Tuesday, 5 December 2006

A Classy Move

Not everyone believes in conspiracy theories. By its very nature the conspiracy presents itself as a not-likely scenario— irrespective of the word’s actual definition, and therefore its real meaning. On the other hand, complicity that is commonly accepted as such is the generation and degeneration of news cycles, which sole function is to maintain the attention of the paying public. Whether the general news-reading public believes government representatives have hands in such matters is disputed, but not just a small majority questions what they see as media outlets self-obsession with sensational news, that is, sensationalizing the news at the expense of more important issues and likely violating the duty of the free press.

Perhaps our media culture is just evolving and devolving parallel with the rest. Maybe the dummying-down of society is society’s fault; or better yet, that we’re all a culture that knows no self-control. What about civic responsibility?

But the question has long been one of class. No, not whether or not someone has any, or how much money one person has versus another— though these problems are not unknown. No the question is of a class of influence over things of economic value: If I own a newspaper, I can hire the chief editor, and if that paper happens to be a corporate one, as long as I make a profit I’ll not likely hear a lot of bickering. If an editor is someone I knew in college who thinks the way I do, believes in what I believe, or simply likes to continue kissing up to me in order to gain favor, I have influence over the shape of the paper. Free Economists don’t see anything wrong with a private individual reigning over his property- so where does the responsibility of a free-press begin? If I as a news editor have a pool of reporters chasing stories, a good deal of these should suit my interest by selling papers or getting ratings. Other stories may or may not make me or my friends and/or colleagues look bad. The former forms the main focus of the news, the latter page 11.

The press would say that finding the story is the process of the dutiful journalist, and that the human interest not only mirrors the populace but also serves the public best with its reporters acting as eyes and ears for those unable to gather the information for themselves. This presupposes at least that the journalist knows what the public wants reported. Some media say that profit-first reporting is betraying their responsibility as journalists and news reporters. There are others who argue that this is nonsense and that the people get exactly what they demand.

And how is this demand measured? Numbers. Numbers. More numbers. The media are so crazy about numbers that they report election results from their own polling data, usually with “mathematically” projected winners before the complete results of their poll, let alone the actual vote, are in. Now ironically, in recent years the importance of the integrity of exit polls has enjoyed a windfall. But as long as the financial well being of these organizations is at the forefront of- and front for their journalistic interest, the integrity and objectivity of the information they gather and distribute is questionable.

Now governments have made good use of the media’s willingness to relativize and derelativize events on a whim, even if just by getting their message out. Further, one thing that governments have been able to do by way of the news cycle is announce decisions at opportune times. They can do this in two ways: One is to release bad news during a current media obsession with another hot topic, and the other is to make announcements in order to divert attention. But this is all just conspiracy talk without any documentation to support its supposition. Some time ago, stories about a government’s intentional leak —their calculated revealing of a secret normally required to remain so— popped-up regularly in the news cycle. Now it is a little less regular a story, but most people know that this sort of thing is done, don’t they? At any rate, there is no shortage of so-called insiders who’ll verify that governments leak things before admitting them so that they can mold their policy to the public reaction. More numbers work with the help of the poll pushers.

I can go one deeper, though. Those in power —whether prime ministers or presidents, dictators or revolutionaries, or corporate heads or corporate sponsors— can make good use of conspiracy theories. For the conspiracy and conspiracy theory game know no limits. It keeps one guessing.

When the NY Times came upon a written recommendation from Former Secretary Rumsfeld in which he called on a substantial reshaping of the administration’s war plan, which included some "radical departures" from the standard line, they went to another source to interpret what effect this might have on the president’s power to follow his current plan: By way of the Washington Post’s regard for Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, it has made all but impossible the defense of the president’s strategy. Assuming one knows what that is, I might add.

The recommendation from the secretary is said to have been presented one day before the recent election, supposedly before he knew of his pending removal. The contradiction between the stance he had so staunchly defended up until the week prior to the election and the measures he now recommends —some which go so far as to appease the war critics— is left to the conspiracy theorists. "Reasonable pundits" can guess ulterior motives as long as they fall into the ‘he’s just trying to chase his opponents to the middle’ category. Even the suggestion that he's always been diplomatic (those who don’t know him just don’t understand), that he is actually driving his own fraction to the middle. It is oh-so reasonable though to insist that he’s just doing the noble thing. Forget about two weeks ago.

Now everybody likes a conspiracy game, but not everyone believes it actually exists. The contradiction indicated in the previous paragraph is obvious, so THIS theorist is only Class D. That the secretary is making the critics regret their victory, for were he still in charge, they would’ve gotten more of what they wanted: That’s a Class B theory. A Class C conspirator would be someone entertaining the idea that the secretary is using a fabrication to distract on the one hand, and to simultaneously thumb his nose at everyone on the other: ‘It doesn’t matter what I say now, so fuck off!’ Class A is your guess. Go ahead and try, it’s fun. And before you get too paranoid about what the president will actually decide, his own adviser said in reference to the secretary’s recommendations that the various options would be considered carefully.