Friday, December 17, 2010

Rethink your slogan?

The Nation, a daily paper published in Pakistan, maybe should reconsider its online promotion. The dubious tagline at the top of every webpage reads: "The nation is the most incredible of English Newspapers in Pakistan."
Maybe not something to boast about, editors.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Freelancers often must beg for pay

"I’m in the professional equivalent of an abusive relationship,” said Ben Ryan, a low-income freelancer writer who says his former employer owes him $12,925. “I would describe an overriding, constant sense of anxiety. Of course, that’s what the freelancer experience is.”

An opaque terminology accompanies these delays. There are “checks” versus “processed invoices,” “mailed checks” versus “cut checks,” “payments processed” versus “payments in the system.” It was always unclear to me whether any of these terms described real occurrences, actual actions taken, or whether they were merely meaningless placeholders for an action that never took place. There is always something that holds up the payment — a lost invoice to be pursued, a person who went on vacation who is suddenly being replaced by someone else, a contract that wasn’t signed, somebody to follow-up with in another, buried department, until you get to that individual who may have actually laid on eyes on your check.
hat tip to Elizabeth Dwoskin for telling how freelancers face excruciating and humiliating experiences chasing up owed wages.Even at the NY Times?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fixer turns on 'War tourist' hack

Beirut's Moe Ali Nayel takes caustic aim at "war tourist journalism." "I am writing this because I am sick and tired of the stereotypes and narrow angles taken by ignorant and prejudiced foreign observers," he blogs on The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: He is fed up: read An Arab fixer draws a line in the sand. Hat tip to Dion Nissenbaum for this particular rant. And Shame on You, Ruthie. Do your homework. And don't sell out to the startling ...unless you really are getting lots and lots of shekels!

"Last month I had a terrifying experience as journalism betrayed me for the first time in my four years of working as a fixer. When I first met freelance journalist Ruthie Ackerman in a cafe in Beirut in early September, I realized that she did not know anything about Lebanon. Ms. Ackerman had arrived in Beirut to do a story on social networking, but it quickly became apparent that this reporter had not done her homework. Ms. Ackerman did not know who Hassan Nassrallah was. Ms. Ackerman did not know that Saad Hariri was the name of the prime minister of the country who’s coffee she was then sipping. When, later, I took her to see a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut she asked, “Where are the tents?” Ruthie Ackerman’s ignorance of even the current status of a country she planned to write about was, in short, shameful. Though taken by surprise at this, I considered that perhaps her interest in social networking meant her cultural and historical background knowledge could afford to be less than someone writing a more political piece. I was wrong. Ms. Ackerman did not end up writing a piece on social networking in Lebanon, but rather chose to cover the visit of the Iranian president Ahmadinejad to Lebanon. She published these in the Atlantic, and Slate here:
Would it surprise you to learn that Ms. Ackerman did not even know that Ahmadinejad was visiting Lebanon until the very day before, when I (most regrettably) told her? Ruthie emailed me saying, “I had no idea he was coming or I would have planned to be back for it!!” Keep in mind that this visit had been the talk of news agencies around the world (including the USA) for the full two months preceding. Is it any surprise, then, that Ms. Ackerman’s articles fit into a steady stream of ill-informed and orientalist media propounded by journalists in the West and around the world? That her articles promote misinformation, perpetuate cultural stereotypes, and propagate racist caricatures of the Middle East? Does Ruth Ackerman realize how her irresponsible ‘war tourist’ journalism compounds the problems faced by the people of the Middle East in light of the way ‘the West’ views and treats us? In my job as a fixer, I provide foreign journalists with the necessary contacts for a story. I arrange, facilitate, and translate all sorts of social interactions, including interviews with everyone from shoe-shine boys to top governmental figures. As the journalist’s local eyes and ears I am oftentimes the one to provide a foreign journalist with the story—‘the scoop’—itself. In Beirut, where I live and work foreign journalists come to town usually in need of a fixer and I am one such fixer.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Hat Tip to Read here for tweets on Wikileaks

Monday, December 6, 2010

Filkins Jumps to New Yorker

Dexter Filkins, a heavy-duty war correspondent for The New York Times, is heading to The New Yorker, reports Nick Summers in the NY Observer.

"I love the New York Times, and I'm hugely grateful for all they've done for me. I'll miss everyone there very much. The New Yorker has offered me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I'm very excited about it," Mr. Filkins wrote The Observer in an email.

Mr. Filkins, who is in Istanbul today, has been considering the move for two months. Over 10 intense years, he has won numerous awards for his reporting from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts, including the 2005 George Polk Award for his coverage of the battle of Fallujah. Those experiences were memorably chronicled in more personal terms in his 2008 book, "The Forever War."

At The New Yorker, Mr. Filkins won't write exclusively about war—he is expected to weigh in on other topics. To keep Mr. Filkins at the Times, editors there offered him the freedom to write, essentially, whatever he wanted wherever he wanted, whether on the front page or in the Sunday magazine. He has delivered big scoops as recently as two weeks ago—that sensational Taliban impostor story—and his role will be difficult to fill.

"Dex is a huge talent. I've personally written him two Pulitzer nominations," Times executive editor Bill Keller wrote The Observer in an email. "We'll miss him a lot, but I totally understand that after ten years of high-adrenaline, high-risk war reporting, he wants something completely different."

