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Whose Opinions Are Newsworthy?

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A news story recently appeared on the Guardian Unlimited newspaper site that may or may not disturb some Americans. It seemed to say that Arabic media, like al-Jazeera, was viewed by Europeans as more trustworthy than any American news source.

I’m an ex-pat living in the UK and my first reaction to that was to say no, it’s not – not in Britain anyway. In Britain people always have and still do trust the BBC above all other news sources. There may have been a time in Britain when American journalism was seen as the brightest and the best, but not while I’ve been living here. That would have been when people felt that the US media was fair and unbiased. That is certainly not true now.

It’s hard to believe that if Americans saw the horrible pictures of the war we have, or heard the interviews with both British and American soldiers who say that they aren’t winning and they want to come home, that the average American would be pro-war.

It is also a little unfair to say that common opinion about the American media is at an all time low when the common opinion about anything American is at an all time low. The people of Britain are just like the people of America — they have various opinions, and it’s also unfair to say all British people think anything. I wouldn’t assume that all Americans are pro-war or believe everything the media report and you can’t assume the opposite about all British people. Both statements are vast over-generalisations.

Then I read the article more closely and what it actually says is that the two have become polar opposites, each reporting only the opposing view of the other, neither actually seeming to report anything like unbiased news. When any organisation or culture becomes too insular it is never a good thing.

What I found more interesting though, was the reaction of some Americans to this story. I wouldn’t really have considered it news. It wasn’t based on fact, just opinion and I don’t consider anyone’s opinion to be newsworthy. Why would anyone consider this news, I had to ask myself? Then, as always, I came up with a brilliant thought – The Guardian thought it was worth reporting.

Why would the Guardian, quite a trusted news organisation, consider this newsworthy? All it is really about are some comments made about Arabic news at a conference organised by al-Jazeera. Of course they’re going to say how trusted it is. And that, to me, makes it even less newsworthy. It is only one organisation’s sycophantic opinion about another.

Opinions may be interesting, they may make me smile with mirth and sometimes I may even shake my head and wonder where someone gets such loony ideas but generally I wouldn’t consider opinions news.

I have a lot of opinions on the decline of American society, but that isn’t what that article was about. I am not someone who stands on either the left or the right, but that is not what that article was about.

If you asked me if I trusted George W. Bush I would have to say no, he is someone about whom I shake my head and think loony. If you asked me if I trusted Tony Blair again I would have to say no, I think he is Machiavellian. But I grew up in a time when you didn’t trust any political figure. And I still don’t.

The Guardian’s article wasn’t about anything. That article was one organisation promoting its own political agenda. Nothing more. And I don’t have an opinion about that.

When I set out to write this little diatribe it was with a lot of trepidation. I was uneasy that I would have to express opinions that may be considered very unpatriotic by some. But that’s NOT what THAT article was about. And so that’s not what this is about.

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About A.L. Harper

  • RedTard

    Does the opinion of those polled reflect anything but the fact that they agree with al-jazeera’s viewpoint more?

    Those polled were likely to be against the war, therefore they automatically assume that any news organization that agrees with them is more ‘objective’.

    “or heard the interviews with both British and American soldiers who say that they aren’t winning and they want to come home”

    I was until recently in the US military and still have many friends that are in Iraq, that is not the story I get from them. Perhaps your ‘objective’ news source is trying push one point of view but you are simply blind to it because you agree.

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    Great post A.L.! I think you summed it up best by saying that opinions aren’t news. However, I do think most Americans realize that we (Americans) are not winning any popularity points by being in Iraq and this article is a result of it. The last 6 years have not been our brightest and neither has our President. I’m surprised everyone’s not focusing on more pressing issues pointed out by G. Dubya like the Human/Animal hybrid problem.

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    RedTard,

    I understand your view, but keep in mind that your friends are probably in the same demographic as you are. You and your friends probably have similar opinions about a lot of things. Unless you have a substantial sample size of friends that extends beyond your own demographic, taking a poll of your friends’ opinions is not very scientific. I have friends in Iraq that tell me it sucks 24/7 and that it seems useless.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Why would the Guardian, quite a trusted news organisation

    Excuse me a moment while I finish rolling on the floor laughing.

    Trusted by whom, exactly? The international socialist workers party? 70 year old exiled East German bureaucrats? Dreadlocked Comsky-spouting university students?

    The Guardian hasn’t been a serious news source in more than a decade. They reprint a good number of their articles direct from extreme left propaganda sources.

    As for this particular article, I notice that you carefully skirted discussing the actual source much. If any are interested, check out their website with the exception of a few of the Italian anarcho/socialist websites it’s the most virulently anti-American thing on the internet.

