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'Fog facts' in both media and print


Part 1

Although TV and, by extension, every media device that carries its content, deserves to be called out for its distortions that misinform public discourse, both TV/media and print deserve reproach for what they do not address and so starve public discourse of content that it would find actionable.

Larry Beinhart calls this overlooked class of information "fog facts":

Fog facts are things that have been reported, somewhere, sometime, but have disappeared into the mist—like the pre-9/11 hints that there were hijackers in our midst. The fog facts can still be found by enterprising reporters, but with time and news space increasingly crunched—and media priorities shifting to the trivial—they usually remain obscure, at least to the general public.

Beinhart should know as he has made a practice of employing fog facts as a central mechanism in his novels, American Hero [great snippets here] which was the basis for the film Wag the Dogand The Librarian, and now the nonfiction Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin.

Fog Facts is about "the fog surrounding the small kernels of truth. There is so much fog, the truth disappears." Beinhart believes that "the media are manipulated by a new breed of super-smart spin doctors who are exploiting the fact that the media try to report facts objectively" and that this spin which protects US politicians from damage "has seeped into every level of politics" thereby hastening Baudrillard's new reality.

Beinhart is also cynical about politics and politicians of all shades although I would position him as more liberal than conservative, especially as he cites this as the cusp of his lapse into cynicism:

[After enduring privation as an aspiring movie producer, Beinhart was tempted by] "a right-wing Republican condominium developer. Would Beinhart and his company mind producing a series of ads that had an explicit anti-gay message? Beinhart bristled - his first instinct was "of course not"- but [privation being what it was] he accepted the offer but subverted it by hiring only gay actors and a gay production crew. "I wasn't sure if it was a cynical move on my behalf or hysterical," he says.

Beinhart's politics may inform the examples that he highlights but they do not dilute his message. His 'fog facts' on Senator Bill Frist and VP Cheney should have long ago received more scrutiny. Beinhart takes journalists to task for treating non-political and political news differently. Holding up the Lake George drownings against Frist's financials, he says that:

[In] the Lake George stories, details, background and context were as natural as using a headline and a lead paragraph, yet the breaking Frist story was written as if the events occurred in ghostly isolation, disconnected from others like them, from society, and from humanity in general. [Lake George] has a certain neutrality about it. It’s real news (it’s not political scandal). So reporters and editors fearlessly get it all for us. They do not just report the events, they pull all the relevant facts (laws, history, similar events, speculations, social impact) out of the thousands of bits of information floating around-- out of the fog.

The other story is also news. In terms of what will or will not happen to us in the future, it is significantly more important. All the bits and pieces that I’ve tossed in here can be found, without too much effort. Yet, they're not there. They're still lost in the fog. If I said that that it is because it involves a very powerful man backed by a very powerful political party with lots of supporters who attack the press when they feel their leaders are attacked, most reporters and editors would say no, they would never make a decision to report based on fear or favor. Yet virtually everyone handled the story the same way.

Fog remains underreported as the circumstances have become institutionalized. It is far easier to focus on "sordid, salacious facts about celebrities" or events that do not threaten journalists and their employers instead of the critical issues of the day.

This writer sees a bit of fog in the New York Times' handling of its reporter, Judith Miller, given that the Times seems to be perpetually scooped by other journalists. In a case that could possibly indict senior administration officials, the Times has been mute to the point that the editor of Editor & Publisher, Greg Mitchell, has to ask:

And while we're at it: Why have the Times' seven hard-hitting weekday opinion columnists remained virtually silent, pro or con, on their colleague Judith Miller throughout this ordeal? Conflicted? Afraid to appear disloyal? Or discouraged from commenting?

Part 3

SEC Issues Subpoena To Frist, Sources Say
Records Sought On Sale of Stock
By Carrie Johnson and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post
October 13, 2005

'N.Y. Times' Scooped Again, This Time on Miller's Notes
By E&P Staff
Editor & Publisher
October 08, 2005 10:35 AM ET updated 11:00 PM

The Case of the Missing Notebook
By Greg Mitchell
Editor & Publisher
October 09, 2005 12:40 PM ET

Reporters: Lost in the 'Fog'?
By Larry Beinhart
Editor & Publisher
October 06, 2005

Clearing away the fog of spin
Sydney Morning Herald
September 8, 2005

Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
By Larry Beinhart
Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2005

Fog Facts : Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin
Table of contents

Gordon Housworth

InfoT Public  Risk Containment and Pricing Public  Strategic Risk Public  


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