The hire is a coup for David Remnick, who earlier this year persuaded the Times's first choice to edit its Sunday magazine, Daniel Zalewski, to stay at The New Yorker.

Mr. Remnick did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Why we need editors

Email exchange with sharp-eyed Editor:

On Dec 1, 2010, at 10:07 AM, Ms Bird wrote:

Look out kid
It’s somethin’ you did ...

You misquoted Bob Dylan! And in the lead of an article yet!

It's “You don’t need a weatherman to KNOW which way the wind blows.”
(Not "tell").

I have fixed it and saved our credibility.


On Dec 1, 2010, at 10:09 AM, freelancer replied

Whew. I am subterranean homesick about this blooper.
More proof that editors are essential!

Hack Writer


On Dec 1, 2010, at 10:10 AM, Ms Bird wrote:

"Twenty years of schoolin’
And they put you on the day shift ..."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wikileaks filtering needed! Can't staunch em

It's been Wikileaks frenzy all this week, and may well be all the way til Christmas, the way things are going. Some wag said Wikileaks had done to investigative journalism what Napster did to the music industry, but Times of London correspondent James Hider says that it shows we all have just become incredibly lazy, feasting off this giant beached whale. A quarter million uploaded State Department cables, whew! He quipped:

It's more like Napster hacked into the songbook of the world's most successful musicians, stole their music and now we're playing it, pretending it's ours.

Now that Amazon is not hosting anymore, try here, or search the websites of Der Spiegel, El Pais, or The Guardian.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

'Transparency is central to democracy' - Woodward

It has become a cliche: The truth will set you free.
But Bob Woodward really does believe that transparency is central to democracy.

Julia Love reports:
In a speech before an overflowing crowd in the Sanford School of Public Policy Wednesday, Woodward said it was a simple drive to explain what happened that led him through the legendary reporting on the Watergate scandal and the composition of 15 best-selling books.

“What worries me most is secret government.... Democracies die in darkness,” he said. “All the other problems I think we’ll fix.... But look at history. If we don’t know what’s going on, we’re going to die.”

Since the early 1970s, Woodward has made a career out of illuminating some of the most secretive annals of American government.

As a 29-year-old reporter for The Washington Post, Woodward and his colleague, Carl Bernstein, wrote a series of stories that forced President Richard Nixon, Law ’37, to resign over charges of burglary, money laundering and wiretapping, among other offenses in a scandal that would come to be known as “Watergate.” Within a year, Woodward rose from obscurity to become one of America’s best-known journalists.

Watergate remains his legacy, but Woodward has written more than a dozen books about the drama of Washington since. Two years into the Obama administration, Woodward released his first account of the presidency, “Obama’s Wars,” which exposes the inner workings of an administration sharply divided on how to proceed in Afghanistan. The military’s top brass argued that a significant troop increase would turn the tide of the war, but others close to the president—including Vice President Joe Biden—pushed for a more conservative approach.

Woodward paints a portrait of a president eager to end the war. Indeed, he said Obama questioned many of the underlying assumptions behind U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and questioned the need for a surge before eventually deciding to send 30,000 more troops.

Woodward discussed his latest book’s revelations with Peter Feaver, Alexander F. Hehmeyer professor of political science, in a conversation sponsored by the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy, Sanford, the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and Duke University Union.

When the veteran journalist began exploring the administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan, a senior Obama aide told him he “was not going to find many Deep Throats”—a snide reference to the informant who was one of Woodward’s main sources during the Watergate scandal. Within months, the same aide produced notes for Woodward from confidential meetings with the president.

“It’s neutral inquiry. I’m not for Bush, against Bush, for Obama, against Obama,” he said. “I think there is a little bit of a believer of the First Amendment in everyone, and if you take them as seriously as they take themselves... you can win people’s cooperation in quarters that you can’t imagine.”

Woodward slammed Nixon as a leader who abused the power of the presidency as “an instrument of personal revenge.” Although he has watched Presidents Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama with a diligent eye, Woodward has not found any evidence of moral bankruptcy.

“The happy discovery about certainly Clinton, Bush and Obama is it is a good faith effort to do the right thing,” he said.

Woodward noted that he was never granted an interview with Nixon, though he amassed enough damaging evidence to end his presidency. The journalist has enjoyed rare, extended access to Nixon’s successors, referencing a three-and-a-half hour interview with Bush and a lengthy conversation with Obama.

The nature of the conversations strikes at the heart of who the men are. Woodward joked that he was hard-pressed to ask one question in an interview with Clinton. But in the extended interview with Bush, the former president’s short, direct style enabled Woodward to ask 500 questions.

“Bush told me, ‘I am a gut player, not a textbook player,’” he said.

Obama, on the other hand, is all textbook, Woodward said. In the way the president leads, Woodward sees a consummate professor always trying to identify issues and answer questions. Obama is, in effect, his own national security adviser, Woodward said.

Yet Woodward said the war in Afghanistan traps Obama in an ideological conflict: he despises war, but he is the commander-in-chief. Woodward said Obama told him his task is to “impose clarity on the chaos of war.”

“He wants out of Afghanistan,” Woodward said. “You listen to his speeches and that doesn’t come through. But digging under the surface it does, and I, quite frankly, think it is important for the public to know that the commander-in-chief wants out.”

