Video: Media, Politics & Social Change: An Overview of The Echo Chamber Project

kentbye's picture
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Flash Version

This video provides explains how the media fits into political and social change and specifically addresses the following questions:

* How is the Press supposed to Work?
* How and why does the Press act like an Echo Chamber?
* How is media changing?
* What does it mean that the "news is becoming a conversation"?
* Will these new media changes affect the nature of politics?
* How does The Echo Chamber Project fit into all of this?

Featuring: Amy Goodman, Lawrence Grossman, Jim Lobe, Jonathan Landay, Richard Sambrook, Jay Rosen, Dan Gillmor, Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls & Merrill Brown.

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Additional interview transcripts are here.

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Music Credits:

* “In The Sky” by disharmonic via ccmixter
* “On The Moon (Trip Hop mix)” by disharmonic via ccmixter
* "People" by cdk via ccmixter
* "Tree of Love" by Jami Sieber used by permission by


Underlying all the facts and the patterns of behavior that I have identified as Saddam Hussein's contempt for the will of this council, his contempt for the truth and most damning of all, his utter contempt for human life. Saddam Hussein's use of mustard and nerve gas against the Kurds in 1988 was one of the 20th century's most horrible atrocities.

kentbye's picture

Re: Illegal?

Hey Tim,
I have a moratorium on any more interviews until I can scale up the collaborative process for digesting the interviews that I've already collected as demonstrated in the second half of this video. I have well over 5 hours of interview material dedicated to investigation the issue of International Law -- including some quotes from Ruth Wedgwood that reflect some of the same sentiment of David Bernstein.

For example, during the last answer that Wedgwood says:

Well, I guess my métier, if you will, is a kind of realist international law is to say to the international lawyers, "Don't craft a regime that is so aspirational, so romantic, so naïve, that you make rules or norms or procedures that no one can live by. Remember the Holocaust. Remember every other terrible event of recent world history, and understand that the object is to prevent these things, not simply to have a kind of procedural perfectionism." So I guess my preachment to my international lawyer friends is "If people aren't listening to you, figure out why." Is it because you have nothing that they can use? I mean, a good lawyer wants to help the client do what's right. And a good lawyer will often preach to the client, but will also try to help the client do it in the right way.

However, I should point out International Law in the context of the war in Iraq is decidedly different than Bernstein's complaint that it often "trump[s] any other conflicting consideration" -- that's because the Bush Administration explicitly used UN Resolutions as a justification for the war. So the military intervention was portrayed domestically as being in defense of International Law, while as Sean Murphy says, "the vast majority of scholars in the field of international law would say that the justification asserted by the United States and its allies for invading Iraq is not regarded as being adequate under international law."

Good comments

Good comments. Rather, the question is whether the conditions were present that would justify humanitarian intervention—conditions that look at more than the level of repression. If so, honesty would require conceding as much, despite the war’s global unpopularity.

Still Illegal?

Let's quibble that last paragraph ... by restating Bernstein's argument:

Reader: Iraq was illegitimate because it violated international law by not allowing UNMOVIC who fled Iraq in 1998 to return.

Author: I'm not an expert on international law ...

Reader: International law says Iraq had to do it anyway.

Author: But Iraq was ...

Reader: Doesn't matter, Iraq was violating international law.

Author: But Iraq ...

Reader: All well and good, but Iraq was in the wrong, because it violated international law.

After the inspectors went back in, Iraq was still not cooperating fully, so still violating international law.

Now, doesn't matter, because the US/UK/Australia/Poland/... violated international law invading Iraq. The argument stays the same, just replace Iraq with Bush.

kentbye's picture

Yes, Still Illegal

There are violations of UN Security Council resolutions all of the time, but the key difference is that the enforcement of those violations is
1.) Up to the UN Security Council and not any individual member state.
2.) The use force is only authorized when the UNSC resolution is passed under Chapter VII
3.) Any UNSC enforcement must be proportionate to the violation.

