A corrupt environment

November 9, 2009

Newspapers and news organisations in general are supposed to provide the public with information in a truthful, unbiased and objective manner. This is therefore the responsibility of everyone involved, but the influence on what is finally published is not evenly distributed. Does everyone within a news organisation follow the same agenda?


“Photographers meet more real people than anyone at the newspaper, but they don’t decide what runs. Photographers’ agenda are set by what wins POY [Photographer of the year] awards. Picture editors’ agenda are set by what they think news editors will publish. The news editors’ agenda are set by what we learned in journalism school about news values […] and by what they think the public is interested in.” (Quote by Eisert. Newton, 2001; p. 78.)


People’s emotions are constantly played with because it is by emotionally stimulating a person that a story/picture is most likely to sell. One enjoys seeing shocking and dramatic pictures because “looking at them suggests and strengthens the feeling that one is exempt” [from calamity]. (Sontag, 1979; p. 168.) The public is generally interested in being emotionally affected by the material looked at, as for news values, they are determined by ideologies, profit and capitalist way of thinking.

News become more of a production close to entertainment. Stories and myths are the essence of modern journalism as they give “structure and meaning to the fluid, amorphous events of life”. (O’Shaughnessy, 2004; p. 52.) News therefore use the idea of a hero and a villain to give stories “narrative drive and ethical meaning” (Ibid; p. 133.) This is mainly based on the fact that we feel the need to “blame someone when things go wrong” (Ibid; p. 133.). There is a constant search for a source of evil, even when no villain can be officially identified. The public is therefore manipulated with the omnipresent concept of fear.


The use of emotion in narrative news was introduced by Joseph Pulitzer in the nineteenth century to make stories more colourful. He authored “blaring headlines, big pictures and eye-catching graphics: emotional immediacy is striven for rather than rational exposition.” (Ibid; p.53.)

Again this tightens the connection between news and entertainment. “News is a commercial product sold in a competitive market place, and to succeed it must be vibrant, original, emotional and easily understood – classic attributes, in fact, of propaganda.” (Ibid; p.53.) (My emphasis)


News organisations sell news that they think the public wants to buy, but above all, news that benefit them and the people higher up in the pyramid. “The potential for profit in a capitalist society can override the best of editors’ intentions to honor sociopolitical ideals that originally led to the concept of freedom of the press. […] And the reality of mass communication is that content is influenced by personal, political, social, economic, and ownership forces.” (Newton, 2001; p. 79.)

One of the most obvious examples of this is the media empire of Rupert Murdoch (a fierce supporter of Bush and the Iraq war), which only seems to present the owner’s own political and ideological views, in a very propagandistic way. In a Washington Post article, Frank Van Riper mentions the “jingoism of the coverage [of the Iraq war] by Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news network”, (Van Riper, 2003) probably the least objective news network in Western society.

Brian Walski talks from personal experience when he says: “I worked for the [Boston] Herald under [Rupert] Murdoch. They cut and pasted pictures.” (Walker, 2003)

Why is it Murdoch can get away with undeniable ‘unethicality’? Firstly because he owns a very large percentage of the western world’s news organisations, and secondly because his agenda assumedly is the same as the one of the elite at the top of the ‘power pyramid’.


In the ‘news industry’, “truth is often irrelevant, it is a matter of what is believed.” (O’Shaughnessy, 2004; p. 93.) As long as the media gets the public to believe ‘the right thing’ without too much questioning, people will continue to be subjects to capitalism and let the elite (bankers, multinational corporates, etc…) get even wealthier and more powerful. “Propaganda does not try to destroy values, it attempts to conscript them.” (O’Shaughnessy, 2004; p. 113.)


In the case of Brian Walski’s composite photograph, as we have seen before, the real issue lies not in the actual photo manipulation. The newspaper’s editors make use of ‘reverse propaganda’ and “by accusing the photographer and attempting to portray themselves as publishing “unmanipulated” news, they are seeking to conceal the factual reality of their biased and one-sided presentation of the overall news.” (Meyer, 2003) In short, they want to gain the reader’s trust by using Walski as a scapegoat for falseness.


We could go into the meanings of ‘propaganda’ and analyse the issue more deeply, but we would just deviate further from the original subject matter.


How does the Walski scandal fit into the circumstances of the media at the time? What was the relationship between the media and the Iraq war at that point?




Newton, Julianne Hickerson (2001). The Burden of Visual Truth: The Role of Photojournalism in Mediating Reality, p. 78, p. 79. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. [Accessed on 3 November 2009]


Sontag, Susan (1979). On Photography, p. 168. England: Penguin Books. [Accessed on 5 November 2009]


O’Shaughnessy, Nicholas Jackson (2004). Politics and propaganda, weapons of mass seduction, p. 52, p. 53, p. 93, p. 113, p. 133. Great Britain: Manchester University Press. [Accessed on 6 November 2009]


Van Riper, Frank (9 April 2003). Manipulating Truth, Losing Credibility. [online] Washington Post. Available from: <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/photo/essays/vanRiper/030409.htm> [Accessed on 22 October 2009]


Walker, David (7 May 2003). Brian Walski Discusses his Doctored Photo, Photo District News. [online] AllBusiness.com, Inc. Available from: <http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4450879-1.html> [Accessed on 28 October 2009]


Meyer, Pedro (2003). The LA Times fires a photographer. [online] ZoneZero. Available from: <http://zonezero.com/magazine/articles/altered/altered.html> [Accessed on 26 October 2009]