Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fall of Bangkok lifts lid on diplomatic decorum

The send-off for a veteran British diplomat brought the house down at Bangkok's Foreign Correspndents' Club. Richard Ehrlich reports from the farewell party for
British Ambassador David Fall:

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The British Ambassador to Thailand and Laos, David Fall, ended his career as a diplomat by giving a wildly hilarious, shockingly blunt, comedy performance of taboo jokes about Scotsmen using condoms, trigger-happy Americans, and sexual double entendres involving British, Turkish and French officials.

Nearly 200 people, including diplomats, businessmen, journalists and others enthusiastically cheered and applauded every punch line Mr. Fall delivered during his 40-minute speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.

His appearance on Tuesday (July 24) night was titled, "Released into the community: His Excellency David Fall, on the verge of parole, reflects on 36 years as a British diplomat."

Pacing his lines like a professional stand-up comedian, and frequently stressing accents to emphasize foreign voices, Mr. Fall began by warning:

"Stereotypes can be very misleading. I've known German ambassadors with a sense of humor. Well-organized Italians. Australians with no chips on their shoulders whatsoever. Americans who are sensitive to local feelings: 'Take 'em out! Nuke them!' And French ambassadors who speak English without spitting every second word."

Mr. Fall, who retires in August, said he regretted how British diplomats now had to be politically correct, unlike decades ago when a British ambassador could speak and act with greater freedom.

"One of the many things we are not supposed to do these days is say anything which might be dubbed as racial stereotyping."

Tweaking that protocol, he then told an elaborate joke about a Scotsman who buys a condom while complaining it was "really expensive." During the next several weeks, the Scotsman repeatedly returns to the shop, demanding the condom be fixed, because holes are appearing from overuse.

The shopkeeper tells him to buy a new condom, but the Scotsman refuses because of the price.

The punch line? After one month, the suddenly generous Scotsman tells the stunned shopkeeper, "the regiment has decided to buy" a new condom.

"I tell you that purely as an illustration, because we're not allowed to tell that silly joke anymore," Mr. Fall said amid hysterical laughter. "It's also in extremely bad taste."

The ambassador said London's Foreign Office contains archives of witty dispatches written by British diplomats in the mid-20th century. "Actually, I do recommend a trawl through the Foreign Office's pre-computerization archives. There are some real gems in there," Mr. Fall said.

"For those of you with a sensitive disposition, you may wish to go to the toilet now," the envoy then advised his audience. "I would like to read to you now, from an official Foreign Office document. It is a letter dated 6 April 1943, from Sir Archibald Clerk Kerr, Her Majesties ambassador in Moscow, to Lord Pembroke, the Foreign Office, London."

Exaggerating a pompous British accent, Mr. Fall read: "'My Dear Reggie, In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time.

"'So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my somber life, and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague, whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt. "We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when spring is upon us, but few of us would dare to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.'"

Amid whoops, chortling and cheers, Mr. Fall said, "If anybody needs to explain that to somebody, well, good luck."

Asked by a mischievous audience for more anecdotes, Mr. Fall told a story about France's former leader Charles de Gaulle, while stretching the general's French-accented English.

"Charles de Gaulle and his wife were at a banquet in London, sitting at opposite ends of this long table, and the conversation was going on. And somebody asked Madam de Gaulle what she thought was the greatest thing in life.

"Madam de Gaulle replied: 'I think the greatest thing in life is a penis.'

"At that very moment, all the talking had stopped and everybody turned and looked at her. To his credit, General de Gaulle, at the other end of the table, backed up and said, 'No no, ma chere, I think what you mean to say is: happiness.'"

After the chuckles died down, Mr. Fall described his future plans by saying: "I'm not intending to work for anybody that I don't want to work for anymore. Thirty-six years as a bureaucrat is absolutely enough, as far as I'm concerned.

"You just want to be yourself," the gray-haired envoy said, predicting a leisurely life of writing, painting, cartooning, gardening, walking the length of the United Kingdom, raising dogs and chickens, and doing international charity work.

Hailing from an Anglo-Welsh family of tenant farmers and coal miners, Mr. Fall's Diplomat Service career included three tours of Thailand, totaling 12 years, plus stints in South Africa, Australia, Vietnam and London, accompanied by his wife Gwendolyn and their three sons.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Michael Moore Says He's Been Served

UPI reports from Burbank, California -

Michael Moore said Thursday that the Bush administration has served him with a subpoena after his trip to Cuba during the making of his new film, "Sicko."

The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who appeared Thursday on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," said he was notified about the subpoena at the network's studios in Burbank, Calif.

"I haven't even told my own family yet," Moore said. "I was just informed when I was back there with Jay that the Bush administration has now issued a subpoena for me."

Moore filmed the trip as part of his film comparing the U.S. healthcare system with government healthcare systems in other countries.

He took three Sept. 11, 2001, emergency rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay "because I heard the al-Qaida terrorists we have in the camps there, detained, are receiving free dental, medical, eye care, the whole deal, and our own (Sept. 11) rescue workers can't get that in New York City."

