Archive for October, 2011

Who Watches the Watchmen?

A protestor adorned in a Guy Fawkes mask, outside the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (Courtesy of CNBC)

With the Occupy movement gaining steam in polls, and coverage, it is coming under an increasing amount of critical scrutiny from Fox News (and a lack of scrutiny from CNN), and certain bloggers, like Brendan O’Neill in The Telegraph, who claim that “Occupy Wall Street is a fashion show masquerading as a political movement”, media organizations are trying to find new and interesting angles to the narrative.

Recently, the New York Times’ Fashion Section, much to the chagrin of O’Neill, released a few pieces, including a slideshow, on the fashion (of a select few) of the protestors. A couple of protestors, such as students from (traditionally “arty” schools like) the New School and NYU, talked about their garb, and he concluded that the main population of the movement, consisted of dunderheaded boobs.

Despite his clearly biased position, which focuses on anecdotal (as opposed to quantitative) evidence, to generalize about the majority, he does bring up an interesting notion. Has the movement become a fashion show (a mask-querade), that has eclipsed and co-opted the political movement?

A Guy Fawkes effigy being burned (Courtesy of Mydisguises)

It is hard to judge, based (solely) on one soft news item. I think, however, that if O’Neill were to focus on another piece in the Times’ Fashion section, he would have found a spark of intellectualism, or, at least, political symbolism, elsewhere in movement.

An article entitled “Guy Fawkes Gets a Last Laugh, 500 Years Later“, the Times give coverage to another (more sinister) adornment to the movement: the seemingly ubiquitous Guy Fawkes mask.

The masks, a pale face with rosy cheeks, two eyebrows arching downward, a black pencil mustache and goatee, serve as a reference to Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta series, where an anarchistic vigilante named “V” dons the mask, while conspiring to overthrow a totalitarian government. Wearing the mask, aligns oneself as sympathetic towards anti-government sentiment, even through Guy Fawkes, an English folk hero, is a sort of a muse in popular culture (Fawkes’ treasonous plot, was one of the inspirations for Macbeth1). For instance, every November 5, Britons burn an effigy on Guy Fawkes Night, a rough equivalent to Halloween.

All this says is, that the media (see CNN’s coverage above) is treating Occupy Wall Street like Halloween, i.e., not seriously (at least so far). It’s not like there is a lack of support from intellectuals. Dr. Cornel West, noted civil rights activist and Princeton professor, was arrested in at an Occupy protest in New York, just days after being arrested at an Occupy Supreme Court protest in Washington, D.C. Columbia University economist professor Jeffery Sachs was at the Occupy movement, lending his expertise and support to the movement, as seen here, in his discussion with media members. Julian Assange, Wikileaks apparatchik, showed up at the Occupy London protests wearing, you guessed it, the Guy Fawkes mask, and later addressed the protestors.

Julian Assange, right, being detained by police (Courtesy of

So with the movement gaining momentum, (and with Halloween going) media outlets might have to turn over a new leaf, in their coverage. Of course, the goal of the protest isn’t, necessarily, to change the media outlook. However, since their message is filtered through media to the general population, the media does play a role in the movement. Possibly, with an increasing public awareness of the Occupy movement, perhaps the coverage from traditional media coverage will change, to reflect public sentiment. It wouldn’t be an easy victory, but it would be a start. As Macbeth said, “there would have been a time for such a word. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.”

Alan Moore's foray into commercialism (Courtesy of Comicvine)

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth was filled with literary allusions to the event. Take, for instance, when Lady Macbeth implores Macbeth, “Look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” (Macbeth 1.5.65-66). Back in 1605, when Guy Fawkes and his cohorts attempted to blow up Parliament, King James I crafted a medal with a serpent, to commemorate the failed attempt.

And according to Shakespeare Online,

“Even more significant is an obvious allusion to a Jesuit priest named Father Henry Garnet, who had concealed his knowledge of the conspiracy. When Father Garnet finally confessed, he insisted that his previous perjury was not really perjury because he lied for God’s sake. For this bit of spin doctoring he became known as the great “equivocator” and was promptly hanged. Sure enough, in Act 3, when Macbeth’s Porter wonders what kind of people would enter the gates of hell, he declares:

‘Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator’. (3.2.9-12).”

