Beyond WikiLeaks and the Court Martial of Bradley Manning: Analogue versus Digital Whistleblowers

After prolonged detainment and harsh, punitive and even unlawful pre-trial punishment, Bradley Manning’s court martial started this week in Fort Meade, Maryland. The court martial is part and parcel of the wider ‘WikiLeaks Moment’ we are living through. Attempting to make sense of history as it unfolds before us is a perilous task. That said, yesterday I published a post on the uOttawa Expert blog on the start of Bradley Manning’s court martial. As the post had a strict limit of 400 words, I wanted to take the opportunity to expand on some aspects of the Manning case which deserve more attention. Thus what will do is offer a series of blog posts over the next couple weeks briefly exploring themes related to the case of Bradley Manning including three themes: 1) Analog versus Digital Whistleblowing – Ellsberg versus Manning, 2) Whistleblower Smackdown and Crackdown 3) Crowd-Sourced Journalism in a time of Secrecy.

Today’s blog post explores the first theme:

Analog versus Digital Whistleblowers – Daniel Ellsberg versus Bradley Manning

There is no question that US Army Private Bradley Manning facilitated the biggest leak of government information of our time by providing material to the online whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks. Prior to Manning, it was Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of what became known as the ‘Pentagon Papers’ which held this record. The cases of Manning and Ellsberg are fascinating for both their similarities and differences.  To fully understand the differences and thus understand whistleblowing in a digital age, we need to pay attention to the men and the environment they worked in.

Daniel Ellsberg was the consummate insider. A former Marine, Ellsberg earned his PhD from Harvard and was working at the top of his profession. Ellsberg had some of the highest security clearance in the United States (equivalent to a two star general) and was one of only a handful of people with access to the complete Pentagon Papers report known officially as  “United States – Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense”.  Not only that, as the report was classified “Top Secret-Sensitive”, RAND employees were only supposed read classified documents in a Top Secret Control Room that is, you were senior enough to have a top secret document safe in your office. Ellsberg indeed had a top secret document safe and it was twice the size of the regular issue safe.


Given the sheer volume of the Pentagon Papers (7000 pages), preparing the documents for their eventual leak was a laborious and very much analogue process. Briefly it involved, Ellsberg hiding volumes of the study in his briefcase, walking out the Rand front door past security and covertly photocopying the study at night at the office of a friend’s advertising agency. Not only would Ellsberg and his helpers need to photocopy each page but, do this twice. Once to get a copy of the page, then the “top secret” stamp would be cut off the photocopied page to make the document seem less conspicuous at which point it would be photocopied again. The process was laborious, time consuming and was undeniable facilitated by Ellsberg’s insider status.

While Daniel Ellsberg was at the top of the information food chain for his time, Private Manning was at the bottom.  Two years after enlisting in the US army, Private First Class Manning was deployed to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Hammer, 40 miles east of Baghdad Manning where he worked as an intelligence analyst.  Private Manning worked inside FOB Hammer’s Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) which was essentially a room which met the US government’s standards for handling classified information.


As part of his job, PFC Manning had Top Secret – Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS-SCI) clearance which allowed him to work at a SCIF computer terminal with access to SIPRNET the source of the diplomatic cables and other files published by WikiLeaks. Manning was not alone in his access to the SIPRNET but was a node in a vast industry of networked individuals. While the US government will not confirm numbers, the BBC has estimated that approximately “2.5 million US military and civilian personnel” can access SIPRNET”(BBC 2010). Consequently PFC Manning’s network access – along with at least 2.5 million fellow security-cleared individuals – must not be seen as an exception, but as typical of military work in the network society.

The rise and reach of SIPRNET and the related digitalisation and networking of US government and military resources epitomises Manuel Castells’ “network society”.  It also accounts for how such a low level analyst could have access to such a vast trove of information.

This ease of digital access was also magnified in the wake of the 2001 September 11th terrorist attacks when the 9/11 Commission concluded that a key factor not preventing 9/11 was too little information sharing.  This finding set into motion a series of government initiatives to tear down information silos, share information and balloon resources dedicated to generating, gathering and sharing such information.

With unprecedented numbers of people having access to the U.S. government’s network of classified information, there was a shift from information being concentrated in the hands of insiders, to being shared with a vast, global network of security-cleared personnel. With this, the potential for leaking becomes democratised, open to anyone within network access, motive and opportunity.