Moore said the film's distributor, the Weinstein Co., will donate 11 percent of "Sicko's" box-office receipts Aug. 11 to "help these workers and the other workers who need help."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Digital tampering- altering images

Photographic evidence may not always be worth the proverbial thousand words, but it carries alot of clout in the publishing world. (In the digital age, regulations may soon ensure that only original unenhanced images from a memory card be allowed in a courtroom.) Lately, bloggers have put themselves increasingly on Photoshop abuse alert to play gotcha with news photgraphers who might be tempted to doctor photos. This temptation certainly is easier to carry out with new technology, but enhancing photos, airbrushing, or cropping is almost as old as journalism. Check out this website, which shows a history of photo manipulation, starting with Civil War- era pix of Abraham Lincoln which put his famous craggy face on a decidedly buffer body. They have developed a range of tools to detect darkroom/ computer hocus pocus. It's very useful for editors to review these warning signs. (That infamous altered image of Honest Abe is shown above.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

NY Punditry on strike-out stylistics

Petty concerns are the lifeblood of sub-editors, copy-editors and bloggers of a certain ilk. Hence, Feral Beastlings loved the following bitchy outpouring as Gawker whinged about a Pet Peeve:
The New York Times—both in this article and as like, individual people, at least in a few recent interactions we've had with staffers there—thinks that use of the strike tag (you know, this one) is "an ironic function... a witty way of simultaneously commenting on your prose as you create it." What total horsepucky! Sure there's a time and place for dumb strike-through jokes, or not—but really those who use it, as we do, do so to leave a record of an original inaccurate statement while adding something accurate. To regard the actual best possible system of making corrections, to cast transparency and responsibility as silliness or bitchiness, completely misses the opportunities of the internet.

Hmmm...I must confess that I am intrigued by this strike-through device (which as a semi-Luddite, I have not managed to replicate on my computer settings.) It is frequently used as a way to include snarky comments for public viewing, struck out in favor of some bland or more politically correct wording as if a wise and cowardly editor had blue-pencilled it. To me, claims that this is a noble technique to insure transparency are dubious. Come on, Gawker. Pull the other one.
Any writer with attitude will use all possible structures as weapons. Let me invite readers to send in examples of the strikethrough as a literary technique of comment. And any technical advice on how to program it into this blog would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Robert Fisk: 'Censor, Whinge, Cut and Run'

Fisk, the highly-paid British journo whose very name was turned into a verb* by the bloggers he says he so despises, snarls at a couple of newspapers in North America.

*fisking, coined by bloggers, means to take an opinionated article apart, point by point,factoid by factoid, and to open the process to all comers online and circulate the "corrected" version. Initially the process was done mostly by conservative bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan, but now it is a widespread technique.

These gutless papers explain why more people are Googling than turning pages
Published: 21 July 2007, The Independent
I despise the internet. It's irresponsible and, often, a net of hate. And I don't have time for Blogopops. But here's a tale of two gutless newspapers which explains why more and more people are Googling rather than turning pages.

First the Los Angeles Times. Last year, reporter Mark Arax was assigned a routine story on the 1915 genocide of one and a half million Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish authorities. Arax's report focused on divisions within the local Jewish community over whether to call the genocide a genocide.

It's an old argument. The Turks insist - against all the facts and documents and eyewitness accounts, and against history - that the Armenians were victims of a civil war. The Israeli government and its new, Nobel prize-winning president, Shimon Peres - anxious to keep cosy relations with modern Turkey - have preferred to adopt Istanbul's mendacious version of events. However, many Jews, both inside and outside Israel, have bravely insisted that they do constitute a genocide, indeed the very precursor to the later Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews.

But Arax's genocide report was killed on the orders of managing editor Douglas Frantz because the reporter had a "position on the issue" and "a conflict of interest".

Readers will already have guessed that Arax is an Armenian-American. His sin, it seems, was that way back in 2005, he and five other writers wrote a formal memo to LA Times editors reminding them that the paper's style rules meant that the Armenian genocide was to be called just that - not "alleged genocide". Frantz, however, described the old memo as a "petition" and apparently accused Arax of landing the assignment by dealing with a Washington editor who was also an Armenian.

The story was reassigned to Washington reporter Rich Simon, who concentrated on Turkey's attempt to block Congress from recognising the Armenian slaughter -- and whose story ran under the headline "Genocide Resolution Still Far From Certain".

LA Times executives then went all coy, declining interviews, although Frantz admitted in a blog (of course) that he had "put a hold" on Arax's story because of concerns that the reporter "had expressed personal views about the topic in a public (sic) manner...". Ho ho.

Truth can be dangerous for the LA Times. Even more so, it seems, when the managing editor himself - Frantz, no less - once worked for The New York Times, where he referred to the Armenian massacres as, yes, an "alleged" genocide. Frantz, it turns out, joined the LA Times as its Istanbul correspondent.

Well, Arax has since left the LA Times after a settlement which forestalled a lawsuit against the paper for defamation and discrimination. His employers heaped praise upon his work while Frantz has just left the paper to become Middle East correspondent of the Wall Street Journal based in - of course, you guessed it - Istanbul.

But now let's go north of the border, to the Toronto Globe and Mail, which assigned columnist Jan Wong to investigate a college murder in Montreal last September. Wong is not a greatly loved reporter. A third-generation Canadian, she moved to China during Mao's "cultural revolution" and, in her own words, "snitched on class enemies and did my best to be a good little Maoist."

