The list, the list, the list

For those wondering what in the world the headline refers to: A previous employer included a coworker known for speaking in his own clichés. Toward the end of my time there we had a going-away party for a reporter (whom I replaced when she switched beats). The boss brought a karaoke machine, and between that and the adult beverages we came up with a song that included every one of his pet phrases, including what he (the only newsroom employee not present at the party) would ask us reporters every morning, “What have you for the [story] list?”

Somehow I missed this from Bloomberg News when it was reported two months ago:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

“Services shall provide media comparison tools, design and rebranding tools, communication tools, and the ability to identify top media influencers,” according to the statement. DHS agencies have “a critical need to incorporate these functions into their programs in order to better reach federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners,” it said.

The DHS wants to track more than 290,000 global news sources, including online, print, broadcast, cable, and radio, as well as trade and industry publications, local, national and international outlets, and social media, according to the documents. It also wants the ability to track media coverage in more than 100 languages including Arabic, Chinese, and Russian, with instant translation of articles into English.

The request comes amid heightened concern about accuracy in media and the potential for foreigners to influence U.S. elections and policy through “fake news.” Nineteen lawmakers including Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month, asking whether Qatar-based Al Jazeera should register as a foreign agent because it “often directly undermines” U.S. interests with favorable coverage of Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

The DHS request says the selected vendor will set up an online “media influence database” giving users the ability to browse based on location, beat, and type of influence. For each influencer found, “present contact details and any other information that could be relevant, including publications this influencer writes for, and an overview of the previous coverage published by the media influencer.”

Once again the term “homeland security’ is being perverted into something that has nothing to do with national security. What possible national security interest could there be in this list? And should the government compile such a list given that inconvenient limitation on government called the First Amendment?

There are two additional questions: (1) What if you are on the list? (2) What if you’re not on the list?

 

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