In Conclusion…

ImageFor those interested in more detail on some of the topics discussed above, especially parallels and striking contrasts between the Ellsberg and Manning cases, I dedicate a chapter in my new co-edited book Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society (Palgrave, 2013, co-edited with Arne Hintz and Benedetta Brevini). Other prominent academics, experts and insiders also join in the effort to explore what WikiLeaks means for journalism, freedom of expression, policy-making and democracy. What ties the book together is a shared view that the case of WikiLeaks embodies many of the pressing social struggles and dilemmas of age.

In the meantime the case of Bradley Manning continues to unfold and while the government has refused to make transcripts of Bradley Manning’s court martial publically available an excellent imitative by Press Freedom Foundation has seen the crowd funding of a court stenographer. Regardless of your opinion about what Bradley Manning, it is important to have a historical record. You may read the transcripts and support the initiative on the Press Freedom Foundation webpage. 

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Crowd Sourcing A (Working) Arab Spring Reading List for Media & Communication

Inspired by a conversation on a friend’s Facebook page, David Brake and I have begun compiling media and communication related readings published on the topic of the “Arab Spring”. While there is much popular literature, academic publishing is notoriously slow and pieces are only now beginning to drip out. One way of catching these is, of course, a Google Scholar Alert on the Arab Spring which I have had set up for some time (key terms “Arab Spring” and “media”).

However as of today,  David and I have begun compiling academic readings in a Google Doc A (Working) Arab Spring Reading List that is accessible to anyone. We are open to additional suggestions for readings and also recognise the limits of the current format, especially when the literature begins to mushroom. For now, however, it is a start.

EDIT: David Brake has also started a Zotero list too:

Get in touch in case you know something that is missing.


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PR Disaster ensues after Labatt threatens to sue Montreal Gazette over Magnotta Labatt Blue Beer Picture

  1. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, Labatt has threatened to sue the Montreal Gazette over its use of a picture of suspected murderer Luka Magnotta posing with a bottle of Labbat Blue. Labatts feels that the picture, taken from Magnotta’s Facebook, will damage the reputation of its brand of Blue beer.

    It seems the legal threats have drawn more attention to the picture and not less. The twitterverse has quickly responded with #NewLabattCampaign a compendium of rather tasteless and insensitive tweets, arguably spiraling the Blue brand further. The campaign is now trending on Twitter in Canada.
    Perhaps now, Labatt lawyers are wishing they said nothing at all as damage control will go into overdrive.
  2. Scott_Gilmore
    Marketing students should pay attention to #newlabattcampaign. Great case study on damage control gone horribly wrong.
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 11:56:20
  3. EDIT: Labatt has now dropped its demand for the photo to be removed. Didn’t see that one coming!

