prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Archive for May, 2013

From Wikileaks to Strongbox

Posted by prof e on May 27, 2013

leaksRecent concerns about government prosecution of “leakers” and journalists has reignited a conversation about the limits of 1st Amendment protection for journalists and sources. Journalists sometimes become recipients of very sensitive information that may have implications for national security. At the same time they feel an obligation to protect the identity of whistle-blowers to ensure the free flow of important information. Some are calling for a federal “shield law” that will provide additional protection for sources, and for the journalists who report on the information they provide.

This dilemma involves very difficult situations where the intersection of national security concerns and “the public’s right to know” appear to be in conflict. Recent news out of Washington has been focused on the government going after the phone records of AP reporters and investigating Fox News reporter James Rosen. Many have viewed these actions as prosecution of the act of journalism which will have a chilling effect on future whistle blowers and other sources. While it can be argued that much of this hand-wringing is really politically motivated, there are plenty of examples of attempts to control information by both Republican and Democratic administrations.

In February of 2013 Pvt. Bradley Manning plead guilty to 10 of 22 charges for his part in the release of what has been called the “biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history.” Manning uploaded the classified documents from the Iraq war to Wikileaks after failing to get a response from the New York Times or the Washington Post. (See earlier blog post on Manning and Wikileaks)

What Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had attempted to do as a “radical transparency activist” is now going mainstream with the release of Strongbox. The New Yorker magazine has launched Strongbox as a way to provide a greater level of security and anonymity to sources who may fear reprisal if their identity were to be revealed. According to the Strongbox website,

Strongbox is designed to be accessed only through a “hidden service” on the Tor anonymity network, which is set up to conceal both your online and physical location from us and to offer full end-to-end encryption for your communications with us. This provides a higher level of security and anonymity in your communication with us than afforded by standard e-mail or unencrypted Web forms.

At least one problem remains. Typically a journalist needs to independently verify the veracity of information received from a source, and this level of anonymity may make that difficult if not impossible. But it is one more tool in the arsenal of investigative journalists who are committed to rooting out corruption and wrong-doing at the highest levels of government and industry.

Video resources:

All the President’s Men

All the President’s Men Revisited

We Steal Secrets (trailer)


Posted in 1st amendment, journalism, politics | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

AP Phone Records and the 1st Amendment

Posted by prof e on May 19, 2013

DOJ_APThe Department of Justice (DOJ) recently subpoenaed the telephone records of approximately 100 reporters working for the Associated Press (AP) in an effort to find out who, within the current administration, leaked national security information to the AP. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a big deal for journalists everywhere. Journalists take very seriously their role in serving as a check and balance to the power of government…and for government to curtail journalists’ power is a very serious matter. On the other hand, when national security is at stake, it makes sense that government be able to restrict the flow of information that could jeopardize the safety of those who protect us from those who want to do us harm.

Even without considering the political implications this is complicated and this little blog post cannot begin to get to the bottom of the story. However, it is an important issue that you should pay attention to assuming you want to be an informed citizen and an informed consumer of news. Remember, the AP is an important institution that serves our democratic ideal by helping us, the voters, understand the issues at hand. If the AP and similar non-partisan news institutions are not permitted to do their job, we all suffer and we become vulnerable to political tyrants who will stop at nothing to advance their agendas.

Gary Pruitt, speaking for the AP, claims that the actions taken by the current administration and the DOJ are unconstitutional and will result in harm to journalism as sources and whistle-blowers are already beginning to withhold information for fear of governmental reprisal. This intimidation of journalists by the DOJ on behalf of the current administration should be cause for concern for those who believe in the power of the press to reign in the abuse of political power. Remember, the press is supposed to be a watch dog on the prowl to protect the citizenry; not the lap dog of those in power.

Posted in 1st amendment, journalism, politics | 3 Comments »

If it quacks like a duck, it must be the Robertson family

Posted by prof e on May 15, 2013

DuckDynastyIn case you haven’t heard, the current TV ratings powerhouse is a reality TV show on A&E about a family from Louisiana that made $millions making duck calls. Duck Dynasty is cleaning up in the ratings and has surpassed the long-time ratings champ American Idol (which had fallen on hard times of late).

The season finale last Wednesday attracted an amazing 9.6 million viewers and beat everything else on TV according to Nielsen. With a 4.3 rating in the desirable 18-49 demographic, DD is the highest rated reality show on cable, and only one scripted show on cable, The Walking Dead, does better.

Broadcast TV programs traditionally pull higher ratings than cable TV shows, but DD has even been beating its broadcast competitors on Wednesday nights.

Some critics have been left scratching their heads over DD’s rise to fame. Some say it is the folksy, down-home humor of the main characters. Others point to the authenticity of the relationships between the patriarch Phil Robertson, his sons, and their Uncle Si. And still others point to the Evangelical Christianity of the family members as a draw for viewers who live in the Bible Belt.

Whatever it is, Duck Dynasty is a certifiable hit…and just one more example of how good programming ideas are difficult to come by, and impossible to predict.

Posted in media industry, tv | 13 Comments »