Tag Archives: journalism

See how the news shapes our beliefs about the North Korea hack

Summary:  Hot stories like North Korea’s (alleged) attack on Sony show how the government officials and journalists shape our opinions. Open source information and analysis can provide alternative perspectives, helping us better understand our world. But this, by itself, provides only better entertainment unless we act upon it. We can learn to do better by learning from these events, a necessity for those seeking to reform America from the plutocracy it’s becoming. This is the 4th post in this series about the Sony hack; see links to the others at the end.

The Information Age offers much to mankind, and I would like to think that we will rise to the challenges it presents. But it is vital to remember that information — in the sense of raw data — is not knowledge, that knowledge is not wisdom, and that wisdom is not foresight. But information is the first essential step to all of these.

— Sir Arthur C. Clarke interviewed by Nalaka Gunawardene, once posted at OneWorld, 5 December 2003

CyberEye

Contents

  1. Why the government wins these debates
  2. Journalists struggle to understand the hack
  3. Sources of useful information
  4. Reminders about the big picture
  5. For More Information
  6. Better networks are the first step to reform

(1)  Why the government wins these debates

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“I have seen too many situations where government officials claimed a high degree of confidence as to the source, intent, and scope of an attack, and it turned out they were wrong on every aspect of it. That is, they were often wrong, but never in doubt.”

— A former Justice Department official involved with critical infrastructure protection, quoted in the NAS study “Technology, Policy, Law, and Ethics Regarding U.S. Acquisition and Use of Cyberattack Capabilities” (2009)

Open source provides an alternative to government pronouncements, but it’s useless information since we have no mechanisms to use it.

US experts tend to treat US government official’s words — even when anonymous — as gospel. National security and geopolitical experts are especially obedient (as economists are to the Fed, for similar reasons). That’s important, since experts provide the analysis which the news media features to explain events. As we see in other issues (e.g., climate change from 1989 until after 2010), journalists acts as gatekeepers to the mass mind. They filter what we learn to maintain the narrative. No matter how qualified the expert, journalists will mute voices dissenting from the narrative — unless powerful political interests intervene (as the GOP has, highlighting the views of skeptical scientists in the climate wars).

The government wins because they overwhelm the news flow, and confusion about complex matters forces people to trust somebody. And a majority reliably will decide to do nothing, and let the government handle it. Our only recourse is to find people whom we can trust for reliable information and analysis, no matter how unpalatable.

(2)  Journalists struggle to understand the hack

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Here are some of the most interesting bits from the flood of propaganda, noise, and information about the Sony hack.

Here’s a fascinating dissection of an early New York Times story about the hack, by the pseudonymous “Jericho”: “Anatomy of a NYT Piece on the Sony Hack and Attribution“, 19 December 2014. It shows the skill journalists use to create the shiny narratives that package information for us.

Was North Korea behind the Sony hack? Not all experts agree.“, Christian Science Monitor, 22 December 2014 —  “Some cyber specialists aren’t convinced that North Korea was the culprit. One critic calls the the FBI’s evidence ‘weak’ and ‘at best, speculation.’ Others back the FBI claims.” Pro-FBI article pretending to be skeptical.

An excellent and balanced follow-up by Kim Zetter to her first article: “Experts Are Still Divided on Whether North Korea Is Behind Sony Attack“, Wired, 23 December 2014

The New York Times shifts the debate to the government’s side: “When Does a Cyberattack Warrant a Military Response?“, 23 December 2014. US foreign policy has become largely a question of who we attack next, and how.

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The next industrial revolution starts. Beware the Pied Pipers who lull us into passivity.

Summary:  Are we ready for the future? Not if we don’t learn from the past. This is a follow-up to Techno-utopians keep us ignorant of the past so we cannot see the future, another look at the dreams and evasions they spin to cloud our vision so that we don’t grab a fair share of the gains.

“In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if, in tempestous seasons, they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”
— John Maynard Keynes in A Tract on Monetary Reform (1923)

We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. … Today our concern must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.”
— John F. Kennedy’s Acceptance Speech, 15 July 1960

Sailing To Future

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Dreams of a Third Industrial Revolution

Although its effects remain uncertain, by now any who look can see that the Third Industrial Revolution has begun. Like the others, it will reshape society. Power and wealth go to those who manage these changes.

