Real Good Moments in Journalism

This has been one of the weirder journalism developments in a while.

So what’s wrong with creating a mock invasion by Russia on your regularly scheduled national newscast? And, why not, in your “what if” scenario, report that one of the political parties is in cahoots with Russia in the invasion? The opposition party claims Georgia’s president is behind the broadcast. The NY Times reports:

Looking nervous and fumbling with papers as if juggling the chaos of a breaking news story, the anchor announced that sporadic fighting had begun on the streets of Tbilisi, the capital, that Russian bombers were airborne and heading for Georgia, that troops were skirmishing to the west and that a tank battalion was reported to be on the move.

The broadcast showed tanks rumbling down a road, billowing exhaust, along with jerky images of a fighter jet racing out of the sky and dropping bombs.

Thirty minutes of purposeful fear manipulation. Unlike War of the Worlds, the newscast could have had a banner announcing it was fake, instead of a quick disclaimer beforehand. No one seems to deny that. Here’s how the Georgian president apparently reacts:

As for Saakashvili, he said that while the report was ‘unpleasant’ and should have carried a banner saying it was a simulation throughout, the really unpleasant thing was that such a scenario could happen and the threat of a Russian invasion was real.

“But the major unpleasant thing about the yesterday’s report – and I want everyone to realize it well – was that this report is maximally close to reality and maximally close to what may really happen, or to what Georgia’s enemy keeps in mind,” website civil.ge quoted him as saying on Georgian television.

First, the entire thing is disgraceful, regardless of who planned it and who allowed it. Any journalist who took part in this should quit. Second, it hits home: It feels like a parody, albeit an extreme and shameful one, of how our media and our politicians behave. Of course here the stations would make a more nuanced attack on our collective fear, but the distorted line between political propaganda and news wobbles every day on some of our biggest news outlets. And third, how would you feel if it had been a fake report showing U.S. planes starting war? Russia’s no blushing innocent, but this has to have done massive (intentional?) damage to the tense relationship between those two countries.

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