What Else Is News?
Bloggers respond to a New York Times expose about the proliferation of government-made segments, rave about today's massive anti-Syrian rally in Beirut, and work themselves into a frenzy over a new edition of AOL's Terms of Service.
What else is news?: In Sunday's New York Times, David Barstow and Robin Stein reported on local television stations that air segments that look like regular news stories but are actually produced by the federal government to promote particular policy initiatives.
"Perhaps if 'real' news were, well, better, it would be harder to pass off the fake stuff," says University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit. "What distinguishes TV news from propaganda these days?" asks liberal blogger Philocrites, who adds that"news directors at many of the country's TV stations don't know or don't care." "Fake News from A Fake White house," vents Media Matters for America employee Oliver Willis.
Most liberal bloggers are surprisingly even-keeled about the story, though. At Crooked Timber, Australian economist John Quiggin says it "would take much more than this to surprise me in relation to the Bush Administration, and in any case, the practice apparently began under Clinton." What surprises Quiggin is that the story focuses so tightly on politics. "The report showed no concern about the fact (news to me) that corporations have been [using prepackaged segments] for years, more or less openly, to the extent that those involved in producing 'video news releases' have their own association, annual awards and so on."
Quiggin, InstaPundit, and Wizbang all compare the phenomenon to print journalists who crib their stories from press releases. But Quiggin thinks that "the video news release goes way beyond this. The closest analog in the print world is those supplements, designed to look like news, with 'advertisement' in small print at the bottom of the page."
Read more about the Times article here.
Another Monday, another march: In a rally the New York Times said "was probably the largest demonstration ever seen in Lebanon," close to a million people, and perhaps as many as 2 million, gathered in downtown Beirut today to protest the presence of Syrian forces in the country. Nationalist rallies have been held every Monday in Beirut since former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed Feb. 14, but "organizers were determined to make this one especially large in response to the pro-Syrian march last Tuesday."
The most-cited roundup is at Publius Pundit, where Robert Mayer reports that roads as far as 5 kilometers from the rally were completely blocked by the converging crowds. At the rally, legislator Marwan Hamadeh declared that the protest was "writing the end of President Lahoud's police state and its Syrian backers." Mayer also points to the poster freedomfighter at the Lebanese Forces Forum, who writes that cities and villages across Lebanon have virtually emptied into Beirut, and declares the "demonstration will leave its mark for decades if not centruies to come." Raja Abu Hassan, a student writing at The Lebanese bloggers, calls, "HEY… PLANET EARTH: DO YOU SEE???? DO YOU SEE???"
"When Hizbullah had its rally, various eeyores said, see, that's bigger than the pro-freedom opposition rallies that have filled Beirut. Well, take that," declaresBuzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis. Writing at conservative clubhouse The Corner at National Review Online, Lebanese academic Walid Phares notes approvingly that whereas the "Hizbollah march was fully financed by Iran, Syria and Lebanon's intelligence services (per sources), the Monday democracy demo is financed by local fundraisers, businesses and local municipalities." Philadelphian freelance journalist Sam Jaffe believes that "the real prize … isn't about headcounts. It's about votes. The parliamentary vote scheduled for May will be the most important vote in the Middle East—ever."
Read more about the rally here.
Instant mess: On Friday, political consultant Ben Stanfield of Thrashing Through Cyberspace examined AOL's new service agreement and found that the company, in Stanfield's words, "Grants Itself Permission To Steal Your [AOL instant messenger] Conversations." (Read comments on Stanfield's post at tech hub Slashdot.)
Following a voluminous backlash, an AOL spokesman told the Houston Chronicle that AOL does not monitor IM conversations. Further analysis at Slashdot allows for the possibility that it "could be that they don't actually take advantage of its terms, but the Terms of Service seem to broadly favor AIM's right to do exactly what they say they're not doing; rather than drawing any distinction between IM services and public forum posts, the actual terms seem clearly to apply to all AIM products." Silicon Valley computer buff Greg Yardley says this version of AOL's Terms of Service has been in effect for more than a year. Yardley is mystified by the outrage. "It's the Internet," he writes. "You don't have any privacy. You haven't for ages. You gave it up willingly many, many Terms and Conditions ago." Business analyst Ben Silverman agrees. "Want to start a controversy online?" he asks. "All you have to do is follow one easy step: Make a big deal out of old news."
Read more about AOL here.
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David Wallace-Wells is a writer living in New York.