We’re at the stage when pundits work to actively hide the obvious implications, to forestall public policy action to mitigate the damage to vulnerable — and prevent the 1% from grabbing all the gains. A tweetstorms tweets by Silicon Valley’s Marc Andreessen (@pmarca) shows how it’s done. He ignores what we’ve learned from the past, shifts the focus from obvious dangers to strawmen, and looks to the smooth waters at the end (ignoring the rapids and falls of the passage ahead).

1/One of the most interesting topics in modern times is the “robots eat all the jobs” thesis; best book on topic: The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

2/The thesis is that computers can more and more substitute for human labor, thus displacing jobs and creating unemployment.

3/At core, this is Luddism — “lump of labor” fallacy, that there is a fixed amount of work to be done.

4/The counterargument is Milton Friedman: Human wants and needs are infinite; there is always more to do. 200 years of history confirms.

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Journalists warn us about the coming revolution, but we don’t listen

Summary: We have little confidence in journalists, although they have warned us well of past perils. Now a new challenge arrives, the 3rd industrial revolution. We refuse to prepare for its dangers. Here we review some of the many news articles about what’s happening, so we cannot say we weren’t warned.

A woman in the robot office

The last office worker

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Contents

  1. Journalists report, but we don’t listen
  2. Journalists report: long-form analysis
  3. The daily news tells the story, in chapters
  4. For More Information
  5. The Robot bedmate is coming

(1) Journalists report, but we don’t listen

We have low confidence in the news media (see Gallup’s Confidence in Institutions Poll), but perhaps the fault lies in the audience as much as the journalists. Nothing demonstrates our broken OODA loop (observation-orientation-decision-action process) as vividly as our inability to see what journalists tell us.

Our invasion and occupation of Iraq began with lies; it ended with our ignominious eviction — having accomplished nothing of value to the US. Journalists reported each step of our folly (amidst much chaff from the hawks). Yet three years later many American remain unaware of these — often belligerently holding to their lies and myths.

So it also goes with climate change. The pause in warming of the atmosphere since roughly 2000 has been reported by journalists (fitfully, amidst much chaff from alarmists), telling us about its recognition by climate scientists (followed by their research into its causes and likely duration).

In both cases journalists reported both the key information, and the chaff by activists seeking to conceal this information. As citizens, consumers of news, we have a responsibility to sort the news to see the facts, not just whine that we were misled. Now this information cycle begins again with the start of a third industrial, widespread automation of white-collar jobs.

(2) Journalists report: long-form analysis

Here are articles about the great changes about to come, reshaping America. Everybody will be affected, even professionals who smirk at job losses in the lower class. Astonishing changes. But not so amazing as our blindness to them, even as the clock already runs.

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Finding insights in the seas of information & misinformation

Summary: We have magnitudes greater access to information and analysis than any previous generation. Yet a look at the comments section of any website quickly shows that the information highway runs in vain. A reader asks how can we do better?

“Nietzsche said the newspaper had replaced the prayer in the life of the modern bourgeois, meaning that the busy, the cheap, the ephemeral, had usurped all that remained of the eternal in his daily life.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (1988)

“News is what somebody does not want you to print. All the rest is advertising.”
— attributed to Alfred C. Harmsworth (1865–1922), British newspaper magnate

Data man

Contents

  1. A serious problem of our time
  2. Don’t listen to amateur analysis
  3. Start with the views of major institutions
  4. About government agencies & NGOs
  5. There is always another side
  6. Check the history of the experts you rely upon
  7. How to follow an issue
  8. The big challenge
  9. What can you do to make a difference?

(1)  Email from a reader about a serious problem of our time

I have been spending the past few days reading posts as well as comments, and cannot help but feel jaded from the divide I see between your strong opposing forces.

I am disillusioned and not sure what to believe now of the scientific community. I always thought there was a dignified but unified dialogue between educated individuals. I can see now that even the peer reviewed journals that I trusted can be interpreted any which way. My question is – how do I, as a concerned American and student, cut through the noise to the raw data?