Who watches the watchmen? (Courtesy of the New York Times)

Courtesy of the New York Times


The Pulse, a gauge of Boston sport fans' feelings towards their favorite teams and players (Courtesy of, the local internet subsidiary of the Boston Globe, has recently come up with a new barometer, to sense exactly how fans feel about their favorite teams and players, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University.

The Pulse is described by the Boston Globe’s Beta Boston Tumblr, as a “visual representation of a technology that analyzes social data”.

Its essential function is to count social media interactions, like hash tags and tweet mentions, to assess a certain team or player’s “social score”.

The social score is divided into three distinct categories, which is supposed to run the gamut of fan interaction: a red section representing “Hate ‘Em”, a yellow section representing neutral, and a green section representing “Love ‘Em”, a visual representations that sort of resembles the Guinea flag.

The Boston Red Sox have a social score of 53, as of October 26th, up from a negative score (negative, for a team, being a number below 50), amassed after the Red Sox lost 18 of their last 24 games, to lose their division.

Flag of Guinea (Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency)

Until recently, the Pulse only measured Red Sox fans. However, recently, launched The Pulse for Patriots fans, with another one planned for the Bruins. (The Celtics do not have a season, as of today, thus The Pulse would seemingly have little value for them.)

The Pulse, for those with technological know-how, is built in HTML5, the latest optimization of the HTML coding, and is adapted to work with mobile devices.

The interesting element to the Pulse, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab, is that it allows, for fans of sabermetrics, fan sentiment to be recorded as statistical data.

The problem is that social media aggregators like these, tend to favor social media icons over substantive players, and might not reflect the true value of a player. For instance, on the Patriots Pulse page, the player with the 2nd highest social score on the Patriots, at 64, is Chad Ochocinco, who has nearly 3 million twitter followers, but, by and large, has been a disappointment for the Patriots. Meanwhile, teammate Wes Walker, who does not have a Twitter account, has a social score of 23, despite currently leading all NFL players in receptions, and being designated All-Pro, during each of the past three seasons.

Sign “☮” the Times

Sign of the times (Courtesy of Concrete Playground)

It would probably come a shock to no one, that the media has a vested interest in assessing the value of, well, the media. The media, as to be expected, wants to stake their claim to history. The media places a certain emphasis on the effect of an entity’s role in a historical moment. Consider, for instance, the purported influence of Facebook on the Jasmine Revolution and Arab Spring. In their blog Democracy in America, the Economist cites a study from the Dubai School of Government, that measured Facebook’s online “penetration”, the percentage of a countries’ population that uses Facebook, across all the countries in the Middle East.

The Jasmine Revolution (Courtesy of Disney 2 Go)

Libya’s Facebook penetration was a paltry 3.74%, Egypt’s was at 5.49%, and Tunisia was slightly higher at 17.55%. This is not to say that Facebook has no effect on the Arab Spring; The Economist goes so far as to offer this caveat: “while these media [Facebook and the like] may have helped [mobilize] a core group, traditional word-of-mouth and al-Jazeera television played a much bigger role.” This raises the question, of how much influence social media has on protests like the Jasmine Revolution or Occupy Wall Street.

In an Op-ed piece in the New York Times, Roger Cohen observed that “Internet freedom is no panacea. Authoritarian regimes can use it to identify dissidents; they can try to suppress Facebook. But it’s empowering to the repressed, humiliated and distant — and so a threat to the decayed Arab status quo.” So Cohen offered that authoritarian regimes can use Facebook in a Big Brother sort of way, by being able to link specific dissidents to the rebellion, a tactic that wasn’t available prior to Facebook. But certainly, it would be easy to argue that Facebook has aided the Arab Spring. Media outlets, like Newsweek, have referred to the rebellion as “Egypt’s Facebook Revolution“. A man in Egypt was so ecstatic about the site, and its effect on the Spring, that he named his son “Facebook”.

The Economist disagrees with the notion that the Arab spring was primarily effected by the Internet, claiming that Occupy Wall Street is “the world’s first genuine social-media uprising”. They cited as a sort of social-media barometer, the group’s Facebook following, tweets and hash-tags, their website, and a Tumblr blog entitled “We Are the 99 Percent“, which tells stories of those directly effected by the recession. Victims of the economy write their situations on a sheet of paper and upload a picture of it to this Tumblr blog. And, with the global reach of the internet, these victims gain an equal voice and equal platform to express on paper what are, effectively, signs of the times.

