Analyzing News: How to Consider the Source

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes

After the election, many people realized they had been lied to by a biased political media that slanted polls, rigged debates, and buried important facts. Some of those people asked us how they can judge articles and find real information about the issues that affect their lives. We’ve come up with a two-part series of guidelines to help people out.

canstock-2016-nov-news-media

Golden Rule: Of the first ten rules of evaluating media, one through nine are “consider the source.”

Who owns the source?

The government used to have restrictions that prevented any one media outlet from monopolizing the broadcasting industry.

The fear was that a small number of companies owning all of the media would lead to media restricting and/or manipulating the news. During the 1980s, the US government relaxed those restrictions on media consolidation, and in 1996, the Telecommunications Act allowed corporations to suck up even more media outlets. Now, media is substantially consolidated, and a handful of corporations own and control pretty much all of the radio and television stations and major networks.

Also at play was the Fairness Doctrine. As a part of FCC broadcasting rules, it required that any broadcaster that aired controversial topics must provide time to present the opposing views. The Fairness Doctrine has not been enforced since 1985.

Many would say that between the relaxed regulations and the non-enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine, the original fears behind those now largely historical restrictions have been realized.

Every media source has an owner, a controlling shareholder, and/or influential donors.

While they all want to make money, some also want to create the world in their own image. Those who only want to make money will choose whatever message sells to their audience, and they will deliver it with gusto. Those who want to imprint posterity with their personal views will cultivate a like-minded audience and herd them toward certain long-term goals.

We’ll pick on two prominent examples, CNN and FOX.

CNN was founded by Ted Turner. Ted Turner is an avowed leftist and an open Fidel Castro admirer, not to mention “Hanoi Jane” Fonda’s ex. He also founded the Moscow Independent Broadcasting Network and Russian channel TV-6. In addition, Turner contributed $1 billion to the UN. He is consistent in fusing his progressive, global first personal stance with his penchant for sucking in the billions.

Evidence of this leftist foundational bias showed in the recent election with CNN’s treatment of Clinton, the Global First candidate. CNN ran daily “Trump a Dystopian Nightmare; Clinton a Mildly Disturbing Daydream” headlines, consistently characterized Clinton’s breaches of the Espionage Act as “the email controversy,” and assisted Clinton by feeding her debate questions. How much the management of CNN participated in that last skanky move is left to the reasonable imagination, but it’s all in step with Ted’s leftist history and ideology that he should be a rich capitalist, and globalized socialism should be good enough for the rest of us.

Ted Turner is the staunch rival of Australian-American Rupert Murdoch, who, with his family, owns both 21st Century Fox and News Corp through the Murdoch Family Trust. Altogether, Murdoch’s family trust owns over eight hundred companies in over fifty countries.

Rupert Murdoch’s political gate swings both ways, so to speak, in that his holding companies own conservative political media in America, such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, and he supports the conservative party in Australia. However, in the UK, Rupert has switched back and forth, using his influence on behalf of Conservative Party leader Margaret Thatcher, then Labour Party leader Tony Blair, then back to Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Such willingness to play both sides of the aisle indicate someone who is not operating with any conviction or motive except to discover what $13 billion can buy that $12 billion can’t. Murdoch’s agenda appears to be making money more than molding politics.

Fox News is renowned for its right wing spin, and it is expert at playing to its audience. It couches what are frequently legitimate facts in so much pandering, drama, and hysteria mongering that it’s difficult to sort through it all to get to the kernels of truth. Whatever that truth may be, Fox is going to make sure its audience gets excited about it and comes back for more, all to the benefit of the Murdoch Family Trust.

Another highly influential player in the “social engineering through media” effort is foreign billionaire felon George Soros. Soros has his hands in over 30 media outlets, and he is deeply involved in purchasing American politicians. We encourage you to research him on your own.

Bottom Line:  The power behind the media throne determines the message. Whether that message is born from vanity or greed, everything funnels through that message.

