Coping: Paint-balling the News

The week’s last deep public ponder is not about economics, but about a phenomena that I think of as “paint-balling the news.”

Here’s the way it works:

A story breaks – something with huge emotional content like the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri in the Michael Brown shooting case.

The events are slowly (and unevenly) reported in the mainstream media, but as is so often the case, there are seemingly deliberate spins and twists of events that appear almost immediately and continue on into the future for some period of weeks, or months.

This is what I think of as the “paint-balling” part:  A few facts are released (but not in depth and this leads to speculation).  And then people start to “pile on” (sort of like paintball) and suddenly the whole country seems to become partisans in a social reaction to a news story.

In columns here, I have referred to alleged injuries sustained by the Ferguson cop who was the apparent shooter in the case.  But that quickly brought out name-calling.  So let’s see what we can piece together about the alleged injury to the police officer involved.

First, we hear from the police chief in Ferguson that the officer received injuries.  Later reports from credible local media evolved to facial injuries.

But over the past week, or so, if you listen closely, you can hear the familiar Splat! of the trolls who “paint-ball the news” in an effort to press their own agenda.

It’s at this level that the alleged photos of the officer which turn out to be (again allegedly) of a Moto crosser begin to cross the net.

And next thing you know, the (alleged/concocted) photos are being denied at places like and the next thing you know, public opinion flips around so that anyone who mentions (alleged) injuries to the police officer is now a hopeless racial bigot.  The picture hoax blurs with the official reports.

The next thing you know, I’ve got an email inbox filling with hate mail for referring to the (alleged) injuries of the officer.

As you can see, the “paint-balling” of the news has really kicked in over the past  couple of weeks.  The police chief says the cop was injured, some local St. Louis area media report facial injuries that MAY involve bone damage, but no, that alleged photo was (reportedly) fake and that’s one reason I don’t try to get into details after the fact.  We’re in a kind of data gap.

I prefer to wait for as much data as possible.  But even here, we have a serious problem – one that makes paint-balling the news so easy:  Officialdom is often inexcusably slow  and not very forthcoming about pertinent details of the case.

While the police chief says there were injuries, the official extent hasn’t been made clear unless I’ve missed it.  Which is a possibility.

This opens the door to the paint ballers and trolls who have now smeared the story into a widening camp of partisans, rather than thoughtful citizens who are taking the “Show us the data” moderate approach.

To be sure, there is something wrong with the racial composition of the Ferguson police force and that’s fair game for Eric Holder and Justice to be looking into.  However, my point in an earlier column this week is that when surrounding jurisdictions get pulled into the mix, they shouldn’t be limited to St. Louis County, Missouri:  They should be applied uniformly coast-to-coast.

Otherwise, what wells up is the idea that if you want a police department to be reviewed as to whether it reflects the racial composition of the law enforcement area, all you need is a number of nights of rioting and here come the feds.

The problem becomes like pixilation in computers:  The picture may look OK when viewed from across the room, or at the State level, but if you zoom in enough, there will be increasing variances as you soon in (like Ferguson’s apparent force composition).

Question:  Does the racial composition of a police force come down to the state, county, city, or precinct/ward level?

Obviously, this is not something you can’t look up in the Constitution.  That was written back when only land-owners were considered worthy of voting – something that today would make banks the largest ultimate property owners, I suppose.

I’ll leave it to the legal scholar readers to comment on this one – it’s over my pay-grade.

# # #

Ferguson isn’t the only episode of “paint-balling” the news.

The MH-17 preliminary report is due out next Tuesday and the “paint-balling” blur of this one has mostly smeared any chance of hard analysis of what to expect.

The gov-trolls and many others go with the idea that Putin is all bad and that it must have been Russia that show down the jetliner and killed all those people.

But the Russia-friendly media maintains it was a stealth/off radar Ukrainian jet (though made in Russia) that shot down the plane.

Off on the sidelines are hopeless data junkies like me who ask other questions (What the hell was the plane flying over a war zone for?) and it’s here that derelict officialdom pops up again.

Unless that is addressed in the preliminary report, MH-17 will continue being paint-balled on the net.

When I last checked the news budget for Tuesday, no press conference was planned to accompany the initial findings on MH-17, so we’re braced for further “paint-balling” of the  story as early as mere minutes after the press release hits.

Absent actual facts, who need’s ‘em?  There’s really not much law (and even less responsibility) on the internet.

