For the past couple of days I’ve been exchanging emails with a British journalist who made the original contact to request an interview with Fjordman. I explained to him that Fjordman is not giving interviews to the media at present, and in the process expressed my less-than-positive opinion of the legacy media.
We continued to correspond through several more emails. This morning he sent me a reasonable and thoughtful series of questions about what we (“we” meaning Fjordman, myself, and presumably other Counterjihad writers in the alternative media) think of various journalism-related issues.
As sometimes happens with email exchanges, his questions gave me the opportunity to express my opinions about topics that I often don’t have time to write about. His questions (shown in italicized block quotes) and my responses are reproduced below. Some of the discussion refers to what was said in earlier emails, but readers will be able to get the gist from the context.
You ask some interesting questions, so I’ll answer them in detail, seriatim.
By “shared preoccupation” I meant an interest in the role of the mainstream, or legacy, media in radicalising, or providing nurture, or provoking people to extreme acts.
No, this is not a preoccupation of ours. It’s hard to explain to someone who works solely or mostly in the “mainstream” media how things are in the “alternative” media, which is where Fjordman and I do all our writing.
Our view of the legacy media might be summed up this way:
|1.||It creates a bubble of shared assumptions, whose inhabitants remain largely unaware of those assumptions.
|2.||It enforces this shared uniformity through a combination of monetary/professional incentives (“You’ll never work in this town again!”) and the fear of shaming (“What you said in your article borders on racism!”). Those who step outside the boundaries may be consigned to a small ghetto of people who share similar opinions, or experience legal problems (e.g. Andrew Bolt, Ezra Levant). Some exceptions are those who are too famous and too shrewd to be suppressed, with Mark Steyn being the most obvious example.
|3.||It stigmatizes information obtained through sources other than those within the bubble. This is true even when the material in question is first-hand, original reporting — which is generally of higher quality than that of the legacy media.
|4.||Because of its immense financial resources, its protection by governments, and its virtual lock on popular awareness, practitioners in the legacy media do not have to hold themselves to high standards — in fact, the opposite is true: those outlets that hew consistently to the august high principles of journalism may not do well.
The blogosphere, on the other hand, is ruthless in culling out mendacity, obfuscation, short-cuts, etc. I learned this the hard way early on in my blogging career — when you make a mistake, you get eaten alive by your readers (assuming you allow comments) and your fellow bloggers. After a while, I learned not to publish things that weren’t well-sourced, and to issue prompt and prominent corrections and retractions when I made mistakes.
These characteristics are required in order for a blogger to be successful, but a legacy journalist has no such disciplinary pressures applied to him. I know this for a fact though personal experience, since a New York Times reporter published something factually incorrect about me (not opinion, simply fact). I wrote to the paper and demanded a retraction and correction, but received no reply, and the article was never amended. The same thing happened with The Guardian.
The mainstream outlets get away with that sort of behavior because they can — there is no meaningful check on their inaccuracy if it is not widely publicized in other legacy outlets. They may ignore facts selectively without any consequence. I have seen it happen over and over again to my friends in Britain — absolute nonsense about them, what you would call “rubbish”, terrible factual errors or distortions, published and allowed to stand and never corrected. As I said in my earlier email, such behavior is the norm.
|5.||Above all, the legacy media will do almost anything to avoid re-examining their most cherished core assumptions. For example, they take it as fact that mass immigration from the Third World into Western countries is a net plus, and explain away the manifold, evident, obvious, suicidal destructiveness of such policies using untested assertions and opinion disguised as fact, all the while ignoring the mountain of evidence to the contrary. Sociological evidence, economic data, crime statistics — all these must be glossed over to maintain the fiction and preserve the cherished assumption. Those who dare to take a look at the evidence to the contrary are subjected to the “shunning and shaming” treatment as described in numbers 2, 3, and 4 above.|
I recognise much of what you describe in my profession. Largely it is bad journalism. It does, however, seem like you are describing a profile of a person, or an interview focusing on a single person, which is rare, compared with a news story or a feature with multiple sources.