Woodward suggested that failures of communication were almost to be expected between men who have not taken the time to get to know each other. Indeed, after Obama selected Gen. Stanley McChrystal to lead the charge in Afghanistan, their interaction consisted of a 10-minute photo-op.

“I said to Obama, ‘You’re picking your Eisenhower,’” Woodward recounted. “Obama said, ‘Well that would mean it’s World War II and I’m FDR, and I’m not.’ And I said, ‘But this is your war.’”

Bush, too, failed to take the time to form strong personal relationships with members of his supporting cast, Woodward said. Robert MacNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, understood the complexities of these relationships, Woodward said, sharing an insight from one of the last interviews the man gave before he died.

“Presidents want harmony.... One of the points he made is that this drive toward harmony and collegiality among the team keeps things from really surfacing,” Woodward said. “Sometimes issues surface in my interviews that didn’t surface enough in the internal discussions.”

Woodward’s long history in Washington enables him to leap from administration to administration with ease, drawing helpful connections as he goes—as if the architects of the Vietnam War and the surge in Afghanistan could whisper to each other. Barring a Watergate episode, presidents serve for four or eight years, but Woodward has made them sweat for nearly four decades.

While chasing a story recently, Woodward found himself unable to land an interview with a key general. After countless e-mails, Woodward took matters into his own hands and knocked on the man’s door at 8:15 p.m., which he noted is always a convenient time to reach sources.

“He answers the door and he asks me, ‘Are you still doing this s—?’” Woodward said with a laugh, recalling that the general ushered him inside.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Newsweek sniffs out Daily Beast's Brown

There have been prominent WashPost and Newsweek links on the Daily Beast website since its launch two years ago, and now that the nation's number two news magazine, Newsweek, has changed hands for only a dollar to a deep-pockets owner willing to take on its debts, the redoubtable Ms Brown of the Daily Beast may soon up for double editorial duties and double exposure. She's always been more a features gal than a breaking news buff, so it will be fun to watch her later trajectory. The supposed rivalry between her and Arianna Huffington, the other aggregate cyber siren, has been satirized on Arianna's website.
Hat tip to Romenesko, via NY Times and WS Journal for the following story:

As speculation continues about a merger between The Daily Beast, the news and opinion Web site financed by Barry Diller, and Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal reports that the likelihood of a deal is increasing.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the discussions, said as part of the deal currently being discussed by the two companies, Tina Brown, The Daily Beast’s co-founder and co-owner, would become the editor of Newsweek, on top of her existing editorial duties at the Web site.

Speculation about a possible tie-up between the two companies resurfaced last week after Howard Kurtz, a three-decade veteran of The Washington Post, announced he was leaving to join The Daily Beast. Industry watchers suggested that Newsweek would provide a more logical home for Mr. Kurtz’s work given his long tenure as a print reporter.

However, the newspaper said that Sidney Harman, the audio equipment magnate who bought Newsweek in August, may be concerned about issues of control:

People familiar with Mr. Harman’s thinking said he may be wary of handing the reins to a strong-willed editor who also answers to another boss—Barry Diller, chairman and chief executive of Daily Beast owner IAC/InterActive Corp.

Newsweek, which Mr. Harman bought from The Washington Post Company for $1, lost almost $30 million last year amid circulation and advertising declines.

Meanwhile, The Daily Beast, which averages 4.6 million visitors a month, is expected to lose about $10 million this year, The Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter.

However, The Daily Beast executives say the portal is on its way to becoming profitable in two years, according to the Journal.

Last week, in a piece marking The Daily Beast’s second anniversary, Ms. Brown responded to the buzz about a deal with Newsweek by saying: “Yes, there have been some interesting discussions going on, as we have with potential partners large and small all the time.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Russ Baker exposes Woodward's 'inner warrior' and the icon's feet of clay

Bob Woodward’s signature achievement - bringing down Richard Nixon - turns out not to be what we all thought. If that comes as a surprise, you have missed a few books, including bestsellers, that put pieces of this puzzle together. (Family of Secrets has several chapters on the real Watergate story, but there are others that present detailed information, including those by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, James Rosen, Jim Hougan and others.)

Here’s the deal: Bob, top secret Naval officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of, and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post. Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring inside the White House that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, Soviet Union, etc), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They then give what they stole to columnist Jack Anderson and others in the press.

That’s not the iconic Woodward of legend, of course — so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind. But there’s more — and it’s even more troubling. Did you know there was really no Deep Throat, that the Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get Nixon out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists? That a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections, from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean — wormed their way into key White House posts, and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s office door?

Believe me, I understand. It sounds like the “conspiracy theory” stuff that we have been trained to dismiss. But I’ve just spent five years on a heavily documented forensic dig into this missing strata of American history, and I myself have had to come to terms with the enormous gap between reality and the “reality” presented by the media and various establishment gatekeepers who tell us what’s what.

