Thursday, July 24, 2008

The editor who used his book pitch as a cover story in the name of Mandela

Time magazine's top editor, Rick Stengel, wrote a big cover story the other week, in honor of Nelson Mandela and his leadership style. Fair enough, the Nobel peace prize laureate was just feted in London with an AIDS benefit concert for his 90th birthday, and Stengel had helped collaborate on the great man's autobiography (in the mid-90s, ie last century.) He was on all the talk shows peddling the Mandela name and the special issue. He left out the little bit of news he was sitting on.
It turns out that Rick has more to say. The cover story was also his book proposal, and a day after the issue was out on the stands, Crown publishers gave the editor a huge advance and a contract to produce a new Mandela tome. Slick. But kinda exploitative.
It's said that some of the proceeds will go towards charity. We'll see. Something about this guy screams ethically challenged. Prove us wrong, Rick.

Enter Vanity Fair with its spoof McCain Cover

Vanity Fair steps up the coverage with its own parody.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A little perspective, folks

Churlish Brits have long claimed (unfairly, in my humble view) that most Americans are so earnest that they just don't get irony, or even satire, hence the boomer howls about the Burn Baby Burn and traitor Johnny Walker Lindh overtones of the latest New Yorker cover. First Baby Mama Michelle, portrayed in scary Angela Davis/Patty Hearst mode, is fist-bumpin' a turbanned O'Bama in the Oval Office while the stars and stripes blazes in a fireplace, overlooked by a sly Bin Laden portrait above the mantle. Not a real subtle joke, and an image that stirs the atavistic fears of many Wasps and Fox News viewers. It appeals to folks like G. Gordon Liddy [the Nixon-era "chief plumber" who was pardoned by Jimmy Carter but bashes the Dems at every opportunity.] But get over it!! Every blog--including Feral Beast ;) -- newspaper and tv news show is brandishing this newsy and copyrighted cover, so the subversive image has gone all over the world. But Democrats should not act like Muslims carrying on over a Danish cartoon. (Not that I am equating Barack with the prophet. Hmmmm. Treading carefully here.) By now, the image already adorns pirated t-shirts hawked in Bangkok back alleys, I reckon.

Click on this post from Media Bistro' to see an explanation of some of ther other covers by the same illustrator. (shown below)

One wonders if a similar cover of Hillary Clinton would have elicited such a response, or how about one of Hillary and Obama in bed together, or one of George Bush in an apron, or maybe a foreign head of state being propositioned in a men's bathroom a la Larry Craig, or the entire Oval Office swimming in post-Katrina waters for that matter, or sailors kissing? Considering these are all subjects depicted on previous Barry Blitt New Yorker covers the answer would have to be no.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glenda Slags transmute to Wednesday Witches

Carol Sarler of The Independent lays it all out.
They're the Wednesday witches, the queens of mean – the female columnists from whom no woman is safe. But they all operate under a strict code of conduct, says one leading exponent. The earliest incarnation was Jean Rook (above) of the Daily Mail, who turned vitriolic back in the 70s.

On Wednesday morning the model Saskia Porter took a hefty slapping from the columnist Sue Carroll in the Daily Mirror. Porter had been outed for knocking eight years off her real age and, according to Carroll, this was "a crime against women". Over at The Sun, Jane Moore picked on the self-absorbed Lily Allen for sending "yesterday I had a runny poo, too-much-information missives" across Facebook.

Both, this week at least, were splendidly outdone by Allison Pearson in the Daily Mail, who amused herself with speculatively casting a new Dr Who sidekick. Not Charlotte Church: "She doesn't do deep space – only deep fried." Lily Cole? "Already looks like an alien." Sienna Miller? "She could go out with several boyfriends at once in parallel dimensions. So, no acting needed at all."

(Oh, go on: smile. You know you want to.)

And so the wheels of the "Wednesday witches" – a sobriquet attributed to Diana, Princess of Wales – trundle nicely along as women, gloriously paid for their contribution to newspaper sales, are horrid to other women.