She later wrote a "Lunch With" series for the Globe in which she acted all sympathetic to interviewee guests to catch them out. "When they relax, that's when their guard is down," she told a college newspaper. "It's a trick, but it's legit." Yuk!

Wong's take on the Montreal Dawson College shooting, however, was more serious. She compared the killer to a half-Algerian Muslim who murdered 14 women in another Montreal college shooting in 1989 and to a Russian immigrant who killed four university colleagues in Montreal in 1992. "In all three cases," she wrote, "the perpetrator was not 'pure laine', the argot for a 'pure' francophone. Elsewhere, to talk of racial purity is repugnant. Not in Quebec."

Painfully true, I'm afraid. Parisians, who speak real French, would never use such an expression - pure laine translates literally as "pure wool" but means "authentic" - but some Montrealers do. Wong, however, had touched a red hot electric wire in "multicultural" Canada. Prime Minister Stephen Harper complained. "Grossly irresponsible," said the man who enthusiastically continued the policy of sending Canadian troops on their suicidal mission to Afghanistan.

The French-Canadian newspaper Le Devoir - can you imagine a British paper selling a single copy if it called itself "Duty"? - published a cartoon of Wong with exaggerated Chinese slanted eyes. Definitely not pure laine for Le Devoir. The hate mail was even more to the point. Some contained excrement.

But then the Globe and Mail ran for cover. Its editor-in-chief, Edward Greenspon, wrote a cowardly column in which he claimed that the offending paragraphs "should have been removed" from her story. "We regret that we allowed these words to get into a reported (sic) article," he sniffled. There had been a breakdown in what he hilariously called "the editorial quality control process".

Now I happen to know a bit about the Globe's "quality control process". Some time ago, I discovered that the paper had reprinted an article of mine from The Independent about the Armenian genocide. But they had tampered with it, altering my word "genocide" to read "tragedy".

The Independent's subscribers promise to make no changes to our reports. But when our syndication folk contacted the Globe, they discovered that the Canadian paper had simply stolen the article. They were made to pay a penalty fee. But as for the censorship of the word "genocide", a female executive explained to The Independent that nothing could be done because the editor responsible had "since left the Globe and Mail".

It's the same old story, isn't it? Censor then whinge, then cut and run. No wonder the bloggers are winning.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

$50K Prize for 'Preventative Journalism'

Here's some out-of-the-box thinking: a new category called "preventative journalism." It's meant to ring warning bells and raise awareness before the shit truly hits the fan. The $50,000 prize can be an incentive to break out of the recent media reluctance to pursue "unpatriotic" leads and risk losing access to powerful sources.
Now newspaper or magazine reporters are being asked to be alert, report responsibly, and not wait for well-placed leaks. Informed articles can head off a potential crisis. Charlie Peters, the founder of the prize, explained:

preventative reporting identifies inept leaders, wrong-headed policies and bureaucratic bungling before they lead to disasters like the bad intelligence about WMDs and the travesty that was the response to Katrina.
He hopes to stop "cycles of tragic futility". Go for it, particularly if you are a Dow Jones/Murdoch minion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bleak outlook for tycoon Conrad Black?

This summer has been a pressing time for the erstwhile Canook press baron. Yet the New York Sun posted a paen to Conrad Black, and has pledged to run anything the disgraced tycoon might pen from inside the pen...assuming he cannot get his prison time reduced from the maximum of 35 years. The final sentencing is expected in November. After surrendering his passport, Black is not going anywhere anytime soon. Here's a link to a timeline for this high profile case, which resulted in three counts of fraud, and one obstruction of justice.
The racketeering charges were dropped, but still provoke questions.

Monday, July 16, 2007

the book slasher

A guest post by Richard S. Ehrlich

London's Tate Modern gallery recently discovered a woman who, wielding a sharp blade, obsessively cut more than 80 words from 123 books, including the non-fiction tome that I co-wrote titled, "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews.
She mutilated the books, amputating words in a relentless surgery of slicing and dicing. When she finally laid down her tool, the slashed pages looked as if they were paper shrapnel, salvaged from a crime scene after a schizoid word-killer, armed with a Wanchai meat cleaver, had chopped away words that were ripe with special meaning known only to the artist, and perhaps to conspiratorial Illuminati who might be visiting the Tate.
Conceptual artist Simryn Gill's pile of meticulously plundered books ultimately became an installation at the Tate Modern in London called, perhaps ironically, "Untitled."
What fate would next befall our beloved book? Would it be crucified and submerged in a glass of urine, similar to the "Piss Christ" by American photographer Andres Serrano? Or chopped and hoisted like one of Damien Hirst's dead sharks?
After cutting into the 123 books, Gill placed the targeted words in separate, clear plastic bags, as if they were evidence. For example, she filled up one plastic bag with the word "because," so it became a bag full of because. Could this be symbolic of when people mouth a lot of reasons, they are simply offering a bunch of "because"?
"For the Level 2 Gallery, Gill has created a thought-provoking installation from a collection of books assembled over many years. Ranging from pulp fiction to academic writings, these publications provide the raw material which Gill then uses to tease out a supposedly 'neutral' set of words," the Tate adds.
To create "Hello My Big Big Honey!", Canadian screenwriter Dave Walker and I collected love letters written by men in Europe, the States and elsewhere, who returned home after falling for Bangkok's bar girls. Men were airmailing their hearts and confessions in envelopes, sometimes with money, to the Thai women they previously rented. We deleted everyone's names, and published the men's best love letters alongside our Q and A interviews with Thai bar girls, helped by a Thai translator who became the girls' mentor, and a Thai professor. In an expanded American edition, we included interviews with a bar's mama-san and three very outspoken bar owners -- a Thai, a Brit and an American -- plus 25 color photos. The text is extremely graphic because we didn't censor the letters or interviews. "Hello My Big Big Honey!" examines love, sex, money, tourism, AIDS, Buddhism, Thai culture, family life, betrayal, trust, and a lot of West-bonks-East confusion.
I was ecstatic our book was exhibited in the rarified Tate, and told friends and colleagues who reacted in all sorts of ways, even though none of us saw the installation:
A French editorial cartoonist was less enthusiastic about the cut-ups, and suggested, "She should have done it with a Bible, a Koran, and a Torah. Free worldwide publicity and a fatwa. I'm kind of old fashion when it comes to art. Too much nonsense stuff with conceptual art. Just shit in the exhibition gallery instead of your usual bathroom and that's it, it's 'Art'. It's more easy to cut words from others' books than actually writing a book. I would not feel honored if she was doing this with my work," he sniffed.
Gill, however, is now hailed as, "My Big Big Gill With Delightful Membrane!" at a small shrine honouring her -- decked with purple incense, wooden doll heads, a spherical prism, and fake currency to be burned if she ever dies -- all wedged into a Shiva altar near my desk here in Bangkok.

