Home > Uncategorized > Media and Culture Final Paper (Edited)

Media and Culture Final Paper (Edited)

                Turmoil has surmounted gradually throughout the Middle East and Africa in the last couple months- at this point, taking place in Iraq.  Many New York Times articles have been devoted to covering the protests and Iraq’s own government’s actions, while ProPublica scarcely covers it.  The New York Times is a highly acclaimed mainstream source, whereas ProPublica is considered an alternative source, which most likely means that it has opinionated coverage. ProPublica’s motto “journalism in the public interest” incites the idea that the site has an anti-government outlook and covers stories supporting that idea.

ProPublica was created by Herbert and Marion Sandler, previous executives of Golden West Financial Corporation.  The site is a non-profit based in New York City.  Because ProPublica is was created by the Sandlers,  ProPublica is considered to be privately owned.  The private ownership means that the owners choose what they run and the lens the articles are written through.  ProPublica’s motto is “journalism in the public interest,” which gives the idea that the site looks for stories that they feel the public would find interesting.  A lot of the time, these beliefs result in coverage of corrupt government and scandals, and more of a focus on what the government does wrong, rather than what it does right.

The editor-in-chief, Paul Steiger, talked about the Sandlers political views on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.  The Sandlers were prominent liberals, but Steiger and the Sandlers made an agreement that all of ProPublica’s work would be for the public good- so they would be willing to do exposes of left-leaning organizations just as willingly as right-leaning ones, creating “down the middle reporting”.  They do their job in this aspect quite well, though as extreme liberals, it is difficult to stray from sources they know well.  Renowned liberal sources are more likely to be used in ProPublica stories, but this does not denigrate the quality of reporting.  They do not choose a political party’s side to support, instead just choosing to question the methods of all government officials.

Sources used by ProPublica include ABC, New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, BBC News, NPR, and CNN.  Their motto demonstrates that ProPublica is leaning towards a certain view, though the view may not be Democratic or Republican, but rather anti-government.  While merely scrolling through the site, headline after headline jumps out proclaiming government manipulation and state secrets. In the article about Libya, rather than covering the turmoil ripping through the Middle East and Africa, they cover the US government’s lack of human rights promotion while supporting the Libyan protesters.   In addition, ProPublica first broke story of what was going on in Libya on the 23rd of February, while the New York Times broke it the 16th of February. The New York Times did much in-depth coverage on Libya, while ProPublica merely covered it in passing.  It is a newspaper’s job to provide surveillance, which means “to inform the public of important events taking place,” according to Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication.  The New York Times always accomplishes this job well, while ProPublica, on the other hand, does not.   

Lately, in all of the coverage of the Middle East, ProPublica repeatedly finds something wrong with the US government’s responses.  One of their latest topics speaks of how the “US Stays Mum” about the violence in Iraq.  This idea does ring true, though the potential effects of going against the Iraqi government are not covered.  The torture of the protesters is definitely wrong. The US called on the Middle Eastern governments to handle the protests peacefully, demonstrating that they did, in fact, call out to all governments for peace.  The US is already in rocky territory in Iraq, and proclaiming to the Iraqi government their depraved choices while American soldiers are still in perilous positions throughout the country would be a very inane idea, possibly resulting in violence towards those soldiers.  In the US government’s dealings with Libya, officials waited to condemn Libya’s actions until all the citizens were out of the country.  The US is in the same predicament now with Iraq. Also, referenced in an earlier ProPublica story,  many terrorists had infiltrated the protesters. So in actuality, the US is not promoting the torture of innocent protesters, but protecting US citizens and allowing Iraq to deal with criminals how it always has. Interestingly enough, the New York Times has a different view of what occurred in the Iraqi demonstrations turned violent.  The violence resulted not from government officials attacking protesters, but rather protesters themselves, pulling down walls, burning government offices, and attacking soldiers.  According to the ProPublica article, the protesters were intellectuals and journalists.  It is never mentioned whether or not they were peaceful.  On the other hand, The New York Times speaks about all the damage the protesters did- they may have been intellectuals and journalists, but they were violent, justifying the actions the Iraqi government was forced to take.  The soldiers could not stand and take the attacks being barraged upon them, so they retaliated.  The protesters needed to stop their violence which could result in civilian deaths, because of the fires set to buildings.  The Iraqi government was excessive in the force they used, but then again, so was the protesters.

ProPublica legitimizes its story through many other references with links to other mainstream news sources that can be relied upon, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that ProPublica itself can be trusted. In general, ProPublica is a relatively informative news source; all of their stories need to just be taken with a grain of salt.  ProPublica was not created to cover breaking news but rather to complement it. The news source does manipulate their coverage for showing the government’s various wrongdoings, but essentially ProPublica does use “down-the-middle” reporting.  Truthfully, ProPublica is a source for news, one just has to know that it has a political agenda.