I am describing my personal experience of journalists, and the personal experience of people with whom I work closely. The published material includes interviews, articles with snips of quotes, articles with no quotes, and opinion pieces — all types of journalism.
Those experiences are overwhelmingly as I described, with few if any counterexamples of probity, fairness, and impartiality on the part of the journalists involved. Not just one instance, but dozens of them.
I do also think that your word “betrayal” rather betrays your own agenda here. Surely betrayal is only valid for a person who once shared your own viewpoint, or “should” share your viewpoint. Not agreeing with your politics surely is not unfair per se.
I use “betrayal” here to describe particular types of behavior, the breaking of a professional code, if you will. These descriptions are based on actual incidents:
|1.||A journalist makes a promise (to present a case in full, to give a fair hearing, etc.) and then breaks that promise, publishing biased, incomplete, tendentious material about the subject.|
|2.||A journalist publishes factually inaccurate statements and refuses to correct them, knowing that (in Britain) a would-be complainant needs £100k just to begin the process of a libel lawsuit.|
|3.||A journalist uses threats and intimidation to gain access to a person, promising to expose certain private information if the subject does not cooperate, and then carrying through on the threat if refused.|
If “betrayal” is inadequate to describe such behavior, perhaps you can think of a better term…? “Devious”, “unscrupulous”, and “vile” are adjectives that come to mind.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but certainly I conduct my professional life in a spirit of fairness. I suspect, however, that fairness is something of a subjective concept.
For the sake of our correspondence, I assume you are an exception, and not like the people I describe here. That’s why I’m taking the trouble to provide lengthy, thorough, carefully considered answers to your questions.
Consider this: If Islamic preacher X spoke combatively, persuasively and often, about the decadence of Western values and was later quoted scores of times by a suicide bomber as an intellectual inspiration, would it be fair for a journalist to ignore this, and focus primarily on the preacher’s interpretation of his own conduct?
I don’t know if it would be “fair” or not. I don’t look at those things in those terms.
But I will pose a counter-question: Christopher Dorner is an ex-LAPD cop who recently went on a killing rampage before committing suicide. Like Breivik, he published a manifesto on the Internet. In it he praised Barack Obama and Ellen DeGeneres (among many others).
Should journalists be talking to Mr. Obama and Ms. DeGeneres about the way in which their opinions and beliefs influenced a mass murderer? Should they be referred to as “Dorner’s mentors”?
That is an exact analogy with what was done to anyone cited favorably in Breivik’s manifesto. Fjordman headed the list, obviously, but all of us were treated the same way, even those who were just mentioned in passing.
If this does not reveal to you the double standard of legacy “journalism”, I don’t know what will. Ellen DeGeneres will never have to endure a public grilling for her “influence” on Christopher Dorner, and that’s that.
The double standard is obvious to anyone who is not trapped inside the bubble. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
I wonder, too, whether you believe it is healthy for a person to get all of his information from a site like yours with specialist interests and writers? Or do you believe that he should seek other sources for credible information and interpretation.
With this question you reveal your relative inexperience with alternative media and what it is that we do. Information on our blog and similar sites comes from a multitude of sources, more than 75% from the legacy media itself. We also track down and republish material from small agencies that would otherwise remain obscure.
For example, consider the destruction of St. George’s Church in Fayoum (Egypt) by a Muslim mob last Friday night. Are you familiar with that incident? No?
I learned of it through the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), a small outlet catering to threatened Christian minorities in the Middle East and North Africa. It was also covered by AGI and ANSAmed, two small Italian services that do invaluable work in the Mediterranean area. But for some reason it didn’t make it into any major dailies or TV networks, as far as I know.
So, once again, I will transform your question into a slightly different one: “I wonder, too, whether you believe it is healthy for a person to get all of his information from the legacy media, where certain important topics and trends go entirely unmentioned?”
I thank you for providing me with the opportunity to order my thoughts and present them coherently in writing. These are matters I often think about, but rarely get a chance to put into words.