Sign of the times (Courtesy of We Are the 99 Percent)

All the Murdoch’s Men

Rupert Murdoch in the Newsroom (Courtesy of Luxedb)

“I’m a catalyst for change. You can’t be an outsider and be successful over 30 years without leaving a certain amount of scar tissue around the place.” – Rupert Murdoch

“There is nothing permanent except change.” – Heraclitus

In 1992, Carl Bernstein, the journalist famed for his Pulitzer-Prize winning work on Watergate, wrote an article in The New Republic entitled “The Idiot Culture”. In it, he decried the state of the media in the early ‘90’s:

“In this new culture of journalistic titillation, we teach our readers and our viewers that the trivial is significant, that the lurid and the loopy are more important than real news. We do not serve our readers and viewers, we pander to them. And we condescend to them, giving them what we think they want and what we calculate will sell and boost ratings and readership. Many of them, sadly, seem to justify our condescension, and to kindle at the trash. Still, it is the role of journalists to challenge people, not merely to amuse them.”

Bernstein believed that this sensationalist trend would lead to ascension of an “Idiot Culture”, a culture informed by talk show hosts and a sensationalist mentality; gimmicks, to frame it in a word.

Culo, with Sean "Diddy" Combs listed as Executive Editor (Courtesy of

Even today, respected journalist Anderson Cooper has his “gimmick”, things like the comedic light-news segment, the “RidicuList”. For example, here he can seen here talking about Sean “Diddy” Combs’ book about butts.

The point is, news producers feel they have to break up the news, and with the “RidicuList”, Cooper highlights the stories that would seem too trivial to air otherwise (see “Gerard Depardieu“), and reports, in a sense, on them.

It would seem, that modern news people and news shows essentially dilute (some, like Bernstein, would argue, “taint”) their product with entertainment and sensationalized news.

It is interesting that in an interview in the Guardian, how Carl Bernstein draws a parallels between the Rupert Murdoch and Watergate. Not just because of the phone hacking scandal, which he elaborates on in the article, but because of the effect Rupert Murdoch has on the society as a whole. In the interview Bernstein shifts so fluidly from the Watergate comparison to an elaboration on how Murdoch effects the media, precisely because his name is so linked with change in the model of cable news.

But when it comes down to it, newspapers are a business; and there is no more prosperous newspaper entrepreneur than Murdoch. According to Yahoo Finance, News Corporation, where Murdoch serves as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, made 33 billion in revenue in the past year.

And arguably, Rupert Murdoch’s empire has shaken up journalism, in some ways as much, if not more than, Watergate.

For instance, his brand of opinion journalism and punditry at the Fox News Channel has changed the landscape of cable news. Ever since Bill O’Reilly began his run at Fox in 1996, there has been a dramatic increase in the influence and, more importantly, the ratings of opinion news shows. MSNBC, for instance, has positioned themselves as a sort of counterbalance, the antithesis, if you will, to Fox News. This, of course, has effected public perception of what is considered news.

According to the PEW Research Center, people associate the term “News Organization” mostly with cable news networks, like CNN or FOX News. CNN was associated with this term by 43 percent of the surveyed, with Fox News right behind them, at 39 percent.

On the other hand, Watergate, while usually cited as one of the most important examples of investigative journalism, does not have the same journalist impact, long-term, that history would have you believe. As Bob Woodward has stated, “to say that the press brought down Nixon, that’s horseshit“.

The point that is conveyed strongly here, and is argued more throughly by Woodward later in the article, is that while the press plays a important role, it would be a mistake to overemphasize the press’ coverage.

For all it’s legacy, the main journalistic precedent that Watergate affair set was a proliferation in the usage of unnamed sources. It was not a common maneuver in journalism before Watergate, because it could diminish the credibility of the story, etc., it became much more popular afterwards.

All this, of course, is to prove a point. The changes that a titan of the media has, in terms of profitability and content, established, is more powerful than the pinnacle of journalistic excellence.

If there is a question raised in the importance of Rupert Murdoch in the news industry, it is this: for better or for worse, just how permanent will this change be?

A parody of The Sun's infamous page 3 with former News International chief executive, Rebekah Brooks. The Sun is a Rupert Murdoch holding. (Courtesy of Political Scrapbook)