    Below are some examples of how the PR disaster unfolded today:
  4. wilnervision
    It takes a certain kind of person to drink Labatt Blue. And if you see that person, RUN. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 14:10:46
  5. acoyne
    I don’t always drink beer after dismembering a corpse, but when I do, I drink Blue. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 11:52:48
  6. Peter_Lynn
    “Labatt Blue: Canada’s favourite killsner—I mean pilsner.” #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:47:06
  7. CarletonPlace
    4 out 5 psychos prefer Blue. Kill responsibly #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:44:49
  8. JimmyJames01123
    #newlabattcampaign It won’t cost you an arm and a leg. It just tastes like it does.
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:44:06
  9. BearDownPride
    I don’t always eat people…but when I do I drink Labatt Blue. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:10:01
  10. BifrostedFlakes
    “Because isn’t this time for a Moosehead?” #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:44:05
  11. rock_golf
    The #newlabattcampaign will no longer include the theme song “Everybody Cut Footloose”.
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:14:35
  12. ugottabekiddin
    When you have a thirst that you just cant kill. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:14:34
  13. b3nbutty
    Blue you taste like a rotting corpse #NewLabattCampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:38:05
  14. photoblair
    If you think #newlabattcampaign is in bad taste, wait ’til taste their product! Yours truly, Molson.
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:18:54
  15. petbugs13
    Labbatt: Out Twitter mentions may be in poor taste, but our beer isn’t. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:35:16
  16. KimJohnston
    Bring me another beer please. Chop chop. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:11:51
  17. acoyne
    RT @TabathaSouthey: Lose the cops. Not the taste. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:09:16
  18. SeparatistSt
    Nothing takes the taste of blood away better #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 11:55:23
  19. thefais
    Labatt Blue: The killer taste for satisfying that unquenchable thirst. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:02:56
  20. _drewski
    Labatt Blue Light: Lose the cops. Not the taste. #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:07:23
  21. PoppedCulture
    RT @Dataclutter: I don’t always make bad PR decisions but when I do I drink Labatt Blue #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 12:11:24
  22. LorenMcGinnis
    enjoy labatt’s products responsibly: know when a snuff’s enough. #NewLabattCampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:40:15
  23. As many tweeps have pointed out, this has drawn more attention to the issue than was needed. Did people ever pay attention to the bottle of Blue in the picture before the lawyers unleashed? Tweeps have also pointed out that the #NewLabattCampaign, while humorous to some, is remains in bad taste:
  24. AshleyCsanady
    Had anyone even noticed it was a Labatt Blue bottle in the ad BEFORE this ridiculousness? #newlabattcampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:19:14
  25. darcydick
    Well, tweeters, we’re showing about the amount of sensitivity and respect for the family of Jun Lin as Labatt has. #NewLabattCampaign
    Tue, Jun 05 2012 13:20:35

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WikiLeaks and the Case of Bradley Manning: An interview with Birgitta Jónsdóttir

Me and Birgitta Jónsdóttir

WikiLeaks was one of the largest media stories of 2010 and continues to make headlines. The majority of this attention has remained on Julian Assange. This coverage has often focused on developments around efforts to extradite him from the UKto Swedento face two alleged crimes of rape. For those counting, as of today’s posting (May 14, 2012) Assange has been held under house arrest for 524 days.

While a number of high profile people have offered their support for Assange, less visible in the news is Pfc Bradley Manning, the US intelligence officer charged with leaking the material to WikiLeaks. In fact, one could hazard a guess that, if theUnited Statesgovernment had their way, Manning would become invisible.

Bradley Manning has been in pre-trial detention for 710 days awaiting trial. By the time he goes to trial in September he will have been detained for over 2 years. (In fact, it will be two years by the end of this month).

In the wake of Manning’s detention, the Bradley Manning Support Network quickly formed to raise funds for his legal defense, campaign for better treatment, keep his case visible in the public eye and ultimately seek justice for Bradley Manning.  Despite the network’s committed and ongoing efforts, political and high profile public support for Bradley Manning’s defense seems shamefully low. It shouldn’t be.

Two weeks ago I, along with a fellow professor Dwayne Winseck of Carleton University, had the chance to interview Birgitta Jónsdóttir. Dwayne has already posted an excellent reflection on the conversation as it pertained to Jónsdóttir’s WikiLeaks –Twitter case. So, in my blog post, I wanted to highlight parts of our discussion around WikiLeaks and the case of Bradley Manning specifically.

Jónsdóttir is an Icelandic activist and Member of Parliament. She is also a former WikiLeaks volunteer who helped edit and produce the Collateral Murder video. Released on April 5, 2010, Collateral Murder is a packaged video put together from a leaked video of a US air strike in Iraq. Taken on July 12 2007, the leaked video is shot from a US helicopter gunship over Baghdad and shows a US military air strike where two Reuters staff (Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh) were amongst those targeted and killed by the helicopter pilots (The Collateral Murder video is edited for maximum effect, for comparison, you can also watch the longer unedited footage of the incident).

Birgitta, recounted to us the first time she saw the ‘Collateral Murder’ video:

“I was sitting in a really busy café (in) downtown Reykjavik and Julian [Assange] pulls out his computer… and starts to show it to me on maximum volume: chh chh chh chh chh chh chh ‘Lite’em all up’. I remember the waiter came to ask him to put it down and I am sitting there and I’m in tears. I’m absolutely just horrified to watch”

For those with little direct experience of the theatre of war, the video is quite powerful. Powerful for its grainy images of death; powerful for the detached manner in which the pilots wantonly execute the killings. From Birgitta’s perspective, the video is also powerful because it provides a rare glimpse into an all too often repeating scene, “I know that there are so many videos out there with exactly the same scene just with different people”.

