Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, February 3, 2006

Collaborative Video Documentary Investigating US Media Echo Chamber Role Towards The Iraq War Countdown

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Kent Bye, is the author of a unique film documentary in progress that may become a future model for grassroots citizen journalism, while showing how to invest filmmaking skills and ideas in a production that has some real informative values and developing the first web-based collaborative video editing approach to build open-source movies and documentaries.

The documentary project led by Kent Bye is called the Echo Chamber Project and it is one major attempt to shed extra light and understanding on the ongoing critique of the US television network news coverage of the Bush administration's path to the Iraq War.

Photo credit: Andy Carvin

Not only.

Kent Bye's documentary effort is also about how skewed and untrustworthy mainstream media can be, how it can mislead, lie and paint colors that are not in the actual subject being covered.

It is also about how to find new ways in which we can collaboratively produce a documentary, while leaving maximum freedom expression and action to all those involved.

Kent Bye's approach to creating a collaborative, investigative news documentary, it's a great, positive signal, that there are indeed, young talented American brains who keep asking the right questions, and will not let go until they are able to get a full answer on them.

The documentary focus is tuned on how, in Bye's view, the U.S. media supported the Bush administration in convincing and persuading American citizens into accepting the idea that a war with Iraq was due and unavoidable.

The event that gave the final motivational spark to Kent Bye ignited on Aug. 22nd, 2002, when Scott Ritter - a former weapons inspector in Iraq, a former Marine, and a Republican critical of the Bush administration's policy on Iraq - spoke in Baltimore at the Stoney Run Friends Meeting House.

"When I saw Scott Ritter, he was pretty unequivocal in saying, 'The Bush administration is going to war, and this is how they're going to do it. They're going to use weapons of mass destruction,' though [Ritter] says that they [the Iraqis] don't have any such weapons of mass destruction."

That is when Kent Bye started his recording spree frenzy. He recorded on tape Iraq-related coverage on C-Span, the post Sept. 11 speeches, all of the big three TV networks newscasts.

Indirect support to Kent's efforts came also on May 26, 2004, when the New York Times published a long article which did acknowledge that some of its own reporting leading up to the Iraq war was "not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged."

After having watched hours and hours of news footage broadcast by major US television networks, Bye himself, had to comment that the overall picture portrayed made not only the whole story appear as credible, but supported by well constructed journalistic dramatic and by a set of engaging characters (embedded journalists), it transformed what should have been an objective set of reports in a highly engaging television drama into which the audience was taking side without asking questions.

But Kent's approach to record and document every single TV newscast aired in that pre-war period, gave him information and power no other American citizen had. Television coverage tends to fade away into nothing right after a story is over. In support of this, a study released in March 2004 by Susan Moeller's of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland which "criticized the media for accepting the Bush administration's case for weapons of mass destruction, noted that merely reading the TV transcripts wouldn't be useful without the accompanying footage".
(Source: Citypaper Online)

Unless, someone taped it for months. Which Kent Bye did.

Those are the reasons why I chose to get in touch with Kent Bye and asked him for an interview. Here is my recorded audio conversation with him, touching upon his interest and drive into the making of his Echo Chamber Project documentary as well as on the vision for a collaborative film editing platform that could provide the true means to motivate and inspire citizen journalists to create their own reports, mini-clips and short documentaries by tapping into the same raw footage and newscasts recordings that Kent had been collecting. (You can also download the original .mp3 audio recording.) Duration: 24'

Click the play button and wait momentarily to listen to the interview

Kent Bye - Photo credit: Sam Holden

Full text transcript of the audio interview with Kent Bye of the Echo Chamber Project.

Robin Good: Hello everyone, here is Robin Good, live from Rome, Italy. And today I have the honor of having as my guest today, for this good conversation, Kent Bye. Kent Bye probably is not a popular or famous name, maybe yet, but he certainly is going to attract a lot of attention because this young fellow has been working on some fascinating research projects that involve video, open source, and information operations, which is something not many people know about. So good morning to you Kent!

