After the initial release of the Russian dossiers into the public sphere, I tried to take a (naive) journalistic standpoint, and defend the media’s publication of the private information. I attempted to justify CNN and argue that it was their obligation as a professional and credible news source to publicize the Russian dossiers. Upon reflection, I can’t say for certain whether their actions were justifiable or not. The events of late, however, have brought to mind questions about media’s place in public affairs and the political propaganda often promoted through media outlets. For instance, was the release of the dossiers merely an act of public media justice or was it an attempt to create public media frenzy, instead?
Typically, what qualifies as “free” information is often supported by accurate substantiated facts that are both credible and open to public discourse. It is also fairly safe to assume that the media and popular news sources of the past would never have published unsubstantiated information to the public. However, the release of the Russian dossiers to the world may have sparked a modern-day media revolution. CNN and BuzzFeed, two of the most popular media sources today, equally participated in the release of the dossiers and this has landed both media sources on the hot seat because they revealed private information that included unsubstantiated data on U.S. public officials.
There is any number of reasons why CNN and BuzzFeed decided to release the dossiers. It has been reported that dozens of other news organizations had access to the dossiers for weeks, but never published the information. The reports were available, but no one had made the brave decision to release them. Was the release of the dossiers a poorly-constructed attempt to spark public discussion? Or were the dossiers simply a tool used to further the advancement of one news source over another? It would be parochial to assume that the dossiers were published for the sole purpose of media competition. One reality that must be considered is that the publication of the dossiers could have been an attempt to create social upheaval. If we recognize that the media has a political and social agenda to fulfill, and benefits from its public influence, then the motives behind the Russian dossiers release don’t seem quite as far-fetched.
Over time, global media has been manipulated to advance political agendas or national crises. The most recent example of global media propaganda that comes to mind is the Syrian Civil War. Images of the destruction due to the social revolution between the rebels and the leaders in Syria are used as a tool to create certain feelings towards the war. The BBC, for instance, uses social media and their own influence in news media to advance their political stance. The news source will continuously post images and stories about the victims or displaced peoples in order to “humanize” them and the war itself. They use the media as propaganda to encourage compassion around the globe. Today they are promoting an anti-Trump agenda through feature articles such as Meet the People Leaving Trump’s America.
More often than not, however, we experience propaganda in the media that is targeted to “de-humanize” global populations or conflicts. During the Second World War, for example, media was used for military propaganda to gain public support and subconsciously influence American citizens’ mentality against the Japanese. Images such as these, ones that are extremely controversial and compelling, create a sense of emergency within the public sphere. This was and remains the ultimate purpose of propaganda through the media today, to create public discourse around a particular topic and encourage social action or reform.
Another popular media representation that comes to mind during WWII was “Rosie the Riveter.” What began as a media campaign to promote women in the workforce, quickly turned into a social and cultural transformation all over the country and around the world. Rosie the Riveter was a cultural icon and media used the imagery to encourage and push for social reform. Meanwhile media’s use of Uncle Sam can be traced back to 1812 and up to the present time fulfilling numerous social, political, and economic agendas. Media sometimes pushes for social change and in other instances supports the status quo. What is mainstream media doing today?
As previously discussed, it’s common to assume that these images were created and distributed to the public to create specific feelings or encourage social action among citizens. At the same time, however, these representations were aimed to make people support a certain agenda. We cannot doubt that today’s media continues to have the same intention. Like the BBC’s coverage of the Syrian Civil War, media is used to manipulate the emotions and actions of the people. Most recently, we have begun to see this effect in U. S. politics, specifically during the Presidential campaign. In consideration of the amount of information available versus the amount of information that is actually published, we can assume that today’s media may be heavily interested in protecting the status quo. The hesitation within all news sources to put out the Russian dossiers implies a need to maintain the values of traditional media.
The news media has an incredible influence upon people and can have dangerous repercussions if handled poorly. Coming back to the Russian dossiers situation, we may not know the exact reasons that CNN and BuzzFeed decided to release the papers. However, we understand from history that the media has a great impact upon everyone, and perhaps the news sources are manipulating that knowledge. Maybe, the release of the documents was the result of both the desire to start a new conversation that leads to social upheaval or simply media’s repositioning in order to defend the old status quo. In any case, it is clear that a power struggle may be occurring within the media itself, the struggle to remain a defender of the old system or pursue “risky reporting” that does not take on an ideological position. The release of private, unverified documents has consequently started a global debate as to what constitutes true journalism today. The verdict has now fallen undeniably in our laps. It is upon us, the global public, to accept this wave of change in media ethics or turn our backs to progressive, social reform.
 “Rosie the Riverete.” History Channel. Accessed January 30, 2017. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/rosie-the-riveter
 “Forgotten Origins.” Accessed January 30, 2017. http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/sam/sam.htm
“The Role of the Media in Global Conflict” was written by Nina Mahaleris, undergraduate student in journalism, communications and international affairs at the University of Maine.