Given this complicity, it’s no surprise that when it comes to Woodward’s latest work, the myth-making machine is on auto pilot. The public, of course, will end up as confused and manipulated as ever. And so things will continue, same as they ever were. Endless war, no substantive reforms. Unless we wake up to our own victimhood.
Hat tip to Russ Baker & Truthout

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fisk on Fisking

Fisking is an internet term for a "point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies", which is not necessarily fun to read. It started when Robert Fisk wrote the following lines about a beating
If I was an Afghan refugee in Kila Abdullah, I would have done just what they did. I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find

Apparently, the reporter was setting himself up for a different kind of bruising. In the blogosphere, Fisk's article was widely mocked for its mawkishness. The Ur-fisking below is blogger Andrew Sullivan's takedown of Robert Fisk's page one account of being attacked by Afghans. Sullivan's fisking was nearly a fisting, some bloggers observed, before promptly imitating the tiresome style. Geekish wingnuts soon became particularly prone to the pastime of fisking, and it's the usual modus operandi of the text-scourers who run the so-called Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Here's Sullivan, back in 2001 when he was also penning loveletters to "Rummy", the reprehensible Donald Rumsfeld.

THE PATHOLOGY OF ROBERT FISK: His account of his ordeal at the hands of an Afghan mob – a mob that apparently cried “Infidel!” as they attacked and tried to rob him – is a classic piece of leftist pathology. You have to read it to believe it. Even when people are trying to murder Fisk, he adamantly refuses to see them as morally culpable or even responsible. I’ve heard of self-hatred but this is ridiculous: “They started by shaking hands. We said, 'Salaam aleikum' – peace be upon you – then the first pebbles flew past my face." That sentence alone deserves to go down as one of the defining quotes of the idiotic left. If it weren't so tragic, it would be downright hilarious. Who needs Evelyn Waugh when you have this?

"I WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME": But wait, there's more. "A small boy tried to grab my bag. Then another. Then someone punched me in the back. Then young men broke my glasses, began smashing stones into my face and head. I couldn't see for the blood pouring down my forehead and swamping my eyes. And even then, I understood. I couldn't blame them for what they were doing. In fact, if I were the Afghan refugees of Kila Abdullah, close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, I would have done just the same to Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find.” What does this mean, you might well ask? What it means is that someone – anyone – is either innocent or guilty purely by racial or cultural association. An average Westerner is to be taken as an emblem of an entire culture and treated as such. Any random Westerner will do. Individual notions of responsibility or morality are banished, as one group is labeled blameless and another irredeemably malign. There’s a word for this: it’s racism. And like many other members of the far left, Fisk is himself a proud racist, someone who believes that the color of a person’s skin condemns him automatically and justifies violence against him. So the two extremes touch and are, in fact, interchangeable. Rightist racism springs from the premise that some races are somehow morally superior. Leftist racism springs from the premise that some races are also morally superior. The only difference is the color of skin. Alleged “victimization” sanctifies any evil perpetrated by the oppressed race. Just as the Nazis and Communists claimed self-defense for the mass-murder of their “oppressors,” so some modern leftists claim the absolution of self-defense even for a mob attacking a carful of innocent, harmless journalists. Or a sky-scraper for that matter.

THE VICTIM OF THE WORLD: You know the expression: you wouldn't understand a culture if it actually hit you in the head? Fisk has now officially retired that expression as a metaphor. He goes on: “There were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others…” Notice that phrase – “whose brutality was entirely the product of others.” What can that possibly mean? We’re not talking about extenuating circumstances – things that might help us understand or contextualize the hatred of one people for another. We’re talking about a priori moral absolution. Take this passage: “Goddamit, I said and tried to bang my fist on my side until I realised it was bleeding from a big gash on the wrist – the mark of the tooth I had just knocked out of a man's jaw, a man who was truly innocent of any crime except that of being the victim of the world.” No, Mr. Fisk, that man who attacked you was not truly innocent of any crime. You were. He was not the victim of the world. You were the victim of a thieving, violent mob. For those who believe that the left-wing intelligentsia is capable of critical thought or even a modification of their ideology in the face of evidence, this incident is a wonderful example of why it won’t happen. They won’t recognize reality, or abandon their racism, or moderate their spectacular condescension to the inhabitants of the developing world – even when reality, literally, crushingly, punches them in the face.

When the Feral Beast encountered Robert Fisk this weekend, the topic of fisking was raised. As a reporter whose name has become a verb, what does he feel about fisking nine year on?

"But that only exists on the internet, not in the real world, so it's of no concern," the veteran war reporter mused between sips of his gin and tonic. This Brit still eschews the hate-spewing virtual world. He is a reality maven, and quickly comes across as an erudite trainspotter, planespotter and weaponry gearhead. The Independent's intrepid reporter, who has expanded his beat outward from the Middle East to include Southwest Asia and now India, takes pride in remaining a cyber-Luddite. The sun doesn't seem to set on Fiskworld. His command of dates and details while speaking extemporaneously is most impressive. And he doesn't mince words, self-censor or run with the hack pack. Oddly, his fans have designed a couple of Facebook pages for him anyway.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Muslim Superhero Hits Comics

A Muslim Superhero Hits Comics - The Daily Beast
A super-Muslim on wheels is about to hit the stands, acc to the Associated Press The unlikely comic book hero is the brainchild of U.S. philanthropist and businessman Jay T. Snyder.

He told the AP that he was inspired by President Barack Obama's effort to reach out to the Muslim world in his January 2009 inaugural address. Last month, Snyder flew 12 disabled Americans to Damascus to meet a group of disabled young Syrians, and one of their main goals was to come up with ideas and story lines for the new superhero.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

RIP Murray Sayle: adventurer and tireless investigator of 1945 Atomic Bombing

Peter Popham writes in the Independent about the life of an investigative reporter, and the demise of an industry.