Kent Bye: Hi Robin, yeah, I'm doing a collaborative documentary is usually how I describe it. Information operations is usually associated with what the government is doing, but what I'm trying to do is collaborative editing and collaborative sense-making with a film that is criticizing how the mainstream media currently operates and my intent is to try and create a new way to collaboratively generate media that overcomes a lot of the current limitations, so.

RG:Good morning Kent and yes, let's understand one step at a time everything about you, because there is a lot of food on this plate today. Kent, where are you connecting from?

Kent Bye: Well right now I'm in Winterport, Maine, which is about ten, fifteen miles south of Bangor. So, up here in the woods of Maine, working on this collaborative documentary.

RG: That is east coast of United States, guys, for the rest of you outside of mainland North America. And, welcome then, Kent, who as we were saying in different wordings but converging on the same point, is working on a very interesting collaborative online journalism project that is called...?

Kent Bye: It's the "Echo Chamber Project," and it originally started by looking at how the mainstream media was echoing the countdown towards war in Iraq and has since sort of also looking at how the media generally always reflects what the politicians are saying and if there's people outside of government who are saying different things, then how do you incorporate those voices in a more inclusive way. So, that's sort of the itch that I'm trying to scratch.


RG: Very interesting, so the Iraq War, or the reasons that were brought about from the mainstream media press, in the United States mainly, were the ignition point for you to start investigating how do news that ignited the whole process leading to the final decision of going to war against Iraq came about. Am I understanding this correct?

Kent Bye: Yeah, the genesis really goes back to early August of 2002, right before the PR campaign to really start selling the war to the American people kicked off. I had heard Scott Ritter speak four days before the official launch of the pre-war PR campaign. And Scott Ritter was a former weapons inspector and he was basically saying that there are no weapons of mass destruction, that the Bush administration is determined to go to war in Iraq for reasons of regime change. And so I had heard, I was viewing all of this build up through a lens of international law, and through the lens of Scott Ritter, but yet within the mainstream media was not seeing any of these perspectives reflected. And so that's when I started to record ABC News, CBS and NBC and just really see what was not being covered from my own eyes and ears going to anti-war rallies. And so, as an activist I was going to these rallies, showing up as a body and coming home and seeing that the bottleneck really was the media and conveying alternative information. It just really wasn't happening and is still that case today, so.

RG: So, you're reporting that what you found out during that initial research and investigation was that the mainstream media was not reporting things as they appeared to you when looking at them from other viewpoints. Can you tell me more about these other viewpoints and which news sources fueled those other viewpoints?

Kent Bye: Yeah, well I'm, in particular I was concerned about the mass media, because the mass media was sort of forming the critical mass of public opinion. There's certainly alternative media, like Democracy Now and other types of grassroots alternative media that was having a lot of these viewpoints that are accessible through the internet. But what I really isolated as the issue was the congressional vote that happened in early October. You had the Democrats, did not want to been seen as weak on national security so very early they signed up to authorize a war in Iraq. And from the media's perspective, they could only really broadcast official views. And there weren't a lot of; there wasn't a lot of official dissent coming from these official sources.

And so it's really a dependency on official sources and not being able to counter the executive branch and their messages. So, there's dissent that was out there that was certainly coming from international community, but really from October up until March, the media had seen the war as inevitable, and those perspectives weren't really even considered or seen as relevant. And so during this time period there was really a vacuum of dissent and the media essentially served as an echo chamber.

RG: So the mainstream media served as an echo chamber for what the executive branch wanted to do, the American government wanted to do. Now, was it the expertise and skill of those that were handing off this press information to the mainstream media and being able to control so perfectly what they wanted to achieve? Or is it a fault of those in mainstream media that are supposed to do proper research, or in independent media who should have had all the opportunities to scream and point and gather and research proper information to do a better job of this? Why did we fall into that vacuum?