What political ties does the source have?

People have always been worried about the government controlling the media. The government doesn’t have to control the media in the US, or in the West, for that matter, because the media is run by people who are kindred spirits and like minds to the politicians.

Presidents have long recognized that fact and made the most of it by appointing journalists, their spouses, their siblings, and their children to positions in government. One president appointed over two dozen journalists to his White House staff, and more as ambassadors. Media plays its part in the wedding of power, as well, taking on family members of politicians and their political spawn. For example, one president’s offspring obtained a position as a rookie correspondent at major network for a mere four times the normal rookie correspondent salary. It’s a modern day way of marrying kingdoms to each other to ensure power management.

Bottom Line: Look at which journalists are financially and politically married with which politicians to determine which message they will favor.

Who advertises in the source?

Media is big business. So is advertising. This affects news stories in two ways.

  1. Media won’t publish anything that they think will anger their audience. Audiences link their feelings and attitudes about products advertised to the stories they find in media and retaliate if they disapprove. A simple google search turns up multiple groups promoting the boycott of almost every network. Media will sidestep stories that might lead to a boycott. When pushed to publish something chancy because every other outlet is publishing it, media will spin the facts to please their audience.
  2. If a company is a big advertiser, the media outlet will not publish negative information about that advertiser’s products. For example, if Ford Motor Company advertises heavily with XYZ media outlet, and their vehicles start exploding when hit from behind, XYZ media outlet will either avoid the story or spin it in a way that helps Ford look blameless. Advertising money is a crucial source of company income, and no outlet will risk losing it.

Bottom Line: Media doesn’t want to anger either its audience or its advertisers. Both result in losing money.

Who is their audience?

In this world of echo chambers reinforced by social media cliques, politicians have been able to carve up society into black and white factions, sometimes literally. A significant percentage of people are not interested in information that does not confirm their pre-conceived notions, as evidenced by the fact that almost all of us know people who have declared during this election that they want nothing to do with “those” voters. That makes it easy for media to define and divide audiences and to appeal to their preferences.

To continue with our CNN vs. FOX thread, CNN viewers are concerned with political correctness and pro-global progressive agendas, while FOX viewers prefer more conservative, pro-American stories. Stories and headlines are structured to please those audiences. For example, during the election, CNN earned its pseudonym, the Clinton News Network, while FOX served as the anti-Clinton bullhorn. In other words, if Trump walked on water, the CNN headlines would read “Trump Can’t Swim!” Likewise, if Hillary ran into a burning building to save a child, FOX headlines would read “Hillary Snatches Baby!”

Bottom Line: What message does the majority of the audience want to hear?

And now the hardest questions to face when considering a source . . . What do I want to hear and why?

We all have personal biases that make us want to believe some things more than others. Many of us have suffered abuses by religious or government institutions that left behind a filter on all incoming information, propelling us to the right or the left. Many of us have personal traumas that define our perceptions of those of other races, religions, political factions, etc. Add to that the fact that it is difficult to conceive of qualities in others that we do not possess ourselves, and most of us have difficulty imagining the depth of depravity some politicians and media moguls possess. All of these elements and countless others contribute to our collection and interpretation of information.

Bottom Line: The best we can do is recognize our own biases and seek out diverse sources, open our minds, and keep the answers to the questions above at front and center in our analysis.

In summary, when evaluating the media source, ask the following questions:

  1. Who owns the source?
  2. What is that person’s message?
  3. Is the source pandering to its audience or trying to mold it?
  4. Which politicians are in the journalists’ beds?
  5. Who advertises in the source?
  6. Who is the source’s audience?
  7. What is my own bias?

Several of our readers have asked where we get our information.

