Last week I was in Hamburg Germany teaching my Data Governance Course with my friend Christa Menke-Suedbeck at the Bucerius Law School (www.law-school.de). One evening, I went to the Deichtorhalle to see a lecture from one of my old Hamburg friends, Tom Holert. His lecture was part of a larger panel discussion on modern photography, focusing on the 19th Century artistic techniques photographers use to "stage" their photos, blurring both photo journalism and art.
Tom Holert is one of Germany's most prolific and well-respected art and music critics, and his presentation left me deeply concerned. Have a look at this photo that Tom presented. It is by Eric Baudelaire and it is called "The Dreadful Details."
At first glance, it looks like any other horrific photo from the Iraq War that we have all become uncomfortably comfortable viewing. These depictions of fear, death, power, and dread no longer shake the subconscious as they once did during Vietnam.
However this one should, because it is entirely fake. The photo was taken on a Hollywood backlot and all the people in it are actors. It is a modern example of staged art to resemble reality. But you will think it is reality unless you are aware of this context - unless you know the provenance.
Yesterday, the NY Times reported that 16 retired US Generals working as military analysts on Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN News had been secretly collaborating with the Pentagon to shape US public opinion in the most brazenly documented form of government propaganda I have certainly seen in my lifetime. These military analysts acted as supposed "impartial" experts on network TV but in reality were toting the Pentagon public line.
Again, staged reality. We all believe this stuff unless we are informed of the context, the provenance of this data.
Whether you support the war or not, you have to recognize that these distortions have an enormous cost. A recent Harvard University study put the direct and indirect costs of the Iraq War at $1 trillion, a figure I'm sure the Pentagon has already developed analyst talking points to refute.
Of course the loss in human life on all sides of the conflict outweigh the economic costs. But I would argue that the most enduring damage is in the global brand of the United States of America, whose public image around the world has been so tarnished.
In the Information Age, we are all victims of Toxic Content in our data streams. This Toxic Content makes the truth the most endangered data asset in the world and I fear that what we have lost so far we will struggle to regain against new data distortions that will make old lies seem like quaint nostalgia.
And if you think propoganda only invades public data streams, read my articles on Subprime...