If you're wondering what you should be reading, the 123 books in her "Untitled (2006)" offer lots of Asia-related titles, including:

– Blue Monkish, by Zai Kuning, 1996
– Stick and Leaf Insects of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, by Paul D. Brock, 1999
– The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham, 1954
– The Power of Movement in Plants, by Charles Darwin, 1880
– Poisonous Snakes of the World: A Manual for Use by U.S. Amphibious Forces, by the Department of the Navy, 1965
– Barrack Room Ballads, by Rudyard Kipling, 1914
– The Coconut, by Edwin Bingham Copeland, 1931
– Old Goa, by S. Rajagopalan, 1987
– Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje, 1984
– Report On The Trial of Xanana Gusmao in Dili, East Timor, by the International Commission of Jurists, 1993
– The Chronicles of Gujarat, by Captain A. C. Elliot ISC, 1970
– The Asian Highway: A Complete Overland Guide from Australia to Europe, by Jack Jackson and Ellen Crampton, 1979
– An Approach to Vedanta, by Christopher Isherwood, 1963
– In Good Faith, by Salman Rushdie, 1990
– Oriental Despotism, by Karl A. Wittfogel, 1957
– Life the Goal, by J. Krishnamurti, 1928
– Tranquilisation with Harmless Herbs, by Eric F. W. Powell, 1974
– Chinese Magic and Superstition in Malaya, by Leon Comber, 1960
– Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
– Cambodia in the South East Asian War, by Malcolm Caldwell and Lek Tan, 1973

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Librarian of Congress reads no magazines

The head honcho at the US Library of Congress, after 20 years in the job, says he wastes no time reading magazines. Periodicals, bah. There's barely enough time to skim "The Week". James H Billington, who considers himself the knowledge navigator for the nation, confessed:
"I don't have time to read magazines. I have three or four friends around the country, and they send me, irregularly, things they think I ought to read. They know my interests...with TV news, I avoid the drivel stories. I switch immediately when it turns to Britney Spears or these other ridiculous things."

No wonder they say ours is a dying industry.

Yet magazines saw an increase in ad spending for the first half of this year, thanks mainly to the drugs and remedies category, which scored double-digit revenue and page growth, at 17 and 11 percent, respectively. Blame the aging baby boomers with their aches and pains.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The BBC's Queen documentary row

This trailer was broadcast around the world, purporting to show Queen Elizabeth in a snit fit after celeb photographer Annie Liebowitz suggested she leave off the crown in the next shot. Now the Beeb has apologized for passing off a comment on the walk into the soot as a tantrum resulting in a walkoff.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The tweaking of Tina Brown

Lady Evans (aka Tina Brown) and her subject, Lady Di (the Princess of Wales)
The July issue of Vanity Fair ran portions of their ex-editor Tina Brown's book, "The Diana Chronicles," but now comes a parody of the best seller and Brown's distinctive writing style in the August issue, reprinted from the naughty British weekly, Private Eye. (hat tip to Women's Wear Daily)
Under a photo of blonde Brown giving a thumbs up and a bogus byline, author Craig Brown (no common bloodline) mocks Brown's penchant for the hyphenated phrase, for alliteration and for status indicators:
"Those regal, rancorous, rough-hewn eyes seared…like a $5,000 kitchen knife from top store Macy's on New York's fashionable Broadway through butter served in the in-crowd, book-six-months-in-advance brasserie of super-sassy boutique hotel McDitzy's, Park Avenue." Brown's use of sourcing is also lampooned: "I was informed of it by a highly trained researcher who was told in confidence by a highly regarded source, who heard it from a highly placed member of the household who is now dead, so equally regrettably you have no means of checking it."

