Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fauxtography and the absence of internal controls in the mainstream media 

It isn't just Reuters that is doctoring photographs to make Israel's attacks look more brutal than they are. The New York Times and U.S. News have done the same thing. Here's some remarkable analysis courtesy of the blogosphere's distributed intelligence (and Glenn Reynolds, who is intelligent, but not distributed).

Now, the Grey Lady and U.S. News are not exactly known for their opposition to Israel, at least at an editorial level. The New York Times editorial page is substantially more supportive of Israel, in fact, than it is of the United States. So these examples of fraudulent photography beg the question, how does this sort of thing happen?

My guess is the reporters and photographers of both publications (and most other mainstream media organs) tend to be "transnational progressive" in their political views -- you know, supporters of "international law," the United Nations, and moral equivalence in all conflicts. Even so, a proper corporate quality system could avoid most of these scandals.

Mainstream media companies are huge organizations, yet they do not (apparently) have systems in place to prevent manipulation of their product by their own staff. Indeed, it seems that if these scandals reveal anything, it is that media organizations have not subjected themselves to the same internal controls requirements that virtually every other industry has adopted (mostly after agitation by the media, I might add). These internal controls, most famously embodied in the Sarbanes-Oxley law but fundamental to any organized quality system, invariably require checks and balances before a product is released or a transaction confirmed. All employees must be trained regularly in compliance with standard operating procedures, and good companies have internal audit teams to measure compliance. Any experienced quality executive from a medical device company could probably design a system of auditable standard operating procedures for a newspaper or broadcast news operation, at least after a few months of learning the business. It is mystifying that media companies do not seem to have developed robust corporate quality systems. One wonders when they will get a clue.

UPDATE: Ace says the NYT is saved by the caption. All part and parcel of auto-correction in the blogosphere!


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Aug 09, 11:46:00 AM:

In a good number of these cases, the problem appears to be that a contractor, over whom the Large Media Organization has little control, is assumed to have followed impeccable procedures to produce their work products. What sort of training or auditing must you undergo to be a "stringer" for Reuters?

Anyhow, I agree with your main point. It's baffling that large media companies have not implemented internal quality control procedures similar to what you'd find in any other large industry.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Aug 09, 12:38:00 PM:

Media companies are not subject to being held accountable for inferior product in the way that other industries are. The damages caused by "tainted product" (e.g. misleading photographs or stories) are so diffuse and hard to quantify that they don't fear a lawsuit the way other manufacturers (like drug producers) do. The things we're complaining about recently don't lend themselves to defamation actions. Media may suffer a fall-off in subscriptions/viewers, but even that isn't as extreme as might result in other industries because subscribers may perceive themselves as receiving many other benefits from the tainted product -- people buy the Times for science and entertainment news, not just for reporting on the Israel/Hezbollah conflict). The media doesn't have much incentive to do quality control.  

By Blogger geoffgo, at Wed Aug 09, 02:49:00 PM:

It seems the press actually thinks that we'll lift a finger to defend their "neutral" asses, if it comes down to that.

I'm hoping the terrorists cells, here at home, will all be fly-papered into the NYT HQ building, as their last stand. Condos will create a more sustainable tax base on that space.  

By Blogger geoffgo, at Wed Aug 09, 03:06:00 PM:


So, its the same type of mis-carriage of justice as the inserting of ads that are subsconciously leading, but in a reversal of context?

I thought subsconsiously leading media (no matter the direction - and given PC, it's a mis-direction to somebody) was against the law?

Let's focus. We'll get some Israeli lawyers and sue the bastids, even while Iran lobs ever-larger pay-loads, ever-more accurately, from ever-farther away, directly into Israel. Reporters move ever-faster on William Shakespear's list, now surpassing lawyers.  

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