News Media, Violence, and Global Capital: Contradictions in Knowledge Production
While writing a recent article on Pulse, I came across this dilemma when researching the reported protest of thousands of people against gay marriage in Puerto Rico in 2013. While I only briefly referenced the protest in an effort to contextualize experiences of homophobia and heteronormativity in Puerto Rico, I wanted to make sure I had correct facts about the religious protest–mainly that the large protest actually happened the way that informants had recollected. I vaguely remembered reading an article about it in the Huffington Post, here. When I revisited the article for my essay on Pulse, I tried to track down the original sources that were cited. The event was originally covered by El Vocero (a daily Puerto Rican publication) and Univision, both of which no longer had their articles published on the web or accessible through any other means. Luckily, the Huffington Post published and archived the photos taken by Sebástian Márques of El Vocero, seen below, so I could confirm that the event did actually take place and that the number of protesters was significant.
So, I continued to perform various web searches, which turned up scant results. The only accessible news stories about the protest that turned up were from more questionable LGBT or religious sources, like Pink News, Testify News, Life Site News, The National Catholic Register, The Christian Post (Christian Post Asia), and Christian Today. The Wisconsin Gazette reported an April march in Puerto Rico and referenced the February march. I searched Spanish media outlets and found nothing any more reliable.
I then turned to the databases that were available through my university library. I searched Lexis Nexis and other news databases. The searches pulled up only one result. An article published by the State News Service in Colorado Springs, CO by Bethanny Monk, which reported "Marriage supporters - nearly 200,000 of them - flocked to Puerto Rico's Capitol Building in San Juan Monday urging lawmakers to defend marriage as a union of one man and one woman." See below.
The only other article I could find (which was sent to me by an informant) was from RT (Russia Today), article here, the news agency known to be a Russian propaganda machine and that is often criticized for its anti-Western bias (see New York Times article here by Neil Farquhar). Even though RT is widely recognized as Kremlin propaganda disguised as an alternative to mainstream media, it positions itself to be like the BBC, a news organization that is state-funded by editorially independent. However, RT's backing by the Russian government, which later in 2013 passed a law that banned the public discussion of gay rights, is widely recognized as not only a source of biased information, but a source of disinformation.
I found myself with a dilemma. The original stories of the protest in Puerto Rico were no longer accessible online (and even if they were, they would not be accessible for to the journal's primarily English-speaking audience). Mainstream coverage of the protest was lacking. Of the sources available, all proved problematic in some way or another. The paucity of "legitimate" or "mainstream" news coverage of the protests in Puerto Rico created a reliance on the handful of questionable sources that did, in some form or another, document the event. When accessibility is a concern and the choice to be made is between a news outlet that relies on free labor or a Russian propaganda machine, the choice became less about navigating the contradictions of bias and "reliability" in contemporary corporate/state-run journalism and more about acknowledging the irony of the violence of global capitalism. Available news stories revealed the contradictions of the "reliability" and "trustworthiness" of global news media, particularly in the context of issues, events, and locations that have been ignored by the "mainstream media" and the issues around bias in corporate- and state-run news media.
I spoke with my peers about this dilemma and my discomfort in using any of these resources. We had discussions about the reliability, bias, and suspicion of all corporate or State-run news media outlets (BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, etc.), including the original El Vocero resource, as well as the overall limitations with using news reports, more generally. Two informants knew about the protests in Puerto Rico and I asked them for their input regarding both the Huffington Post and RT articles. Both reviewed the articles and claimed they "accurately" documented the event, although the photo that was published with the RT article did not depict the actual event in Puerto Rico. I thought it might be better to cite everything, or perhaps, nothing at all. I also considered if I should explain these sources in a footnote.
Considering the circumstances, limitations, and context, I begrudgingly opted to cite the RT story, "Hundreds of Thousands march in Puerto Rico against gay rights," to reference the protest in Puerto Rico. Considering RT's stance as a provocateur, it made sense that they would re-publish such a story that shows anti-gay sentiments in the U.S. Commonwealth, while ignoring gay-rights abuses in Russia. Especially when later in 2013, after this article was published, the Russian government passed a law that banned the public discussion of gay rights. However, doing this at a time when RT was receiving increasing condemnation as a machine for Russian propaganda and disinformation, I understood how problematic this decision was (RT has even been called a "weapon of mass deception," even while the network has received various international recognitions for their journalism). Then I began to think, perhaps using this citation could play another role and serve as a mechanism to, although subtly, further my essay's goal of emphasizing the complex web of sexuality, global politics, global violence, and power.
In other words, could such a citation serve as a subtle statement about knowledge production, highlighting the paradoxes of global capitalism and global violence? Could I use a single citation as a tool for demonstrating, in this case, Russia's role in global LGBTQ violence and the larger violence of global capitalism. From their role in Syria's civil war (which I argued engendered, in part, the Pulse nightclub shooting by inciting Omar Mateen to violence) to the Russian government's violent oppression of LGBTQ people, this citation points to a larger political economy where the deaths and lives of LGBTQ people are exploited, both directly and indirectly, for political squabbles for power. The contradictions of the violence of global capitalism is made evident not just through the article itself within the context of Russia's role in global violence, but also through the even larger context of knowledge production that includes factors such as accessibility, as well as the construction of disinformation and reliability.
Update 09/28/2017: Check out this podcast/radio show from KPFA featuring Dan Kovalik critique's of the New York Times and "bad" corporate journalism/propaganda. Kovalik makes the case that contemporary Russian vilification (and the Red Scare re-emergence) is based on assumptions and "fake news" from American media that is not based on concrete facts. It includes part of his speech at Berkeley.
On the flip side, there's Rachel Maddow on MSNBC who reported about Russian disinformation and social media interferences to destabilize countries around the the world (see first part of 9/27/2017 show here).
Also, consider the following articles covering the anti-LGBT violence in Chechnya:
Together, these paint the complex and often contradictory workings of news media, facts, and how we are able to understand the world beyond the realm of "fake news," disinformation, and Western (corporatized) journalism.
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