Waspish gossip has always been a staple of female intercourse: Bette Davis, Maria Callas and Edith Piaf were all fangs and claws at the sniff of a rival, and while Dorothy Parker could snipe at the best of men, she reserved her more memorable jibes for women, as in the famous review of Katharine Hepburn: "She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B."

What is newer is the harnessing of the bitch to the public prints, a whole page at a time, with spleen to the fore. Jean Rook, the Daily Express inspiration for Private Eye's "Glenda Slagg", kicked it off in the early Seventies, closely followed by Lynda Lee-Potter in the Daily Mail (both emerged, perhaps not coincidentally, during the infancy of contemporary feminism), and now there is not a newspaper that dares publish without.

The qualities like to pretend they are above it but they are not: Catherine Bennett (Observer), Libby Purves (Times), Vicki Woods (Telegraph), and India Knight (Sunday Times) are all perfectly capable of an elegant spear to a fellow breast, while brave is the woman who steps on the tetchy toes of Janet Street-Porter of this parish.

Courtesy of a greater directness of language, however, it is the tabloid queens of mean who tend to define the genre – one in which my own tour of duty, divided between the Sunday People and the Daily Express, lasted 12 years until 2005 and produced not a shred of remorse or regret.

When friends asked, how could you?, the answer was, "really rather easily". Furthermore: the misconceptions were, and continue to be, theirs not mine.

The first is that we are but puppets of editors, usually male, whom we seek to please by manufacturing the invective they demand. In fact, for invective to work it has to be real; fraudulent spite shows from a mile. So it is actually the other way around: editors hire those who are already choleric and simply seeking an outlet for it.

The second misconception is that we tip ordure only over women, when we are just as critical of erring men. The false impression is created because only we weigh in against women at all; male columnists know that for them to do so is a no-no across the political spectrum – to the right it is "unchivalrous", to the left it is "sexist". Almost entirely in our hands, therefore, girl-bashing becomes that for which we are noted.

The third, and the most important, misconception is that no woman is safe from our scrutiny. The truth is that our targets are carefully selected and that there are many women granted immunity by unspoken consensus. But to understand how that works requires a recognition of the most defining characteristic shared by these women writers: their age.

This is not peculiar to the female of the trade. It is a rule of Fleet Street's thumb that a fully-rounded journalistic career is divided into two parts: one spent discovering the world, often by reporting, and the other spent, only later when thus armed, trying to make sense of it. This is why there is no worthwhile columnist of either sex under the age of at least 40 and often a good 20 years more.

So when you take that general rule and apply it specifically to a woman columnist of the early 21st century, you know exactly who you are up against: one who has, as Jean Rook proudly claimed, "clawed and scrambled" her way up, partly because her era decreed that she had to and partly because – maybe fancifully – she saw herself as a trailblazer.

The women she likes, not surprisingly, are those she perceives as comrades in pluck: the strong, the no-nonsense and the hard-working. You don't, therefore, often read her sniping at Dolly Parton or Princess Anne; even Joan Collins gets the "national treasure" treatment. And it is noteworthy that Charlotte Church went unscathed when she worked hard, but felt the barbs once she slacked and became silly.

Useless, mindless celebrity may be admired on other pages of the same newspaper but, within the dizzy pluralism that governs the tabloid press, it cuts no ice on ours.

My own bitch-fest was at its peak during the era of the Spice Girls and my venom was entirely genuine. I had a daughter and a serious, grave fear that her role model would not be her tough old boot of a working mother but some soppy, vapid dolt like Victoria Beckham, to whom – then as now – I have never given an inch.

As for Heather Bloody Mills McCartney: rich by dodgy men, famous by unwise marriage and no proven merit beyond, she was ripe for the picking on. Her "achievements" were a throwback to times from which we like to think we led the escape – which may be untrue, unfair and unkind, but nonetheless she never stood a chance. I do not recall ever discussing her with other women columnists, though most of us know each other; still, as one, without meeting her (certainly not!) we unleashed the savagery.