A big, barrel-chested, hatchet-faced man with a broken nose and a sardonic smile, Murray Sayle was one of the most brilliant journalists of his generation and at his frequent best demonstrated a passion for his craft both as a tool for establishing truth and as a vehicle of literary delight. All you needed to be a journalist, he liked to quip, was a little literary ability and rat-like cunning. But behind the Aussie cynicism lay a belief in the value of his profession when practiced with total commitment which was an inspiration to many who crossed his path. Few journalists took their investigative work more seriously, or placed more onerous demands on their chosen editors.

Murray was an outstanding member of the great Australian literary diaspora that hit London from the early-1950s onwards and included such stars as Germaine Greer, Richard Neville, Philip Knightley and Clive James. Like them he possessed a protean energy and a refusal to acknowledge conventional boundaries or limitations which left their British competitors gasping.

The son of a railway executive, born in New South Wales in 1926, he studied psychology at the University of Sydney but became so absorbed in his work for the student magazine, Honi Soit, that he missed 90 per cent of his lectures and was excluded from taking his finals. He made up for it some 64 years later when the university awarded him an honorary doctorate.

On leaving university he was quickly taken up by the Sydney media, working for the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mirror and national radio. Then in 1952 he left for London where he was hired by The People, at the time a vigorous and very profitable Sunday scandal sheet. Working alongside the paper's legendary crime reporter Duncan Webb he picked up, or possibly invented, the catchphrase, "I made an excuse and left."

But his first marriage was breaking up and in 1956 he left The People, journalism and London, beginning an improbable interlude selling encyclopaedias in Germany and writing a novel based on his Fleet Street experiences entitled A Crooked Sixpence. It might have made his name had not a friend called Michael Alexander, who was broke at the time and hoping for an easy pay-out, complained to the publisher that one of the novel's characters was based on himself, threatening to sue. Instead of paying him to shut up the publisher pulped all copies and the book disappeared without trace. It was recently re-published and acclaimed as a Fleet Street classic.

By the mid-'60s he was back in London and doing newsroom shifts at the Sunday Times, where his tireless digging for facts, his vigorous, flinty style and his ironical wit soon got him noticed. Harold Evans, the legendary editor of the Sunday Times, made him the paper's chief foreign fireman, with license to roam the world's hot spots, reporting the Vietnam, Indo-Pakistan and Six-Day wars among other big stories, and being awarded Journalist of the Year for his Vietnam reports. But Murray was never satisfied in running with the pack, and his most memorable and extraordinary dispatches were all done solo: using a light airplane to track the round-the-world yachtsman Francis Chichester as he sailed around Cape Horn, then, on the same expedition, searching for (though not actually locating) Che Guevara in Bolivia, becoming the first journalist to report that the guerrilla leader had left Cuba for South America.

Sayle also exploited his cachet as one of Harry Evans's "licensed eccentrics" to climb Mount Everest and sail single-handed across the Atlantic, among other macho exploits on the margins of serious journalism. But as a veteran war reporter his obsession, lasting for the rest of his working life, was with official violence and the lies with which it becomes encrusted to justify or obfuscate it.

His investigation into Bloody Sunday in 1972 led him to the conclusion, vindicated in the government's admission earlier this year, that the British paratroopers had not been fired on by those they shot, killing 13. But when the Sunday Times spiked his report, with its claim that the killings had been planned in advance, he resigned, and his mercurially brilliant London career was over.

With his second wife Jenny Murray he moved east, first to Hong Kong and then, in 1975, to Japan, which was to become the family's home for nearly 30 years. They settled in the remote and entirely obscure village of Aikawa, in Kanagawa Prefecture, where they lived in a traditional wooden house, freezing cold in winter, from which Murray would descend on the Foreign Correspondents' Club in central Tokyo at intervals to hold court among his peers. But despite the apparent seclusion, these were years of great productivity: he had arrived in Japan at the most pregnant moment of its postwar history, and was to witness and record its long years of boom, its precipitous slump and slow recovery in witty, erudite and immensely long pieces for The Independent Magazine, the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, among others. His obsession with official cover-ups remained a constant: he wrote copiously about Tiananmen Square and the disappearance of the Korean airliner KAL007, reaching controversial conclusions backed by exhaustive research.

His crowning journalistic achievement, for which the New Yorker cleared out an entire issue in 1995, was entitled "Did the Bomb End the War?" and concerned one of those facts that "everybody knows" but which, in his view, was not actually true: the notion that it was the atom-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that persuaded the Japanese to surrender. Sayle advanced a powerful case for believing that actually it was the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, with the implicit danger that they would then invade Hokkaido and force a division of Japan like that of Korea, which was actually the crucial event.

The Sayle family moved back to Australia in 2004 when Murray was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. His honorary doctorate described him as "a witness to history in the classic tradition of journalism and foreign correspondence." That a career such as his is unthinkable today, with or without a video camera to hand, is a measure of how much more challenging the profession has become.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Problem With Burning Qurans

What if they burnt a Koran and nobody came? It already happened two years ago, according to the NY TIMES. Some soul-searching is under way in the media. And in The Problem With Burning Qurans Tunku Varadarajan dissects the latest media frenzy - what Arianna Huffington likens to the Balloon Boy.
What is the media responsibility in this coverage? Can the genie be put back into the bottle at this stage? Burn, baby , burn!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Are Reporters a vanishing breed?

