Until the rise of first conservative forums such as Free Republic in the mid-1990s (who would later instantly pounce on Dan Rather’s forged documents in September of 2004), and then Matt Drudge and eventually the Blogosphere, most consumers of news had little idea of how the sausage was made, other than sensationalistic Hollywood productions such as All the President’s Men and Lou Grant. The one exception prior to the rise of the Web might have been during the early 1980s. That was when the first commercially available satellite dishes went on the market, and savvy users with early VCRs recorded television journalists beaming their videotaped reports across the country and anchormen prepping for the nightly news, before the networks started scrambling their product to prevent unwanted downloads. The sort of “found footage” collected by Harry Shearer is typical of this genre.
But once the Blogosphere took off, and people who had an interest in exploring how the media actively shapes the news (or attempts to create it, in the case of Dan and his producer) could start trading blogposts, moments such as this became increasingly common. Here’s the image of Cindy Sheehan and Al Sharpton the way that the MSM (and Sheehan and Sharpton) wanted you to see them in 2005:
Here’s the sausage being made:
In the Middle East, manufacturing dissent is done on an assembly line basis. Occasionally though, it’s possible to pull the camera back a bit, in some cases, literally. As Ben Domenech writes at Ricochet, “Stop what you’re doing and watch this pretty incredible video on photojournalism and propaganda, from Ruben Salvadori:”
At Power Line, Steve Hayward adds:
There were a few reported instances back in the late 1960s and early 1970s where TV crews showed up at college campuses with anti-war signs to pass out to students to make sure they got the right visuals. And then there’s this devastating expose by a young Italian journalist named Ruben Salvadori about how photojournalists have become not merely part of the story of Palestinian unrest on the West Bank, but the instigators of it.
I hadn’t heard reports of the MSM actually handing out protest signs, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I do know the story that Tom Wolfe told Bill Moyers of PBS, when he was promoting The Bonfire of the Vanities, which we’ll quote right after the page jump.
Back in 1988, Moyers asked Wolfe, “You’ve been around a long time, been around this city a long time, but there’s a sense of wonderment in your reporting which becomes the fiction of Bonfire of the Vanities. What surprised you most?”
Well, one of the things is what I would call “media ricochet”, which is the way real life and life as portrayed by television, by journalists like myself and others, begin ricocheting off of one another. That’s why to me, in Bonfire of the Vanities, it was so important to show exactly how this occurs when television and newspaper coverage become a factor in something like racial politics. And a good bit of the book has to do with this curious phenomenon of how demonstrations, which are a great part of racial and ethnic politics, exist only for the media. In the last days when I was working on The New York Herald-Tribune, I’ll never forget the number of demonstrations I went to and announced that to all the people with the placards, “I’m from The New York Herald-Tribune,” and the attitude was really a yawn, and then, “Get lost”. They were waiting for Channel 2 and Channel 4 and Channel 5, and suddenly the truck would appear and these people would become galvanized. On one occasion I even saw a group of demonstrators down in Union Square, marching across the Square, and Channel 2 arrived, a couple of vans, and the head of the demonstration walked up to what looked like the head man of the TV crew and said, “What do you want us to do?” He says, “Golly, I don’t know. What were you going to do?” He says, “It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. You tell us.”
In 2006, Austin Bay explored how media-fueled dissent works on a global scale:
Remember the “Arab street,” that riot-in-the-road featuring flammable Israeli flags, Saddam Hussein posters, clenched fists and chants threatening “Death to America”? The street may have lacked pavement and a fire hydrant, but it had beaucoup television cameras.
Flames, clenched fists and death threats — a heart-pounding collage of sensational imagery and rhetoric. What more could a TV exec need to attract audience eyeballs?
Recall the talking heads who told us in 1990, after Saddam invaded Kuwait, that “the Arab street” was going to rise en masse, as an ur-proletariat, which would support Saddam against the West. If you need documentation, check out a few old PBS “NewsHour” transcripts.
But the mass rising didn’t happen. Why? Because the Arab street was, to a great extent, the creation of television cameras. Political operatives — no doubt many on Saddam’s payroll — knew they could attract the sensation-hungry camera crews and use the media to project the operatives’ preferred “image of anger.”
Twenty-first century Islamo-fascist terrorists, however, have refined the model and moved beyond an image of anger to a new form of prepared global ambush that integrates murder, terror and instant media.
But perhaps the best example of how images are manufactured in the Middle East was Richard Landes’ devastating video from around 2005, titled, Pallywood:
In a related post, at Commentary today, Peter Wehner explores the likely surreal nature of Mr. Obama’s campaign for reelection this year:
We are now reaching the point in which the president is running a truly post-modern campaign, in which there is no objective truth but simply narrative. Obama’s campaign isn’t simply distorting the facts; it is inverting them. This kind of thing isn’t unusual to find in the academy. But to see a president and his campaign so thoroughly deconstruct truth in order to maintain power is quite rare. The sheer audacity of Obama’s cynicism is a wonder of the modern world.
Obama may be running a postmodern campaign, but the MSM got there long before he did. No wonder both the president and his media are so comfortable with each other — not the least of which, when it concerns the Middle East.