The WikiLeaks 'Collateral Murder' Video is Not Important to War |
"...I really think this is not a big deal. Only because the war has been proven to be started on lies, and the men and woman who brought evidence to the table showing it to be an illegial war, have been discredited in our society (see Valerie Plame). This one video just shoes how ugly war is, not that America is bad. That has already been proven with no results."
The above thought is representative of a theme in public discussion on every comments string I have researched, including one that I later started myself. And why not? That this video is neither important to war policy, nor will it have influence on such, is a point that has merit and speaks to a truth in public consciousness and the lifestyle and attitude we've adopted while we've been at war, as well as certain behaviors we have allowed. The WikiLeaks video is important, however. I will sign my name to that statement, right now, without the benefit of hindsight.
But the video and the influence it may or may not have is important for what is perhaps a non-obvious reason. By no means do I mean to posit that being desensitized to war and war politic is acceptable, or how I personally prefer reality. More simply, this reality is the status quo in the human realm in the west and the context for why WikiLeaks exists in the first place, as well as sets the stage for a larger root issue in play. Something that is more important than the life-or-death industry verticals of war, agriculture, energy and healthcare.
That something is the media.
After all, if one does not have viable information and analysis, then how will one make decisions, vote and influence on any of the above? Worse, purposeful misinformation runs rampant on a massive scale. Of course education comes hand-in-hand with the importance of viable news reporting. Even if citizens were receiving viable information and media, and even if the voices and ownership were diverse and the debate robust and well researched; if the mass of people lack the critical thinking skills and basic problem solving ability, and contextual awareness, needed to evaluate and act on information, then our circumstances remain equally dire.
For these reasons, and more, I posit that the Apache helicopter 'Collateral Murder' video is more important to the media dialogue than to the war dialogue. Furthermore, the video is highly important to the media dialogue.
Let us look at this event in its entirety. What is important about the WikiLeaks video, an overview:
1. The effect on military credibility due to the lack of accountability and transparency demonstrated by the US military, and the Pentagon as a symbol of the US military, in the sense that they willfully withheld details:
"The military did not reveal how the Reuters staff were killed, and stated that they did not know how the children were injured."
WikiLeaks cites the video against this Washington Post article, which states:
"It was unclear whether the journalists had been killed by U.S. fire or by shooting from the Iraqis targeted by the Apache."
"The Apache crew fired because militants 'were endangering the stability of Iraq' and because they had positive identification that the militants 'had weapons and were using them against coalition and Iraqi security forces,' said Maj. Brent Cummings, the battalion's executive officer. 'No innocent civilians were killed on our part deliberately. We took great pains to prevent that. I know that two children were hurt, and we did everything we could to help them. I don't know how the children were hurt.'"
2. Whether or not the Rules of Engagement and other operational rules and laws were appropriately followed is being debated online, as are the spirit of the rules against the actual letter of the law. Further discussion extends into questioning the legality of the war in Iraq, with many suggesting that the tragedy captured in the Apache video leak is a byproduct of larger injustices.
Some of what's missing, and is being discussed, is the context of the video.
3. The effect on media credibility subtly became a prime discussion point in the over all dialogue about the leak. Internet community has a sense of ownership of this style of leak or reporting, which in itself may be argued to be a sign of the times and a response to the media status quo. The lack of mainstream (read: corporate) media coverage and attention (especially in lieu of gossip-driven non-stories such as Tiger Woods, et cetera) is demonstrative of "news" media priorities that have little if anything to do with public interest.
This is somewhat of an unprecedented occurrence and what makes this moment remarkable.
Over the course of the day that the video was leaked (yesterday), and in response to a lack of coverage and attention, this video as a piece of news information had an unintended effect: It became a test. Audience members tipped news outlets to the video and story in every way possible, and watched in dismay as the premise that corporate media has little interest in public interest, or pursuing truth, was confirmed by a lack of coverage and response. These types of media issues are generally discussed online, and are often associated with problems attributed to media consolidation.
Once independent, now Condé Nast-owned, community news site Reddit.com fostered the most robust gathering of news links and discussion. Notably, the community there became a central owner in the attempts to collaborate with and influence corporate media outlets.
Various screenshots comparing Al Jazeera English to CNN.com, anecdotes about iReports on CNN.com being vetted and then deleted... all of these were offered by the public as evidence of news media degradation. Some asked if MSNBC.com was censoring the Wikileak due to the video not coming up in their search (the result of which was reportedly due to a bug in the coding and not intentional).
Others were critical of the "Army Accused of 'Video Game' Killings" angle FoxNews.com took after they were one of the first corporate news outlets to carry a story about the leak. At the same time, when the BBC finally picked up the story, Reddit users urged other community members to visit the story on the BBC's website and thus send traffic in order to demonstrate positive support for viable news coverage and exploration in hopes of elevating the story to the front page.
These practices and discussions are common on the Internet when it comes to media politic, but in this specific case the public had an important piece of news information in their hands, a piece of media that belonged to them vs. a news outlet or company. The audience thus became engaged in an effort to convince mainstream news to report the news. What is typically a loose knotting of complaints, jokes and "circlejerk" "You have my sword!" discussion and proclamations about the media bias and monopolies of knowledge of the day suddenly became a focused movement to elevate a specific story independent of marketing budgets or corporate branding and strategy. The community was experiencing first hand, via technique instead of theorizing or armchair political punditry, the landscape of corporate media and journalism.
Despite the work of citizens in the online space and WikiLeaks, by midnight EST on the day of the leak this story had not been elevated by press enough to reach mainstream awareness.
Now, the day after, those who sense that some injustice has occurred have issued calls to action: "What do we do about this?", they ask. I have seen online communities suggest jump starting the anti-war movement, military veterans who served in Iraq taking it upon themselves to answer questions in forums while providing context for the military engagement in the video and frustrated citizens posting letters they've written to their congressional representatives. I propose that what we need most is not an anti-war movement, but a media awareness movement. Media literacy and knowledge of media ownership and the strategy bred by corporate media consolidation is a crucial key to opening all national dialogues in a meaningful and legitimate way.
For now, viewers and readers of news who are not media professionals have gained the muscle memory of taking a legit news story to corporate media and being denied, ignored and shunted aside. That's valuable experience, and something I expect to be useful in our collective understanding and engagement with both conglomerate and independent media outlets.
If you haven't watched the video yet, then I suggest watching the long version without annotations first, followed by the short version with annotations. You can review additional references at the WikiLeaks site.
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