Brown e-mailed her old rag that she was "very flattered and amused by the parody. I have always been some kind of fixation for Craig Brown for some reason." She said she believed the two hadn't met, but called him "a very funny writer, especially with parody." As for whether she saw it as a jab from Graydon Carter, her successor at Vanity Fair: "Graydon has been very appreciative and civil" about the book. Carter's sole comment was, via a spokeswoman, "We thought it was funny."

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Shaken, Stirred, and Bonded: new 007 book on the way

Ian Fleming, who famously abandoned hackdom at Reuters and London's Sunday Times to pen successful spy novels in Jamaica, would have celebrated his 100th birthday next year. An extraordinary centenerary gift is planned by his publishers, who commissioned a brand new James Bond novel, to be scripted in his style by another English ex-journalist willing to take on the genre. John Le Carre and Frederick Forsyth were tipped as the most likely writers capable of penning a spy adventure, post-Octopussy. But the off-beat choice was Sebastian Faulks, a literary journo and war novelist. He took just six weeks to pound out a Cold War thriller called "Devil May Care." So will readers care?

Well, Fleming himself used to complete a spy manuscript in a month and a half. As Faulks joked to the Daily Telegraph:

"In his house in Jamaica, Fleming used to write a thousand words in the morning, then go snorkelling, have a cocktail, lunch on the terrace, more diving, another thousand words in late afternoon, then more Martinis and glamorous women," said Faulks.

"In my house in London I followed this routine exactly, apart from the cocktails, the lunch and the snorkelling."

Self-deprecating Faulks, now 54, used to work a beat for the Daily Telegraph before he edited the book pages of London's Independent, and was lauded for his trilogy of sensitive war novels set in France. But as a teenager, he'd pored over all the cool, cruel and sexy Fleming thrillers.
Faulks, who normally spends years in careful research before tackling a draft manuscript, divulged his new method to the Independent:
adding new characters with as much speed and as many twists as I thought the reader could bear...and Fleming's distinctive sentence construction.
Penguin plans to publish "Devil May Care" next May.

Author Sebastian Faulks, left, and the late Ian Fleming, right.

Jerusalem's twisted "Gruesome Post" disses BBC hostage

Not everyone is cheering the release of hostage Alan Johnston (left). Today, the Jerusalem Post was in typical strident anti-BBC fettle. Feral Beast received a link from one of its regular readers to "this extraordinarily petty and illogical bit of crap" : Why I'm not joining the party. The one good thing to have come out of the Alan Johnston kidnapping is that we now know, definitively, that BBC claims to fairness are false.
The author? British Professor Geoffrey Alderman. His spiteful piece dissects the words which hostage Alan Johnston was made to speak under duress on a kidnap video distributed by the Army of Islam, who held him captive inside Gaza for 114 days. He finds Johnston cowardly when compared with the "integrity" of ex-NY Times reporter Judith Miller, who went to jail rather than reveal a confidential source!
Alderman writes:
EVEN IF Johnston had been threatened that he would forfeit his life unless he launched into a public condemnation of Israel and Britain as the joint authors of all the misfortunes that have befallen the Muslim world, I have to say that I would have expected him, as a professional, to have defended that professional integrity, whatever the risk. But Johnston, sadly, did not rise to the occasion. And the most charitable explanation I can come up with for this extraordinary conduct is that he must actually believe what his captors asked him to say.

If I am wrong, Johnston will no doubt lose no further time in publicly apologizing both to Israel and to Britain for what he said on camera to the Army of Islam video. But will such an apology ever be made?

As to the manner of his release, Johnston allowed himself (and he was clearly enjoying it) to be used as the centerpiece in what we have to recognize was a brilliant piece of Hamas propaganda, showing a humane face in order to mask its true terrorist identity.

Truth, honor and professionalism seem to me to have been sacrificed so that one man may go free. In this I personally see nothing whatever to celebrate, and that is why I am not joining in the celebrations.

When Johnston was freed last week, he did not take time to repudiate the words his abductors forced him to say and that, coupled with his father calling Alan a "friend of the Palestinians" has infuriated Israelis and Jews who rate the BBC and the UN to be pro-terrorist organizations because they criticise Israeli policy. Some of their ilk suggest that Johnston staged his own kidnap in order for Hamas to be seen as able negotiators.
The conspiratorial and hysterical tone of this article better suits a flamer on some wing-nut conservative blog and is unfit for a serious newspaper. This paper is published daily (except on the Sabbath) and much of the copy, particularly on the op-ed page, is such jingoistic dross that it gets dismissed by logical or inquiring Israelis. Columnist Caroline Glick's rants are particularly heavy-handed and lacking in nuance. The Post's former editor-in-chief was the preternaturally young Bret Stephens, now on the editorial board at the Wall Street Journal. Earlier, Stephens took the BBC to task for placing Johnston at jeopardy in Gaza and assuming they had won him political immunity through their pro-Fatah slant. Stephens neglected to see the irony for the newspaper of the beheaded hostage Daniel Pearl to blame a kidnap on the boss's complacence. It is about time that the immature tone of the Jerusalem Post gets more dignified. We can all drink to that!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Dear Diary: Campbell on Diana, Bush and Clinton

Tony Blair's top flack, Alastair Campbell, gives his take on Diana, Princess of Wales, George W Bush and Tony Blair's clothes in these extracts in the London Times from his new book, The Blair Years. Critics blasted the book for being both incomplete and indiscreet, depending on their outlook. Others argue that if journalists only did their job, spinmeisters like Campbell wouldn't have any clout. Here are exceprts:

On Diana, Princess of Wales - Thursday, May 4, 1995

"There was something about her eyes that went beyond radiance. They locked on to you and were utterly mesmeric. She had perfect skin and her whole face lit up when she spoke and there were moments when I had to fight to hear the words because I'm just lost in the beauty."