  • Holmes reads government releases and can see right away what is public. Sometimes, he notifies Piper of public information, such as a proposed F-16 offer to India, and Piper posts the information on Twitter and FB. We might blog about it, as we did with the F-16 and Lockheed Martin.
  • Piper scans Twitter for open source news of the world. She then asks Holmes about what she finds to see if he can add anything or to discuss potential postings for readers.
  • Holmes responds with, “I can’t comment on that,” “Yep. That’s accurate, and here’s the rest of the story,” or “Joder! Puta madre! That’s public? Someone is talking too much.” *murder-death face*

We can’t share Holmes’s sources, but these are Piper’s go-to Tweeps for open source information:

The Gray Man @IntelOperator. The Gray Man is a knowledgable and highly respected member of the intelligence community who tweets information on national security, world events, and animal adoption.

Jamestown @CifJamestown. Jamestown is an educated, friendly tweep with information on foreign and domestic policy and terrorism. I often find things on this timeline that I do not find elsewhere.

Dani Homados @homados. Dani is a fine veteran and a lovely gentleman with solid tweets on military, national security, and world events.

El Cid Barett @ElCidBarett. Barett, a.k.a. Lisa, is one of the most colorful and graphic tweeps on Twitter for information on military, national security, science, and women’s fashions.

Chris Magill @cmagill. Chris is in information security, or InfoSec. As his bio reads, he can “…find the hacker, shoot, stop the bleeding, explain HIPAA, send the press release on time and on budget.” He tweets excellent information about cybersecurity and has a sense of humor that will keep you rolling.

Sniper Barbie @LadyRed_6. Sniper is a sharp and pleasant lady with a thorough scoop on cybersecurity. Piper wants the Barbie and accessories in her profile pic.

And, of course, Piper Bayard @PiperBayard. Piper tweets part of the great info she finds, along with original posts from Holmes and whatever quirky or interesting things she digs up.

Some tweeps are members of the military and/or intelligence communities, and some are not. Regardless, we would emphasize that all information they tweet is open source. You will notice that relatively few of the tweets reference mainstream media sources. If we really want to know what’s happening, we have to be open to a variety of sources and remember that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

Next week, we will focus on questions to ask when evaluating the content of articles. Do you have any questions regarding evaluating a source? Do you have any favorite methods or suggestions?

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Syria and the Fading Dull Pink Smudge

By Jay Holmes

As of September 22, 2013, the civil war in Syria continues to generate more humanitarian disasters than the world’s observers can tolerate. Identifying Syria as a humanitarian crisis is simple enough. Refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey now house approximately two million Syrians. Various Syrian and non-Syrian visitors feed the media a constant stream of pictures and videos showing the daily casualties. People of all political flavors share revulsion for so many civilian deaths.

Za'atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

Za’atri Refugee Camp, image by US. Dept. of State

In particular, seeing the stark evidence of children killed by chemical weapons attacks or executed at point blank range by a variety of fighting groups has left most of the world with a feeling that something must be done in Syria. Only a ruthless psychopath, a.k.a. Vladimir Putin, could attempt to gloss over the humanitarian crisis. To that degree, the picture of events in Syria is quite clear. However, once we move beyond our widely-shared instinct to respond to the horrors of the Syrian civil war to the question of how to respond, the picture becomes murky.

So what should be done? As is often the case, the devil is in the details. Right now details and devils abound in Syria. When we begin to examine the question of what concrete actions should be undertaken, we find less agreement among sympathizers.

As often occurs during a major humanitarian crisis, many of the world’s ardent leftists are taking a break from their usual full-time occupation of condemning the US for its “interventionist bullying” and are now loudly proclaiming that the US’s failure to forcefully intervene in Syria is the principal cause of Syria’s problems. At the same time, many of the world’s members of the “I’m not a stinking leftist” political club are disgusted that the US has allowed Iran and its Hezbolalalala minions to use their manpower, weapons, and ruthlessness in Syria and Lebanon to suppress Syria’s indigenous Freedom fighters.