The American Journalism Review questions whether new foundation-funded hacks can make up for the loss of so many watchdog reporters from mainstream news jobs. In a file funded by George Soros's Open Society Institute, oddly enough, Mary Walton ponders the coming "investigative shortfall" in a piece on the vanishing species who find themselves 'Kicked out, bought out or barely hanging on', the victims of too many paper cuts and the shallow 24/7 cable news. (hat tip to Romenesko)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How a U.K. Tabloid Got Its Royal Scoops - The Daily Beast

How a U.K. Tabloid Got Its Royal Scoops - The Daily Beast

How's this for a breach of journalistic ethics? An upcoming piece in The New York Times Magazine details how two News of the World staffers—a reporter and a private investigator employed by Britain's largest paper—hacked into the phones of British royal family aides. Clive Goodman, a reporter, and Glenn Mulcaire, an investigator working for the paper, obtained PIN codes to access the voicemail inboxes of royal aides. Aides grew suspicious when messages were marked as listened to and saved when nary a person had checked them. In 2006, News of the World ran a story about Prince Harry's wild night out at a strip club, and later that year ran a followup exclusive chronicling his girlfriend's heartache over the issue in which is printed verbatim a voice message that had been left on Harry's phone. A Scotland Yard investigation has revealed that Mulcaire has potentially hacked into the phone messages of more than thousands of people. A search of his apartment turned up 91 mobile PIN codes. Scotland Yard for its part, however, has decided to stick solely to investigating the pair's involvement with the royals.

One result of this dubious reporting method was the Sun scoop:“Harry Buried Face in Margo’s Mega-Boobs. Stripper Jiggled . . . Prince Giggled.” At least five people have filed lawsuits accusing News Group Newspapers, a division of Rupert Murdoch’s publishing empire that includes News of the World aka News of the Scres, of hacking into their cell phone voice mail.
Er, that's why they call them hacks. That's what they do. On your private mobile. Be warned.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fareed Zakaria Leaves Newsweek, Joins Rival Time

Slate, citing Folio mag, notes the new direction of Newsweek's prominent blowhard.

Time magazine is scheduled to announce on Thursday that it has snatched Fareed Zakaria from one of its biggest rivals, Newsweek. Zakaria, a columnist for the Washington Post, editor of Newsweek's international edition, and host of Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN, will be named a contributing editor for Time and will pen a column that runs in the print edition of the magazine every other week. "The departure of Mr. Zakaria, a well-known columnist and television presence, is another blow to Newsweek, which was sold to Sidney Harman, an audio equipment mogul, at the beginning of the month," the New York Times' David Carr wrote on the paper's Media Decoder blog. Since the magazine was sold, Jon Meacham, the magazine's editor; Michael Isikoff, an investigative reporter; and columnist Evan Thomas have all announced they would be leaving. "Fareed is one of a small handful of global public intellectuals, and he has proven how important his thinking and writing is, over and over, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11," said Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time. "He is a kind of spokesman for a post-American world, and we think he represents an important piece of the puzzle for us." Zakaria said that moving from Newsweek to Time made sense because the magazine is owned by Time Warner, which also owns CNN, where his foreign affairs program airs every Sunday. "All of my work will now appear at one company, and instead of a kind of awkwardness, there is a very real synergy," he told Carr over lunch. Zakaria is also taking on a role as a consultant for HBO's documentary film unit, according to Folio. HBO, too, is owned by Time Warner.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Narco-censorship : silencing the Mexican media

A new word has been written into the lexicon of Mexico's drug war: narco-censorship, writes Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times in a chilling piece today.

It's when reporters and editors, out of fear or caution, are forced to write what the traffickers want them to write, or to simply refrain from publishing the whole truth in a country where members of the press have been intimidated, kidnapped and killed.

That big shootout the other day near a Reynosa shopping mall? Convoys of gunmen whizzed through the streets and fired on each other for hours, paralyzing the city. But you won't read about it here in this border city.

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Those recent battles between the army and cartel henchmen in Ciudad Juarez? Soldiers engaged "armed civilians," newspapers told their readers.

As the drug war scales new heights of savagery, one of the devastating byproducts of the carnage is the drug traffickers' chilling ability to co-opt underpaid and under-protected journalists — who are haunted by the knowledge that they are failing in their journalistic mission of informing society.

"You love journalism, you love the pursuit of truth, you love to perform a civic service and inform your community. But you love your life more," said an editor here in Reynosa, in Tamaulipas state, who, like most journalists interviewed, did not want to be named for fear of antagonizing the cartels.

"We don't like the silence. But it's survival."

An estimated 30 reporters have been killed or have disappeared since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels in December 2006, making Mexico one of the deadliest countries for journalists in the world.

But a ferocious increase in violence, including the July 26 kidnapping of four reporters, has pushed the profession into a crisis never before seen, drawn renewed international attention and spurred fresh activism on the part of Mexican newsmen and women.

The United Nations sent its first such mission to Mexico last week to examine dangers to freedom of expression. On Aug. 7, in an unprecedented display of unity from a normally fractious, competitive bunch, hundreds of Mexican reporters demonstrated throughout the country to demand an end to the killings of their colleagues, and more secure working conditions.

