many was greater sensitivity of language by elites and more dialogue between the stigmatized, the elites, and the majority society.


While useful, the debate needs to go further. The crux with such reports is their method. This research team first analysed thousands of media texts and government documents, and found these to consistently frame these communities as suspect (and as communities, not individuals). They then did focus groups with members of those suspect communities to hear about living under suspicion. What the team did not do is try to explain why journalists or policymakers would consistently produce stigmatizing material. The consistency of the stigmatization suggests its nothing to do with any individuals, but a function of the institutional practices and professional imperatives of the fields of journalism and security policy. Most journalists don’t want to be racist. They think that by allowing a ‘moderate’ and ‘militant’ Muslim to debate they are providing balance – journalists don’t usually understand that they are reducing threatening and non-threatening minorities to equivalents in the eye of the non-Muslim audience. And policymakers know full well that homogenizing a community to tell it to ‘stop harbouring terrorists’ is not going to please everyone, but they really don’t want another bomb going off and will try any means to stop it. These are the pressures they face, and criticizing their language choices isn’t going to remove those pressures. So, if we are to move towards societies in which entire groups are not routinely lumped together as dangerous and disloyal, we need to begin to unravel these institutional and professional logics. A truly critical project would address these power relations and daily trade-offs instead of simply decrying the consequences.


This is an important topic. The Suspect Communities report supports a longstanding research finding (UK hereUS here) that those who feel stigmatized tend either to retreat from public spaces (‘keep your head down’, ‘keep your mouth shut’) or become angry and try to resist slurs by turning them on their heads (reclaiming ‘queer’ in the 1970s, jihadi chic in the 2000s). Either way, the result is fear and alienation, which reduces trust on all ‘sides’ and makes reconciling interests and grievances through democratic institutions much more difficult.

The 2003 Iraq War will not be forgotten

The killing of Osama bin Laden allows political leaders to further disentangle Iraq, Afghanistan and the whole war on terror concept; to wind down some operations and refocus others; to bring some stories to light and push others aside, to be forgotten. But how do those who served in these wars feel about this? In today’s New York Times Captain Shannon P. Meehan, a US veteran of the 2003 Iraq War, published a powerful statement of alienation on this matter. Meehan felt no closure on hearing of bin Laden’s death. It only brought a sense of distance and disconnection. It reminded him he had been part of the bad war, the war whose meaning is already settled in what he calls the ‘shifting public memory of war’. And he must live with the severe injuries he suffered regardless. He writes: 


So, as much as I want to feel a part of this moment, to feel some sense that I contributed to it, I do not. As a veteran of the Iraq war, I do not feel entitled to any sort of meaningful connection to this achievement. Years of political and public criticism of the Iraq war has pushed me to believe that I did not fight terror, but rather a phantom.
With all the physical, mental and emotional pains I still have, I feel like a dying man who fought in a dying war, and that my body braces and hearing aids serve as a reminder that my greatest “achievement” in life will be remembered as a mistake.
This same week the last British male veteran of WW1 died. Claude Choules, who went on to spend most of his life in Australia, also seemed to remember his war with critical distance. In its public notice of Choules’ death, the UK Ministry of Defence noted, ‘Despite his impressive military career, Mr Choules became a pacifist. He was known to have disagreed with the celebration of Australia’s most important war memorial holiday, Anzac Day, and refused to march in the annual commemoration parades.’ Although WW1 is settled in public memory as the ‘Great War’, Choules resisted this interpretation. What is interesting, today, is that Meehan is publicly reflecting on such a settled narrative. His challenging article is in mainstream media and being spread through social media. Choules had no such opportunity in his day. The new media ecology seems to accelerate both the creation and the contestation of war memory.
But memory is not just about media. Meehan draws attention to his physical pain, to injuries that remind him daily of the Iraq War. In Diffused War Andrew Hoskins and I explored Jay Winter’s concept of ‘embodied memory’ as something that is shared by the body of the sufferer and the gaze of the onlooker. If we have an obligation to remember, we must also look at veterans’ bodies and not just war films, news photos and milblogs. War memory is inscribed on bodies, and there are a lot of bodies from Iraq.
The killing of bin Laden and drawing back from Iraq won’t make the Iraq War disappear. The US and its allies will have to decide how they want to remember it, what memorials will be built, and how to deal with the ambiguities and divisions within the shifting public memory of the war.

Mindless Empiricism

"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated" -- Mark Twain. 
If we don’t get to see a photo, how will we know with certainty that Osama bin Laden isn’t simply living in a retirement community with Hitler, Jim Morrison, Elvis, Andy Kaufman, Tupac, Princess Diana, and Michael Jackson? 
I hear that they mostly talk about the good old days, the JFK assassination, and the 2004 election results in Ohio.
Personally, I’ll be satisfied when I see the long-form death certificate. 
I know, I know — 140 char. versions of these should probably be on twitter, rather than here. Sorry. 


					
		
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