Kent Bye: Well I think there's a real lack of detecting deception for one thing, but also getting to the underlying intent and motivations for the messages that were coming out. A lot of the intents that the communication strategy drew from the executive branch was to sort of incite fear in the public and to say that, you know, there's this bad stuff going on over there and we have the solution, and the solution is for us to go and have this war. This was really the intent of this communication strategy all throughout. And anything that would come up with the United Nations weapons inspectors that would try and block that, they would try and discredit the sources and say that, you know, the inspectors aren't going to work, and this is really, we really need to go and do this. And so it really comes down to the media not being able to take a step back and say "wait a second here."

One theory to describe their behavior would be to say that they're really determined to go to war, regardless of whatever happens at the United Nations. That would be pretty descriptive of their behavior. But yet, the communications strategy was such that each and every day they would come out and have a new message that would kick the can down the road just slightly and so the media really just was forced to cover these little PR speeches and everything like that.

So it's really difficult for, with this style of what they call "inverted-pyramid," the most official sources really get the lead headline and the lead nut-graph, even if there's a critical mass of say international legal experts who might disagree with their legal theory. That may, that will be buried down into the, you know, fifth or sixth or near the bottom of the story and whatever the administration is saying is going to be the lead.

So it's really the official sources in this country at this point have a, just a lock and a monopoly on the headlines the way that journalism is done. It's a little bit different in the United Kingdom where they'll be able to make various subjective, controversial, political judgments within the headlines, and with the United States we don't have that and it's sort of created this situation where the administration can really create just really create absurd legal theories that don't really test any sort of academic standard, but they're not really concerned with that because they're just concerned of getting the critical mass and still having support for whatever political thing that they want to do.

And I should also say that this is true both for the Democrats and Republicans. They're both sort of trying to exploit these loopholes and flaws in the media of being able to aggregate facts over time.


RG: Good, so how do you see the Echo Chamber Project that you've set up being able to contribute in exposing some of this information you have been able to uncover?

Kent Bye: Well, up to this point we've done 86 different interviews with different journalists, think tank scholars, media critics, former intelligence analysts and leaders in the new media movement. And it's really twofold, the goals that I'm trying to do now.

The first is to eventually release sort of a linear film, a ninety-minute film that condenses all the wisdom and insights about how the media works and just these general trends, and also specifically you know, how they were operating during the build up to the war in Iraq. So that's more the problem-centered aspect to the project, is to identify what is wrong with the media. And the way that I'm producing the film, I'm really trying to create new collaborative strategies that can address some of these issues.

Specifically, breaking down the film into small chunks of sound bites and then figuring out a way to, using the internet, gather context and meaning on all of those different types of sound bites so that you can start to map out the links and associations between them. And those links and associations are sort of the knowledge and the added value to that information.

So instead of just only the linear film, you can imagine sort of a web-based browser experience of this annotated media where you could just sort of explore topics that you really wanted to dig down deep into, hearing the different perspectives and being able to have more interactive non-linear rich-media experience, is sort of what I'm going after this collaborative environment, so.


RG: What about the 90 minute version of it? How are you going to release that movie? Is it going to be a traditional theatrical release or you have something more up with the times in mind?

Kent Bye: Well, the plan at this point, is to start releasing a lot of the text of the interviews, and a lot of the audio in order to spur innovation to help collaboratively generate that 90 minute version. So in some ways a lot of this information that I've gathered, I want to start getting out there and have people help me process it and put into that 90 minute version. And so depending on how that goes and how much momentum I can get, I want to definitely, you know, get the film out there into people's hands to see it, and there's going to be a question as to whether or not I'm going to start showing it at film festivals.

Eventually I plan on doing at least a self-distribution, or if it gets big enough, it may have other distributors. But the thing that is a bottleneck for most documentary film-makers is that distribution aspect. And my motto that I would hope to sort of develop is sort of the generation of networks, so that I could have different interest groups and different people to be able to distribute to them, show them at house parties and sort of get it out there.

