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Who decides what’s news?

In a recent press briefing, a US State Department spokesman was asked whether the State Department considered WikiLeaks to be a media organization:

Q: Do you know if the State Department regards WikiLeaks as a media organization?

A: No. We do not.

Q: And why not?

A: WikiLeaks is not a media organization. That is our view.

But what is really interesting is that when pressed, the spokesperson said “Mr. Assange obviously has a particular political objective behind his activities, and I think that, among other things, disqualifies him as being considered a journalist.”

As several websites have pointed out, does that mean that the State Department doesn’t consider Fox News to be a media organization?

That reminds me of an old quote: “News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.” – Lord Northcliffe



  1. Jason Ray wrote:

    There is a big difference between working for a “media organization” and being a journalist  Fox News is clearly a media organization, but journalism is about reporting “news” – i.e. facts of current and past events. I could make the argument that many of the Fox News employees are not reporting facts, so they don’t qualify. But as with all media, the quality control and safety net is in the editing, not in the investigation.

    What I find more troubling (and has been discussed at length on another post) is that both people with access to secure information and Wikileaks choose to access and publish that secure information when it is (mainly) just harmful and not helpful. If publishing our diplomatic telegrams or Afghanistan war reports blew the cover off a big conspiracy (like the Pentagon Papers did, when they showed how the Johnson Administration has systematically lied to Congress and the public) that would be one thing, but mainly it has only served to embarrass people and put some specific people (like our Afghan informants) in mortal peril.

    I think the Wikileaks organization is a good thing. I think having good investigative journalism revealing facts that are being systematically hidden is a good thing. And I think what Assange is doing definitely classifies as journalism. I only wish that they had better editors 

    Monday, December 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm | Permalink
  2. patriotsgt wrote:

    I agree with you Jason Ray.
    I’d like to add that the national cable media organizations have become filled with 3 types of public personalities. The non journalist opinion givers whom pick political sides are the most prevalent in the prime time (5-11 pm) followed by “reporters” who choose which news to report that favors the political views of the network they work for and lastly the close to true journalist, the smallest group. Most of them do not work for the network cable news organizations, although there are bound to be a few in each (very few). Most work for independent news agencies, local outlets and orgs like NPR.
    So, based on my own categorizations I’d have to say Assange and Wikileaks falls into the middle category at best. They acquire materiel that seems to support their ideology, at least concerning all the US classified documents.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 6:38 am | Permalink
  3. Jason Ray wrote:

    Good points, Patriotsgt. Our Bill of Rights included freedom of the press, so that good investigative journalism that is fact-based and objective acts as a control mechanism and an illuminating spotlight on the venality of politics. Jon Stewart made this point at the Rally to Restore Sanity – over the last decade especially, this control mechanism has broken. As he put it, “The 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator doesn’t create our problems, but it does make them much harder to resolve.”

    It’s truly a sad fact that a fake news show designed for comedy (the Daily Show) often presents more effective news coverage than the actual news organizations. We need to get away from Faux News (on both wings of the political spectrum) and it’s not clear how or when – and I agree with Jon Stewart it’s particularly disappointing that CNN hasn’t been trying to become “the most trusted name in news.”

    We need more true journalists and truly non-partisan news organizations, and I agree with you Patriotsgt that there are some examples in local markets. I also think that AP and Reuters do a pretty good job of providing the feeds. Therefore we have the underpinnings in place, and hopefully some media company will step up to the challenge.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  4. Sammy wrote:

    What I’ve found lacking in the discussion of WikiLeaks is how it’s so easy for classified documents to leak. Shouldn’t the Pentagon be held more accountable for keeping their secrets, well, secret?

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  5. patriotsgt wrote:

    The government investigate itself, what are you thinking Sammy? They only investigate scapegoats and they got one in Manning. He’s just a symptom, but a scapegoat none the less.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 4:08 pm | Permalink