Are the photos of Syria's dead children a form of propaganda?
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Even as President Trump grapples daily with the truth, it's hard to find fault with this assertion at his press conference with NATO's chief:
"And everybody in this room saw it all too many times over the last three or four days — young children dying, babies dying, fathers holding children in their arms that were dead. Dead children — there can't be a worse sight, and it shouldn’t be allowed. That's a butcher."
That's the chemical gas attack in Syria, which generated potent images seen worldwide.
Writing in Time, Andrew Katz asserts, "Never before has the influence of photography been so tested as it has with Syria. Millions of pictures and videos have emerged over more than six years of war. Students, bakers and teachers made cameras their weapon of choice."
"Photographers have been kidnapped, maimed, tortured, ransomed and executed. Some images have won awards. Others have been viewed by those who critics say (they) could make peace a reality. The majority of photographs remain hidden in plain sight — available if we want them, avoidable if we don’t." (Time)
Once again, it's interesting as to what focuses attention, albeit briefly, on the years of atrocities in Syria, be they committed by the Assad regime or ISIS. A special U.N. panel on Syria keeps issuing reports on the atrocities. If you're interested — the U.S. press hasn't been — you can find them here.
But what to make of those images that Trump alludes to and clearly play some role in what CNN's Jake Tapper facetiously (and correctly) yesterday called ("being charitable") the "evolution" of his foreign policy views on Syria, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin?
Mary Panzer, a New York photo curator and historian, suggests the provocative notion of considering the word propaganda. She notes how, until the end of the 19th century, the word was a neutral term for disseminating information on behalf of a cause. But the potent propaganda during World War I led to the common, derogatory meaning of today.
Citing the work of Sheryl Tuttle Ross, a philosophy of art specialist at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, she notes how "propaganda exists whenever a charged message (in any medium) is used with the intention to persuade a socially significant group of people on behalf of a political institution, organization, or cause."
So when Ivanka Trump or U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley uses photographs of the corpses of Syrian children killed by sarin gas "to persuade the president or the U.N. to come to their defense, that's an act of propaganda. When the President responds so strongly to a stack of photographs that his daughter and his staff brought to his attention, we need to pay attention."
She notes how Trump has underscored his sharp response to visual evidence of the dead children. "Big impact on me, big impact," he said. She finds the emphasis of Trump, and Sean Spicer in describing Trump's response separately, was "on images, not real bodies that those images represent."
It sounds harsh but Panzer does believe, "It's justified to remember that whenever you want to move the President in your direction, show him some pictures of children's corpses."
And it's justified to note the scattered press attention to Syria. Several hundred thousand civilians have died and more than 10 million have either fled or been internally displaced.
But media images of a little Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach or victims of a chemical gas attack prompt coverage — at least momentarily — of the underlying issues. Our attention is painfully sporadic.
United Airlines chief's ironic bonus plan
Bloomberg offers a nice follow to the airline's debacle: "United ties about $500,000 of CEO Oscar Munoz’s annual bonus to customer satisfaction questionnaires. The manhandling of a doctor dragged off an overbooked flight in Chicago — and Munoz’s response, widely viewed as ham-handed — doesn’t figure to help his cause."
Correct. But his target compensation for 2016 was in excess of $14 million. We'll find out shortly how much he did receive. He'll get rich even as customers get screwed.
New day, same Trump
"President Trump’s bushel of false claims in his Fox Business interview" is the succinct headline atop a fact check from The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of an interview conducted by Fox Business Channel's Maria Bartiromo. One of multiple examples results from this Trump assertion:
“’The New York Times’ said the word 'wiretapped' in the headline of the first edition. Then they took it out of there fast when they realized.”
Say the Post reporters: "This is false. Trump is mixing up headlines written for the print and Internet versions of the article. The headlines were not changed in any nefarious manner, as Trump suggests."
With a little help from BuzzFeed
Reynaldo Guevara is a very much disgraced former Chicago Police Department detective. A 2015 review of Guevara-related cases by a former U.S Attorney concluded that Roberto Almodovar was likely framed of a double murder by the cop. Attorneys argued that the 1995 conviction of another defendant, William Negron, turned on the same set of allegations. (The Chicago Reporter)
"At least four Guevara-linked murder convictions have been overturned in recent years — including two last summer — and dozens more have been challenged, as Buzzfeed reported last week in great detail." Almodovar and Negron have spent more than two decades in prison. That's right, two decades. Now they'll be free. (Chicago Tribune)
The Cook County State's Attorney yesterday said it was dropping the charges "eight days after a BuzzFeed News investigation into Almodovar’s case and the former detective who got him locked away for more than two decades. The investigation found that at least 51 people have accused Guevara of framing them for murder and that Chicago authorities had ample warnings about the long series of allegations against him." (BuzzFeed)
The glories of a Pulitzer Prize
At big, famous places, a Pulitzer winner just might wind up at dinner that night at a fancy place with top management, family and a friend or two. What was the deal with Art Cullen, the passionate editor who won for editorial writing at the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times (circulation 3,000)?