So regarding who has the authority to enforce resolutions, James Paul says:

Only the Security Council has the authority to enforce the resolution, and the Security Council must decide whether or not any of its resolutions have been breached and what to do. And in the discussion leading up to Resolution 1441, the member states that were opposed to the US/UK position insisted that it be very clear that that resolution did not authorize any automatic military action. In fact, they called this "automaticity," and they insisted that automaticity not be part of the resolution. And the US and the UK in the statements after the vote and on the record, made it clear that they did not consider this to be an automatic authorization -- that was largely forgotten later.

Regarding Chapter 7 Resolutions, Paul says

Within the UN Charter, there are two types of resolutions that the Security Council passes -- The Chapter 6 resolutions, which do not involve the use of force. And Chapter 7 resolutions that do involve the use of force.

Regarding #1 & #2, Phyllis Bennis says:

No other country has usurped, in the same way as the United States has over and over and over again towards Iraq, the right to -- in the words of the Bush administration, "to enforce UN resolutions." If a UN resolution is not being enforced, it's up to the United Nations itself to make that decision. When UN Security Council resolutions are passed, and this has been true of all the resolutions regarding Iraq -- particularly important in the ones that are passed under Chapter 7 of the Charter, which is the chapter that authorizes the use of force. If a resolution is passed under Chapter 7, and allows the use of force, they always end with the final article that says "the Security Council remains seized of the issue." And what that means is, "It's our issue. Keep your hands off." It means "It belongs to us. It's on our agenda, and we're going to keep revisiting it until it's resolved." So if the US or any other country on the Council -- or not on the Council -- believes that the Iraqis or anyone else is violating some resolution, they have every right to go back to the Council and say, "We have a problem here, guys. This country is violating what we said they had to do, and it was taken under Chapter 7 -- that's very serious. What are we going to do about it?" No country has the right unilaterally to say this country is violating what we said they have to do and therefore we're going to go to war against them -- and do it in the name of the United Nations. That's a complete -- not just distortion -- but it's a complete reversal of what the United Nations is all about, which is the idea of collective responsibility for peace and security.

Finally, even when there are violations of resolutions passed under Chapter VII, and when the UNSC has collectively passed a resolution to enforce them, then the enforcement must be proportionate to the violations. As Sean Murphy says:

Even if you accept that there’s a lawful basis under existing Security Council Resolutions for a use of force to do something, you have to ask the question "Well, what exactly is that ‘something’ you can do?" If the violation by Iraq of Resolutions 687 and the provisions relating to weapons of mass destruction is the basis for saying you may now use force, then the best interpretation is that you can only use that force necessary and proportionate to those violations. So the question would be: If Iraq in late 2002 or early 2003 is denying access to particular facilities for weapons inspectors -- Or if, let’s say they had found some weapons and they were refusing to destroy them, using military force necessary and proportionate to get access to those facilities, to destroy what weapons have been discovered, makes complete sense. It doesn’t make sense to say, "Okay, there’s been some breaches of Iraq’s obligations regarding weapons of mass destruction, and here they are, and that therefore is gonna trigger an ability to invade the country wholesale and topple the government." There’s a great disconnect between what’s being alleged to have been violated and what is the consequence of that violation. Now, it is possible that you could express an argument that Iraq has jerked us around so long on weapons of mass destruction that we have no confidence whatsoever that this government is going to continue to be at all helpful -- and the only way to achieve our overall objectives is to depose this government. Well that’s not a completely implausible argument, but I would submit that when you take to it that higher level -- when you say we’re not only reacting to the violations that have occurred, but we’re gonna go way beyond that to undertake a policy objective well beyond anything that appears within the Resolutions themselves -- and indeed, if you look at these Resolutions, the idea that Iraq’s territorial integrity and political independence is to be preserved is quite clearly stated in there -- if you’re gonna take it to that higher level, it really needs to happen within the context of the multi-lateralism that led to those Resolutions in the first place. Meaning "You should be going back to the Security Council Resolution." "You should not be taking on that interpretation on your own."