It is, I concede, a power open to abuse and mistake. Lynda Lee-Potter once had a pop at Mo Mowlam for "letting herself go" – although no hypocrite she; Lynda herself was immaculate – only to discover that the offending puffiness was due to treatment for a brain tumour. Mo forgave her; poor Lynda went to her grave, in 2004, never forgiving herself.

On balance, however, and still unrepentant for my own part in the vitriol, I would hugely miss it if it stopped. A world where women's behaviour is monitored, policed and judged by the values of Misses Carroll, Moore and Pearson might well be imperfect. But for the majority of women – better known here as readers – it could be an awful lot worse.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Aw, Nuts. Can't think of a euphemism

The cable news anchors clearly don't have the cojones to report on Jesse Jackson's Fox blooper (for which the activist has since apologized). To see how far behind the talking heads have fallen in their ability to come up with on-air euphemisms, click on this compilation tape, posted by the topical website "23/6: Some of the News, Most of the time", posted by Kevin Alloca

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Melodramatic Murdoch style lowers reporting accuracy at Wall Street Journal

The Murdoch effect is already visible at the Wall Street Journal, if the latest hyperventilating article from reporter Bob Davis about the Erez crossing into Gaza is typical of the new corporate tone. His writing's more suited to a middle level college's student rag than for the informed readership of the venerable WSJ. Arrgh. A savvy McClatchy group blogger, Dion Nissenbaum, noted a distinct dip in quality, too, but observed that it was, after all, the guy's "first real reporting trip to the Gaza Strip".
His piece ended up revealing much more about his own misconceptions than it did about Gaza...Davis leaves millions of readers with the misconception that all Palestinians in Gaza are dangerous, conniving would-be terrorists waiting for the right opportunity to snatch Westerners and cut off their heads.

For some reason, Davis's fevered (and uninformed?) imagination conflates walking through a protected international crossing that is crawling with security with the ordeal of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was grabbed in the back lanes of Karachi, Pakistan, and eventually beheaded.
Different circumstances, different country. Hamas is not Al Qaeda. There have been no abductions of Westerners for more than a year, and the strip is under a negotiated ceasefire at the moment. But heh, these non-English speaking Muslims scare me, guys. Nudge nudge. Mind you, the Davis travesty was published in the travel section, where veracity is not the point.
But this is a heads up about the direction the Wall Street Journal is headed.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Freelancer's wonderful rant

Here's the letter of the month from an American in Bangkok. The Bangkok-based freelancer belatedly managed to touch the editors and got into print.(His original submission presumably was spiked, alas.) But then maybe these editors already have been secretly outsourced to Noida, India: hence the empathy. One wonders....but all freelancers, former or present, should salute S. Tsow, the International Herald Tribune's "despondent writer"

Dear opinion page editors:

I'm waiting to hear from you regarding my unsolicited submission on my experiences as an expatriate American living in Thailand.

In my wilder moments, I have imagined my little screed being circulated among your top editors, possibly even to the publisher, conceivably even to Pope Benedict XVI, President Bush and Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary general.

I have fantasized about their reactions: universal cries of joy, wonder and amazement at my scintillating insights enshrined in crystalline prose. I have entertained the pleasant delusion that you were waiting till you could nominate me for the Pulitzer Prize before finally informing me that you planned to publish it on your front page, and syndicate it to a dozen other publications, thereby making me world-famous and fantastically rich.

But in my sober moments, a little voice tells me that it is not to be, and that your lack of response is due merely to an oversight.

So go ahead. Crush my ego, destroy my soul. Tell me you're not going to publish it. I am waiting.

S. Tsow, Bangkok

Thursday, July 3, 2008

From triumph to torture

Israel's treatment of an award-winning young Palestinian journalist is part of a terrible pattern, writes John Pilger in the Guardian.

