Thursday, June 7, 2012

Vatileaks: Organized? Maybe, Maybe Not

I did it again: part-way through writing tomorrow morning's post, I realized that I'd gone off on a tangent. A long one.

I'd started with what the Vatican Secretary of State had to say about Vatileaks. I see his point, but think what looks like organization may be a combination of bias, unquestioned assumptions, and deadlines.

Conspiracy, Culture, and Fu Manchu

I think it is possible that media coverage of Vatileaks is, literally, organized: with some person or persons deciding what will be said, and when. Possible: and somewhat more probable than 'radio waves from outer space.'

I think it's at least as likely that the appearance of an organized attack is just that: appearance.

Please bear with me: what's next relates to the Cardinal and Vatileaks; although I'm starting with something that's more familiar to me: American news media.

I've discussed 'media bias' in America before. (November 4, 2011, April 1, 2010)

I don't think that American editors are:
  • Minions of some evil mastermind
  • Involved in a collective conspiracy
    • To subvert the conscience of America
Either notion could be the start of a story: maybe something along the lines of "The Mask of Fu Manchu" (1932). But that doesn't make them likely scenarios.

It's possible for a group of people to act as if they're 'organized,' when they believe they're working independently - and in fact are not part of a consciously-organized unit.

Values, Assumptions, and Deadlines

America's editors are part of a relatively small subculture: one with internally-consistent values and assumptions. I think that they have become isolated from the rest of society, and are drifting away from the world the rest of us call home. (September 2, 2011; Another War-on-Terror Blog (December 22, 2008, October 21, 2008))

I've discussed information gatekeepers, the folks in a society who can decide what the others see and hear, before. (November 15, 2010) Also what passes for 'academic freedom' in American colleges and universities. (April 6, 2012, August 3, 2009)

Back in the 'good old days,' if the editors of The New York Times didn't think something was suitable for publication - the odds were that the rest of America's newspapers wouldn't cover the story, either. No conspiracy: just a mix of time zones; deadline pressure; and assumptions.

Network television news gave American a new way to get news. But the three - or four, counting PBS - networks were still run by the 'better sort' in the New York City and Los Angeles area.

The format was different, but it was the same little circle of 'intelligent' folks showing the rest of us their version of the world.

Old-School Editors in the Information Age

My guess is that the senior editorial staff in America's, and Europe's, news media are about my age. It generally takes years, decades, of work experience and dedication to earn an editor's desk. Like me, they remember anti-war demonstrations, the first Earth Day, and love beads.

I've gotten the impression that some folks who earned those editor's desks didn't get the memo: it isn't 1965 any more.

What 'Everybody Knows'

My hat's off to media executives who acknowledge Information Age technology, and are adapting to it. I'm a little less impressed with their apparent reluctance to reevaluate their assumptions.

On the other hand, I lived in a country where I constantly met other folks who didn't share my assumptions and opinions. That gave me opportunities to think about what I believe, and test my assumptions.

Not everybody has those opportunities. What if:
  • I'd bought into assumptions and values that were new and exciting
    • 40 years ago
  • Everybody I'd known since I graduated assumed that
    • America is the source of the world's problems
    • The Catholic Church kills people by saying that
      • Having sex with random strangers is a bad idea
      • Letting babies live is a good idea
Particularly with the demands of a fulfilling career, checking anti-American and anti-Catholic assumptions might seem like a waste of time. After all, the 'intelligent' folks around me have the same assumptions. It's easy to believe that what 'everybody knows' is true. (Another War-on-Terror Blog (March 25, 2008))

Homogeneous, Somewhat; Organized, Not Necessarily

When folks who share a set of values and assumptions get pretty much the same information at roughly the same time: I'm not surprised that they all tend to report in in a fairly consistent manner.

I think it's arguable that the apparent organization behind Vatileaks attacks can be explained by today's rapid communication, and news media's willingness to use new technology. Leaders of Europe's news media may be cooperating in an attack on the Church. But this may just be Europe's analog to America's traditional anti-Catholicism, made more efficient by contemporary technology.

Not-entirely-unrelated posts:


Brigid said...

It? "I did again"

Missing punctuation: "and in fact are not part of a consciously-organized unit"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Ah! The mysterious invisible period strikes again!

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