So two wrongs don't make a right...

But I think the broader context of this discussion is that there was a critical mass of consensus within the International Legal community that should have raised more red flags to the US media. It was certainly a hot topic within the anti-war movement, but there was no institutional news peg because the Congressional Democratic leadership rolled over. So while this debate was an integral part of the build-up to the war from the perspective of our allies and other UNSC countries, it was a cultural blackhole here in the US.

So there was a collective groupthink that allowed this whole adventure to progress without challenging some fundamental assumptions.

And I think the real interesting question becomes what larger issues can be learned from this. Specifically how these types of group consensus be aggregated in a way that is able to counter a minority viewpoint that is blasted by a political party to become a master narrative. In other words, moving beyond "He Said / She Said" and more towards a more complex and nuanced methodology that allows journalists to make strong political judgments in a transparent and scientific way.

'K, Kent, two things: 1. How

'K, Kent, two things:

1. How does what you said invalidate Bernstein's argument?

2. How does it compare with the "Kosovo Test"?

NATO's Illegal and Criminal Invasion of Kosovo

What Do We Mean by UN “Reform”?

In September 2004, Kofi Annan characterized the Iraq war (and he stressed, the second Iraq war) as “illegal” because the U.S. invasion was not formally sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

But if that were the case, if all actions not formally sanctioned by the Security Council were illegal in the eyes of the Secretary General, then there wouldn’t be much of a debate. There either is a vote in favor, or there is not. An intervention is either legal or illegal.

But it turns out to be not that simple, for in 1999 some members of the UN were concerned about events in Kosovo. Faced with a certain Russian veto in the Security Council, the United States and its NATO allies chose NOT to refer the matter to the UNSC. And the Secretary General has intimated that he believed the Kosovo intervention to have been justified.

Our Illegal War

Furthermore, NATO’s commitment to act in harmony with "the purposes of the United Nations" requires that the alliance be bound by the UN Charter. Article 2, section 7 of the UN Charter states, "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state"; the suppression of Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian secessionist movement is clearly within Yugoslavia’s domestic jurisdiction.

NATO Action in Kosovo is Illegal

What does surprise is that Mr. Clinton and his NATO cohorts have been so ready to ignore the UN Charter and the North Atlantic Treaty. As internationalists they usually revere these instruments far more than they do any domestic laws. The attack on Yugoslavia violates the principles of both agreements.

Good Reasons for Going Around the U.N. (pdf)

The relevant history here is from Kosovo. In 1999, the United States, expecting a Russian veto of military intervention to stop Serbian attacks on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, sidestepped the United Nations completely and sought authorization for the use of force within NATO itself.

kentbye's picture

Re; Humanitarian Intervention

First, two metathoughts and then some responses to your two questions:
1.) We've gone way beyond the level of complexity that will ever make it into the film, and I think it'll be interesting to experiment with how the source material that I've gathered could be used to mediate these types of dicussions with the collaborative editing technology that I'm working on.

2.) I both disagree and agree with Bernstein on various points on International Law, and I have some quotes from Ruth Wedgwood, Cliff May and Cliff Kincaid that reflect aspects of his viewpoint -- but inevitably not all aspects of it I'm sure.

Re: "How does what you said invalidate Bernstein's argument?"
You were projecting what Bernstein is saying about International Law and Israel and applying it to the US intervention in Iraq -- I'm not even sure that you're projection accurately represents his views on Iraq so I wasn't try to invalidate his initial statements -- but what I was trying to say that it is an imperfect projection because the Bush adminstration explicitly was using previous UNSC resolutions as a justification for the war.