Few killings are ever investigated, and the climate of impunity leads to more bloodshed, says an upcoming report from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"It is not a lack of valor on the part of the journalists. It is a lack of backing," said broadcaster Jaime Aguirre. "If they kill me, nothing happens."

On the popular radio talk show he hosts in Reynosa, Aguirre chooses his words carefully. He often finds himself issuing warnings to the public on which areas of the city to avoid. Listeners don't have to be told why.

It is in Mexico's far-flung states where narco-censorship is most severe.

From the border states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua and into the central and southern states of Durango and Guerrero, reporters say they are acutely aware that traffickers do not want the local news to "heat the plaza" — to draw attention to their drug production and smuggling and efforts to subjugate the population. Such attention would invite the government to send troops and curtail their business.

And so the journalists pull their punches.

When convoys of narco hit men brazenly turned their guns on army garrisons in Reynosa, trapping soldiers inside, it was front- page news in the Los Angeles Times in April. It went unreported in Reynosa.

After two of his reporters were briefly detained by Zetas paramilitaries later that month in the same region, Ciro Gomez Leyva, head of Milenio television, announced he was imposing a blackout on events in Tamaulipas. "Journalism is dead" in the region, he wrote. The bruised, strangled body of Durango reporter Bladimir Antuna was recovered late last year with a scrawled note attached: "This happened to me for … writing too much."

Contacting reporters in the region can seem a scene out of "The Third Man," with meetings in discreet locations and discussions that involve code: The Zetas are referred to as "the last letter" (of the alphabet), while the Gulf cartel is the "three letters" (CDG — Cartel del Golfo).

Reporters and editors in Tamaulipas and Durango say they routinely receive telephoned warnings when they publish something the traffickers don't like. More often, knowing their publications are being watched and their newsrooms infiltrated, they avoid publishing anything that risks falling into a questionable category.

Or they stick to just-the-facts government bulletins that may confirm an incident but won't offer details.

"If there's nothing official, we don't print it," said an editor from a northern newspaper. "It makes me very angry. How can I bend to the demands of those people? But I have to calculate the risk."

The journalists also keep an eye on certain websites known to have affiliation with drug cartels: If they see that a shootout or a grenade attack is being reported, they know it's OK to publish the same information.

That's why the Reynosa shootout two weeks ago wasn't reported. But a car bomb at police headquarters in the Tamaulipas state capital, Ciudad Victoria, two days later got front-page play because, editors say, the dominant Gulf wanted the rival Zetas paramilitaries (presumed authors of the bomb) to look bad.

Not that regional Mexican papers are squeamish. They will publish any number of grisly photographs of severed heads and battered corpses dangling from bridges. But not information that will offend the cartel in charge.

Social media networks such as Twitter have filled some of the breach, with residents frantically sending danger alerts. And a secretive "narco blog" has started posting numerous videos of henchmen and their victims, no matter how gruesome. But, residents say, the social media too have been usurped by traffickers, who use the system to spread rumors and stoke panic.

In Durango, where more newsmen were killed in 2009 than in any other state, broadcast reporter Ruben Cardenas said journalists could no longer do their job. "It is disinformation. It is a disservice to society," Cardenas told The Times late last year.

A few weeks later, when The Times ventured into the Durango city of Gomez Palacio to report on the kidnapping and slaying of Los Angeles civic leader Bobby Salcedo, local Mexican reporters initially shared enthusiasm for the story. But after a couple of days of publishing reports, employees at one newspaper said they were ordered, presumably by Salcedo's killers, to cease. The news, attracting attention in Los Angeles and Washington, was "heating the plaza."

Durango was also the scenario of the July 26 abductions. Four journalists were covering disturbances at a Gomez Palacio prison where it had just been revealed that the warden was allowing inmates to go out at night on killing rampages.

The reporters' employers received instructions to broadcast homemade videos from one cartel that linked its rival to corrupt cops. The videos showed police who had apparently been abducted and were "confessing" at gunpoint.

Journalists around Mexico mobilized like never before, spreading the word, demanding action from authorities and staging demonstrations. Eventually the reporters were freed. Blood still seeping from his scalp, a bruised Alejandro Hernandez spoke of the ordeal: five days of torture, beatings with a plank, threats of an ugly death.

A happy ending? The men were rescued or released only after their news outlets met the traffickers' demands and aired the cartel videos. It was the latest twist: news coverage as ransom.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Narco-blogger beats Mexico drug war news blackout

An anonymous, twentysomething blogger is giving Mexicans what they can't get elsewhere — an inside view of their country's raging drug war.

Operating from behind a thick curtain of computer security, Blog del Narco in less than six months has become Mexico's go-to Internet site at a time when mainstream media are feeling pressure and threats to stay away from the story.

Many postings, including warnings and a beheading, appear to come directly from drug traffickers. Others depict crime scenes accessible only to military or police.

The undifferentiated content suggests that all sides are using the blog — drug gangs to project their power, law enforcement to show that it too can play rough, and the public to learn about incidents that the mainstream media are forced to ignore or play down.

In at least one case Blog del Narco may have led to a major arrest — of a prison warden after a video posting detailed her alleged system of setting inmates free at night to carry out killings for a drug cartel.

