How the Press Needs to Evolve
To move beyond obeisance to the state
and right-wing media tycoons, journalists must use military
reconnaissance technology to seek truth
Monday, April 28, 2003, 8:02:39 AM CT
I was reading about a
prescription for the open society the other day. In it,
philosopher Max More imagines a very nice place indeed where
citizens "value open societies that protect the free exchange of
ideas, the freedom to criticize, and the liberty to experiment."
Those are nice sentiments, but this is the
exact opposite of what I saw from the objectively pro-war, blatant
propaganda from American media during Gulf War II.
It's been argued that reporters have never
had that much access during wartime and that embedded journalism is
simply a safer way of providing it. Personally, I find the
"embedding" process does to journalistic objectivity what
"kidnapping" did to Patty Hearst's views of the
Symbionese Liberation Army and subsequently her ethical
standards involving the robbing of banks. It simply isn't a healthy
The media needs to be improved. I'm going to
big issues of conglomerates and media concentration for another
day and just focus on the technology behind the news.
If the profession of journalism is to
progress beyond its current dismal state of obeisance to the state
and right-wing media tycoons, it not only has to rethink its
relationship to ownership, but also has to improve its core function
by emulating the tactics and technologies of the military,
detectives and spies.
The military's argument goes something like
this: We can't have you out on the field because you might get hurt.
In fact, a number of "unilateral" journalists
were killed during the hostilities. World class journalist Robert
Fisk even thinks that
Al Jazeera was targeted deliberately. I might be hesitant to
agree with this except for the fact that a no-doubt errant missile
also found its way to Al Jazeera during the war in Afghanistan.
Twice lucky I'm sure.
To the credit of the journalism profession,
now that much of the heavy shooting is over, a lot of reporters have
"unembedded" in order to see things for themselves. They're to be
commended but it's still dangerous out there. It also looks as if
there will be more wars, possibly in Syria and Iran if the
Bush administration's neocon hawks get their way.
So, what does the press corps need?
I think that it needs Voltron -- not
the character Voltron from the animated TV series, but the
machine. Specifically, news organizations with money should invest
in their own fleet of Unmanned Air Vehicles, with accompanying
AIBO-like soldiers that can motor down streets, rappel down
buildings and walk through wreckage to get stories too dangerous for
human reporters. I know, it sounds like a very cool film, but I'm of
the firm belief that this will be the future.
The cheapest option would simply be remote
blimps. You could buy these off the shelf or you could design them
for your purpose. Ideally, the blimps should have some kind of
camouflage, perhaps covered with adjustable flexible LEDs. Perhaps
they could also carry a small mobile unit. Reporters could also, in
theory, use remote controlled planes, cars and other toys.
Here in my hometown of Pittsburgh, they're
Mars rovers that are autonomous and can survive in hostile
environments for many, many months at a time. Sounds like those
would be good protocols for the Middle East as well.
As an example of how all this might work,
let's by wild assumption take a guess that the United States is
about to invade Syria. You happen to be a beat reporter for CNN or
the BBC. You suspect something bad will happen to the banks and
museums in Damascus, which the allied forces have overtaken in a
month's time. As a reporter, you'd like to see what's happening but
there are still pockets of resistance.
You sure would like to see what's happening
National Museum of Damascus, located right at Shoukry al-Qouwatly
Street, near Takiyeh al Suleimaniyeh.
It's too dangerous for you, two-fisted beat
reporter Pilger Fisk, to be seen anywhere near that museum. Besides,
19 of your colleagues have died from friendly-fire incidents. No
need for you to be a casualty.
So miles away from the scene, you set up
command and control in your
Damascus hotel suite. It's midnight. Your "forces" have been
Over the hotel, three of your Dark Knight
blimps have been dispatched in a triangle several hundred yards
above the Museum. They've been tricked out with both long-range
visual and sound sensors. Two of your Speed Racers,
gas-fueled mini cars that can travel over 70 miles per hour, are
on the ground speeding around obstacles, hiding in dark corners and
hearing and seeing everything a thousand yards away.
Your cars are carrying
mobile walking bots, nicknamed
Huey and Dewey, that can climb buildings and that you can
operate via telepresence controllers similar to a Playstation or an
Xbox. You and your staff play a remote droid minuet in which the
stakes are the truth. It's midnight. And you wait. And you watch.
(Can you tell that this a novel that I haven't written yet?)
Exposing the truth
The next day you will know what the truth is.
I'll try to put on everyone's ideological
blinders here; It's simply a repressed people acting out their
frustration after years of oppression, professional thieves who have
come in the night or American soldiers who were really inspired by
There will be
those in power who will lie to you. You will have evidence from
Huey's eye camera and Dark Knight 2's long-range sound scans to
contradict the "Official State Version." And you will be right and
you will live to report another day even though you've taken
"casualties" -- Speed Racer X and Huey don't make it back. You think
it's the rumored US militia's droid death squads that got them and,
of course, infantrymen look at your droids as prime targets. But
there will be other nights and other times for vengeance. After all,
only machines were lost.
The truth is very important to the dream of
the open society, and technologically empowered journalism can help.
It would be nice to have machines such as Huey, Dark Knight blimps
and Speed Racers watching over us. They might be able to provide the
Leon Kass starts to look younger (Singapore synth super
Jeremy Rifkin regains a head full of hair (applied adult stem
Now, if only there was a national news outlet
that would air your crazy pro life-extension views.
Ah well. One challenge at a time.