It's sort of the Robert Greenwald model of what he's been doing with his films like "Outfoxed," and "Uncovered," and his latest film on Wal-Mart. He sort of got through the gatekeepers of like a Move-on or these big networks and helping distribute them to their constituents and have these house parties. And then after all these people see them, then there's an incentive to buy it, the DVD. So, I imagine that there will be the DVD linear version, but there will also be over fifty hours of interviews, and MP3s that people will be able to listen to, as well as go to the website and experience it more deeply as well.


RG: I think that is a good approach. I think that works well and I wish you the best of luck in that distribution model because I think your topic deserves it. And, it is at the same time important for you to recoup some of the investment cost that you've made, but at the same time to provide as much assets as possible. So you seem to be satisfying both of those needs by delivering a DVD package under some alternative distribution channels as well as being able to let everyone access this useful information, to explore it and learn from it without having to pay something.

So, kudos for that approach; I think it works well. And, tell me more about your ideas and expectations on the collaborative heading in front, because I think that is also quite interesting for the people who have not followed your previous writings and interviews that you have already released on the topic. From what I understand your idea is to enable some drupal, D-R-U-P-A-L, drupal modules. That is a content management system out there, that is open-source, to be able to manage as unique elements within this content management, your actual sound bites which you were referring to, and synthetically allow individuals to come in, tag, comment those bites and then being able to arrange and juxtapose them in different ways and create multiple versions of what could be, you know, documentary, educational, investigative reporting, extracted from your original footage. Am I understanding that correctly?

Kent Bye: Yeah, I guess the traditional way that documentaries are usually done is that you take a huge, you know, many hours of footage and then you throw three editors into a room, you lock them in there for like three or four months and you come out with a film. And the film consists of the, you know, ten per cent of the best sound bites, and then the rest of the information is just sort of lost on the cutting room floor.

The idea that I want to try and do is both open up so that I'm not just having three editors, but many different editors looking at this, all these clips and sound bites, trying to determine which ones are the good ones and the bad ones by measuring some sort of implicit or explicit sort of ratings, or folksonomy tags. Or the implicit rating filtering mechanism could be putting them in playlists so that you're juxtaposing individual sound bites together to create a larger meaning.

Now, so this is ultimately what I'm trying to do also is sort of the combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach. A top-down approach would be that you know, the typical one is that there are some themes that I want to cover in the film, you go out and you already look at the interviews that you have, and then you splice together the segments and then you stream together your final film. Now this is such a complex and rich topic that I'd like to sort of play with letting other people help determine the interesting themes with folksonomy tags. So it's the more bottom-up approach of tagging and seeing what kind of patterns emerge and so you're sort of, you can think of it as the leaves in the tree. The tree is sort of strong structure of the ontology, and the leaves are the ones that are sort of the more folksonomy bottom-up approach.

And so I want to, what I kind of want to do is allow the audience to help form the tree of the structure of the film, but the links and associations will also be there so that when people want to experience the film through the internet, then they'll be able to sort of jump around and really be, it'll be a much more interactive experience, so. The idea is to gather a lot of context and meaning from the audience, and that is the value added that my project is giving so that you're not just seeing the film passively, but there's a much more interactive experience to it.


RG: That's fascinating stuff. Keep us updated through your blog about what is going to happen with this, because I think there are a lot of people out there interested in finding out more on this collaborative editing idea. I think it's really interesting and worthwhile investing some time, at least from my end. You just have been in Washington last week for an intelligence operations summit which maybe you want to share something from it with us. I think it's such a unique topic that, you know, just introducing what the conference was about, what kind of people participated in it and why you went there would make for an interesting listening.

Kent Bye: Um, sure, yeah, uh, Robert David Steele of Open Source Solutions, used to be a CIA case officer, something involved with the CIA as well as a military intelligence officer. And from his perspective, what he saw was that most of the useful information that was needed to serve sort of the policy decision makers and military decision makers was out there on open source literature. And so he started an eighteen-year campaign for open source intelligence, which was a way to aggregate and make sense of the information that's already out there. Most of the intelligence community's resources at this point are going into paying for very expensive equipment to gather dots and facts and imagery and stealing signals and eavesdropping and what not. And most of their resources are being spent on that, but they can get a lot of value out of open sources that are out there.