    And the remarks the Guardian quotes actually originate in Democracy Now!’s online analysis of a poll of American voters which they interpret as 70% of the voters opposing the War in Iraq. However, if you look at the actual poll numbers, the poll itself isn’t even about opposition to the war, it’s about optimism on winning the war, and you only get a 70% negative result if you add those who are negative and those who are neutral together. In other words, Democracy Now! is spinning the poll hard and The Guardian is swallowing it whole.

    Dave

  • RedTard

    “Unless you have a substantial sample size of friends that extends beyond your own demographic, taking a poll of your friends’ opinions is not very scientific”

    I’ll certainly take my first hand accounts over the selected offerings from a reporter with an agenda. The military forces you to work with whomever they choose, you don’t pick your favorite demographic.

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    Point well taken RedTard.

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    Whether something is popular or unpopular does not make it right, regardless of sample size. We can spin, we can argue, and nothing changes. Nothing changes because we hold on to the same old attitudes and argue them to death without ever critically examining them for what they are. I am suspicious whenever someone relies on right, left, liberal, conservative to define their argument. How can we examine the true state of things without resorting to that shortcircuit, that intellectual laziness?

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    John S.,

    I never equated popularity with right or wrong. Polling groups for opinions using statistically significant sample sizes is just one way to gauge consensus opinion. However I do believe that you cannot discount popularity altogether. Popularity by definition is the state of being widely admired or accepted. The Democratic system is based on a popularity vote. Candidates don’t generally win elections because the speak the ultimate ‘truth’ unless it it recognized as popular enough to garner enough votes to win.

    As for the ‘true state of things’, there is your truth, my truth, and the truth. Whether they are all the same, is debatable.

  • http://www.crowscry.blogspot.com John Spivey

    All of our leaders (political or religious) fail us. They all rely on agendas that they carefully nurture, and agendas provide at best a view of a snippet of reality. They cultivate and rely on our flashpoints to provide the energy to keep them in office (or in the pulpit). I would love to see a leader stand up and say, “Let’s get clearheaded together, let’s examine this issue and see what its roots are.” No one dares examine the atrocities committed by the Crusaders, which are remembered in the Mideast with the same horror we view 9/11. To do so would be unAmerican. True democracy will come about when we are willing to educate people to think deeper than their flashpoints.

  • http://www.mattlargo.com Matt Largo

    I agree 100% John S. The problem is that the type of person you described doesn’t usually run for political office. The problem with the “Let’s get clearheaded together, let’s examine this issue and see what its roots are” approach is that people are afraid to see the real root of the problem, much less deal with it.

    Well put.

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Matt –

    This is actually a difficult issue for me. It’s a touchy subject (America and the war in Iraq) here in Britain. It’s easy to feel stuck between relatives you really love. Trying not to take sides can be a bit of a minefield.

    I appreciate your comment. I’m glad to know there are Americans left who haven’t moved to one extreme or the other.

  • http://samizdata.net/blog Perry de Havilland

    I use the BBC and the Guardian as highly dependable tools to decide what the truth is, rather like a compass that always points south… as long as it is reliable, it is just as useful as one that points north.

    Whatever the editorial line those two august organisations have, my starting position is that the opposite to what they are saying is probably true.

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Dave –

    Sorry I didn’t do the piece you had hoped for. I did do the research though and you have a point about Democracy Now!. They are as extreme left as you are extreme right.

  • Fred B

    The Guardian hasn’t been a serious news source in more than a decade.

    Simply because you do not agree with their politics does not mean you should not take them seriously.

    Over the last decade The Guardian has embraced the information age more successfully than any other newspaper in Britain. In doing so it has become one of the most read news sources in the world.

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com/ Christopher Rose

    It’s just one of Mr Nalle’s little quirks; you get used to them after a while, although their sheer inaccuracy, bolstered by his unshakeable belief that he’s right fatally undermine the credibility he so desperately clings to. Doctors worldwide are at a loss to explain this baffling phenomenon.

    Back in the real world, his bizarrely warped and self-delusional understanding of global politics and really quite silly slurs against Democracy Now! and The Guardian prompted me to check them out.

    Visiting their website, I find not a bed of leftist lunacy but stories like these:

    Protesters set fire to embassies: Thousands of Syrian demonstrators storm the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus.
    Cartoon controversy spreads
    Child’s tale led to clash of cultures
    Was it right to publish?