The July 2007 Baghdad air strike video and the snippets of reality provided by the Afghan War Logs and Iraq War Logs offer an insider’s account of the raw reality of war. And, Birgitta suggests, the only way we can end war, is to know more about it:

“I mean, how are we going to end the wars?  We are going to end the wars by knowing what war is. And, that was the beauty and the horror of the Afghan War logs is that you were basically just getting minute by minute snippets out of what war is really about.”

Of course, the files, in the state that they were received by WikiLeaks, were mostly jargon. However through a strategic partnership of hacker know-how and old fashioned investigative journalism the logs were deciphered.  Amongst the revelations in the data were  15,000 civilian deaths that the US military had documented, but not publicly disclosed. It was allegedly Bradley Manning who released this information to WikiLeaks. And if Manning was the leaker –which seems to be the case based on the badass87/ Adrian Lamo chat logs – Birgitta argues that Manning deserves full public support.

Earlier this year Bradley Manning was nominated and won the 2012 People’s Choice Award from the Global Exchange, an international human rights organisation based in San Francisco. Jónsdóttir has taken award efforts even further. She was responsible for Manning’s nomination for a Nobel Peace prize. With Manning’s name now on the long list, she’s working towards securing high profile endorsements from around the world to try and bolster Manning’s nomination.

Even if her bid to win Manning a Nobel Peace Prize is unsuccessful, the campaign still keeps Bradley Manning in the spotlight. The ongoing activism of the Bradley Manning Support Network has also continued to keep public attention on the case with a “Free Bradley Manning Contingent” in the May 20 March Against the NATO Summit in Chicago. From Birgitta’s perspective, one of the most successful Manning actions to date was the serenading of President Obama by the Fresh Juice party at a $5,000 a plate fundraiser inSan Francisco. As she commented, “there is nothing as effective as civil disobedience at the right moment”.

Showing Support for Bradley Manning has become all the more important as many assert that Manning is being made an example of by the Obama administration. Given the nature of the network society and the fact that the information leaked cannot be destroyed or deleted (paper is much easier to burn), Manning is being made an example through, what the UN special rapporteur on torture recently described as inhumane and “punitive”  treatment . In other words, the fate of Manning is what happens to leakers — digital whistleblowers — in the age of the internet.

Those advancing this argument include Harvard law professor Yochai Benkler and lawyer and columnist Glen GreenwaldI have made this argument as well (I will make this into a separate blog post in the future). Along these lines, Birgitta commented, “what they’re doing, is that they are making him into a scapegoat to scare away all the other whistleblowers, all the other potential whistle blowers”.

It is the whistleblowing aspect which is key to Manning’s case. It is the whistleblowing aspect which has made Daniel Eslberg, famed and celebrated leaker of the Pentagon Papers, stand up and say “I am Bradley Manning”. And, likely, it is the Whistle blowing aspect Manning’s defense team will play up come the court case in September. Yet, the discourse around whistleblowing is all but absent in the talk of US politicians. While I will expand on this absence in a future blog post, this is likely part of a strategy to prevent stirring further public sympathy for Manning.

Perhaps one of the biggest paradoxes of the entire Manning case thus far is the lack of support for Manning from the traditional left. Charles Davis, in a guest post on Glen Greenwald’s Salon blog, refers to this as “the liberal betrayal of Bradley Manning“.   The reason for this, argues Davis (and a rationale also supported by Greenwald in a talk he gave in Ottawa, back in April) is that Manning is being prosecuted by a Democratic President. Thus, those on the left, due to “brand loyalty”, find it harder to speak out against their President. Would public support for Manning, and from the left in particular,  be higher if Manning was, like Daniel Ellsberg, persecuted under a Republican President?Davis, in his article concludes that perhaps what Bradley Manning did was too radical for liberals, since Manning didn’t work through the system to affect change but opened the system up wide for the public to see.

From Birgitta Jónsdóttir’s perspective, the material Bradley Manning (allegedly) released “…was an incredibly important gesture for our historical records as humanity”.  I too am certain that history books will treat Bradley Manning with compassion and as a whistleblower; someone who disclosed information about misconduct in the hopes of stopping it. As for how the Military Judge in Manning’s court martial treats Manning? We will have to wait and see. But until then, and most likely afterwards, Manning will need all the support he can from high profile supporters like Birgitta Jónsdóttir and from the public at large.