On Bill Clinton - Wednesday, November 29, 1995

"He was much bigger than I imagined him to be, both taller and fatter. He had enormous strong hands and size 13 feet that looked even bigger. He said that once he and Boris Yeltsin swapped shoes to see who had the biggest feet, and Clinton did."

Tony Blair and his religious beliefs - March 20, 1996

"People knew he believed in God, if not perhaps how important it all was to him, but I could see nothing but trouble in talking about it. British people are not like Americans, who seem to want their politicians banging the Bible the whole time. They hated it, I was sure of that.”

Peter Mandelson - Wednesday, December 23, 1998

"He had done the office very much to his taste, modern and brightly coloured furniture, a minimalist desk, nice pictures. A Christmas card from Prince Charles had pride of place on his desk…. How many times had I warned him that what I call his 'lifestyle ambitions' would do for him? His desire to be famous and mingle with the rich and the great and the good. What the f**k was Charles's card doing there like it was the biggest thing in the mailbag?"

Tony Blair’s clothes - Thursday, April 4, 2002

"GB [Gordon Brown] was wearing a dark suit, a white shirt, a red tie, shoes that weren't cleaned properly and socks that fell down round his ankles. TB [Tony Blair} was wearing Nicole Farhi shoes, ludicrous-looking lilac-coloured pyjama-style trousers and a blue smock. After GB left, I said he looked like Austin-Powers. He said you are the second person who's said that. Gordon wasn't the first. Probably one of the kids."

Blair's clothes again - Friday, July 19, 2002

"He was wearing the most extraordinary collection - a white collarless Nicole Farhi shirt, plain blue trousers and England football slippers with the three lions on them. I said I find it very hard to take him seriously wearing kids' slippers and that shirt. He said I had a bias against style."

On George W Bush - Saturday, April 6, 2002

"When we arrived at the ranch, we chatted in a little group outside the bungalow. Barney his dog came over and he said 'This is my Leo.' I said hold on, Leo's not a dog. Yes, he said, but Barney's the substitute for the little boy I never had."

John Major - Saturday September 28, 2002

"Woke up to one of those rare and totally gobsmacking revelations that newspapers very occasionally produce, namely that John Major had a four-year affair with Edwina Currie [former Conservative MP]. It was one of those 'cor, f**k me' jaw-dropping moments. How on earth did he get away with it?"

Taken from The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell, Hutchinson, £25

Monday, July 9, 2007

Enemy ads for 'Coming Attractions' in a Theater of War

They are slick and sick. Iraqi insurgents apparently are waging a sophisticated psy-ops strike against off-duty American soldiers who spend their downtime online. According to Britain's Sky tv, mock-ups of over a dozen posters now circulate on the web, featuring lots of gore and a little glib wit. The aim is to demoralize the troops. "Do you want lies with that?" asks one, which purports to advertise "Fast Food Nation."
The campaign is unsubtle, but it recalls a spoof Star Wars poster (below) which was widely circulated by anti-war activists on the net in 2002-2003, prior to the invasion by the "coalition of the Willing". Gulf Wars II, Clone of the Attack. Funny at the time, but now it just makes me sigh. It looks decidedly dated now that Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Saddam are out of the picture.

The official American government poster, used for recruitment and patriotic boosterism, appears rather less slick. The war effort in Iraq ad Afghanistan now costs the US about $12 billion a month.

What Katie did: gob-smacking

Here is America's first solo female evening news anchor, Katie Couric. She has seen her ratings slide precipitously, so is rather high-strung these days. The NY Post reports her slap-happy reaction to a medical term slipped into her script for the nightly news. According to New York Magazine's Joe Hagen, the network star playfully bitch-slapped one of the show's writers for including the word "sputum" in a report about tuberculosis. “I sort of slapped him around,” Couric admits, referring to Jerry Cipriano, a news editor.

Well, "sputum" is more specific than the post-AIDS catch-all term for the squeamish: "bodily fluids". What made Couric so spitting mad about this particular term? Was it the pronunciation? That she would have to share the set with a reference to nasty gunk being coughed up? The news tells us about the world in all its nastiness. Katie, get over it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Alexandra Boulat of VII is hospitalized

The world-class conflict photographer Alexandra Boulat, shown above on assignment in Iraq, suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm on 21 June. She had been covering the situation in Gaza. The dynamic French woman, 45, co-founded the photo agency VII and has inspired a generation of photojournalists with her intimate portraits of war's impact on daily life. By lifting the veil on Islamic women under duress, Alex's work evokes extraordinary empathy and has won prizes around the globe.
An outpouring of support from hundreds of colleagues and fans has reached Alex, who remains comatose and on life support in Israel's Hadassah hospital, under the care of some of the world's most advanced neurosurgeons. Courage, Alex.

one of Alex's favorite images, a Pakistani shell collection. ©Alexandra Boulat/VII

Friday, July 6, 2007

Beware the IDF: Unaccredited Cameraman now legless

A cameraman from Hamas's al Aqsa television station reportedly had to have both his legs amputated yesterday after the Israeli Defense Forces shot him repeatedly while he filmed conflict in the Gaza Strip. An anonymous army source was quoted justifying the shooting with this explanation:

Ghanem had been in the first line of fire and was not wearing a vest indicating that he was a member of the press... the man was probably not a card-carrying reporter, and his footage would probably be used for Hamas propaganda, not news.