  1. February 27, 2011 at 11:10 pm

    Great background on the financial backing to Pro Publica and the ties the initiative has to prominent liberals. However, there seem to be some leaps in logic that are unsupported or not relevant to your argument.

    The paper is also missing some key parts. For instance, I had to go to the Pro Publica site and find the article you were critiquing, as there was no link to it nor any mention of the author who wrote the article you reviewed. Similarly, I don’t know exactly which NYT article you reviewed; it seemed as if you were comparing a single article from PP to a series of articles in NYT, which is perhaps what has made it difficult for you to identify differences in how the same story is framed in two different ways.

    Sometimes in your writing, there are words missing, and there are confusing statements that could be clarified. For instance, in the beginning when you say human rights are “pushed to the back seat,” do you mean in the article, or in the U.S. policy that’s then covered by the article? In other words, is ProPublica not paying enough attention to human rights, or does PP believe that the US isn’t paying enough attention to human rights? I learn later on it’s the latter, but I’m not sure I’m looking at the same article you did. Is it the one by Wang?

    There is also the issue of journalism itself. I see Pro Publica’s motto as “journalism in the public interest.” You say that this motto signals to you that their position is “anti-government” and that they look for “stories that prove how bad government is.” This makes me wonder if you believe that all journalism is anti-government. Is it possible that some journalism may be in favor of helping people to decide what government is “good” government, and thus journalism is anti-“bad” government? Or is there no such thing as bad government in your view? And wouldn’t discovering that some government offices were engaged in “bad” government be “breaking news” that we as a people in a democracy would want to know about?

    But more to the point for this exercise, if you see Pro Publica as “anti-government,” you need to support this with examples from the article that you’re analyzing. It seems that in the article you’ve chosen you could argue that Pro Publica is anti-Libyan Qadafi government, and that PP is bringing attention to the fact that the US administrations have not always been anti-Libyan or even anti-Quadafi. But even there, rather than indicting the Bush administration, the article seems to offer an explanation as to why there was so much economic pressure to normalize relations with Libya at the time. The article suggests that it might have been in the interests of oil businesses to normalize relations – so if it’s anti- anything, it seems more anti-business, doesn’t it?

    You also seem to find it problematic that PP is privately owned. It’s worth noting that every news source in the US is privately owned except National Public Radio and the smaller initiatives that are part of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Therefore, the fact that PP is privately owned, just as the fact that NYT is privately owned, could support an argument that news stories are always framed in a certain way to support corporate interests. I don’t think you want to claim that all news is part of a conspiracy, which is why it’s worth looking at the specific ways in which particular news organizations frame stories in slightly different ways.

    You note that the owners pledge that they will cover malfeasance on the left as well as the right, and you rightly question whether or not they do this. However, the fact that they don’t cite news from Fox doesn’t really get at this issue. To back up your claim you would want to find evidence of a left-leaning politician or organization whose mistakes were overlooked by Pro Publica when a similarly troublesome story of a right-leaning organization was covered extensively. In this case, you could point to the fact that whereas the author mentions the Bush administration, she doesn’t note the fact that the Obama administration did not prioritize the reimposition of sanctions on Libya before the recent crisis, either.

    It seems as if you are equating “alternative” with “skewed,” and it further seems as if you therefore see that some news sources are less than truthful or cover less important matters than other sources. The point of the exercise is to explore how all news sources are “skewed” or “framed” in different ways. Sometimes what seems “skewed” at the time turns out to be pretty important and truthful, such as stories of lynchings that were originally suppressed or ignored in the mainstream media because they were viewed as unimportant or “skewed.”

    It seems like in your view PP is exercising poor judgment in choosing to cover certain stories and not those that the mainstream news is covering. Yet I think PP isn’t meant to compete with but to complement mainstream news; thus, arguing that it came late to an international story may be less relevant than what they chose to cover once the story broke elsewhere.

    For the pro-business NYT report on this story, you have to go back a few years: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/world/africa/24iht-24libecon.6803038.html. It’s very interesting to see the contrasting frames here, and I think your analysis would be much stronger if you compare the Pro Publica report to this one. Interestingly, I couldn’t find Goldwyn mentioned in any recent mainstream publications. You could speculate as to why that might be the case.

    Here’s another story that offers some background: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/21/us/21lawyers.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=david+goldwyn+Libya&st=nyt

  2. March 9, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    This version is much improved. I would have liked to hear a bit more about how the NY Times legitimizes its approach (e.g., especially through selection of experts, word choice, etc.), and for some reason the NYTimes article link didn’t work so I couldn’t actually see the article you were referencing, but your argument is much clearer and has better support overall. Good work!

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