Monday, October 10

That's what's out there, folks

Josh Rogin became a columnist on foreign affairs for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post after he left his post at Bloomberg View as a columnist on foreign policy and national security. On John Batchelor's October 4 show Mr Rogin discussed at some length a column he'd written on the same date about an important meeting on Syria by  'second tier' security advisers -- Cabinet-level officials -- to occur the next day, Wednesday, October 5.

These advisers, Mr Rogin explained, were to hash out their conflicting opinions as to what should be President Obama's next step regarding Syria in the wake of the collapse of the ceasefire deal.

Then, having gotten their act together, Mr Rogin explained, these advisers were to present their final recommendations to the White House National Security Council. The NSC meeting could include the President and convene as early as this weekend, Mr Rogin explained. The NSC members, he recounted, would then review the recommendation and hash out out their own conflicting opinions on U.S. Syria policy and then, it was hoped, Obama would make a decision on the way forward on Syria.

Mr Rogin's Washington Post column on this key meeting, which was titled, Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again, touched off great concerns and strong statements from Moscow.

Wednesday came and went. No meeting of Cabinet-level advisers. 

On Friday, October 7, Mr Rogin returned to the John Batchelor Show, where he held forth at some length on his opinion about the situation in Aleppo. Finally John asked him whatever happened to the important meeting on Wednesday.

It didn't happen, Mr Rogin replied. This meant the NSC meeting didn't happen.

Who was Mr Rogin's source(s) about the important meeting that never happened? He doesn't say. His column didn't even invoke the standard journalistic fig leaf, 'According to officials who didn't wish to be named.'  

Instead, he carried off a sleight of hand by quoting an unnamed "administration official" as his source about a meeting on Syria that had already occurred.

How could he get away with this? There's a trick to it; he piled on so much verbiage it distracted attention from the fact that his claim about the important meeting wasn't sourced.  

But isn't this unethical? Well, he's an opinion columnist, not a reporter. As such he's under no obligation to nail down anything he writes for publication in the Washington Post. If the public doesn't know the difference between an opinion and reportage, that's the public's problem. 

Multiply that attitude and Mr Rogin by thousands in the news business to realize why members of the public who want to figure out what's going on in the world by following news outlets have to learn to think like a vice squad cop. 

But isn't that approach to the news time-consuming? Yes. It's practically a full-time job. I remember several months ago one of the hosts at Red Eye Radio, a news/talk show aimed at long-distance truckers, opened one show with a rant. To boil it down he complained that all he did anymore was untangle news reports. 

I blurted at the radio, "Hey that's my line!" 

The Red Eye host and I are not alone. Between the machinations of agendists and propagandists and the attempts by bloggers, Tweeters, talk-show hosts, and newspaper editorialists to interpret the machinations, being a news consumer today is like feeling one's way through a pea-soup fog in an echo chamber where thousands of people are chewing celery.

Yet there's now so much noise in the system that it's breaking down through fragmentation. That radio host and I -- as a blogger -- have no choice but to wend our way through the fog. In other words, he and I have to pay attention to what mainstream press such as the Washington Post say about various matters and try to untangle their verbiage. But many news consumers are simply fleeing mainstream news outlets for 'niche' ones in the attempt to make sense out of the day's news without this being a full-time occupation for them.

This means that government, financiers, politicians, and advertisers are finding it increasingly hard to get their messages across.  

Where's it going to end? I'm hoping it's going to end with the Associated Press setting up their own 24-hour news cable station in competition with CNN, Fox, etc., and kicking all the agendists and propagandists out the door. AP is now so big, so powerful, that they could get away with this, provided they don't run into anti-trust law.  

This doesn't mean AP is entirely free of an editorial slant, to which a news organization is entitled. But AP does not need to survive by pandering to governments and lobbyists. They don't have to play the 'access' game, in which news outlets have to pass along propaganda if they want to build and maintain access to important government sources.     

So an AP news cable channel would be a way to heal the fragmentation, once people realized that there was a major TV news station that placed reporting on incidents above shaping the public's perceptions of them. And it would prevent the news business from being nationalized in the USA. It would be a commercial venture.

So that's what I want Santa to bring me for Christmas.
As to why Josh Rogin or a contact who fed him the line wanted to create the impression last week that the Obama Administration was on the verge of making a decision about Syria -- any number of reasons. Could've been an attempt to prod the Kremlin to see what they'd do, but that guess is only one shot in the fog. Just more noise in the system. 

And it's always possible that the important meeting that didn't happen last week will happen this week, or next week, or someday. Pass the celery platter.           


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