I’m not sure what to believe anymore.

It’s a serious problem. Gallup’s annual poll of our Confidence in Institutions shows a long collapse in confidence in everything but the military and police.

For good reason. Our ruling elites have made a discovery of the sort that changes the destiny of nations: we are gullible. We love lies. Slowly this knowledge spreads, and more people learn that lies work — and the truth becomes a disposable commodity. As a result Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda.

So what can we do to see through the flak to the truth?

News

(2)  Don’t listen to amateur analysis

It might be correct, but you and I — as laypeople — cannot tell fact from fiction. Journalism differs from amateur analysis; it reports the analysis of experts (rather than the reporter doing his own).

For an example of this rule’s importance, see Should we listen to amateurs’ analysis of climate science?

(3)  Start with the views of major institutions

You’ll often need to dig, since activists often work to mask more authoritative views. An journalists often highlight activists, with their vivid confident messages, over the grey but solid information from relevant institutions.  The views of institutions is seldom definitive, and often wrong; but these are the sources to base your learning upon.

That’s true in the climate wars. For climate change, we have the work of the IPCC, UK Met Office, NOAA, etc. They’re expanded their outreach programs, becoming both relevant and easy to understand. Unfortunately, both Left and Right have abandoned them as insufficiently alarmist and politically inconvenient. They make guest appearances, like the Pope, as useful; but both tend to rely on other sources for analysis and prediction.

Examples of climate activists ignoring the IPCC:

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A powerful story about global warming in Alaska that has set Twitter aflame

Summary: Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. It’s a story of science, skillful writing, and a very gullible America. The 21st century might prove unpleasant for America unless we tighten our game.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.

See and freak out! Click to enlarge.

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Contents

  1. NASA’s photo of the Day
  2. Plaiting the facts
  3. One step more, into agitprop
  4. The rest of the story about warming Alaska
  5. For More Information

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(1) NASA’s photo of the Day

Let’s review the story that today set Twitter afire with panic about global warming. But first let’s rewind the tape to see the source of the story.

NASA Image of the Day Gallery: “Rare Clear View of Alaska“, 19 June 2013 — Photo above.

On most days, relentless rivers of clouds wash over Alaska, obscuring most of the state’s 6,640 miles (10,690 kilometers) of coastline and 586,000 square miles (1,518,000 square kilometers) of land. The south coast of Alaska even has the dubious distinction of being the cloudiest region of the United States, with some locations averaging more than 340 cloudy days per year.

That was certainly not the case on June 17, 2013, the date that the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired this rare, nearly cloud-free view of the state. The absence of clouds exposed a striking tapestry of water, ice, land, forests, and even wildfires.

… The same ridge of high pressure that cleared Alaska’s skies also brought stifling temperatures to many areas accustomed to chilly June days. Talkeetna, a town about 100 miles north of Anchorage, saw temperatures reach 96°F (36°C) on June 17. Other towns in southern Alaska set all-time record highs, including Cordova, Valez, and Seward. The high temperatures also helped fuel wildfires and hastened the breakup of sea ice in the Chukchi Sea.

(2) Plaiting the facts

Nothing remarkable in this story. But in the hands of skilled alarmists it becomes: “A Clear View of Alaska — and Maybe Our Future“, Phil Plait, Slate, 20 June 2013. Plait is an astronomer who worked for 10 years on Hubble Space Telescope data, and now writes about science — with a side line in climate alarmism (e.g., calling people “deniers” who cite science research he doesn’t like). Plait connects the NASA story with some current research, ignores contrary research, and produces a standard example of climate propaganda.

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Why we have the news media that we deserve

Summary: Two recent new articles revisit a sad story from our past. Gary Webb had a distinguished career in journalism, until his series in the San Jose Mercury News about the CIA’s involvement in smuggling drugs into America. What happened afterwards tells us much about America. We’re ignorant because we have the news media we deserve, since we do not appreciate or protect whistleblowers and journalists who tell us unpleasant truths. This leaves them vulnerable to attack by powerful interest groups. It’s a story of America’s decline.

