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On the evening of September 26, 1960, the unknown senator from Massachusetts John F. Kennedy faced off against incumbent Vice President Richard Nixon, in what was the United States’ first televised debate. The role of the media in shaping politics can be seen in America’s political history, media in television and radio and political campaigns to come, as evidenced in the electioneering of the 1960 presidential debate—the first televised encounter between candidates in American history. When Nixon took to the podium his form was morose, scant and sickly from recent hospitalization; Kennedy calmly took his place with confidence and poise. According to a census taken thereafter those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won, a sharp comparison to the estimated 74 million of the majority of Americans who now owned a television set. The new medium had set the stage for a realized public recognition for how political events could be swayed, dependent on the media to shape how political figures are to be viewed by the nation. On November 12, 1960, four days after winning the election by the skin of his teeth, Kennedy was quoted as saying that “it was the TV more than anything else that turned the tide." With the rising force of television the mainstream media caught wind of just how explosive the Kennedy-Nixon debate was with the populace. Major broadcasting networks’ ratings rocketed sky-high, television sets were sold to every family on the block—America had plunged into the twilight zone like a TV show on mute; waiting, watching and listening on bated breath for the next ‘life-altering’ thing to come out of that tiny box in the living room. There was no doubt that television carried great power in its potential. "With the nation watching," a 1979 task force report noted, "The Nixon-Kennedy debates made televised encounters between candidates the hottest thing in electioneering since the campaign button." The media had dug its talons of razor wire into Kennedy’s public image, cataclysmically enabling the potential for television to double in size and scope. This event is the genesis of the next-generation public game, the next-level playing field of politicians and journalists: this is the theory of ‘media politics.’
With television running rampant in the homes of people worldwide, there were suddenly new questions of presentation, appearance, articulation and of a direct connection with the audience. The televised debate altered the scaffolding for the rest of the world, removing the present gestalt of still photos and text and replacing it with a live figure, standing right in the living room television set. From the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate the stage was set, for years of media in politics to take place, ensuing in the development of a new form of media involvement in the federal sector, in the congressional weaponization of journalists with pens as swords. This refers to the concept of “media espionage,” or “the obtaining of illegal information that could potentially perjure national security but save civilian lives,” according to author and scholar John Zaller’s theories on media politics and espionage. In the game of media politics there is a disquieted calamity within domestic and foreign affairs, evidenced in the more recent events of Australian journalist Julian Assange and his brainchild WikiLeaks, after leaking United States military and foreign diplomatic documents in 2010, depicting and detailing fringe events such as the slaying of 10 civilians and two Reuters journalists by American soldiers in 2007. Let that sink in.
This relays back to the Espionage Act of 1917, where journalists are being bent over the law after breaking a rule or two, denied allegations by corrupt referees in the aforementioned game of ‘media politics.’ The United States government’s involvement with case after case of questionable journalistic integrity on assignment raises an eyebrow or two, forcing one to look closer at the facts at what, or whom, is truthful. The wrongful prosecution of journalists for the publication of classified information brings about the question of “is it just to punish someone for reporting on classified information that someone else has gathered illegally.” Congress called for the prosecution of Assange and his website, after all he was attempting to do was run "a non-profit media organization dedicated to bringing important news and information to the public.” That said, going behind enemy lines for a reconnaissance mission, as issued by a publisher, and coming back with illegally obtained information involving issues pertinent to Matters of National Security—does that immediately induce prosecution, even if the publishing of said information could potentially save lives? That question can be rephrased: what is at stake, the reputation and liability of the federal government, or the killing of innocents because some information is to be burned after reading.
According to a purported leak of private information from whistle-blowing organization NLPWessex, Britain was a major player in covert government operations in the late nineties, evidenced in a document titled The Shaylergate Files: How MI6 Sponsored Al Queda in Libya.
According to a renegade officer for the British intelligence service MI5, David Shayler, "British intelligence plotted with Islamic extremists to assassinate Gaddafi in early 1996...MI6 illegally funded an 'al- Qaida' coup to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi, using as its agent a Libyan military intelligence officer. The attempt manifestly failed, although innocent people were killed in the attempt."
The media coiled itself around Britain to snake the country into enacting as a ‘Refuge for Mideast Dissidents’ with some carrying suspected ties to terrorists and leftist extremists such as Bin Laden in order to evade extradition. The newspapers were paid off, told explicitly by the intelligence agencies not to release secret information deemed low-level. In an interview with Annie Machon—an intelligence officer for the UK's MI5 in the 1990s who left after blowing the whistle on British intelligence agencies—she noted that “under the Official Secrets Act, the only people you can report a crime to ‘legally’ are the heads of the agencies you're reporting on.”
“Journalists in the mainstream media now have no job security. They now rely on briefings from government, intelligence agencies or the police to find stories, and publish them uncritically. If they fail to follow these implicit orders from ‘up top,’ they cannot work the next story and keep their job to earn a living. They become stooges of the spin machine.”
-“Spies and the Media,” The Machon Report, 3 Oct. 2014.
The specifics of the Official Secret Act, and how it applies to journalists-as-pawns can be seen in a recent judicial inquisition called the Leveson Report, investigating the linkage between politicians and media proprietors. It would seem, according to evidence presented through this inquiry, that the federal intelligence agencies, local law enforcement, public defenders and the mainstream media—are all in bed together, sleeping between the dirty sheets of geopolitical . In sum, the media is not to be (completely) trusted; after years of abusing journalistic integrity, newspapers, radio, television and the internet have allowed declassified intelligence to be used and abused, forcing countries into illegal wars around the world.
The practice of journalists is to interpret an event and then retell it with relevance to a populace of readers (i.e. reports from the field used to craft stories to embellish war for recruiting) wit the given understanding that the story's relevance will increase as the readership increases. This use of “granted subjectivity” in media is not true journalism, but is how the world is, and has been, shaped for centuries. In analyzing this one might ask, "why hasn’t anyone said anything?" The voice of the voiceless is only so strong.
Focusing on the differences between media politics and media espionage, in events from past to present, one may be able to shape how the journalist perspective is considered, and how manipulative the U.S. government can be in tainting the truth. Nary are there less than a handful of events, past or current, when a journalist’s life has been risked for the sake of the country—however, if the information was obtained illegally, a journalist will be prosecuted for trying to stand by the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment with the right to free press. If it is impossible for an “individual to express themselves through publication and designation of information, ideas and opinion without inference, constraint or prosecution by the U.S. government,” as the founding forefathers figured—then something must be done. This is an unethical treatment of journalists and must be altered immediately, to allow for truth and for injustices to be put aside.
Quid pro quo. Quid Juris. Life, liberty and the pursuit of what, I wonder...