How Obama Rolls: Jet-setting and Other Rumors, er “News”

What is the cost of diplomacy? Allegedly, it’s about $200 million dollar per day. This week, a wave of anger enveloped the country after it was reported by an Indian outlet quoting an anonymous source, that this would be the cost to taxpayers for President Barack Obama’s visit to India. The “news” quickly became viral, making rounds in the blogoshpere, and was picked up by conservative pundits. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., repeated the figure on CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Nov. 3, 2010, in order to make a point about outrageous government spending. When asked where he came up with the number, he admitted that “these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press.”  The White House was forced to jump into damage control mode, to address the rumor-turned-headline-news.

With 24-hour news cycles to fill, it seems to have become a habit of news outlets to report on the stories of other news outlets, and we often see reporters interviewing other reporters. In her chapter War and Peace in the Information Age, Elizabeth Hanson addresses how the phenomenon of instantaneous transmission of news creates pressure for an immediate response from the government, often before the government has had a chance to even assess and formulate a position, and regardless of whether the news is legitimate or not.

Our desire for instant gratification as it applies to information has compromised the filtering of that information, and while it allows us to hold political leaders accountable, and accelerate the decision-making process of government, it also results in time wasted on sometimes erroneous topics. This extends beyond  politics as well. In retrospect there are several hours of my life I wish I could have back, where my attention was captivated by non-news- think Ballon Boy. Earlier this week it was the mystery “rocket” trail spotted off the coast of California (CNN). I have to question whether it is an efficient use of time to mobilize the FAA, Coast Guard, Navy, Air Force, Pentagon and the North American Aerospace Defense Command, to try to explain what might turn out to be an optical illusion of the contrail from an airplane.

Greater access to Breaking News through ICTs and satellite news further highlights the need for media literacy. The entire investigative process, or lack thereof, of journalism now unfolds in front of viewers. Information gathering, fact-checking, and debunking have become part of the story itself, and citizens (as well as politicians) should be mindful of this fact when considering and applying information received from news sources.

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2 Responses to How Obama Rolls: Jet-setting and Other Rumors, er “News”

  1. annziker says:

    The whole cycle of fact-checking/revising/rebutting becomes even more convoluted when the end user is distant from the original article/report in either time or space.
    For example, for people using old news articles- even from a month after the fact, a failure on the part of whatever organization is hosting the information to update with links to rebuttals can cut off (through exclusion) an entire chain of dispute and discussion.
    Alternatively, for distant media outlets that pick up only one of the original stories, and then don’t follow up, the chain never even begins.

  2. I agree with you that “Our desire for instant gratification as it applies to information has compromised the filtering of that information.” We are all accountable to varying degrees. First, traditional journalism is taking a beating as quick RSS feeds, sounds bits and even viral social media posts have come to characterize they way many people receive and process news and the way in which news is filtered to the masses by so-called journalists who have only a cursory understanding of the issues. I remember watching someone get eviscerated by Bill O’Reilly (figures, right?) on the subject of death panels in the new health care bill. O’Reilly interest was not in having pertinent questions answered or clearing up misunderstandings but really in perpetuating them. It’s become the norm, this disinterest in getting to the truth, in settling for surface news and instant gratification as well as our willingness to have opinions and “truth” handed us to by any talking head an agenda.

    Our attentions have become so easily hooked by the sensational journalism that the larger truths – and journalistic integrity – have been falling by the wayside. Fact checking sources, getting answers from credible sources, researching exhaustively matters because it directly people’s lives.

    This a sad, troubling trend. Used to be we had the luxury of a significant buffer between votes in Congress and food on the table of American families. These days, not so much. Now, we are affected we can see and feel immediately the effects and repercussions of government decisions and inaction. So, digging beyond the surface and understanding the underlying machinations matter

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