The larger point I was trying to make is that the UNSC made the resolutions, and therefore it is under their jurisdiction to enforce them. The Bush administration could've used a humanitarian argument at the UN -- or even a self-defense argument -- but they didn't. The Bush Adminstration was claiming to be enforcing UN resolutions, which is one distinction from Kosovo. As Sean Murphy says,

When you look at the reporting to the Security Council, statements made by the Bush administration at the time, the positions taken by the other coalition allies, nobody was pushing the self-defense argument. The argument instead was "We’ve been authorized by the Security Council." And so that leads you into a discussion of what did those Security Council Resolutions say that were out there? Did they provide such authorization? Was such authorization conditioned in any particular way? Did it cut off at a particular point? Was it limited to particular objectives? Things of that sort. And those are areas where the Bush administration and the other coalition allies run into real problems, because when you look at those Resolutions carefully, they just don’t do what the coalition said that they do.

Re: "How does it compare with the "Kosovo Test"?"
I see two big aspects to this question:
1.) The use force without explicit UN authorization
2.) The topic of humanitarian interventions

Clinton and Democratic leadership have certainly shown to have disrespect for International Law as well -- both w/ Kosovo and with Desert Fox. I personally am against the use of force unless it is really necessary, and that leads right into the topic of Humanitarian Interventions.

The relationship between humanitarian intervention and International Law is an open question within the International Legal community because the boundaries are so fuzzy and subjective. So the topic could be an entire 90-minute within itself, and I just barely scratched the surface with these larger issues in my interviews -- but the topic of Humanitarian Intervention, Kosovo and Iraq did come up in a number of the interviews.

There are a number of preliminary conclusions that I came away with:

1.) The Bush administration used humanitarian arguments to the domestic audience, but they never tried to justify the military intervention as a humanitarian intervention within the legal context of the UN. It was always, we've been authorized by previous resolutions as indicated by this March 20th letter that John Negroponte sent to the UN.

2.) Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth wrote an article called "War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention" in which he lays out some thresholding guidelines for humanitarian interventions. And in comparing Iraq to these tests, Roth concludes that:

As time elapses, the Bush administration’s dominant remaining justification for the war is that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant who deserved to be overthrown—an argument of humanitarian intervention. The administration is now citing this rationale not simply as a side benefit of the war but also as a prime justification for it. Other reasons are still regularly mentioned, but the humanitarian one has gained prominence.

Does that claim hold up to scrutiny? The question is not simply whether Saddam Hussein was a ruthless leader; he most certainly was. Rather, the question is whether the conditions were present that would justify humanitarian intervention—conditions that look at more than the level of repression. If so, honesty would require conceding as much, despite the war’s global unpopularity. If not, it is important to say so as well, since allowing the arguments of humanitarian intervention to serve as a pretext for war fought mainly on other grounds risks tainting a principle whose viability might be essential to save countless lives.

In examining whether the invasion of Iraq could properly be understood as a humanitarian intervention, our purpose is not to say whether the U.S.-led coalition should have gone to war for other reasons. That, as noted, involves judgments beyond our mandate. Rather, now that the war’s proponents are relying so significantly on a humanitarian rationale for the war, the need to assess this claim has grown in importance. We conclude that, despite the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s rule, the invasion of Iraq cannot be justified as a humanitarian intervention.

His point was that justifying Iraq as a humanitarian intervention gives it a bad name because "if that breeds cynicism about the use of military force for humanitarian purposes, it could be devastating for people in need of future rescue." Using a humanitarian justification when the true intention and motivation is not of a humanitarian one, then it really muddies the waters.

