Flawed pleas for overlooked causes

In the news have been two unusual stories, both of them exposing outrageous abuse of innocents abroad, neither one broken by what we normally consider the news media. Instead they were launched by zealous outsiders from the edges of the informational ecosystem, and were fiercely embraced, until their claims were scrutinized and found wanting.

That flight path—from fringe to mainstream and from acclaim to skepticism–is worth looking at. It says something about the way various media play together and, at times, slap each other around. And for traditionalists, it’s also reassurance that the arduous work of getting the story right remains irreplaceable, no matter how polished the message and how compelling the cause.

The first story originated with the release this month, online, of a half-hour film, “Kony 2012,” from a nonprofit organization called Invisible Children. The movie, an energetic piece of agit-prop from a group with strong evangelical moorings, is the centerpiece of a PR campaign to bring to justice a Central African warlord named Joseph Kony. For years, his brutal insurgency conscripted little boys as killers and little girls as sex slaves.

Although he has been at it since the 1980s and was indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2005, the success of “Kony 2012” gave him unparalleled notoriety. Downloaded some 100 million times, it has drawn a gush of celebrity support.

The second story was the public radio broadcast of a powerful expose by a Chicago monologuist named Mike Daisey on working conditions in some of the vast Chinese sweatshops that assemble Apple Inc.’s coolest toys. Daisey had Continue reading “Flawed pleas for overlooked causes”