Twisting the Issue: Spin is the New Black

I know that the age of the internet brings with it instant access to information mere nanoseconds after it’s made available, but by the same token, I still think it’s all right to be more than a little disconcerted to know that it takes the Associated Press (AP) only a couple of hours to stumble on a rather obscure, yet focused article covering a fund-raising event in New York for the Tate Gallery in London and turn it into a political piece on how Prime Minister Blair’s decision to allow wealthy American patrons of the arts (at least those capable of fronting $25k for a half-table ticket reservation) into his home for drinks doesn’t jibe well within his own Labour Party. Especially when the AP story is picked up by just about every major US news outlet, CBS included, and gets filed in the “Entertainment” section.

I was perturbed enough that when I picked up a copy of Jim Jarmusch’s brilliant film, Dead Man, this weekend; I had to cull it from the “Westerns” section. Dead Man is no more a “Western” than the 1985 film, Clue, is a “Suspense/Mystery/Thriller.” But that’s neither here nor there.

It seems to me that on the level of US news (considering the publications that picked up and ran the story), the AP interpretation of Brook Mason’s intriguing piece is hardly “entertainment,” much less “entertaining.” Never mind that the AP story beats same drum that media outlets have been pounding regarding the relevance of the blog-o-sphere as a reliable source of news and information. i.e. that amateurs taking and linking information from other sources and putting their own spin on it isn’t reliable. And perhaps the media has a point.

After all, turning Mason’s article, which ultimately focuses on the financial difficulties facing art institutions in present-day America, into a political piece that’s more concerned with dropping the names of Calvin Klein and billionaire Carlos Slim Helu to stir up some controversy in presumably the last days of Tony Blair’s ten-year administration doesn’t sound very professional to my ears.

Has contemporary journalism fallen so far as to rely on cutting and pasting quotations from another source regarding one relevant issue to try and make a mountain of a different molehill? I don’t know what’s more embarrassing: that if called on it, the AP will have to prompt Brook Mason for validation of the information it presented, or that an artist with a web log can point out that the Associated Press manipulated an issue of relevance into a cheap whore of topical controversy.

It’s a sad state of affairs when the importance of how a culture actually supports what gives it culture in the first place is a secondary concern to selling copy.

In full disclosure, a little research reveals that while the Tate Museum averages $5.7m in annual financial contributions (roughly half from London natives), that’s far less than half of what the Guggenheim Museum takes in from admissions alone ($15.7m in 2004, not counting $19.5m in contributions, grants, and bequests, or $6m in exhibition fees and royalties), among millions from other income sources (memberships, investments, etc.). SOURCE In short, Guggenheim Museum director Lisa Dennison’s cries of, “what’s a poor American museum director to do,” is akin to Bill Gates complaining that Apple’s OSX is hogging Microsoft’s OS platform market share.

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