Models, Media, and News Coverage

Last month, model Cameron Russell gave a TED talk titled “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” In the aftermath of that talk, Russell’s idea that models are just individuals who won and capitalize upon a genetic lottery gained a lot of attention.

In a way, this is a good thing. We live in a society where looks are given a lot of attention, and this attention can have detrimental side effects: eating disorders, self-confidence problems — the list goes on. However, as Russell herself says in an editorial published through CNN after her talk, is it right that journalists only started this conversation after a model herself brought the issue up?

Suppose, for a moment, that we look away from the issue of societal beauty standards. Do journalists measure up in that regard? Possibly not.

Colin Powell gave a talk at the same TED conference as Russell, but only got a quarter of the attention (if you consider views of both talks online). Russell is the one who has been on morning shows in the past month, not Powell.

If we look at the Pew Research Center’s data for most discussed issues of 2011, we find out that this is actually a common occurrence. Journalists tend to cover some topics to a great extent (like the economy) but then leave other — possibly equally important — issues and either disregard them or give them little attention.

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Foreign Policy was even able to compile a list of major issues that weren’t discussed in the news in 2011 — and some of them are rather important (Indian military growth, US immigration issues, and drug wars in Mexico, to name a few). At the time of the article, they supposed that many of those issues would show up with greater frequency in 2012. In hindsight, though, did that happen?

So, what does this say about journalism in general? Are journalists, knowing full well that agenda setting is a reality, doing their jobs? Does it really take a model to start the conversation on how well journalists are doing? Is a change necessary? If so, what can be done?

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New Documents Cast Doubt on ‘In Cold Blood’

Newly reexamined documents from the Kansas Bureau of Investigation have brought in to question the validity of Truman Capote’s 1966 bestselling account of the murder of the Clutter family, “In Cold Blood.”

“In Cold Blood” solidified Capote’s reputation as a literary innovator and portrayed Alvin Dewey Jr., the lead detective on the case, as a “brilliant, haunted hero,” reported Kevin Helliker of The Wall Street Journal.

The KBI assisted Capote in reporting the book, offering him access to their case file, but the relationship between the authorities, Capote, and the reliability of his reporting have now been called in to question.

A long-forgotten cache of KBI documents from the investigation have revealed contradictions to Capote’s depiction of crucial events in his book, which he claimed to be “immaculately factual.” Also, an independently unearthed contract shows that Capote required Columbia Pictures to offer Dewey’s wife a job in 1965 as a consultant to the film version of his book for a fee far greater than the U.S. median family income that year.

The documents state that the KBI waited five days after an informant stepped forward to reveal the names of the killers to dispatch an agent to the Kansas farmhouse where one of the suspects had been living with his parents. In “In Cold Blood,” the KBI sent someone as soon as they heard the news.

Why would Capote change this blatent fact in his book?

Duane West, the prosecutor who ultimately convicted the killers, said this gap is no mystery to him. West, 81, remembers when he first heard the names of the killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, on Dec. 5, 1959 at a morning meeting of the investigators. “Dewey said it wasn’t them,” Mr. West recalls. “Dewey was convinced it was somebody local who had a grudge against Herb Clutter.” However, Dewey’s “In Cold Blood” character never spoke his lines conveying his doubt at this point in the book.

This latest discovery is only the latest of criticism of “In Cold Blood,” the accuracy of which has been questioned for years.

“Capote blurred the line between truth and untruth, despite his claims of impeccable accuracy. His embellishments — which vary from allegedly misquoting people to making composite characters to ending the book with a scene that never happened — have bred ill will,” Van Jensen of the Lawrence Journal-World said.

Did Capote embellish Dewey’s character in exchange for inside information? What is considered “crossing the line” in regards to journalists and their sources in terms of friendship? How closely  involved should journalists be in the process of  official investigation?


Google, Journalists, and Myanmar

Several journalists from Myanmar reported that their email accounts had been hacked this past weekend after receiving alert notifications from Google. These notifications told journalists that their accounts had been hacked by “state-sponsored attackers,” but neglected to give the journalists any other information about the attacks. 

According to Google, whose representative Taj Meadows cited a June 2012 statement from the company, Google could not discuss how they had obtained their information, since this would give hackers the upper-hand, and allow them the opportunity to avoid detection. 

However, both journalists and government officials in Myanmar remain discontent with this statement. Journalists view the hacks as yet another infringement on their freedoms, and the government views Google’s accusations of state-sponsored hacks as unwarranted. 

Naturally, this leads us to wonder about the relationship between journalists and the government in Myanmar — a relationship that can be called tenuous at best. The government has admittedly eased restrictions on the press in the past couple of years. However, along with those restrictions have come a great number of email hacks, causing some journalists to even keep two email accounts, one for government reporting, and one for everything else. 

All this subterfuge, both well-intended or otherwise leaves journalists and citizens everywhere with some questions. Does Google’s refusal to reveal its technical knowledge really hurt the public’s image of Myanmar’s government? Does this same refusal also help journalists in Myanmar, or does it hurt them? Also, are the journalists in Myanmar really better off with less public restrictions, but more private infringements on their rights? If not, is there a way to address this problem? Most importantly, what does this scenario, and others like it, say about the state of journalism in Myanmar?