By anybody's standards, the last few weeks have been unusual. The Mirror, a British tabloid, reported receiving a leaked government memo which purportedly shows that George W. Bush wanted to silence Al Jazeera's journalistic coverage of Iraq with a bombing strike on its Doha, Qatar headquarters. When a memo of the April 16, 2004 meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair was leaked, Blair wanted the British media gagged to stop the public from finding out other details of his chat with Bush. While he doesn't want discussion of his meeting with Bush, Blair does want to foster public debate over his plan to expand nuclear power as a 'solution' to climate change.
Then there has have been the revelations that the Lincoln Group, hired by the Pentagon to run a propaganda campaign in Iraq, were planting stories in Iraq's media. There has also been the fall from grace of media tycoon and corporate highflyer Conrad Black, who has been charged by U.S. federal prosecutors with eight counts of mail and wire fraud. Added to that has been the ongoing controversy over U.S. lobbyist Jack Abramoff (and his PR buddy, Michael Scanlon) and the criminal conspiracy and money laundering charges against the former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom DeLay.
In fact, there have been so many scandals and controversies that it has been hard to keep on top of the latest developments. That's where you come in.
Over the last month, volunteer contributors to SourceWatch - the Center for Media and Democracy's online encylopedia of people, issues and groups shaping the public agenda - have been cyber-tracking the zigs and zags of these developments, adding an impressive 300 new articles and profiles. More contributors - like you - could do an even better job of recording and parsing the news behind the news.
Over the last few weeks:
- SourceWatch contributor Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been beavering away, creating and updating numerous pages, including articles on the growing DeLay scandal. As an illustration of how an incrementally-compiled SourceWatch article is a useful resource for journalists and citizens alike, look at this page. It's the only page on the web listing most of the major stories covering the DeLay controversy over the last year. AI has also collated links and coverage of Bob Woodward, and pages associated with the outing of the formerly covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame.
- Ahead of the May 2005 British general election, Prime Minister Tony Blair suggested the need for a national debate on reviving the ailing nuclear power industry. SourceWatch contributor Neoconned spotted what would become a major ongoing issue and started a page on the topic. For a few months it sat there as a brief paragraph (or "stub" in wiki jargon). With Blair's current revival of the debate, Neoconned has expanded it and also created a page on Grayling Political Strategy, a PR company hired in January 2004 by the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority.
- Miriam Lyons, a journalism student at the University of Technology in Sydney, has created a major series of articles on Australian think tanks, media personalities, PR firms and their staffs as part of her end of year project work.
- The Center's Diane Farsetta has started pages on two influential firms with international reach, RTI International and The Washington Group (TWG). RTI is a massive research firm involved in everything from Iraq's local elections/selections (where only people vetted by the U.S. military could vote) to Indonesia's educational system, on contracts from the U.S. Agency for International Development. (USAID grants are RTI's largest source of income.) TWG is a lobbying subsidiary of the PR firm Ketchum, and holds lobbying contracts with the governments of Panama and Bangladesh.
- I've started a series of articles on nanotechnology PR, created a framework page as a starting point for anyone interested in documenting chemical industry issues, and another for people interested in the debate over genetic engineering in Australia.
Navigating with Categories
One of the features of the SourceWatch software is that it allows contributors to create a "category" to automatically index a group of articles. One article can also be added to many categories. In this way, SourceWatch readers or contributors can easily find the articles that most interest them.
For example, AI has created the scandals category. Neoconned's work on the nuclear debate in the UK is being added to the nuclear power category, Miriam's work is expanding the body of work in Category:Australia, and I've recently started the nanotechnology category. (You can have a look at all the categories created so far here.)
The constant expansion of SourceWatch has also increased the number of visitors to the site. Over 36 million SourceWatch pages have been served to visitors over the last year, according to the latest numbers, with major growth in traffic since September.
Of course, all of these articles can benefit from further editing and refinement. Can you help? Documenting and uncovering public relations campaigns is an ongoing research project. If you'd like to participate, become a SourceWatch volunteer contributor and help add to or edit these and other articles. It's free to sign up, and we'd love to have you join us.