Quick Fragment on Engineering Mass Hysterical Virginity for Fun and Profit

O Globo defended intruding upon the private deliberations of Supreme Court justices by invoking the value of “democratic transparency.”

Too often, it is the media-created event to which people respond rather than the objective situation itself, as was the case when media provoked anxiety resulted in massive public rejection of food products reported as potentially related to an outbreak. Development of new approaches in mass communication, most recently the Internet, increase the ability to enhance outbreaks through communication. –Boss, Leslie P., “Epidemic Hysteria: A Review of the Published Literature” in Epidemiologic Reviews, Vol. 19, No. 2.

Fads can be incredibly lucrative: mass hysteria and stupidity can make a real difference to a business’ bottom line. … –Rhymer Rigby. “Craze Management.” Management Today. London: Jun 1998. p. 58

I keep thinking back to my (creepy) encounters with some of these FUD-amplifying infowar bloggers out there on the Internet these days.

Such as that fellow with the imperfect command of English who identified himself in the comments thread as journalist John Dickie and informed me — David “Fear and Misinformation Abound” Sasaki-style — that in the Oaxaca conflict, “truth is nowhere.”

Or being called a “cryptomarxist journalist, who think they understand Mexico” for trying to determine whether attempts to discredit reporting by El Universal on the Ye Gon affair were credible themselves.

And I will never forget that Brazilian op-ed I read — I am still trying to find the clip so I can cite this properly — which refers to the “tradition of Romantic journalism” along “Fourth Estate” lines is “nothing but a pornography of facts.”

I have been getting deeper into reading Kristin M. Lord’s The Perils and Promise of Global Transparency.

When I first read through it, I said I thought it had some organizational problems and needed to focus more on cases and less on theory. (But then again, I am not a political scientist, so you should not take that as a peer review. I am not, as they say, in the book’s target audience. I am also an extremely picky little bastard.)

See also What’s So Great About International Transparency?

On the other hand, the treatment of the Rwandan genocide, and particularly the roll of mass media in fomenting the mass frenzy and keeping it rolling, is well written, well documented, and chilling of course.

I thought it was worth clipping to file.

The old fashioned-way: By typing it in. So any typos are due to my fat fingers.

Before the genocide began, Rwandans chose to listen to RTLM in a relatively open and competitive media environment. After the genocide began, however, nearly all other media were silenced, which severely curtailed domestic transparency. Some Rwandans with short-wave radios could hear contesting descriptions of events, but RTLM challenged outside sources of information, telling Rwandans to ignore the “biased and ill-informed” reports. C. Kellow and H. Stevens cite the following RTLM announcement broadcast on May 14, 1994:

This is nothing but propaganda from White people; we are used to it. However, we can still maintain that the inkotanyi [Tutsi cockroaches], wherever they have gone, have massacred the Hutus … after the 200,000 killed, the journalists say that the numbers rise to 500,000 killed. Where do these other 300,000 come from? These other 300,000 are without a doubt Hutu … This war we are fighting is an important one … it is, in fact, a war of extermination, a war started by the inkotanyi — because it is they who have started with the purpose of exterminating the Hutu.

Thus, even if Rwandans had access to other sources of information, RTLM broadcasts may have inspired doubts about their credibility.

It would have been nice to know what outside reports, specifically, they were referring to. Perhaps the source — Kellow & Steeves, “Role of Radio in the Rwandan Genocide” — has that information.

The crucial point being that the radio stations was, by this account, not a stereotypically sinister propaganda organ. Its programming made use of modern market research, apparently.

RTLM … broadcast rowdy banter, pop music, phone-in shows and interviews [and] quickly attracted a large following.

It was a sort of Eldorado (or KISS) FM, with Rush Limbaugh in syndication, or RCTV, with the Venezuelan equivalent of “Desperate Housewives” and a content partnership with some MTV-like music TV producer — until it starting broadcasting the order to kill! kill! kill!

I think about this sort of thing a lot while trying to read Veja magazine and O Globo through the lense of Bill Keller’s memorandum on “protecting our integrity” and the Times guidelines on integrity.

Veja, for example — its parent controls both the Playboy and MTV franchises in Brazil, among other global media brands — is extremely well-designed to appeal to a public hungry for modern infotainment.

A lovely graphic design, modern marketing, many of the features you find in modern European and American glossies, plenty of “lifestyle” features. Modern-looking and modern-sounding in every way.

Until you start dissecting the way they do journalism. In which case you realize they were not kidding when they provided NOVO LACERDA as the password for single-issue buyers to access online content.

You often hear the same argument in Brazil — that such journalistic standards simply do not apply to “the unique Brazilian reality.”

The same argument is also often applied to international conventions on human rights.

And modern democracy.

Also somewhat chilling to hear.

Fortunately, there are documents like the Estado de S. Paulo‘s editorial guidelines — which I find immediately recognizable as (quite a good) book on “how to do Journalism 1.0,” albeit in Portuguese — and the work of professionals like the Folha‘s ombudsman, who is really good at his job.

You could learn things from this guy — and some of his columns are now being published in (not very good) English translation.

In Brazil, it’s one person, one vote and the cars all drive on the right side of the road. On the other hand, they don’t have to worry about bears like some of us gringos. Brazil has many peculiar creatures, but no bears. People shop in grocery stores using cash money or bank cards. They like rock ‘n’ roll but have some very weird ideas about Elvis.

All in all, it’s quite similar except for the parts that are quite different.

Fundamental Zeitgeist reference texts for Martian media anthropologists in the Lusophone antipodes: The
Estado de S. Paulo’s very thorough and recognizably Journalistic 1.0 editorial guidelines — I collect these from all over — and Carlos Lacerda’s The Power of Ideas.


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