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May 14, 2012 · 2:19 pm

Curated links and videos related to the viral ascent & descent of #STOPKONY

There is obviously a flurry of blog posts on #KONY2012 and the rights and wrongs around this social media campaign. Here are some selected videos and articles about KONY2012, the backlash, context, debate and data visualization to help you make your mind up.

First, the actual video

One of many  video responses on KONY, this one recorded for Al Jazeera’s The Stream,  also widely shared on social media platforms


The KONY debate Reddit Style

How the #KONY2012 debate is unfolding on Reddit:

PBS News Hour looks at KONY (embedded video currently not working; watch here)

<See more from PBS NewsHour.

Al Jazeera Runs Two Shows Related to KONY  

Inside Story

Al Jazeera’s show Inside Story runs an episode on “‘KONY 2012’ and the Future of Activism. Sorry video can’t be embedded, click photo.

The Stream

Al Jazeera’s social media show The Stream runs an episode Is ‘clicktivism’ destroying meaningful social activism? Click link for source or watch video below

The Data Visualization of KONY

Two blog posts, one by the New York Times, the other by Social flows, each examine how KONY went viral

  • New York Times blog post on how KONY went viral (click picture)
  • Data visualization on KONY2012 by Social Flow (click picture)

Documentation on the cessation of KONY screenings in Uganda

ON March 14, 2012 AYINET announced that it was suspending its Kony Screenings in Uganda. Read it here.

Lastly, KONY and Satire; Can it get any better than Charlie Brooker?

In research news…

PEW releases a report on, “The Viral KONY Video“. Full report can be downloaded here or it can be viewed online.

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PostMedia, Post Paper? From paper to pixels and the transitioning of journalism brand. A day at the Ottawa Citizen

Digital first. It is the slogan of PostMedia and the slogan of the Ottawa Citizen. Almost two weeks ago, my CMN5165: New Directions in Journalism masters’ students and I visited the Ottawa Citizen to see, first hand, how the paper is adjusting to challenges faced by the newspaper industry. Given the bleak assessment for the future of print offered by the Economist and others, this is no doubt a trying time for papers. But, what was clear from our visit was that the Citizen is implementing a strategy to transition from paper to digital. It was also clear from our visit to the Citizen that working there takes coffee; lots of it and constantly.

PostMedia, PostPaper?

Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the Citizen trip was how openly a “PostPaper” perspective was expressed and enacted by the higher-ups. Beyond an obvious word play on the Ottawa Citizen’s parent company, a PostPaper perspective was a view that had moved beyond seeing the Ottawa Citizen as an organization that prints a newspaper. Of course, by now, one should expect some uptake of this logic as the business model must change. Yet, I would bet if took a straw poll and asked people “What is the Ottawa Citizen?” the overwhelming, if not exclusive response would refer to the physical object; a newspaper.

Our tour of the Ottawa Citizen office building also showed that the Citizen still was very much a (physical) newspaper. News stands and shelves lined the walls of the Advertising section with stacks of inserts, magazines, and a pile of the “2011 Babies of the Year” supplement. There is perhaps no better sign of the physicality of the newspaper than a tour of the massive printing presses complete with a visit to the workshops of the in-house staff who tend exclusively to the Citizen’s printing presses. Also impressive were the massive reams of newsprint which were themselves postpaper, being made exclusively from post consumer product.

Paper versus Pixel

Thus a fundamental tension faced by the Citizen is the need to produce a physical newspaper – because that is what it has done since Canadian confederation – and the need to adapt to changing news habits of readers in order to remain relevant to readers and advertisers. Judging on the talks given to us during out visit the in attempting to figure out how to resolve this tension, the Citizen is clear in what its key product in both paper and pixel is the Ottawa Citizen brand.