About the only useful purpose that such paint-balling to come will serve is to indicate who holds the upper hand in press manipulation:  NATO which is Kremliphobic, or Putin’s posse  is paranoid that anything coming east from the Danube is a Western attack.

That’s the makings of a Death Dance.

# # #

Take any conflict in the world today and singular events become paint-balling targets.  The Gaza-Israel mess is another fine example.

It leaves us with an  uncomfortable feeling that while the internet has done a tremendous amount of general good in terms of education and allowing people to go looking for facts on their own, there is a growing problem of paint-balling.

In many ways it is similar to the problems of radio in the 1930’s before the Communications Act of 1934.

Radio had its analog to the paint-ballers of the ‘net.  One might argue that the case of 1930’s Catholic radio activist Charles (father) Coughlin is something of a prototype for today’s paradigm:  (From Wikipedia)

Early in his radio career, Coughlin was a vocal supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. By 1934 he became a harsh critic of Roosevelt as too friendly to bankers. In 1934 he announced a new political organization called the National Union for Social Justice. He wrote a platform calling for monetary reforms, the nationalization of major industries and railroads, and protection of the rights of labor. The membership ran into the millions, but it was not well-organized at the local level.[1]

After hinting at attacks on Jewish bankers, Coughlin began to use his radio program to issue antisemitic commentary, and in the late 1930s to support some of the policies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

It was this kind of (then) “new media” uprising that may be expected any old time on the ‘net.  Which side, or which agenda is promoted, will likely matter less than the specifics of policy that are likely to follow.

While the US Army is worrying (at the doctrine level) how to worry about a mega-city uprising, sooner or later it will dawn on policymakers that just as slapping limits on media in the Great Depression made sense  in the lead-up to WW II, so too we might see similar logic applied today in a run-up to WW III.

Except this time regulation may be aimed at people who “make up” pictures of supposed officer injuries, or those who  recruit for America’s strategic enemies like ISIS.

America survived the evolution of radio and later television regulation.  But it’s an open question whether the free-marketers have painted themselves into a corner to where regulation will not be possible today.

The thought-problem might be stated as: What would have happened if Marconi invented Citizens Band Radio on day one?.  Could that genie have been pushed back in the regulatory bottle so easily?

But I stand by my  predictions that Internet regulation will come.  It’s all a matter of timing.

While most of the West looks to Marconi (instead of Tesla), Russia pins the invention of Radio to May 7, 1895 and the work of Alexander Popov.  Marconi’s patent ap was filed in 1897.

I don’t suppose you’d care to guess when the Communications Act of 1934 happened, would you?

Poor humor attempt aside it. the 37-year mark is close enough for home use relative to the 73-year economic cycle.

If we look at development of the current internet as approximately starting with the switch-over to TCP/IP in 1982, we can then add 37-years to that and come up with a regulatory horizon.  that would be 2019 if we use Marconi as a basis, or 2021 we consider Popov’s 1895 date which preceded the FCC’s empowerment by 39-years.

On the other hand, if we look at the first transoceanic radio work (1901) we find 33 years of regulatory lag time and that would place regulation of the net as early as 2015.

Tragic as Ferguson is, or the MH-17 disaster, or Gaza.. the ongoing role of the internet in shaping our shared future may be crossing into territory deemed dangerous in the past, as the Coughlin story reveals.

And so while the truly paranoid worry about the evolution of Army doctrine to deal with [mass civil uprising] there’s a most fundamental issue not being addressed:

The role of the internet paint ballers and gov-trolls who are spinning the future policy direction of America based on nothing more than self-interest with few moral scruples is coming into soft focus over time.  

And if that isn’t a case for daylight regulation (as media-based insurrection evolves as a public policy nightmare), I don’t know what is.

While we await some factual resolution from the Justice Department, there’s a much more important investigation yet to be done that I haven’t seen in the news or the journals:  Documenting the Ferguson uprising’s basis in internet and SMS message traffic plus lack of complete early/preemptive disclosure of all known facts including the extent of officer injuries is a crucial policy research area.

To miss these  key dynamics is for Ferguson to suffer in vain and place freedom in future peril.

Or, is pushing America toward mass urban violence the plan in the first place?

More tomorrow for our subscribers.  Tell your friends about this site if you like it…have a great weekend and use it to build something of enduring value for use in your personal future.

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