Thursday, February 09, 2017

Looking At Media Past and Future - Ron Rosenbaum and Journalism After Snowden

[NOTE: This post began focused on the folly of not preventing disaster, an idea I've been toying with for a while as I try to make the point that while we will eventually get past Trump, it's going to cost us enormously, and the wounds will never completely go way.  The opening of Rosenbaum's piece seemed a good opportunity to make the point, but as I wrote, the issues of journalism under suppression became a more important focus.  Thus you get this post which goes in two different directions.  Sorry.]

Prevention has been part of American tradition since this country was founded.  

Ben Franklin, arguing for the creation of a fire department in Philadelphia wrote that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

We have lots of similar maxims, like "Shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted" and " A stitch in time saves nine."

Fram oil filters ran a very popular ad where the oil filter dealer says, "You can me pay now" and then the mechanic says, "or pay me later."

Image from Smokey Bear history
Smokey the Bear has been telling people since the 1950s that "Only you can prevent forest fires."

The point of all of them is that preventing a disaster from happening is MUCH less costly than repairing the damage afterwards.

Not preventing Trump's election is going to cost Americans and the world a great deal of suffering and pain, emotional, physical, and financial.

So I was a little disturbed by the opening of this LABook Review piece by Ron Rosenbaum, journalist and author of Explaining Hitler, when he wrote that he'd refused requests to write about Trump, until after Trump won the election.  I understand people's reluctance to use Hitler comparisons and I'm not saying that his words would have prevented Trump from being elected, but he, of all people, knew what had happened in the past.  He explains that he simply did not see Trump at the same level as Hitler.
Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late. At first, he pledged no territorial demands. Then he quietly rolled his tanks into the Rhineland. He had no designs on Czechoslovakia — just the Sudetenland, because so many of its German-born citizens were begging him to help shelter them from persecution. But soon came the absorption of the rest of Czechoslovakia. After Czechoslovakia, he’d be satisfied. Europe could return to normal. Lie! 
There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale. His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.
But the article is definitely worth reading.  It mainly chronicles how the Munich Post was the first and main newspaper to expose Hitler's past and plans.   The article is a cry, now, for people to defend the media against attacks from Trump, and the likelihood that Trump will try to shut opposition media down.

His final words about the Munich Post are not reassuring.  But his appeal to the reader is important.
"The Munich Post lost, yes. Soon their office was closed. Some of the journalists ended up in Dachau, some “disappeared.” But they’d won a victory for truth. A victory over normalization. They never stopped fighting the lies, big and small, and left a record of defiance that was heroic and inspirational. They discovered the truth about “endlösung” before most could have even imagined it. The truth is always worth knowing. Support your local journalist." (emphasis added)

A more forward looking view of journalism comes in a new book, Emily Bell and Taylor Owen's (eds) Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State.  Neiman Reports reviewer Clay Shirky says the book argues that the globalization of media means that reporters can get around local suppression by getting their stories into publications outside their national boundaries.  In this quote Shirky is discussing an article in the edited book that Shirky wrote himself:
"The potential for a global news network has existed for a few decades, but its practical implementation is unfolding in ours. This normalization of transnational reporting networks reduces the risk of what engineers call a “single point of failure.” As we saw with Bill Keller’s craven decision not to publish James Risen’s work on the National Security Agency in 2004, neither the importance of a piece of political news nor its existence as a scoop is enough to guarantee that that it will actually see the light of day. The global part is driven by the need for leakers to move their materials outside national jurisdictions. The network part is driven by the advantages of having more than one organization with a stake in publication."
A key message I get from this review of the book is that suppression of the media is much bigger than Trump, and the media is discovering ways around state censorship through the development of international media networks.


  1. Okay, my post will likely trouble your commercial speech proviso but here it goes...

    Important as your post is today, there is the other danger of not being able to pay the bills. The Guardian, a UK-based newspaper that I see more and more American readers posting on Fb and other sites, ran a £69 million deficit last year [guardian-losses] on accumulating losses of £179 million.

    Even with its growing international readership, subscriptions aren't offsetting lost print ad revenues. Fortunately, this critical progressive news-gathering agency has a foundation that carries over £600 million in assets that can cover these losses.

    There is something you can do as a progressive: Guardian newspaper can take one-time donations and it's easy enough to do, if you don’t wish to take out a subscription. Please consider it. I am not related to the paper in any way other than being a reader and donor.

    We who are pushing back against the new right-wing nationalism, internationally, need this paper.

  2. I don't see a problem. My guideline says "Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted." This is NOT disguised and 'my call' agrees it's of value to my readers. Even better would have been to make this pitch on a post citing the Guardian (which I do now and then) and suggesting that if my readers and I don't contribute, we should. :) Thanks for the suggestion. Readers, here's one more way to effectively resist.


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