Al Jazeera and the Agence France Presse both recorded the soldiers pumping bullets into their colleague. Oy vey.

Big Deal Done?

Well, tycoon Rupert Murdoch has apparently clinched the deal with Dow Jones. If so, his empire no longer has horizons as we know them. Does Rupert Murdoch own your media outlet yet? But Dow Jones denies that it's a done deal, $5 billion or not.

But even a go-ahead, blue sky thinking, mega-tycoon occasionally has second-thought, according to Seth Sutel of the Associated Press:
Yet even as technological innovation mints new winners, not all of them manage to stay on top. To get a sense of just how quickly the game of king-of-the-hill goes in technology these days, consider a telling remark that Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful media kingpin alive today, made just last month.

Murdoch pulled off what many consider a master stroke two years ago by acquiring the online social hangout site MySpace for what turned out to be a bargain price of $580 million. Now, just two years later, Murdoch appears to be having second thoughts about holding on to MySpace, which had been considered the cat's meow of social networking.

Reports have circulated that he'd like to swap MySpace for an ownership stake in Yahoo, and in early June he lamented to an interviewer from The Wall Street Journal that online users weren't necessarily abandoning newspapers for MySpace.

"I wish they were," Murdoch said. "They're all going to Facebook at the moment."

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Al Gore, III: GOOD guy with bad timing

Even a GOOD guy can have moments of spectacularly bad judgment, and speeding down the freeway in a ecologically correct Prius hybrid car at 2 am on the 4th of July was bound to provoke the cops in Southern California's stridently Republican Orange County, better known to tv viewers as the O.C. If it'd been a stretch Hummer, maybe the cops would have looked the other way.

The embarrassing drugbust of Al Gore III-- scion of Tipper and (Big Green) Al Jr and publisher of Good magazine-- grabbed headlines around the world.
There had been some odoriferous global warming going on inside the silent-running car before the police pulled him over and insisted he roll down his window. This ill-timed joint , along with a collection of feel-Good drugs like Valium, Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall and Soma which had no scrips, put young Al in the joint for 12 hours, until he could raises $20,000 bail. Why do they call it a high-way, he must have mused. (Coincidentally, Laguna Niguel, the spot where Gore was pulled over, is not far from the old haunts of last century's turn on, tune in, drop out guru ,Timothy Leary.)

Gore III, 24, rates as a new media personality, and is quite bloggable in his own right. Gawker covered both of his launch parties last fall and remarked that he was "no douchebag" . They doled out this rather faint praise because he'd confessed to "refreshing Gawker and Wonkette religiously." The bloggers kidded Al for taking time off "from saving the world on recycled stock paper", and joked that his launch party at the trendy Beaver club in Chelsea and the new issue were both, well, appropriately Good. Lauren Bush, the niece of the numbskull in the White House, attended the party as did Gore's rather straitlaced parents.

The timing of this arrest, on the eve of the Live Earth concerts on 07/07/07, could not have been worse. But so far there have been few reports of blood and gore on the home front. The hearing for speeding at 100 mph and drug possession will take place in 30 days. We bet it gets Good coverage.

Note: This piece was corrected when a reader pointed out that the ex-Vice Prez is Al Junior, named after his lawmaker father, so his son was christened Albert Arnold Gore the third. Similar confusion about the famous moniker cost an Irish bookie ten thousand euros. He'd run a pool on the next celebrity to go to jail, and fifty people had placed money on 14-1 odds that it would be Al Gore Jr.
Al leaves Orange County Jail on the morning after, heading to get treatment, according to his father.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Strange but True: sci-fi writers brainstorm for DHS

The US Department of Homeland Security recently joined forces with SIGMA, a group of science fiction writers. DHS wants to tap the writers' futuristic notions for border control, disaster preparedness and terrorist tactics. SIGMA founder Arlan Andrews says sci-fi writers have more to offer than lasers and flying spaceships.
Click below to hear a podcast.

Covert hack smacked in DC

Maybe he's not as sly as Nellie Bly (left).
An expose of the lowdown world of Washington DC lobbyists has been greeted with muttering about the writer Ken Silverstein's own journalistic ethics while playing gotcha with the suits. When Howard Kurtz tsk-tsked about webs of deceit in his Washington Post media column, the correspondent for Harper's Magazine explained his side in his former rag, the LA Times. Ken takes a swipe at the cowardice of beltway reporters, many of whom consider themselves part of the establishment these days, and hearkens back to the days of resourceful Nellie Bly, an 1880s ace reporter who once pretended to be insane to get inside and investigate asylum conditions. Harpers stands behind their July-issue slapdown of highly-paid advocates for corrupt regimes.