Two weeks ago, I presented a young Palestinian, Mohammed Omer, with the 2008 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism. Awarded in memory of the great US war correspondent, the prize goes to journalists who expose establishment propaganda, or "official drivel", as Gellhorn called it. Mohammed shares the prize of £5,000 with Dahr Jamail. At 24, he is the youngest winner. His citation reads: "Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. His homeland, Gaza, is surrounded, starved, attacked, forgotten. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless." The eldest of eight, Mohammed has seen most of his siblings killed or wounded or maimed. An Israeli bulldozer crushed his home while the family were inside, seriously injuring his mother. And yet, says a former Dutch ambassador, Jan Wijenberg, "he is a moderating voice, urging Palestinian youth not to court hatred but seek peace with Israel".

Getting Mohammed to London to receive his prize was a major diplomatic operation. Israel has perfidious control over Gaza's borders, and only with a Dutch embassy escort was he allowed out. Last Thursday, on his return journey, he was met at the Allenby Bridge crossing (to Jordan) by a Dutch official, who waited outside the Israeli building, unaware Mohammed had been seized by Shin Bet, Israel's infamous security organisation. Mohammed was told to turn off his mobile and remove the battery. He asked if he could call his embassy escort and was told forcefully he could not. A man stood over his luggage, picking through his documents. "Where's the money?" he demanded. Mohammed produced some US dollars. "Where is the English pound you have?"

"I realised," said Mohammed, "he was after the award stipend for the Martha Gellhorn prize. I told him I didn't have it with me. 'You are lying', he said. I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?'

"As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror."

An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was "suspected" of smuggling and "lost his balance" during a "fair" interrogation, Reuters reported yesterday.

Israeli human rights groups have documented the routine torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents with "beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation". Amnesty has long reported the widespread use of torture by Israel, whose victims emerge as mere shadows of their former selves. Some never return. Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC's Alan Johnston.

The Dutch government says it is shocked by Mohammed Omer's treatment. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: "This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life ... I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future."

While Mohammed was receiving his prize in London, the new Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Proser, was publicly complaining that many Britons no longer appreciated the uniqueness of Israel's democracy. Perhaps they do now.

If you want to sign a petition in protest of this treatment, follow this link.

On Omer's popular blog, called Rafah Today, you can see a message he managed to send to the webmaster on June 24:

"I am stuck in Jordan and Israel is not allowing me to get back home. this is frustrating. I am not sure what will happen. this is frustrating for me."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fast-lane Spector riles Tribune reporters

Penny-pinching at the ChiTrib is getting downright miserly, acc to recent reports in the rival Sun-Times, which detail how the beancounters want to save half a million bucks on office supplies:

For some employees at the Chicago Tribune, a memo Monday was the last straw. Make that the last Post-it note, pen and notebook.

The paper's corporate owner, Tribune Co., is trying to save $500,000 a year on office supplies. Gerald Spector, the company's chief administration officer, issued a memo asking workers to reduce their supply purchases and to economize on travel.

Spector told employees Tribune needs to cut its $3.5 million annual shopping bill at OfficeMax. But some workers said Spector might not have been the best guy to deliver a message about penny-pinching.

Around Tribune Tower, Spector, 61, is known for cruising into the executive parking lot with a 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder, worth about $235,000, according to car valuation references. Records also show Spector has owned a 2001 Ferrari 360 Spider, worth about $172,000, and a 2004 Mercedes-Benz SL600, which cost $126,000 new but now commands a modest $59,000.

The three cars are worth about what Spector hopes to achieve in corporate savings, which perhaps was on his mind when he wrote, "As you can see with office supplies, small amounts quickly add up and make a difference."

Spector did not return a call Monday, and a Tribune spokeswoman declined to comment.

It's the latest sign of cutbacks and culture shock at Tribune, which is groaning under $13 billion in debt. Real estate titan Sam Zell used the debt to finance a company buyout last year that made him chairman.

He has since brought in longtime associates to shake up a media company Zell has described as bloated and bureaucratic. The new bosses have ordered layoffs at other company newspapers and are expected to do so this summer at the Chicago Tribune.