And so, it's really an anti-secrecy campaign within the government in some ways to sort of use a lot of the information and break down the sort of silos that are preventing the open sharing of knowledge and information. And so there are a lot of different people from within the government and also external to the government supporting these types of initiatives. The thing that I was particularly interested in was that I went in with a theory that intelligence analysis had a specific trade craft that could make sense of facts and information over time. And I guess the thing that I was really surprised to learn was that a lot of the sense-making capabilities come with the more qualitative aspects of interpreting information with a lot of context and meaning. So that, in a lot of ways, what I've been doing with my documentary intuitively by interviewing, up to this point, 86 different people has really been one of the best things that I could do, is to go to a lot of different experts and ask them what they think.

The typical approach of the intelligence agencies has been a very reductionistic one, which has been to break problems down to very small chunks, try to, you know, quantify the issues. But they had a real problem trying to connect those dots back at the end, at the backend, and then producing useful information. And then a lot of the subject matter experts and the more qualitative things that are sort of missing from that are really the most valuable ones, by talking to many different sources. And so those are sort of the surprising conclusions that I had. I was really going there searching for, you know, these analytical trade crafts, you know, best practices to come in and save journalism. But in a lot of ways what I found out was that journalism was actually doing a much better job of sense-making then our intelligence agencies.

RG: So to conclude our good conversation today, what do you see ahead of us in terms of new media news and reporting and this whole field of intelligence operation that seems to be wanting to tap into open sources out there which I believe would be normal people, community resources, blogs, and all the type of things that normally are not looked at when we do investigative research for military operations? What do you see happening in the futures? What are the directions and trends that you see emerging?

Kent Bye: Well, I think that technology is helping to both make more sophisticated analysis as to what's going on, to make sense. But it's also enabling sort of to tap into the wisdom of larger and larger networks. And so, I think that the next phase is that I'm sort of working on, is figuring out how to take this body of data and then have a large network of people help add context and meaning and really have tap into the distributed knowledge and distributed sense-making capabilities that the internet provides.

The next step then, I think, is that will give you what's popular and what's relevant, but it won't tell you what is actually true. And so, then I think that's where you're going to have to go back to the more quantitative sort of, you know, trying to describe these very complex situations and things like Richard Heuer's analysis of competing hypotheses, which I've written about. I think that's pretty far down the road. I think the first stage is just to get large groups of people figuring out what they think about things, and then figuring out eventually to reduce the uncertainty as to what is the actual truth.

RG: Fascinating stuff indeed, I'm so very pleased that you decided to share some of your time and intelligence with me and with the rest of the readers and listeners today. My very best to you for the Echo Chamber Project, and I look forward to help out in any way possible or to give you more reach and exposure as well as to contribute whatever I can do with my own skills. From Robin Good, live here in Rome, Italy, this is all for today, but I leave it to you for closing remarks, invitations, a reminder of your URL and sites that you want readers and listeners to come and check out. Thanks again, Kent, and over to you.

Kent Bye: Yeah, thanks for having me, Robin. I'm over at and I'm going to be posting more information as to what you can do to get more involved. I'm still trying to build a lot of these collaborative aspects. And I'm also going to be, start releasing a lot more of the audio of the interviews that I've conducted at some of these conferences that I've been attending, both the Open Source Intelligence, the WE media conference, Personal Democracy Forum and the other 40 plus interviews I've conducted so far.

They can all be found at

Here also Kent Bye's own video clip introducing the Echo Chamber Project and his ideas behind it.

(for more videos see below)

Also to read:
Dynamically Creating Sound Bite Sequences with SMIL & Drupal

Videos about the Echo Chamber Project:


Robin Good -
Reference: Echo Chamber Project [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
2006-02-03 23:10:14

John Blossom

Loved the article. May those who turned the other way suffer worse fates than those who have paid the ultimate price in the name of their countries.

posted by Chiara Moriconi on Friday, February 3 2006, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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