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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Journalism Ethics: Thoughts on Forbes' report about Sandy by Mark H. Bergen

A few days ago I saw a tweet posted by Forbes (@forbes / SML Wiki) written by Mark H. Bergen (@mhbergen / SML Wiki) in which it was summarized as “Asian megacities are awaiting superstorm fates much worse than Sandy”

Media reports like these infuriates me, because instead of spending valuable resources in solving the crisis, Forbes has chosen to use this as opportunity to trivialize technologies in Asia.

I consider this form of journalism to be propaganda—a report disguised as “analysis” to further hate and dis-education about the reality of technology in Asia and to further the fanatic “patriotism” for Americans into believing that they are truly far superior in everything that they do.

What is far more alarming then is that the title tag of declares themselves as “Information for the World's Business Leaders“. If articles like this is considered valuable information for “World's Business Leaders” then I would like to know how Forbes define the word “business leaders”.

But this gets worse. I got a reply from Mark Bergen on Twitter suggesting that I am questioning his journalism integrity in reference to World Bank / ADB / UN data.

Say what? How does a journalist, a self declared “business reporter… [who blogs] on urban economics for Forbes and report on politics and policies for The Atlantic Cities, GOOD, and Next American City, among others… worked as an investigative reporter and policy researcher“ ( with a “BA in sociology from the College of Wooster” and a ”Masters in Public Policy from the University of Chicago” came to interpret my criticism as something as moronic as that?

Mark Bergen thought that I was misquoting him because he did not write that. Ok so perhaps I should not put quotes on things which people did not write, but the implications are the same. If he did not write the words “poorer civil engineering” then he most definitely wrote this bit right from the beginning of the article:

the morbidly obvious: emerging market cities are deeply vulnerable to climate change disasters like Sandy. Even if future storms are lesser, their impact on coastal Asian cities would be greater. The combination of booming populations and inadequate infrastructure means sea-level rise alone could paralyze Shanghai, bankrupt Kolkata and make Mumbai virtually unlivable.

If this was not @mhbergen's thesis, then I think that he ought clarify with Forbes as evidently Mark seems to think that I have mistaken his viewpoint.

I am still waiting for responses from Mark Bergen and Forbes for their clarification of intention in publishing this article.

Nothing wrong with criticisms, but clear slandering like this is simply unethical. If this had appeared on a personal blog I would dismiss it as narrow-minded-ness. But this article was not published on a personal blog. It was published on a “mainstream” media site. I tend to consider that anything that's considered “mainstream” to have at least a little bit of moral conscience in deciding what to publish but clearly this is not the case.

Is this why this media publishing conglomerate is privately held (Google Finance)? Being privately held does not grant a publication intended for public consumption — especialy one with a large circulation — to publish anything one wishes. The Economist (Google Finance) is also privately held yet their articles appear to be relatively objective — at least they are ethical. It's hard to maintain an unbiased viewpoint because our experience are formed by what we experienced in our past, but having the foresight to recognize that people are simply different — in other words that life is diverse — allows us to then gain insight to see how we can learn from each other. Failing to see one's weakness and yet blatantly laugh at others is unacceptable.

In Chinese, we have a saying: “五十步笑百步” (Wikipedia: ZH-HK), and it appears that there is a similar saying in English: “The pot calling the kettle black” (Wikipedia: EN). In essence, when you failed to observe that that you are no better if not worse at something, you are frankly in no position to criticize others — let alone without any ability to offer suggestions on how you think something could be improved on.

Yesterday I came across an interesting documentary from North Korea called “Propaganda” which criticizes the US Media's ethics for massive brainwashing people the culture of consumerism:

Someone on YouTube commented which seems fitting though nevertheless interesting:

Propaganda vs propaganda, at least it balances the american media, and is still less crazy than Fox News...

If you have the time, I recommend that you check it out. Interestingly, YouTube marks the video as “17+ materials”. There is nothing pornographic about it – but it would appear to me that even YouTube feels that media consumption without a critical eye is poison to the soul.

Don't place too much emphasis on whether it's US media or that it was produced in North Korea. The focus here is not really about US vs Asia vs World, it is on the effect of media and how it can shape the way we think if we do not always keep an open mind on everything that we read / see regardless of source.

My key take away? Do not blindly trust any single source for information. Read everything. Be diverse. Maintain a personal viewpoint. Be critical. Be curious. Or as Steve Jobs once quoted the back cover of The Whole World Catalog during a Stanford commencement speech: Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry.

Update: 2012-11-05

I have finally received a respond from Mark H. Bergen (@mhbergen) after I posted this blog post.

I don't know why people constantly reference data source as validation. Data source says nothing. Data source is just that: data. Analytics is processed data. Opinions is human thoughts derived through analytics processed from data. Input / Output. The two things do not equate.

But the even more wtf comment would follow next:

Why is Mark asking me about “orientalism”? Did I say that anywhere in my post? Very strange.

In fact, this recurring pattern of MHB's failure to interpret my English makes me think that maybe I am a very poor writer. Either that or he is a very poor English interpreter. A friend upon reading this blog post and checking out SML Wiki: Mark H. Bergen commented that he was shocked by the fact that MHB holds a Masters in Public Policy from The University of Chicago (Twitter). “How is it possible that someone from UChicago to have such poor analytical skills,” he remarked. I have no idea.

Extra: Screenshot of my conversation with Forbes and Mark Bergen on Twitter

Twitter: Forbes @forbes: Asian megacities are awaiing superstorm fates worse than Sandy, writes @mhbergen. / 2012-11-01 / SML Screenshots

Twitter: Forbes @forbes: Asian megacities are awaiing superstorm fates worse than Sandy, writes @mhbergen. / 2012-11-01 / SML Screenshots

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