by Kieran Healy on March 13, 2005

Two good posts on the continuing slide towards routinized and euphemized torture by the U.S., one at “Body and Soul”: and one at “Respectful of Otters”: Jim Henley “notes”: a couple of recent domestic crime cases where the obvious suspects turned out not to have done it, asking “Couldn’t we have tortured the “right” people into confessing to both these crimes?” (That “real-estate arson”: last year in Maryland was in that category, too.) Meanwhile, “Juan Non-Volokh”: might be trying to talk himself into it through the “latest version”: of our old friend, the “ticking bomb”:

Propaganda and advertising

by John Q on March 13, 2005

This NYT report shows how the Bush Administration has been producing covert propaganda, which is then shown on US TV stations as news, with actors posing as reporters. It would take much more than this to surprise me in relation to the Bush Administration, and in any case, the practice apparently began under Clinton.

What did strike me was that, while the NYT went in for plenty of handwringing about the government manipulating the news, the report showed no concern about the fact (news to me) that corporations have been doing this for years, more or less openly, to the extent that those involved in producing “video news releases” have their own association, annual awards and so on

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance.

Of course, reprinting press releases with minimal editing has been a standby of lazy journalists for decades. But the standard press release story opens with what is presented as a paraphrase of a quote “In Washington today, Senator X criticised the neglect of problem Y …” or whatever. Even if the reader is led to imagine that the statement was actually made to an audience of reporters, there’s no serious deception, though a well-designed press release can certainly ensure that the writer’s key points get prominently reported in a way that makes them seem like fact rather than opinion.

But the video news release goes way beyond this. The closest analog in the print world is those supplements, designed to look like news, with “advertisement” in small print at the bottom of the page.

I don’t know anything about the legality of all this. Here in Australia, radio commentators got into a heap of strife over “cash for comment”, accepting money from corporations to say nice things about them. But this was advertising presented as opinion. Presenting advertising as news seems far worse to me.

The issue of paid-for or sponsored political comment has already arisen in relation to blogging. It seems unlikely that commercial PR can be far behind, if it isn’t here already.

Wonderful photographs

by Chris Bertram on March 13, 2005

This post contains a valuable commercial opportunity for someone, but I’m giving the advice for free. If I were a publisher of art-books, a commissioner of programmes for a channel like BBC4, or the editor of an art magazine or a Sunday supplement, I’d be desperately trying to do something on the photographs of Gustav Szathmary. Szathmary was the lover of the well-known German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, and the “Modersohn-Becker Museum”: in Bremen, Germany currently has an exhibition of his work. (He was a composer and an inventor of photographic equipment too.) I toured the exhibition yesterday with another academic (and anonoblogger) who, like me, was there for the “Social Justice Conference”: at the GSS at the University of Bremen. We were both stunned by the Szathmary’s portraits of his friends. The pictures, from about 1905, are so natural and lively that — allowing for changes in clothing in some cases — they could have been taken at any time up to last week. There’s hardly anything about Szathmary on the internet (8 hits on google and 9 on allthweb) and the only way you can see any of the photos is by “downloading the German catalogue”: (only a small selection, right at the end of this enormous PDF) or by visiting Bremen. There’s also “an html-page on Szathmary”: , linking to the catalogue, but without any of the relevant pictures.

(BTW, if anyone actually is a commissioning editor etc., reads this page, acts on it, and something comes about, I’d appreciate a free copy or an invite to the opening etc.)

Update: See also Gwydion the Magician’s take on “Gustav Szathmary and Elfriede Lohse-Wächtler”: .

UPDATE: See the link from Andrew’s comment below: Szathmary appears to be a spoof character wholly invented by artist Dirk Hennig. Doh!