This past February, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of State Policy Planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested that the US and any willing allies should create “no-kill zones” in Syria. These seemingly magical “no kill zones” would, in her view, expand over time and eventually isolate the Assad regime. If the allies in question would include Harry Potter and his band of merry magicians, then they might pull it off. If not, the plan needs more work.

Senator McCain, a man who is far more aware than most of us of the consequences of involving US forces in combat operations, has suggested that the US use some of its “stand off” cruise missiles to damage the Assad regime. The emphasis on “stand off” is Senator McCain’s. On the face of it, this seems like a comparatively low cost, low risk option. Depending on which particular model of cruise missile cruises into Syria, the “low cost” would be somewhere between $600,000 to $1,500,000 per missile. That would be a real bargain at today’s interventionist prices.

Senator McCain has been clear that he does not support large numbers of combat troops in Syria. However, it’s safe to say that a few sets of American boots must be on the ground there, gathering information about the dizzying array of foreign boots in Syria and trying to select out the “best boots” with which to share US-financed weapons and other supplies. With those Russian, American, British, French, and Turkish boots that are scampering about Syria trying to avoid stomping on the wrong Syrian feet, it’s difficult to generate a clear implementation of all the muddled policies being proposed by various nations.

The Gulf States are trying to support their favorite anti-Assad factions without accidentally helping all the al-Qaeda vermin that currently infest so many Syrian areas. As a result, confusion is the order of the day. The fact that the many al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda wannabes are happy to murder anyone not currently in their gangs brings even more instability and misery to Syrians. Shipping US military aid to Syria is easy enough. Finding someone likeable to hand it to is a bit more tricky.

When the Syrian civil war began two and a half years ago, members of the Western media managed to cobble together one of their exceedingly rare intelligent questions for President Obama. They asked him what the US should do about Assad’s chemical weapons inventory. The President demanded that we all let him be clear that the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces would cross a “clear red line.” Assad’s forces have since used chemical weapons and proven that President Obama’s “clear red line” was a completely meaningless, fading dull pink smudge.

"His Red Lines" by Ranan Lurie

“His Red Lines” by Ranan Lurie

From the American point of view, some interesting events have occurred since Assad’s forces urinated on Obama’s infamous red line. For starters, Vlady Putin claimed that he had proof that it was not Assad, but rather his opponents, that used chemical weapons on women and children in Syria. Those of us who are familiar with the workings of Putin and his old KGB machinery have no doubt that Putin can present “proof’ that Assad didn’t use chemical weapons. If Putin wanted, he could also provide proof that Afghanistan is in South America, and that the USSR invented ice cream. Thanks for all that Vlady.

Putin proposed that Assad send all of Syria’s chemical weapons to Russia for safe keeping. Finding himself on the wrong side of his imaginary red line, President Obama quickly agreed to a deal that will have all of Assad’s chemical weapons shipped to Russia by “mid 2014.” How many Syrian children will be murdered by chemical attacks until then was not discussed as part of the deal.

When the US led the Western world in escalating its Syrian response from frowning and grave concern to shock and dismay, the UK felt compelled to act. UK Prime Minister David Cameron clarified precisely what our “special friendship” partners in the UK would do if the US decided to directly attack the Assad regime. In response to the pressure and stress of the escalated finger waving, the UK parliament voted to surrender. The UK announced that it would not contribute to any military effort in Syria.

This declaration has farther reaching consequences than might be obvious to the casual observer. From my desk at home, I was able to imagine the cheers of joy emanating from La Casa Rosa as Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner celebrated her nation’s military victory in the Falklands. While the Falklands invasion 2.0 hasn’t occurred quite yet, Cristina is overjoyed that the Royal Navy That Has No Aircraft Carrier* will also have no support from the US should she convince Argentina’s military to conquer the oil deposits under the Falklands. We shall see.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a.k.a. la argentina feliz http://www.presidencia.gov.ar/

Cameron would have been much wiser to simply do the usual “Proud Fearless Lion Foot Dragging” that has been the trademark of UK foreign policy since the Suez debacle in 1956. We in the West understand that Maggie is gone, and that the UK won’t even do much of anything about the UK in the near future, let alone Syria or any place further from London than Brighton Beach. Cameron gained nothing by publicly declaring that he would not help Obama and the US. In fact, in what is being celebrated by many in the UK as a landmark moment of British tenacity and independence in foreign policy, Cameron managed to suffer damage from the Syrian war without actually showing up in Syria. Slick move, Sherlock.