    Special report: religious affairs

    Relatives wait for boats bringing survivors of the Egyptian ferry disaster 1,000 feared dead as ferry sinks
    Egyptian ferry sinks in one of the worst shipping disasters in 20 years.
    Map: where the ship disappeared
    Timeline: Shipping disasters
    Special report: Egypt
    Harry Ellis gets away from Matthew Watkins England trounce champions
    Six Nations: Impressive England plunder six tries against Wales.
    Minute-by-minute report
    Full coverage: Six Nations
    Guardian Unlimited Sport

    Weekend: Can carrots really restore failing sight? Rebecca Atkinson finds out.

    The Guide: Career flatlining? Staying in is a smart move for rock’s recluses, reckons John Robinson.

    Family: Richard Benson explains how to unravel your family history.
    More from Family

    Work: It is thought that wages are the key reason we work, but cash doesn’t make us happy, says Adrian Furnham.

    Travel: How come the Philippines is missing off the backpacker trail? Gavin McOwan reports.

    The East was Red
    Review: Growing up in northern India in the early 1980s, Pankaj Mishra longed to escape to a wider world.

    Cost of wars soars to $440bn for US
    20% increase in spending despite cut in troop levels
    Outlay will soon equal 13-year fight in Vietnam
    Special report: United States

    Monckton killer ordered to spend 36 years in prison
    UK: The ‘wealth obsessed’ armed robber who murdered John Monckton is given three life sentences.

    Prescott plays peacemaker over education reforms
    Education: Deputy PM sets out compromise plan
    Local partnerships instead of independent trusts
    EducationGuardian.co.uk

    19-year-olds among record numbers filing for bankruptcy
    Business: Cases up 45% last year and 100,000 expected in 2006.

    Desperately seeking Sol
    Football: Fears grow over Arsenal’s missing centre-half. Paul Kelso reports.

    The risky way to get it Together
    Money: First-time buyers are snapping up a loan offering six times their income. Rupert Jones reports.

    Theme park proposal makes waves in Constable country
    Arts: Backers say heritage centre will bring jobs
    Opponents warn of crowds and gridlock
    An insight into the methods of an artistic revolutionary
    Special report: rural affairs

    Death becomes her
    Film: Christopher Frayling looks at the ways in which scary has been made sexy for 200 years.

    No sexy rugby on my watch, says stern Robinson
    Sport: Andy Robinson insists a boring victory would satisfy England when they launch their RBS Six Nations campaign.

    Sanctuary running out of cash
    Media: Record group Sanctuary warns it could run out of money by the end of next month.
    MediaGuardian.co.uk

    Chocolate bars to carry ‘health warnings’ on wrapping
    Society: Leading manufacturers launch £10m campaign
    ‘Be treatwise’ drive will offer lifestyle advice
    SocietyGuardian.co.uk

    Stars of CCTV
    Comment: We watched a teenager film a man’s death. Why can’t we bear to look away, asks James Harkin.
    Today’s comment and analysis

    Blindingly obvious: hearing is believing
    Science: Let’s talk about the high end hi-fi industry, says Ben Goldacre.

    The Ricky Gervais Show
    Podcast: More deconstructive discourse exclusively available online from Guardian Unlimited.

    Guardian Unlimited NewsPoint: all the news you choose
    Download our free desktop newsreader today and get the headlines from Guardian Unlimited and all your favourite websites sent direct to your desktop.

    Reader Offer
    Work off those extra Christmas calories with an Orbitrek Exerciser for just £134.99.

    What you’ve been reading: This week’s top stories on Guardian Unlimited
    1) Iran’s message to the west: back off or we retaliate
    2) US media at ‘all-time low’
    3) Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war revealed in secret memo
    4) Explainer: depicting the prophet
    5) Iran crisis ‘could drive oil over $90′

    It really comes across as a left wing propaganda source doesn’t it?

    And now let’s visit Democracy Now!. I’d never even heard of this organisation until Mr Nalle started insulting it but its slogans include “A daily radio and TV program on over 350 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US”, which clearly supports Mr Nalle’s assertion that it is the “most virulently anti-American thing on the internet”.

    What else do they say about themselves? Let’s see:-

    “Democracy Now! is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program airing on over 350 stations in North America. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on Pacifica, NPR, community, and college radio stations; on public access, PBS, satellite television (DISH network: Free Speech TV ch. 9415 and Link TV ch. 9410; DIRECTV: Link TV ch. 375); as a “podcast,” and on the internet.

    The program is hosted by award-winning journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez and produced out of the Downtown Community Television Center, a community media center in New York City’s Chinatown.

    Democracy Now!’s War and Peace Report provides our audience with access to people and perspectives rarely heard in the U.S.corporate-sponsored media, including independent and international journalists, ordinary people from around the world who are directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, grassroots leaders and peace activists, artists, academics and independent analysts. In addition, the War and Peace Report hosts real debates – debates between people who substantially disagree, such as between the White House or the Pentagon spokespeople on the one hand, and grassroots activists on the other.