I wasn't able to interview Roth, but I was able to interview a Human Rights Watch Lawyer Reed Brody about this perspective and this is what Brody says:

BRODY: One of the justifications that was given for the invasion of Iraq was Saddam Hussein’s human rights crimes. Let’s be clear, Saddam Hussein is one of the all-time human rights criminals. But the fact is that the worst crimes that he had committed, the genocide against the Kurds the repression against the Shia rebellion, the draining of the marshes to kill the Marsh Arabs in the south had been done ten years before the US invasion. So the humanitarian intervention justification might have flown in the late eighties or the early nineties, but not in -- not ten years later.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And can you kind of elaborate on that -- The kind of threshold aspects of the distinction that you make of stopping imminent or ongoing --
BRODY: Yeah. -- If you’re going to upset the rules of international law, and go in -- invade a country without United Nations authorization in apparent violation of the traditional rules because you say, ‘There’s a humanitarian emergency. We’ve got to get in there.’ Then you do it when the humanitarian emergency is real. You don’t do it because a country is engaged in a lot of torture -- as bad -- as condemnable as that may be. You do it when you’re actually going in to save tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of lives

I attempted to mediate a dialogue about these points with Cliff May, Cliff Kincaid, Hugh Hewitt, Tom Donnelly and Ruth Wedgwood -- but none of them (oddly enough) were familiar with HRW or Roth's dissenting viewpoints on the humanitarian justifications on Iraq. And it proved to be impossible for me to convey the complexity of this position and get any specific counterpoints.

So I failed to penetrate beyond surface-level talking points to the depths that I was going for on this specific topic -- but I at least tried to gather enough information to get a dialogue about it going, which is something that the mainstream news media has really falled to ever address.

I'm interested to see what types of virtual dialogues can be edited together with the material that I've gathered so far -- I'd love for you could dig into this issue when I go live soon.

Another relevant interview is the one that I did the former Washington DC director of Amnesty International while Saddam was still in power -- James O'Dea.

Universal inviolable law and hypocrisy

The source matter of the documentary, and its indexing, is the most powerful (potentially) aspect of the project.

What I'm projecting from Bernstein's argument is the "universal inviolability of internal law" in any debate. Isreal, Iraq and Kosovo are taking that position and applying it in different contexts. IMHO and IANAL, very important in discussing precedent and law.

You write:

The Bush administration could've used a humanitarian argument at the UN -- or even a self-defense argument -- but they didn't. The Bush Adminstration was claiming to be enforcing UN resolutions, which is one distinction from Kosovo.

A difference of emphasis, I think. The Bush Administration did make the security and humanitarian argument at the UN, as well as enforcing UN resolutions.

President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly

We can harbor no illusions -- and that's important today to remember. Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990. He's fired ballistic missiles at Iran and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel. His regime once ordered the killing of every person between the ages of 15 and 70 in certain Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. He has gassed many Iranians, and 40 Iraqi villages.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council resolutions will be enforced -- the just demands of peace and security will be met -- or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power.

Events can turn in one of two ways: If we fail to act in the face of danger, the people of Iraq will continue to live in brutal submission. The regime will have new power to bully and dominate and conquer its neighbors, condemning the Middle East to more years of bloodshed and fear. The regime will remain unstable -- the region will remain unstable, with little hope of freedom, and isolated from the progress of our times. With every step the Iraqi regime takes toward gaining and deploying the most terrible weapons, our own options to confront that regime will narrow. And if an emboldened regime were to supply these weapons to terrorist allies, then the attacks of September the 11th would be a prelude to far greater horrors.

If we meet our responsibilities, if we overcome this danger, we can arrive at a very different future. The people of Iraq can shake off their captivity. They can one day join a democratic Afghanistan and a democratic Palestine, inspiring reforms throughout the Muslim world. These nations can show by their example that honest government, and respect for women, and the great Islamic tradition of learning can triumph in the Middle East and beyond. And we will show that the promise of the United Nations can be fulfilled in our time.

Neither of these outcomes is certain. Both have been set before us. We must choose between a world of fear and a world of progress. We cannot stand by and do nothing while dangers gather. We must stand up for our security, and for the permanent rights and the hopes of mankind. By heritage and by choice, the United States of America will make that stand. And, delegates to the United Nations, you have the power to make that stand, as well.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Addresses the U.N. Security Council :

My friends, this has been a long and a detailed presentation. And I thank you for your patience. But there is one more subject that I would like to touch on briefly. And it should be a subject of deep and continuing concern to this council, Saddam Hussein's violations of human rights.