People are always going to want news and they are going to want news from a source they can trust. The challenge is we don’t want to pay for it; electronically; for now. I accept that if I want a physical copy of the Ottawa Citizen, I can’t just walk into the Pharamplus, take a copy and walk out. Ok, I could, but there is a chance the police would be called. Yet, I ‘expect’ to be able to go on the Ottawa Citizen home page and get my news for free and, if I can’t, I ‘expect’ to be able to go somewhere else.  The obvious challenge the Citizen continues to face is how monetize this freeloader problem. We go to the Ottawa Citizen because we trust the brand as a news source, but we don’t (yet) expect to pay for news content. There are some newspapers like the New York Times who run paywalls as a strategy to harness some income from a digital subscriber base. The trick however, especially in age of social media and sharing (see below), is not locking everybody out. Sticking with the Times example, they tried imposing a 20 article a month limit on visiting web users before locking them out however workarounds for this paywall were published as quickly as the wall was built.

Reviving Two-Step Flow Theory

The sharing of stories online is quite interesting because social media such as Facebook and Twitter have become regular sources for sharing and coming across news. For this reason, I think that it could be a rather fun exercise to try and update or simply apply Katz and & Lazarsfeld’s “Two Step Flow Theory” which was first published in 1955 in their book Personal Influence.

The theory emerged as a challenge to direct effect media theorists who believed that media had a direct effect on all individuals who came in contact with the information provided in the media. The authors realised that not everyone may come into contact with the media but they may still come in contact with ideas from the media. They labelled this the two-step flow of communication which whereby “…ideas, often, seem to flow from radio and print to opinion leaders and from them to the less active sections of the population” (Katz and Lazarsfled 1955: 32).

The authors put much emphasis on the idea of “opinion leaders” who were people who pay close attention to the media. Opinion leaders often had a strong degree of influence and they would recount the information they found in the news (and their assessment of it) to people who otherwise would not have seen the information. These ‘Opinion Leaders’ were thereby seen as having a significant degree of ‘personal influence’ in their relevant communities.

So, how does this translate to the news?

Opinion leaders and two step flows

Two-step flow theory could provide a way – or at least an orientation – to thinking about how news is shared. Of course, those who engage in data visualization and tracking and the like are way ahead in actually showing us what this looks like. But it still could provide a conceptual or theoretical hook to think about how our diet of news may be one or two steps removed from directly going to a source for news. Thus, unlike in the original two-step flow model where the Opinion Leader passes on the information  second hand, the opinion leader tweets on the link to the news story. This point is nothing ground breaking and the idea forms the whole basis for services such as Klout (identifying Opinion leaders and their relative weight). However, what is new is how this theory could be used to think about audiences of news and those who share news.

I’ve put on my “to do” list to delve more into this in an future post.

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For Chris Hedges Fans and those of you in Montreal: Occupy! Workshop in Montreal January 27th

It is quite funny how these things work. A while back I had a series of blog posts around Kevin O’Leary’s treatment of award winning journalist Chris Hedges. As it turns out, Chris Hedges will be giving a keynote at McGill  later this month. The event, which will be held on January 27th, 2012 is open to the public, you just need to register first.

I, along with my colleague, Anna Feigenbaum will be both be giving workshops at the day long event which has the title: Media, Politics and Protest Camps in the Occupy Social Movement. My workshop, which has the title Occupy! the Media will provide an introductory look into ideas of media framing and how the mainstream media has represented the Occupy! movement. It will also explore various innovations in the media strategies of various Occupy movements from the use of uStream to the self-publishing of digital newspapers and posters with OccupyDesign  and the OccuPrint project.

Full details of this free workshop can be found on the Media@McGill site.

Hope to see some of you there!

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Location, Location, Location: Spatiality and Protest Camps [repost from Protest Camp blog]

I posted this over on the Protest Camps project blog but thought I would also share it here. For those who are interested in issues around protest camps, be sure to follow our Protest Camp blog.

Location, Location, Location: Spatiality and Protest Camps

The issue of spatiality for protest camps is a big one, especially for someone who is not trained as a Geographer. As my work usually deals with media representations, this is a daunting task. While media representation is a significant aspect of protest camps, and indeed a space which is struggled over, it isn’t the focus today. Instead, the focus rests on the physical location which often forms its cornerstone. An understanding of space is key to making sense of the dynamics of a protest camp.Protest camps are often defined by their physical location and their location shapes how a camp and its occupiers are perceived by the public, how they are presented in the media and how politicians and authorities react to them. Yet while all of these acts of camping are protests in themselves, I would suggest from our research that there are four (4)  types of locations protest camps usually take. These categories are, of course, a work in progress.

