prof. e.

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

Archive for June, 2013

Ellsberg, Manning and Snowden: The Saga Continues

Posted by prof e on June 24, 2013

In this short list of famous leakers–Ellsberg, Manning and Snowden–each one has had to walk a delicate tightrope between  two, potentially,  very noble causes. On one hand is the exposure of wrong doing. On the other is the rule of law and the legal process designed to protect us from systemic corruption. Just like Nik Wallenda’s traverse of the Grand Canyon gorge, high-profile leakers or whistleblowers take great risks when they choose their course of action. And like a tight-rope walker, they are all alone once they leave the safety of terra firma.

The press and the government exist in a dynamic state of symbiosis: a tension between the public’s right to know, the government’s responsibility to provide security, and an individual’s right to some expectation of privacy. Individuals and organizations keep secrets because it gives them an advantage, or because it prevents others from knowing about, or exploiting, a weakness. When powerful individuals and entities (corporations, governmental agencies, organized groups) use their power for wrong…in ways that break ethical, moral, or legal rules and regulations, secrecy protects them from being outed and punished.

Enter the press. Journalists have long accepted the responsibility of shining a light into dark corners. Their job is to uncover and expose wrong-doing so that public pressure, or the law, can step in to correct the wrong. But journalists need help uncovering secrets. They often need someone on the inside, someone who has access to privately held information, who is willing to give that information to the journalist. Sometimes it is simply verbal information about where the investigative journalists should look, and what they should look for. Other times it involves documents or data that the insider gives to the journalists. The insider has the access, and the journalists has the investigative skills to collect and report on the facts that are relevant to the issue.

Daniel Ellsberg, “the most dangerous man in America“, became famous for releasing documents to the New York Times about the US Government’s failing policy in Vietnam. Public sentiment was already turning against the war when the Pentagon Papers threw gasoline on the fire. Ellsberg was prosecuted under the Espionage Act of 1917 but charges were later dismissed.

Bradley Manning, private first class in the US Army, was arrested for using his security clearance to download classified documents which he then released to WikiLeaks. Manning pleaded guilty to 10 of 22 charges earlier this year and his trial began just a few weeks ago. If convicted Manning could face life in prison.

Edward Snowden was an employee of the military contractor Booz Allen Hamilton when he downloaded, and leaked to the press, documents about the National Security Agency‘s surveillance program. According to the Guardian newspaper, “Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers, alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning.”  According to a recent poll by PEW Research, the public is split on whether the NSA leak serves the public interest. However, the public favors, by a significant margin, the criminal prosecution of Snowden. But age is a factor. Younger respondents are more likely to believe that the leak serves the public interest and are less likely to support prosecution.

The latest reports indicate that Snowden is making his way, with the help of Wikileaks legal team, to Ecuador where he will seek political asylum. The South China Morning Post is also reporting that Snowden took the job with Booz Allen Hamilton with the intent of collecting evidence of NSA spying. If that report is true, Snowden’s moral justification for his actions may be fatally damaged.

Resources for additional research:


Posted in journalism, new media, politics, regulation, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Ask your doctor if ______ is right for you…

Posted by prof e on June 3, 2013

Advertising is everywhere. And you can pretty much bet that everything, at some time or another, has been advertised. Of course you won’t see ads for tobacco products on TV, but most everything else is advertised somewhere to someone. Sometimes an entire industry is created, with the help of advertising, when consumers become convinced that they must have a new product or service.

Take the pet food industry for example. Before the turn of the century, pet food as a product was not widely available in stores. Dogs and cats ate table scraps and whatever else they could find to eat. Advertisers discovered an untapped market and by the 1960s TV ads for dog and cat food became commonplace. Jump to the present. Not only do we have a pet food industry, but pet food comes in a wide variety of forms and flavors. To make sure that revenue continues non-stop, consumers are warned that feeding your pet table scraps is bad for their health. Consumers spend approximately $18 billion annually on pet food, and the pet food industry even has its own website.

Advertising products for human use and consumption is also experiencing significant changes. Take medications for example. Companies that develop and market remedies have been around since recorded history. Snake oil salesmen promoted their blends of turpentine and various inert ingredients to gullible customers for decades before the FDA and other agencies stepped in. Now, pharmaceutical companies have to pass stringent tests before bringing their products to market…and then they pass on those R&D costs to you, the consumer. But how do you convince the public that they need your product? Advertising of course.

In 2010 “big pharma” spent $1 million to advertise treatments for low testosterone. By 2012 that amount grew to $100 million. And according to Consumer Reports, the advertisements are creating an impression that many more men suffer from low testosterone than actually do. This may be a case where advertising is being used to create demand for a product that is often unnecessary.

Many countries are concerned about pharmaceutical ads directed at consumers. The concern is that they are, in effect, pushing products about which consumers have little or no expertise. Only New Zealand and the United States allow DTC (Direct To Consumer) advertising for prescription drugs. When you’re told to “ask your doctor…”, the pharmaceutical companies are using you, the patient, to exert pressure on your health care provider. My hunch is that coercion of this sort is unlikely to result in better health care.


Posted in advertising, media industry, regulation | 6 Comments »