    New stations are adding Democracy Now! to their programming schedules all the time, and there are several movements going on around the country right now to bring Democracy Now! to new communities.

    WHY INDEPENDENT MEDIA ?

    For true democracy to work, people need easy access to independent, diverse sources of news and information.

    But the last two decades have seen unprecedented corporate media consolidation. The U.S. media was already fairly homogenous in the early 80s: some fifty media conglomerates dominated all media outlets, including television, radio, newspapers, magazines, music, publishing and film. In the year 2000, just six corporations dominated the U.S. media.

    In addition, corporate media outlets in the U.S. are legally responsible to their shareholders to maximize profits.

    And U.S. “public” media outlets accept funding from major corporations, as well as from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Every Corporation for Public Broadcasting board member is appointed by the White House and confirmed by the Senate.

    Democracy Now! is funded entirely through contributions from listeners, viewers, and foundations. We do not accept advertisers, donations from corporations, or donations from governments. This allows us to maintain our independence.”

    Yes, there’s clearly a threat to the very heart of the USA there, let’s throw them all in jail immediately, they’re obviously going to commit a crime in the future so let’s pre-empt them!

  • Baronius

    Great article. I suspect the problem isn’t bias (that the conference matched the opinions of The Guardian) as much as the fascination that the media have with themselves. To the press, a kidnapped journalist is more important than a dozen kidnapped peace activists. A new anchor for CBS news is a bigger story than a new Chancellor for Germany. The press covered Hurricane Katrina until a more fascinating story came along: the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. To a journalist, a conference of journalists talking about journalism must have been the biggest story in the world!

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    You write what you know, and what does a journalist know better than journalism?

    Good piece, A.L.

    Your piece reminded me of Control Room. Have you seen it? My review is here. One important difference between Al-J and U.S. networks is that A-J very directly says objectivity is impossible while America networks think it’s still attainable.

    It reminds me of a question I once read at a blog :
    If you were stuck on an island and could only have one television network what would you rather have – Fox News or Al Jazeera.

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Christopher –

    Like I said they are SO far left it could be construed as treasonous. They may as well be supporting organizations like “Young American’s for Lasting Peace” or “The 4H Club”. It’s shocking that this kind of thing goes on there.

    Someone should shut them down. And I’m sure that Dave is JUST the man for the job.

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Scott –

    Good review. I have never seen that Documentary. Sounds very interesting and if ever given the chance I will.

    Don’t you think that American networks already think they are being unbiased? I think that is the scariest thing of all. That they have so lost sight of everything else that they think they are fair, impartial journalists. That, to my mind, means they have no chance of ever attaining impartiality. And that is very dangerous.

    As for the question – Could I pick a nice book instead?

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    You can pick a nice book. Which one?

    I think the U.S. networks think they are objective and unbiased – heck, even Fox officials make that bizarre claim – and that’s my point.
    In a way Al-Jazeera are more honest with its viewers by admitting up front that they have a perspective and bias which is more than can be said by most American media organizations.

    How about British publications? Where do they fall in this area? Do they admit their bias or pretend they can be bias-free?

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Scott –

    What would my book be…hum…How long am I going to be on this island?

    British publications are very biased. But everyone knows it and they don’t try to hide it.

  • http://www.fotolog.com/butki13 Scott Butki

    You’re on the island for at least six months

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Six months! Wow! Ok I guess it had better be “The Outdoor Survival Handbook : A Guide To The Resources & Material Available In The Wild & How To Use Them For Food, Shelter, Warmth, & Navigation” by Ray Mears.

    That and “Skinny leg and all” by Tom Robins

    What book would you take?

  • Scott Butki

    I’d bring a dictionary and my laptop and write the great american novel.

    hey, i never said there was no electricity there!:)

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Electricity?! Where is this coming from then? Obliging natives running on a big tread mill powering some Gilligans Islandesque generator?

    electricity indeed!

  • Scott Butki

    Did I mention the martian visits?

  • http://www.clatch.blogspot.com A.L. Harper

    Scott –

    Martian visits?! No you failed to mention those. That brings it all into clear focus. So it’s not natives, it’s powered by little green men. Now that makes sense! If you would please in future clarify things I would appreciate that.

  • Scott Butki

    Martians love cartoons.

    Martians like islands.

    So they are coming to talk to you about cartoons, media and controversies.

    How far can we drift from the topic?

  • Scott Butki

    Pretty far, methinks