Kurtz asserted that clandestine stings have not had much approval in high profile US media outlets since the 1970s (Hmmmm- five years ago People magazine reporters would switch wigs and don waiter's uniforms to penetrate celebrity bashes; now the stars accept money for cooperation and product placement.)
Things are rather different in Britain, where Mark Daly of the BBC won kudos for exposing five notorious pedophiles.
And in 2003 the tabloid Daily Mirror exposed security gaps at Buckingham Palace, despite a severe lockdown for a state visit by Bush, by planting a cub reporter among the royal servants.
Mazher Mahmood,pictured at right after Member of Parliament George Galloway unmasked him as the "Fake Sheikh", was considered a stealth weapon by the British red-top News of the World, coloquially known as News of the Screws. More than 100 criminals were exposed through his relentless undercover reporting, as well as revelations of the seamier side of star athletes and some politicians.
But the Fake sheikh came under a cloud after an alleged plot to kidnap "Posh Spice" (mega-footballer's wife, Victoria Beckham) backfired.

Ace ex-Aussie Murdoch keeps cards close to his chest

Time's lengthy profile of Rupert Murdoch, 76, and the flattering set of black and white photos that accompany it online have raised some questions

What does a restless septuagenarian moving headlong into the digital age want with a somewhat beaten-down media property like Dow Jones, which over the years has misplayed some juicy opportunities to sell financial information in the digital world? Others may look at Dow Jones and see an excellent, world-renowned (though economically stagnant) print newspaper with a successful subscription-only website; Murdoch sees the engine of a global, interactive, multiplatform business-and-finance network that will drive his soon-to-be-launched Fox Business Channel, power up his 24-hour Sky News channel in Europe and fuel a still inchoate collection of online financial services. "We've got to lift our game tremendously," he says. "We'll sell our business news and information in print, we'll sell it to anyone who's got a cable system, and we'll sell it on the Web." Says News Corp. president Peter Chernin: "There are millions of people throughout the world joining the financial class, and the Journal is the premier financial brand. We have the size and international strength to monetize it globally."
This definitely is worth reading, even though you may not warm to the subject.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Sicko-phancy mars the Daily Show

Moore was bumped off CNN's Larry King show by Paris Hilton last week, but still looms large on talk show radar after appearances on Letterman, the View, and the Daily Show. Truthdig screens a droll exchange on health care blues between Jon Stewart, the Daily Show cynic, and the "Sicko" director, Michael Moore. Stewart appears a tad sicko-phantic as he jaws away with the shambolic blue-collar, white-bread uber-iconolast from Motown. Visibly less obese now, Moore's been learning medical tips on the docu-trail after shooting 500 hours of medical muddles. The recently released film had a mixed reception from critics; there are some rather cheap shots, like the Gitmo gotcha tactic. E for effort and fierceness of approach.

Grim Statistics: kill the messenger

We are now into the second half of 2007, and the risks of reporting are increasing. So far this year, 50 journalists and 8 fixers have been killed, 125 journalists and six fixers jailed, plus 66 cyberdissidents held in detention, according to the NGO
Reporters Without Borders. It is unacceptable that the media death toll is skyrocketing: in all of 2006, 84 were killed, compared to 63 reporter deaths last year and 25 in 2002.
Not all were accidents or 'getting caught in crossfire' while covering combat zones; many victims were intrepid beat reporters targetted while exposing injustices. It's important to stay safe out there. Accordingly, Reporters Without Borders offers the following:

Insurance for freelance journalists

Loan of bulletproof jackets, helmets and personal distress beacons

First-aid kits

A hotline for journalists in danger

The Practical Guide for journalists

Training for journalists on dangerous assignments

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Beast of Baghdad

The Jerusalem press corps notes the departure of a familiar Farrell Beast, specifically Stephen Farrell, former Middle East correspondent for the London Times, who has just joined the New York Times as a veteran reinforcement for their Baghdad bureau. It recently underwent a major overhaul, with Dexter Filkins and John Burns back to civilization of sorts (although with car bombs planted in the UK, Burns' new patch of Londonistan is none too calm.)

This alpha male was famously kidnapped at gunpoint by bandits near Fallujah, then re-kidnapped by Baathist insurgents, interrogated as a suspected CIA spy and released after 8 hours. The kidnappers discovered that both their captives had been based in Israel, and things looked pretty hairy for awhile.

"See, not soldier. Just bald," the shaved-headed Farrell joked to the second lot of gunmen, to convince them there was no threat. Dinner then was served to Farrell and his petite female colleague, freelancer and fluent Arabic speaker Orly Halpern, before they were blindfolded and driven to Baghdad.

Steve manages to keep his head down a bit more these days, but has a great nose for news and a knack for danger.

Well, Farrell is back for more Iraq hi-jinks, full-on. He did not exactly slink away from the Holy Land hotspot. The send-off party at his Jerusalem apartment, for which he donned his ratty Iraq t-shirt, was classic. Sushi was served and the press corps was roasted with "Golden Bollocks" awards for ace blunders. The winner was a strapping Scandinavian hack who, when grilled by agents at the Ben Gurion airport, had managed to leave them sputtering and speechless. "Did you have contact with any Arabs?" they had asked, attempting to assess whether he was a threat to the Nation of Israel. "Well,Arabs, Jews, whatever... I can't really tell you guys apart," he had replied. Doh! They must have been rough with him.
James Hider, who is assuming Farrell's old beat at the London Times, is also an old Baghdad hand. It's a beastly business.