We some journalists better than we deserve

Some journalists are better than we deserve

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Contents

  1. Webb’s allegations about the CIA
  2. The Empire strikes back
  3. Conclusions
  4. For More Information about the CIA

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(1) Webb’s allegations about the CIA

Urban legends that circulate to this day that the CIA created and profited from the crack epidemic that devastated our inner cities in the 1980s.There was an element of truth in these allegations, with their origin in a 1996 series of articles by Gary Webb in the San Jose Mercury News. They had a core of truth, but were wildly exaggerated. For details see:

(2) The Empire strikes back

Fast, open and thorough investigations could have shown the small CIA involvement in drug smuggling (their dirty work prevents them from working only with nice people). Eventually investigations did so with varying degrees of credibility.

But that’s not our government’s way. One way or another steps were taken to ruin Webb’s career. Perhaps by coincidence, Webb’s accusations against the government received massive investigations by major newspaper, which they never given to investigations of government iniquity.

Two recent articles describe this sad history.

Ex-L.A. Times Writer Apologizes for ‘Tawdry’ Attacks“, LA Weekly, 30 May 2013 — “Jesse Katz admits that attacking journalist Gary Webb’s CIA-cocaine expose ruined Webb’s life”. Excerpt:

“Dark Alliance” blew the lid off the CIA’s ties to America’s crack market by showing for the first time not just the agency’s role in turning a blind eye to Nicaraguan contras smuggling cocaine to the United States but also vividly illustrating the role of that cocaine in the spread — via marketers like Ross — of crack in America’s inner cities.

The movie will portray Webb as a courageous reporter whose career and life were cut short when the nation’s three most powerful newspapers piled on to attack Webb and his three-part Mercury News series on the CIA’s crack-cocaine connection.

The New York Times, Washington Post and L.A. Times each obscured basic truths of Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. But no newspaper tried harder than the L.A. Times, where editors were said to have been appalled that a distant San Jose daily had published a blockbuster about America’s most powerful spy agency and its possible role in allowing drug dealers to flood South L.A. with crack.

Seeing the Gray in ‘Dark Alliance’“, Los Angeles Magazine, 6 June 2013 — “Jesse Katz on the life and death and Hollywood resurrection of Gary Webb, the reporter who linked the CIA to the crack epidemic.” Excerpt:

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Learning to see beyond the American Pravda

Summary:  Here we discuss a powerful article about a serious weakness of America — our broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop. Specifically, our ability to orient our present in term of our history, a broken mechanism because of our amnesia and gullibility. We need not be like this; we can change.

Unless we see & remember, news is the 21st C's opiate of the masses.

Unless we see & remember, news is the 21st C’s opiate of the masses.

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Recommended reading: “Our American Pravda“, Ron Unz, The America Conservative, 29 April 2013 — “The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?”

The author discusses one of the marvels of our age: how the world is nothing like we saw it a 70 years ago, or even a decade ago. The author discusses a some noteworthy examples of our gullibility and amnesia.

  • The serious penetration of communist sympathisers and agents in the US government (although exaggerated by conservatives like McCarthy, Nixon, and Unz).
  • The frequent failure of our corporate accounting and regulatory apparatus, as seen in the tech-boom busts (with Enron the last and largest examples) and the banking failures during the great recession.
  • The massive campaign of lies surrounding the anthrax attack (so vital in passing the Patriot Act) and our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • And other stories even more thoroughly ignored by the mainstream press, and so remaining unknown to the American people.

Unz’s great article just scratches the surface of the layered deceptions preventing Americans from clearly seeing the world as it is.

Our Presidents, a facade of lies hides the men

US Presidents are among the most closely scrutinized people on the planet. We must know their true nature since they take office only after a successful career and brutally long election.  But we don’t. In fact the media help develop characterizations for Presidents & VPs, which becomes “fact” for Americans through intensive indoctrination. Kennedy was a sportsman and family man. Ford was a clumsy. Dan Quayle was dumb. Reagan was a fool. It’s astonishing how consistently wrong these are. Backwards, even.

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