A Guts-Full of White Noise News

Tracey Barnett ©January 2011
Photo Credit: Jose Mesa

Nobody likes getting played. But you do, every day. You start believing that the stories that get shoved up your nose just because they are noisy and new are the most important.

That’s why for weeks one TV breakfast show host’s ridiculous comments wafted over our media landscape like nuclear waste while NASA discovering the real likelihood of a new kind of life on other planets gets buried in a single feature. Pond scum that lives on arsenic isn’t sexy. Go figure.

The truth is, we all lose when the big picture gets dumped for the newest snapshot. For every one valuable Wikileaks story about free speech, the future of whistleblowers, and international laws trying to tame the Internet, the world will spit out 75 stories on Julian Assange’s hair.

Yes, our priorities are wacked, but there’s something worse; When the hunger of the daily news cycle actually leads us away from seeing the real story.

Here is my year-end list of stories where my good press colleagues worldwide either lost the plot or just noticed the wrong one.

PRESIDENT PALIN? I CAN SEE ARMAGEDDON FROM MY HOUSE

I don’t care how many carcasses she drags home on her back to make Elk-kebabs for her reality TV show or who won mid-terms due to her glam-magic endorsement, Sarah Palin won’t get the presidential nomination in 2012.

That is—if Republicans are sane. You betcha, “Mama Grizzly” still makes great copy. That’s why she’ll continue to get a dung heap of airhead time in the next 18 months. But her media-soak isn’t a reflection of where the country’s head turns.

Here’s what to really watch: New polls show Palin would lose to Obama by a whopping 22 points. Her unfavorability ratings are climbing, not shrinking. Mainstream Republicans notice, big time.

When John McCain tacked right in 2008, folks ran toward the center and found Obama there. Don’t weigh Sarah Palin’s influence in 2011 by her obese number of media minutes. Keep your eye on the power of the middle.

THE GOOGLE IN CHINA STORY WASN’T ABOUT GOOGLE IN CHINA

When Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, went to the defense of Google after China allegedly hacked into dissident’s emails earlier this year, the line we got was about human rights. It sounded pretty, but had nothing to do with the real story that no one’s still noticing.

It just didn’t smell right that Clinton would be so publicly damning now when China has been snooping on dissidents for years.

Then, just last month came a teeny, tiny story you may have missed in this paper. A security report to the US Congress said that China “hijacked” 15 percent of the world’s Internet traffic for 18 minutes on April 8th this year.

Yes, you read right, that’s almost one-seventh of the entire world’s Internet traffic. For 18 minutes, 15 percent of the world’s Internet destinations suddenly went through servers in China. A Chinese state-run firm has been accused of harvesting sensitive data from emails or implanting viruses in computers worldwide.

Surprise—these included information from the US Army, Navy, Marines, NASA, as well as Microsoft, IBM and Yahoo. Nobody wants to talk about getting caught with their cyber fly unzipped. That’s why this one has stayed quiet worldwide.

So next time you hear Hillary talk about human rights and the Internet, follow the money, because the real wounded power players aren’t talking.

IGNORE JULIAN ASSANGE’S “SEXUAL SURPRISE”

You will never hear me defending rape of any description, no matter how many condom jokes burst forth from Sweden’s bizarrely named “Sexual Surprise” charges pending for the Wikileaks chief. If Assange is guilty of sexual assault, so be it.

But no matter how strange, self-righteous and Scarlet Pimpernell-esque Julian Assange may be, his story is a red herring to the gravitas of what’s at stake here.

I believe this paper’s editorial got it dead wrong when it wrote that this story is an “irritant” for Washington and that the release of this material “is not stuff that will change history.” To say this story is about Washington or even Assange is missing the point.

It’s been fascinating to watch world power magnanimously close in on rogue operators, even if they are espousing their own principles. Governments, and very soon big banks [watch Bank of America who are now in Wikileaks’ crosshairs for a major cable dump in January], are yelling about the need to shut down a new player who is playing exactly as they do. See also the previous story on Google-China.

For better or worse, I believe someday historians will point to Wikileaks as being the real turning point of the first truly worldwide communication system changing the course of government transparency worldwide. The real question no one can yet answer is, in what direction?

Let me know what stories of 2010 you think should be added to the list. Here’s to the endangered long view, that ever-elusive boring bastard of news.


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