In response to Cameron’s stupidity, France’s President Françoise Hollande took the opportunity to announce that France would join in military intervention in Syria. In the US, it was announced as a “France backs the US” political victory for Obama. Take note, Cameron. If you are going to profit by vague promises, this is how you do it. The US is now considering officially changing back the name “Freedom Fries” to “French Fries.” Tears of joy are flowing in Paris, and a few folks in DC are willing to pretend that it’s something other than the usual over-imbibing of wine by Parisians.

Precisely how far the US or other Western nations will go in Syria is still unclear. What is more obvious is that creating a Syria run by Syrians will be far more difficult than toppling Assad. The world’s response to Syria has created much dark comedy and inspiration for journalists and other fiction writers, but the children of Syria have little reason to join in the laughter. Their predicament is yet another reminder of how far the world community remains from operating anything like a useful “United Nations.” The children of Syria have our prayers, but they’d likely prefer to have a real country to live in and a future to contemplate. Whatever action the US takes, we must be careful that it helps the Syrian people by damaging the Assad regime without accidentally helping al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Syrian refugee in Turkey, image from Voice of America

Syrian refugee in Turkey,
image from Voice of America

*The UK’s Royal Navy currently has no functioning aircraft carriers, and it is completely dependent on the US Navy for air support at sea. Perhaps someone should mention that to Prime Minister Cameron.

When the Safe Bet Isn’t the Best Bet

By Jay Holmes

After six months of listening to so many dire predictions of “stalemate,” events in Libya have entered a period of rapid change. The rebel council now controls most of the coastal cities. Uncle Momo’s second wife, his daughter, and two sons are in Algeria. Momo is clearly on the run.

We humans are predictable on some issues. Change, even when it involves the fall of an international terrorist, is scary, and it’s easy to find the dark lining to any silver cloud. Political commentators dread having to say something like, “Hell if I know.” White House spokesmen (all of them) do their best to create an image of an omniscient, god-like President with everything from his sock drawer to distant galaxies well under control.

When news consumers watch a news program they usually want something more assuring than, “This is Joe Hairstyle reporting live from a hash party at the Rixos Hotel. We’re having a heck of a time here, and we have no idea how any of this will end up. We’re asking our listeners at home to accurately predict the future and fax us a brief outline. Please FedEx us some decent scotch. The first viewer at home who faxes us the right information will receive an extra, extra small ‘I Love Meganetwork’ yellow T shirt. And now back to you Susie….” That just wouldn’t work. In spite of any hopeful view that Joe Hairstyle might secretly harbor concerning the future of Libya, he has to stay with “safe bets” to keep his bosses and the advertisers happy.

The safe bets on Libya are easy enough to formulate. For one thing, when a journalist spends a few days wandering by piles of freshly killed people and spends his nights listening to constant gunfire, punctuated by the occasional NATO bomb, it can become difficult to imagine anything positive coming out of a very grim reality. A glance at the history tells him (or her, but don’t make me explain that again) that “happiness” would possibly be an unrecognizable stranger in Libya.

Libya is in the Sahara. Libyans live next door to the Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt. Their history is unhappy, and they appear to be “Islamic” in some fashion. The last 1300 years of history have left most of us not expecting anything like a reasonable neighbor from Islamic nations. When we add all of that up, it’s easy to devise negative predictions for Libya. All of those negative predictions might be right, but other possibilities are conceivable.

