To the future in reverse...
I thought the Taco Bell dog was funny.
Tomarken.com > Criticism > Civilian International Intellegence:Damaged, deaf & blind (10-05-02)
E-Mail This Post/Page

Civilian International Intellegence:Damaged, deaf & blind

Daniel Paul Beckmann, Moderator of Letters
10.05.02-Manly, NSW AUSTRALIA

The following is the assignment that was required of me at the end of a two week global journalism seminar in Paris, FRANCE. Consider it was originally conceived for that audience…
Almost every international journalist that came through our classroom during our two weeks in Paris pointed out the question that many Americans asked shortly after September 11th, "Why do they hate us?".

They then went on to explain why they thought that Americans were hated. It was either because of our representative government’s offensive foreign policy or maybe it was because we Americans were the ‘haves’ and the others were the ‘have-nots’. What ever the answer they came up with … I came up through all of this a question of my own… “Why don’t American’s know why they are hated?”

After the global seminar the answer appeared quite simple to me, it’s because the international journalism machinery-the apparatus responsible for informing the American public, essentially our eyes and ears abroad is broken, deaf and blind.

There are four forces that have acted to break this machinery. There may be other forces out there that some other people might know about, but as a result of the Paris Seminar, I have located four.
The Fixer
I know most Americans don’t know about this but ‘the fixer’ is the most powerful person in the face of the universe-that is if you purchase the theory that the United States is the most powerful country on the planet and that its citizens that are apparently powerful in that country and make their decisions based upon what they read in the newspapers.A fixer is the person that translates the story from the native language into English for the American reporter. WAIT! You mean the reporter doesn’t actually speak the foreign language and translate it themselves for their story? No they don’t…some regular ‘conflict reporters’ don’t know many more languages than French and English, let alone the languages of cultures that Americans have an hard time understanding like Arabic or Chinese. These reporters rely heavily on ‘fixers’ some of which are provided by the local governments, half of which apparently are known to be ‘not too good’ and in some of the cases they are known to ‘work out quite well’…but who’s checking that? How can one check the accuracy of one of these translations? If one translation is found to be accurate how can one be assured that the rest of ‘em are accurate?

The answer is, the ‘fixer’ is more important than even President Bush or Sadaam Hussein because what they say goes straight into the paper and their role can undermine the entire journalistic process…that is unless the editors at home in the U. S. don’t wash them out.
The Editors Back Home and the Government
So you’re a paper or a wire service and you go to the expense of sending out a reporter or a stringer who is in-turn risking their lives to cover a story for you. The reporter sends their copy back home and what happens if they write that something happened and the Pentagon disagrees? They’re off in Afghanistan and you’re a desk editor in Washington, DC.More often then not, according to the pool of reporters that we spoke with, their copy is washed over in Washington to make sure that it is clean with the federal government’s line.

How can this happen? Simple…who really knows better than the Pentagon who shot who? Especially when you don’t speak the language or you’re not sure where exactly you’re at when who shot whoever ‘didn’t happen’.
The Editors Back Home and their Consultants
Almost every media outlet these days is owned by a publicly-traded corporation. Those media outlets also pay for the independent wire services, by the way. Those publicly-traded corporations have investors that require and ask of their board of directors a positive return on their investment. They run their businesses for-profit and that’s the way it works.So when the corporations hire consulting firms to try and find what their customers, the Americans, want their companies to produce, they also request of those consultants ways to produce what Americans want with the least amount of money. That way they make the most amount of money and are good by their investors.

International news coverage is the most expensive endeavor that a media outlet could undertake. The days when there were bureaus everywhere, were also the days when networks were not owned by multinational corporations and had their news divisions in order to keep the federal regulators off their backs and ensure their broadcast license. The newspapers were often more competitive too, with morning and evening papers there were just many more of them out there. Those days are over.

It is incredibly cheap to put one crew in Los Angles to cover O. J. Simpson, or better yet, run the coverage for Chandra Levy or Monica Lewinsky out of your D. C. office and then spew that coverage throughout the land. You don’t need to buy the plane ticket and your crew is paid for anyway.

