Glass Houses

Photo © This American Life

I also found it extremely difficult to listen to the “Retraction” episode of This American Life. I could not even listen to the whole episode—I had to read the transcript. The only way I could have relieved the fury building up inside me, as I listened to that podcast, would have been to slap Ira Glass across the face. I have never heard such sanctimonious, self-serving hypocrisy in my life—not from someone I respect.

I am going to tell you some things that may shock you. Richard III was not a hunchback. Salieri played no part in Mozart’s death. On a related note, Facebook is not Mark Zuckerberg’s revenge against a world of human relationships that he realized he could never really be a part of. When I was in college, I was in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged); and every night I, Caitlin Cashin, declared that one of my fellow performers was a preeminent Shakespearean scholar with a bachelors degree knowing full well that neither of these things were true.

Foxconned

Mike Daisey

This week’s episode of “This American Life,” in which Rob Schmitz and Ira Glass carefully dismantle Mike Daisey’s testimony about conditions in Foxconn factories, so depressed me that afterward I felt as if I’d been thrown into a pot of melancholy and boiled over low heat. Hearing Daisey audibly wither under Glass’ questioning, trying to grope for justifications between long, awkward silences, it seemed to me that all this uncomfortableness could have been avoided by simply telling the truth.

We now know that Daisey fabricated certain details in his one-man show, The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, for the noble purpose of keeping media attention on factory conditions in China. To this end he appeared on television programs, op-ed pages, and, yes, “This American Life.”

Let me say now that although I appreciate artistic license and understand the virtue of employing falsehoods in the service of a greater truth, lying to media outlets that stake their reputation on journalistic accuracy is crossing a line. Why didn’t Daisey just say that he was an artist and not a journalist when this all began? Did he think the reality of the Chinese manufacturing industry was not shocking enough to pique the American public interest?

Anti-social Behavior

google

Shortly after Google’s social networking platform, Google+, was launched on June 28, reports sprung up of it being blocked by the Chinese government. On June 30, The Guardian used two sites (Great Firewall of China and Just Ping) to ping plus.google.com from a Chinese server and, after failing to reach the site, concluded that the government […]

Tittle-Tattle Fatigue

Libya

I’m a regular CCTV viewer. Hand to God.

However, most shows I watch grudgingly because I can’t avoid it. Living with a Chinese partner in a miniscule one-bedroom apartment has forced me to accept the ubiquity of the television in the Chinese household—it is switched on in the morning and in the evening, and left on at full volume. Why? Just because. It is only recently that I’ve come to see the striking similarity between the television itself and the programming it broadcasts.

Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone

Picture this. A top official of a powerful state newspaper stands before a room of journalism students and flatly admits that their government has been lying to them, changing facts in the news or omitting them altogether. The hero of a dystopian novel? A whistle-blower who’s had enough?

Just the opposite. Xia Lin, the deputy editor-in-chief of Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, was giving a lecture entitled “Understanding Journalistic Protocols for Covering Breaking News” at the Tianjin Foreign Studies University in which he defended the practice of massaging the truth when it comes to news, citing the critical role of media to maintain societal stability. The examples he gave were shocking, but only confirmed what most skeptical human beings believe: that their government lies to them on a daily basis.

Burying the Lead

It’s difficult for me to judge just how Orwellian China’s carefully groomed, state-run news coverage is: in America, coverage of the news is centered around the image of the news program or network; not the state. I do follow the BBC, therefore state-run media is not entirely out of my experience; but the BBC news website has not reported this story…

The News is Pasteurized

Last Thursday on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show Jon Stewart interviewed CNBC financial host Jim Cramer for the good part of a half-hour. It was a culmination of a week-long series of segments in which the The Daily Show attacked CNBC, a financial news network, for failures to responsibly or accurately report on the economic meltdown or any of its warning signs.

Afterward, the majority of news outlets framed the interview as a personal victory of Stewart over Cramer, the end of a “war of words” or the clash between two media personalities, saying that “Stewart won by knockout” or that “Stewart wrecked Cramer.” The fact that the news media focused on the personalities and less on the substance of the interview only reinforces a point made by Stewart

Homogenizing News

I had a very frustrating conversation with a Chinese woman once. She was a bright, intelligent person, web-savvy (she was a computer programmer), and on her way to Redmond to work at Microsoft. We began talking about the news, and I may have said some disparaging things about the reliability of the Chinese media. What surprised me was the sudden vehemence of her reaction. She was quite offended by the insinuation that the Chinese media was not trustworthy, and countered by telling me that the Western media was just as biased and unreliable. “How do you know that what they say is true? So how can you say that what the Chinese media says is not true? Maybe it’s not always completely true, but the West is just as bad.”

The End of News Freedom?

No, The New York Times will not die. Neither will The Washington Post; at the very least, their robust national circulation and storied history will make them viable—if not necessarily profitable—arms of whatever multinational conglomerate currently owns them or may own them in the future. No, what we should be worried about are the Chicago Tribunes and the Los Angeles Times of the nation, the Houston Chronicles and the Sacramento Bees. The non-national papers are the ones that will suffer the most from the current newspaper crisis, and in some ways they are the ones most critical for the lifeblood of the American journalistic institution.

The End of Free News

Recently, there’s been quite a spate of articles proclaiming the death of news as we know it. Newspapers are teetering on the edge of financial insolvency, shedding staff like bad dandruff, and bemoaning the popularity of aggregation sites like The Huffington Post (or, for example, our own site). A number of suggestions have been floated to solve the problem, mostly involving making people pay for the news access that they currently get for free on the web. But will this alone be enough?