I. Camps at physical sites under threat

Protest camps may be built upon contested physical areas, such as the proposed site for building a new road or oil pipeline. In such cases, the presence of the protest camp is a physical and direct intervention on a site which is perceived by those camping as at risk; at risk from takeover, demolition, destruction or eviction. The act of camping on site physically prevents, if only temporarily, the contentious action from happening. This type of protest camp commonly sees protesters occupying trees set for clearing, as with the Newbury Bypass and Minehaha Free State anti-roads camps. Other camps of this nature see activists construct barriers and dwellings in the pathway of proposed construction as with the No TAV campaign in Italy. A case could also be made that the recent Dale Farm protest camp would fall under this banner as well.

II. Camps highlighting physical sites as threats

While this first set of camps take place on physical locations under threat, other camps directly target sites which are seen as threats. This was the case, for example, with Greenham Common, where protesters camped out around the perimeter of a military base storing nuclear cruise missiles. Other peace camps, spread across four continents, followed suit with camps established outside of military bases and weapons manufacturing plants. In both instances of sites under threat and sites as threats, the physical location of these types of protest camps directs media attention towards the site as a contested area. This enables, or at the very least sustains, public dialogue and political pressure around the relevant issues. Some Climate Camps function in this way, selecting a specific site of ‘carbon criminality’ that are both immediate targets of action and stand in for larger problems of airport expansion, coal power and oil-based economies.

III. Camps as Counter-Summits

Another set of protest camps are those established as sites of resistance or counter-summits to large international gatherings of global elites. Protest camps built around the Global Justice Movement took place on sites neighbouring meetings held by the WTO, G8, G20, FTAA and similar meetings. These camps sought to provide an open and inclusive public space to converge, share ideas, enact alternatives and challenge corporate globalisation. Thus the camps were not just spaces to plan protests but were protests themselves with their open, self-organized and good-spirited nature standing in sharp visual contrast to the ring fences and extensive militarization that accompanied such summits.

Over time the Global Justice camps became a ritualistic form of protest and often plans for the camp would begin before the location of a summit was announced. For example, planning for the 2005 Gleneagles G8 Summit began in fall 2003. Dissent! Network activists steadily developed the HoriZone EcoVillage for the Summit even before the location of the G8 was announced. Activists only knew the G8 would be in the UK. Once Gleneagles was announced as the venue, the Dissent! protest network then began exploring options for the camp to take place. The salient point is, the contested site was not a tethered location such as a military base, but was what Geographer Paul Routledge has called a ‘convergence space’; an idea that activists can organise around which was then given material form through announcing the physical location. This means that whereas for some protest camps the physical place of the camp creates the ‘convergence space’, for others, and particularly those with symbolic legacies such as summit mobilisations, this relationship is reversed. Here, the convergence space is imagined prior to the physical creation of the camp.

IV. Camps Sites as Symbolic targets

Many protest camps from peace camps at military bases to climate camps at power stations have both a particular place-based political target and a broader symbolic one. The symbolic element of protest camp sites increases when protests are around issues such as consumer capitalism or greed that are so vast and hard to concretise. In these cases protesters pick sites which are seen to embody, and be a cause of, the issues at hand. This is perhaps best seen in the current example of Public Square occupations in Tahrir, Madrid, Greece and Israel/Palestine, as well as with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Taking the square (or the park) in an area of symbolic value or taking a public space and then assigning symbolic value to it. Both the original Occupy Wall Street camp at Zuccotti Park and the Occupy London (Occupy LSX) selected sites for their proximity to the financial centres of New York and London. Occupy Toronto also picked a public park – St James Park – and despite its close proximity to the financial district of Toronto, it is steeped in Democratic history. Given that the Occupy Wall Street movement has a broad focus on inequalities caused by the state of hyper consumer capitalism and has more specific concerns around the financial sector, situating protest camps in close proximity to financial districts provides a physical and symbolic or visual challenge to business as usual.