So, apparently according to the consultants, American’s don’t want nor, understand International news…but they want to know “Why they hate us?”
The International Journalist
To set the scene of the seminar, Paris, what was once a capitol for Americans reporting internationally, because apparently you could reach most of Europe by train.Europe is not where a bulk of the news comes from anymore thus now it appears to be just a preferred, no longer required, location for many international journalists. The story is somewhat different for those in print and broadcast. Print reporters can live in Paris jump on a plane to wherever the story is at and be there in a day. American broadcast reporters are now more often than not, parachuted into the story primarily from London where they speak English, if they even leave at all. There is currently only one American television broadcaster still working in Paris, Jim Bittermann at CNN, and he came to speak to our class. All three networks once staffed Paris bureaus, Bittermann worked at two of them as he saw them close.

I came to Paris after growing up in Toledo, OH. I went to college in the fair state of Missourah. I know that there are people at home who watch local television news from 5 PM until 6:30 PM everyday of the year searching for something new to talk about. I know people who read their local papers everyday because they want to be ‘informed’. I was in 5th grade in the mid-west during the Gulf War, when our social studies teacher dropped the revolutionary war to explain to us in depth what was going on in the Middle East. Most of my understanding of the Middle East can still be traced in some form to that class-especially the names of the leaders of the countries.

Americans are angry enough right now about an international story to want to send their sons and daughters to war in Iraq. They are angry based upon the information that they have been getting from the media. There is no other source that could have given them this anger…they don’t know Sadaam personally and he hasn’t shown up in America to make an offensive and scary appearance at their local mall. Americans do want international coverage and react to it.

When you have been living in Paris, FRANCE for instance, longer than you’ve been living in Paris, TEXAS… when you say that when you finally do come home to the United States, you need to be in isolation in a rural area before you can handle going back into populated American areas… there is no wonder why Americans may not desire your international coverage.

The International journalist corp. living the life out in Paris no longer understand what it is like watching thunderstorms in Kansas. Nor do those who follow the bandwagon towards Christiane Amanpour from the ‘one’ international hot spot to the next, understand intimately what they are trying to explain in those heated areas. They need to pick a place and become an expert there so they will know with conviction what they are reporting about. That way the editor’s back home may rest easier when their paper prints a story that doesn’t wash well with Washington.

Since we no longer live in a world where you can get to the story on time by train, those in Paris should concentrate on reporting on things that happen in Paris or they should move to where they want to report.

Jim Bittermann, as the only broadcaster left, is a good example of a person who knows what he is reporting on and can find good stories because of it. His job is to cover Paris from Paris, not the world from Paris and he knows Paris well.
A lot of people might think that I am bashing the international journalism corp. after the Paris Global Seminar and I am. How can I sit here and do this at my comfy post near the beach outside of Sydney, Australia? There’s a simple answer to that question too. Like my fellow classmates who are pursuing careers in international journalism, we will shape the future of the international journalism corp. and a lot of future lies ahead of us.

I sincerely appreciate all of the time and candid information that our lecturers afforded us in Paris, because I sincerely believe that they believe that the system is flawed too and they need some help in fixing it. Their hands are tied and they are extremely frustrated with what is happening to the industry that is almost impossible for them to separate from their lives because they care that much. This is probably one of the reasons why they were so candid with our class, when they didn’t have to be.

With the new technology that is available our generation of global journalist can use what hasn’t worked in the past and present as a guidepost for making sure that America never again doesn’t know why they are so hated…they may instead just ask “What are we going to do about”?


Creative Commons License
Some Rights Reserved 2001-2006, Tomarken.com/Tomarken.org. All objects are the property of the individual contributors. Tomarken.com is the house and some of the rights to the design, concept and idea of that house are reserved by Tomarken.com/Tomarken.org. Tomarken.com/ Tomarken.org resides not for profit and is maintained by its board of moderators.