"Home. Frozen pizza."
Well, the publisher (his brother) saved a few bucks. Meanwhile, of the many requests for his time, what might be the most notable, or oddest?
"I was on deadline Tuesday trying to put this Pulitzer stuff together and the phones are ringing off the hook. This producer from the BBC keeps calling wanting to talk to me. I tell him to bugger off until after 11 a.m. He, like (U.S. Sen.) Elizabeth Warren, persisted. I hung up the phone and cursed, 'Why can’t an Irishman call me?!' And then they did."
Snap's first earnings call
"Snap has set a date for its first-ever earnings call: Wednesday, May 10, after the public markets close. It’ll be the first time that Snap, which just went public last month, reports earnings as a public company, and the first major update from the company since it released its IPO paperwork in February." (Recode)
Dealing with lies
The Hollywood Reporter offers a group interview with anchors Jake Tapper, George Stephanopoulos, Gayle King, Brett Baier and Savannah Guthrie that inevitably confronts the challenge of dealing with lies.
And at what point do you ratchet things down?
Says Baier: "You have to pick the hills that you die on. Because people at home look at it and say, 'Why are you focusing on this? I care about my job, I care about my healthcare.' You heard that through the campaign. And I think that sometimes we get [so focused] on what's happening day to day in Washington that we forget about bouncing around to those small markets in Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin."
The O'Reilly ad factor
"In the four weeks prior to the allegations being made public, an average prime-time airing of The O’Reilly Factor carried 33 national spots totaling 14 minutes and 32 seconds of commercial time (excluding network promos and local spots bought by cable providers). That bottomed out on April 7 with seven national spots totaling four minutes and 40 seconds. The April 10 broadcast had 11 paid national spots totaling seven minutes and 10 seconds." (Adweek)
"The Fake News Story No One's Talking About — Reporter Kevin Deutsch has been accused of fabricating sources in stories for major publications – so where's the outrage?" (Rolling Stone)
Actually, there have been a bunch stories, including ones like this in Poynter. And several big organizations are in the midst of investigations. The thesis here is too facile by half.
The morning babble
Do we have a slight thawing in reflexively negative views of Trump? He went from truth-bending wacko to geopolitical pragmatist rather quickly this morning. A new zeitgeist was suggested in the opening item, titled, "Operation Normal," in Mike Allen's new Axios column.
Meanwhile, Carol Lee of The Wall Street Journal discussed her interview with Trump yesterday as CNN's "New Day" exhibited a smidgen of sympathy, focused early on his ongoing ditching of campaign declarations, such as on the evils of NATO and gross Chinese currency manipulations.
Egregious flip-flop or a new sensible pragmatism? Pundit David Gregory was sympathetic, while he also underscored how Trump "wants The Wall Street Journal there, he wants The New York Times there, to see him as legitimate."
MSNBC's "Morning Joe" assessed yesterday as a "good day" after which the Russians "understand that they can't do certain things in Europe or the Middle East and have the field to themselves," as foreign affairs pundit Richard Haass put it. Fine but, back home, can he show flexibility with, say, the Republicans' "Freedom Caucus" and have any hope of cobbling together a majority in the House?
"Fox & Friends'" regular breakfast reporting brought them to a diner in Scranton, Pennsylvania where the breakfasting owner of another restaurant said he didn't want to see the minimum wage raised because well, he's got lots of minimum-wage workers and doesn't want to pay them more! Ah, yes, the heart of America!
Lest you wonder...
So, yes, fair-minded journalists can get things wrong or offer dramatically varying takes on the seemingly same set of facts. It's clearly no different with academics:
"Over the past two weeks, academic economists (and a couple of bystanders) have been arguing about why economics wasn’t able to guide policy better during the Great Recession. Some blame nonacademic economists. Others blame prominent academics. Others still say that economic advice doesn’t really matter, because politicians will pay attention only to the advice that they wanted to hear anyway." (The Washington Post)
Cutting through media clutter
Speaking of academics, if you are one and really desirous of making serious work accessible to a larger public, how do you cut through the clutter and not feel as if you're slumming? It was a topic at a big political science gathering over the weekend in Chicago. (U.S. News & World Report)
"Public engagement is a bank shot into the profession," said Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at Dartmouth College and a serial tweeter. "Your research will be read by more people if you engage in it publicly."
He articulated, too, what might be painfully obvious: When it comes to many academic journals, "No one reads them, even in our field."
Personal note: I'm heading out of the country later today for a family reunion of folks who unavoidably aren't as confused as Sean Spicer was about atrocities of World War II. Our parents and/or grandparents were lucky to flee Hitler. I'll be back here Tuesday morning.