Underlying all that I have said, underlying all the facts and the patterns of behavior that I have identified as Saddam Hussein's contempt for the will of this council, his contempt for the truth and most damning of all, his utter contempt for human life. Saddam Hussein's use of mustard and nerve gas against the Kurds in 1988 was one of the 20th century's most horrible atrocities; 5,000 men, women and children died.

POWELL: His campaign against the Kurds from 1987 to '89 included mass summary executions, disappearances, arbitrary jailing, ethnic cleansing and the destruction of some 2,000 villages. He has also conducted ethnic cleansing against the Shi'a Iraqis and the Marsh Arabs whose culture has flourished for more than a millennium. Saddam Hussein's police state ruthlessly eliminates anyone who dares to dissent. Iraq has more forced disappearance cases than any other country, tens of thousands of people reported missing in the past decade.

Nothing points more clearly to Saddam Hussein's dangerous intentions and the threat he poses to all of us than his calculated cruelty to his own citizens and to his neighbors. Clearly, Saddam Hussein and his regime will stop at nothing until something stops him.

And, you can find many speeches by President Clinton making the same "strong UN" case about Kosovo:

What is the role of the U.N. in preventing mass slaughter and dislocation? Very large. Even in Kosovo, NATO's actions followed a clear consensus, expressed in several Security Council resolutions that the atrocities committed by Serb forces were unacceptable; that the international community had a compelling interest in seeing them end. Had we chosen to do nothing in the face of this brutality, I do not believe we would have strengthened the United Nations. Instead, we would have risked discrediting everything it stands for.

By acting as we did, we helped to vindicate the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter, to give the U.N. the opportunity it now has to play the central role in shaping Kosovo's future. In the real world, principles often collide, and tough choices must be made. The outcome in Kosovo is hopeful.

Not everyone agreed: "By rejecting the resolution before it today, the Council would reaffirm the requirements it had put to the Government in Belgrade to cease their brutal attacks against the people of Kosovo and move towards peace."

I agree with Roth and Brody on Iraq. Kosovo, not so much.

My personal opinion is Bush and Clinton "played" the humanitarian card based on little evidence of the need for intervention at the time. In the same vein, they both made the case that their action with other countries, without explicit UN authorization (or even congressional authorization in the case of Kosovo), strengthened the UN.

I'm actually surprised that you're debating this. I would have thought you would be more receptive to the similarities in the political art of beating the drums of war, and the failings of the media, in both cases (Kosovo and Iraq).


Would you consider adding David Bernstein to your voices?

thx so much!!! great stuff

greetings from the german speaking part of europe ;-)


I just happened to stumble across this site while looking for an Amy Goodman interview with Helen Thomas. This is incredible! Thanks Kent!

#1 Landay's email address #2 Media in Sudan

#1 Seeking to contact both Jonathan and Vlatka Landay. Do you have their email addresses?

#2 Cornell professor, working on Darfur since April 2004. Need experts on how we can jack up media coverage of Darfur and how we can get Middle East media to cover Darfur events.

media as scribe

Here's a reference relating to media acting as scribe for governement.


I had no idea what this was about but I clicked on the link next to your name on the attendees list for Vloggercon and I got so excited when I started reading about this cool project!! I'm working on a documentary called Connecting Youth to Youth for my Girl Scout Gold Award project (like an Eagle Scout project but Girl Scouts..) and I'm filming three youth groups around the world and I want to somehow involve them all in editing the documentary with me.. and when I saw your blog I knew this would be something I want to know more about.

I'm going to Vloggercon since I really want to start putting vlogs on my regular blog so could I talk to you at Vloggercon or email before?