How the Iranian Elections Turned “CNN Fail” Into a Media Success
A journalistic conundrum: When does Twitter count as a reliable source?
Not wide awake this morning, I sat down with my coffee, launched Twitter and was instantly hooked onto #iranelection which was trending. I hadn’t heard much about Iran’s election aftermath before going to bed so I followed the hash. Powerful.
Into Iran real time, hearing the voices of people engaged in the actual revolution. Riveting, really. For me, I was reminded of the protests in the United States to bring down the Viet Nam war or the protests during the Civil Rights work in the 50’s and 60’s.
I found myself moved by the faces of young people determined to take hold of their futures. The familiar young faces of students who the old guard will often strike at first because they represent the intellectuals, the people who will ask questions and not be satisfied with answers based on past practices.
And in the middle of those #iranelection streams I heard voices asking if news services were covering the events, whether journalists were getting the stories for people outside Iran to see. And, though, yes, the news services were starting to post bits and pieces, it was hours into the events of Iran before any news in the US actually acknowledged what was happening.
Other disturbing comments were coming out of the trending #iranelection related to how we know that what we’re hearing is the truth? How do we know that this is a voice from an actual experiencer in Iran? How do we know that what is happening has actually happened? For quite some time early reports went unverified – that dormitories were overtaken, that people were actually marching.
Ruminating, I thought back to the American Iraq invasion. What happened to truth in Iraq when American reporters were engaged as embedded journalists? Reporters told us they were safer that way – and since the American press wasn’t asking any questions – they thought themselves safe from the ‘enemy.’ Little did they know that the U.S. was the enemy. But since security was the reporters’ and journalists’ concern, the actual story of Iraq took a long time to tell. To our detriment.
This morning, though, to break my train of thought, I was listening to and reading and following posted urls attached to #iranelections. In the middle of which I read
we are accessing twitter from open proxies. they are closing them as fast as we can find them.
It appears Iranian protestors needed proxies to upload film and photographs and to keep the tweet paths open.
We, here on this side of the Twitter screen including those who doubted the reality of the posts as well as the protests, needed photographs and film. We needed to see the events unfold for ourselves. We needed to see the actual people behind the events.
Still, in Iraq, reporters were on the ground, embedded and safe. They sent home photographs and films. But the truth didn’t get out either.
Has anyone seen ‘The Year of Living Dangerously.’ That movie was about the truth and how difficult it is to recognize the truth. Linda Hunt plays an androgynous photographer named Billy who navigates a young reporter through Indonesia. Just as Billy’s ambiguous sexuality is symbolic, so are vision, and love. And so is the truth. Billy, wrongfully thinking Sukamo was a people’s hero discovers the pathetic truth. He dies.
The reporter Billy was navigating, later suffered a detached retina in his search. Exhausted and injured he rests in Billy’s room recalling Billy’s passage from Bhagavad Gita ,”all is clouded by desire”.
The truth is not something that is (as in X-Files) ‘out there’. The question really is, is there truth and if there is are we capable of seeing or knowing it? How often has truth turned out to be wishful thinking? ‘All is clouded by desire’. Back then in Iraq, didn’t many of us want Iraq to be the actual truth? Didn’t we want Iraq to be the cause of our suffering?
Passage is truth. So is humility. But rather than restore the art of journalism to its jungle stomping, we have converted our journalists into corporate employees. And our first concern? That they be safe.
Journalists are truth soldiers, folks. It’s that simple. But the simplicity of it has been lost to business, marketing, and power. Our constitution did not want the government to tell journalists what to say. But what about corporations, can they?
What has the struggle been over the years of web development? The great browser wars, the Yahoo and Google and MS – those wars. What are and were they about? The control of information. Not browser superiority but control over information. And control over truth. We have already seen Google back down to China.
And we want Google to serve the news?
A brief other related thought. For some reason, while thinking about all of this ‘heady’ stuff, I recalled Yossarian’s question, ‘Where are the Snowden’s of yesteryear from Heller’s Catch 22. I couldn’t recall the Villon poem the line was a play on so did the Google thing and found this:
The expression itself is a clever pun on the phrase “Where are the snows of yesteryear?” from Francois Villon’s 1462 poem “Des Dames du Temps Jadis ” or “Ballade of the Ladies of Bygone Times.” Villon used the phrase repetitively throughout the four stanzas of his poem to emphasise the passing of time and beauty than once lost can never be regained.
I recognized it represented a lost vision we had as a young country whose goals were so ideal. We had lost the way. We lost the sense of our humanity and the ways of knowledge. Yet, this morning in the middle of my #iranelection musings, I did hear truth. I could fathom the role of the journalist inside the turmoil, inside the yearnings for control over one’s own future. Inside the feeling that such a quest was something to witness. Inside the desire for a voice to the outside.
We need proxy, the Iranian said, who has proxy.
Proxy is a tech term, yes. But it also means to speak in the absence of someone. To speak for someone. To give the disembodied a voice. That had reverberating meaning to me this morning. Because, in that light, I understood what journalism and truth were all about. The job of the news, the job of the journalist is to give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves. To record the struggle that, gone unreported, would go unrecorded.
That is the job of the soldier journalist who is empowered by the First amendment to the Constitution. And though his or her vision may be clouded, and though we may seek out simpler times, still the journalist must be a foot soldier in the fields of war. And should give voice to whom is out there. So we, in our clouded minds, can see them for the humans they are and hear their voices.