Saturday, August 09, 2008

How we find out what we know...

At the same time that technology is unveiling everyone's life to the ubiquitous national surveillance state, it is interesting to realize that plain old fashioned print books are frequently the medium through which coherent information about how our U.S. torture regime came to be has dribbled into public consciousness. How retrograde...

Investigative journalism is no longer worth the cost to shrinking print newspapers; as their money making content migrates to the web and other niches where the eyeballs have gone, they can't afford to do it.

TV "journalism" has a hard time telling stories in which whatever dramatic images may exist are unavailable -- and has even more extreme pressure to make a fast profit.

Some highbrow magazines have sponsored investigative journalism, most notably the New Yorker by employing Seymour Hersh and Jane Meyer.

But it has been the role of full length books to pull a great deal of what we suspect together. Hersh started the flood with Chain of Command, fleshing out the Abu Ghraib atrocity story. Phillipe Sands nailed Donald Rumsfeld's endorsement of torture in Torture Team. Jane Meyer has given us The Dark Side which chronicles Dick Cheney's paranoid megalomanias. (I'm currently reading this one and will have more when I finish.) And apparently now Ron Suskind's The Way Of The World brings yet more of the hidden story of emerging US tyranny together.

Does it just take a book to recount the complex narratives that need exposure? Does the book publishing industry present a haven from the profit pressures that have pretty well killed off investigative reporting in more immediate media? That seems unlikely, though maybe the very paucity of deeper, coherent information in all the various print, visual and web media that live the immediacy of the 24/7 news cycle creates a niche for book length narratives.

The fact remains that we do live in a world in which it has become more, not less, likely that secrets will leak out. If the book distribution channel closes up, that same technological environment seems to promise that some alternative niche media will appear. The forms in which the long struggle between the enforcers of silence and people's urgent desire for truth may be changing, but the contest isn't going to stop. Quite the contrary...

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