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Out of the rat hole: Dictators, capture and the ‘rat’ frame – The Death of Gadaffi

Although the next year of the rat will not be until 2021, the rat metaphor is a popular cultural ‘myth’ in Roland Barthes’ sense of the word. The idea of the rat still holds the mythic connotations of describing someone who is a snitch, a scavenger, lowlife and undesirable. Of course this also holds true to describe the dwelling where someone may be found or their act of hiding. For this reason, the rat “frame” appears to be a favored rhetorical device for framing the capture of dictators as can been seen in the capture of Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gadaffi.

To be clear, Saddam Hussein or Mummar Gadaffi were not pleasant men by any stretch. They were war criminals who tortured and killed their own citizens. Arguing and outlining the extent of their crimes is not the purpose of this short post. Instead, what is interesting is the common cultural narrative used – 8 years apart – which is drawn upon to describe their capture.

On December 15, 2003 Saddam Hussein’s capture was reported by CNN using the headline, “Saddam ‘caught like a rat’ in a hole”. The reference to being caught like a rat, and therefore the source for the headline, came from US Major General Raymond Odierno when describing Hussein’s capture to the media. The rat metaphor proved popular and was published on media outlets from  Fox News, “Saddam Captured ‘Like a Rat’ in Raid” to the Scotsman, “Torches shone on Saddam’s face – he was caught like a rat in a trap“.

On October 20, 2011, Mummar Gadaffi was found hiding in a sewer reportedly begging for his life. His capture also fell into a ‘rat’ frame with Reuters using the headline, “Libya’s Gaddafi caught hiding like a ‘rat’ “.   Given the situation in which Gaddafi was found, hiding in a sewer, and that sewers are indeed where rats live, the use of a rat frame is understandable. This description becomes all the more appropriate given the characteristics Gaddafi embodied, and exceed, what the mythic rat represents.

So perhaps what is of interest is the mythic power of the rat and its use in journalism as a frame; a way of making sense of events. It works on a literal level as both men were found in locations (dark holes and sewers) where rodents would be expected to live. It also captures the characteristics of the dictators who, with different degrees and at different times, were tolerated by the West [despite still being bad men!]. The mythic power of the rat also relays the descent of  the two leaders from powerful individuals who appeared to rule with disdain and without mercy into emasculated individuals who had been  reduced to retreating to a rat den and being ceremoniously dragged from it. In the media, the two men had devolved into the antithesis of the public image they had tried to project.


The role of ceremony here is important and shows the limits of a rat metaphor. At the risk of mixing metaphors, those who were being hunted – Saddam Hussein and Mummar Gaddafi – were big game. Proof of this rests in the trophy shots; the exterminators or rat catchers who successfully captured the leaders at large. The ceremony or perhaps spectacle of media coverage is also of interest. For this I wish Susan Sontag was still with us to offer her perspective on the parading of corpses and its interpretation by Western journalists. While Western media is usually quite conservative in how it represents the dead, in this instance, it is graphic. Perhaps because the images are of the dying and dead body of a villain; a rat.

While the public was denied seeing  the dead body of Osama Bin Laden, video of Gaddafi exists almost up until the moment of his death and images are abound of his death. The public can not only witness the compressed demise of  the public figure but the process and then the face of death. The public too was able to witness the death of Saddam Hussein though this was through a leaked mobile phone video; a backstage act made public.

Gaddafi’s death, on the other hand, was public.  The shoot out, subsequent retreat to and then expunged from a tunnel marked the climax of the Western media narrative  around  Mummar Gaddafi. The rat has been caught; the rat has been exterminated. The media images which accompany the death of Gahaafi fit this narrative and while I certainly do not feel an ounce of sympathy for either Saddam or Gaddafi, I think events like this showcase the role, function and ideologies of media. Thus amidst the celebratory parading of Gaddafi’s body and the media’s coverage of this, there is an opportunity to open a discourse around ideology and ethics in media representation.

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Interview with CBC Ottawa Radio on the media’s coverage of #OccupyOttawa & #OccupyWallStreet

Today,  I did a series of interviews with CBC Radio across Canada bout the mainstream media’s coverage of the Occupy Canada and Occupy Wall Street. While I will put together my thoughts in a blog post on a later date, above is a video I put together that contains the interview with CBC Ottawa that aired at 7:20am this morning (October 17, 2011). Of course there are things I would edit, add on to and would clarify but, you can only do so much in 6 minutes!

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