There is another side to Libya. Yes, Libya along with other Islamic nations, and along with the United States, Canada, France, and the UK, has spawned radicals that joined Al-Qaeda. But the vast majority of unemployed young males in Libya did not take the opportunity to join Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group. Al-Qaeda is there, and so are lots of other folks. So far, the sum of the available information indicates that Libya, as a society, is more similar to Miami than it is to Pakistan or Afghanistan, and that it will not embrace any form of radicalism.

The devil, even the vile Momo devil, should be given his due. Between his spasms of exhibitionist hysterics and insane, ridiculous pronouncements, Uncle Momo and his loyal servants did succeed in vastly improving health care and education. Momo forgot what his mother told him. Be careful what you wish for. Your wish may come true. It’s easier now to bump into an illiterate in Detroit than it is in Libya.

Education changes people, and often it changes them for the better. Even stilted, highly controlled education makes people aware of the horizon beyond their own personal misery. In professional education in Libya, the emphasis was on improving science and medicine. Law schools and political science professors might have been required to spew nonsense to their students, but it does not appear that science departments were required to do the same.

In addition to Libya’s vastly improved domestic education system, thousands of Libyans have attended schools abroad. Qaddafi wanted to build a technologically independent nation that did not need to beg Moscow, Washington, or anyone else for it’s weapons of mass destruction, it’s oil drills, or it’s air-conditioning, so he embraced education. His motives may have been partially cynical, but the results have been a more educated, more urbanized, and more cosmopolitan Libya. This is not your grandpa’s Bedouin tribe wandering through the Sahara.

Thirty years ago that might not have mattered much. The fact that Czechs, Poles, Frenchmen, Belgians, Norwegians, Danes, and the Dutch were all experiencing improving health care, better education, and fairly progressive societies did not prevent them from being overrun by the Nazis. All of those benefits did not prevent the Soviets from enslaving Eastern Europe after the Nazis were defeated. But there is no Nazi or Stalinist lookalike nation ready to step in and force Libya to accept its agenda. There are plenty of nations with outlooks that resemble that of Hitler, Stalin, Mao or Pol Pot but they are not in a position to force their will on Libya.

Lots of terrible things might happen in Libya, but good intelligence work isn’t just about finding the negative possibilities or reporting what we think the leaders want to hear. The president wakes up knowing that Libya is a mess and doesn’t need the CIA or the NSA to tell him that. Good intelligence work delivers concise, accurate, and occasionally actionable information to the nation’s decision makers.

Effective Diplomacy is not about sitting at a pool somewhere sipping margaritas and waiting for an ideal ally to fall from the sky bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and petroleum. Effective diplomacy requires that we accurately assess the possibilities and move efficiently to influence and accept influence from potential allies while forging mutually beneficial relationships.

Effective statesmanship is not about accepting the worst possible outcomes and fretting over the future. Statesmanship is about identifying and accepting problems, creating opportunities to overcome them, and creating a better future than the future that would otherwise occur.

What would a cable TV news network have said of those frightened and mostly untrained rag tag rebels when they lacked the good sense to step out of the way of the mighty British Army at Lexington and Concord in 1776? We likely would have been treated to explanations of why the obviously dangerous and unruly New England farmers would never be able to force the British Army out of America. It would have been a reasonable prediction. It would have been the safe bet. For five years it would have looked like the right bet. In the end, it would have been the wrong bet.

Many terrible consequences might come out of the rebellion in Libya. A few likely will. But the good may come to outweigh the bad. I refuse to bet against the Libyan people. When the last of the bodies have been buried, they will continue along the difficult path of creating a better nation out of the destruction and chaos that we see there now.

Sure, I could be wrong. But somebody will be right, and for the sake of the Libyan people and for the world, I hope that I am right, and that their courage and sacrifice is rewarded with a better life.

Can you think of other times when the safe bet was the wrong bet?