The mysterious blogger hides his identity behind an elaborate cyber-screen. The Associated Press wrote to the blog's e-mail address, and the blogger called back from a disguised phone number. He said he is a student in northern Mexico majoring in computer security, that he launched the blog in March as a "hobby," but it now has grown to hundreds of postings a day and 3 million hits a week.

"People now demand information and if you don't publish it, they complain," he said.

Indeed, President Felipe Calderon has heard complaints that his government is not putting out enough information to allow people to function and stay safe.

"You authorities have placed Mexicans in the middle of a shootout where it's not clear where the bullets are coming from," journalist Hector Aguilar Camin said at a recent forum evaluating the government's strategy for fighting organized crime. "When it comes to information, the Mexican public safety agencies don't even shoot in self-defense."

The violence has killed more then 28,000 people and made Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, which explains why Blog del Narco cloaks itself so heavily in anonymity.

"For the scanty details that they (mass media) put on television, they get grenades thrown at them and their reporters kidnapped," the blogger said. "We publish everything. Imagine what they could do to us."

Among his postings:

• A video of a man being decapitated. While media only reported police finding a beheaded body, the video shows the man confessing to working for drug lord Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal, who is locked in a fight with both the Beltran Leyva and Sinaloa cartels;

• The prison warden affair, which unfolded in a video of masked members of the Zetas drug gang interrogating a police officer, who reveals that inmates allied with the Sinaloa cartel are given guns and cars and sent off to commit murders. At the end of the video the officer is shot to death;

• Links to Facebook pages of alleged traffickers and their children, weapons, cars and lavish parties;

• Photos of Mexican pop music stars at a birthday party for an alleged drug dealer's teenage daughter in the border state of Coahuila, across from Texas.

"The girl wrote to me and told me, in a threatening way, to take down her photos," the blogger said. "But as long as I don't hear from her father, I won't take them down."

While there are numerous blogs on Mexico's drug war, Blog del Narco seems to be the first used by the traffickers themselves. The blogger said he provides an uncensored platform, posting photographs and videos he receives regardless of content or cartel affiliation.

It can be extremely gory, but his neutrality has helped build his credibility.

"We don't insult them, we don't say one specific group is the bad one," he said. "We don't want problems with them."

Critics say it's free public relations for the cartels.

"Media outlets have social responsibilities and have to serve the public," said Carlos Lauria, of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. "This is being produced by someone who is not doing it from a journalistic perspective. He is doing it without any ethical considerations."

Blog del Narco's first posting concerned a small-town shootout in the border state of Tamaulipas that police wouldn't even confirm happened. The blog aired a resident's YouTube video of the crashed cars and corpses along the highway.

Soon Blog Del Narco was dominating Mexico's drug-war blogosphere.

The blogger maintains a Facebook page and Twitter account that includes CNN en Espanol, all major Mexican media, the FBI and the Mexican Defense Department among its more than 7,300 followers. Rusty Payne, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said "we're very aware of these kinds of things" but wouldn't say whether the DEA uses the information in its investigations.

Blog del Narco has also become a meeting point for people anxious to get information the mainstream media doesn't deliver, such as what streets to avoid during shootouts.

In Nuevo Laredo, where journalists have been attacked, 26-year-old storeowner Claudia Perez says she reads Blog del Narco to know when streets close, but can do without the gore.

"There are times when they do publish useful things, like such or such street is blocked," she said, "but they also put a lot of information about narcos and the ugly things they do."

Blog del Narco is registered with a U.S. company and all its blog-related payments are made with bank deposits, not a credit card, he said.

The blogger said he spends about four hours a day working on the blog and has recruited a friend to help after becoming overwhelmed with submissions.

Many of his videos are sent to him by readers, who know he will get them a much wider airing in Mexico, or are taken from YouTube. He regularly lifts news reports from other media sites without credit. He says mainstream media did the same with his content — until the national Milenio Television network aired the prison warden video and credited Blog del Narco.

Its daily hits went up 30 percent.
Tip of the sombrero to Olga R Rodriguez of the Associated Press for this file.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Newsweek seeks new editor- no takers so far

Hat tip to Keith J. Kelly, The New York Post columnist who writes Media Ink

Pressure is mounting to find a new editor-in-chief of Newsweek, as the staff defections continue in the wake of the sale two weeks ago to stereo mogul Sidney Harman.

Jon Meacham, the current editor-in-chief, is telling staffers he hopes to pack it in by Labor Day.

And the short list of candidates to replace him is growing shorter by the day.

The most logical inside candidate, Fareed Zakaria, is said to have told Harman he is not interested in the job. Speculation is rampant that he may be the next big name to jump ship.

Walter Isaacson, current CEO of the Aspen Institute think tank, a former editor of Time and one-time head of CNN, is also showing no interest, despite his friendship with Harman, an Aspen Institute board member.

"I've already run a weekly magazine," Isaacson said. "I have no interest in it."

Some insiders have been actively pushing for Tina Brown, currently head of The Daily Beast Web site.

It's a long shot, but Newsweek CEO Tom Ascheim, who is staying on board as president under Harman, is said to be listening.

Newsweek Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, book author and prolific writer of dozens of cover stories during his 24 years at the magazine, yesterday became the latest staffer to defect in what is becoming a serious brain drain.

Thomas, author most recently of "The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898," from Little, Brown earlier this year, is going to teach at Princeton and work on writing his next book for Little, a bio of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Said one insider of Brown: "She's the best magazine editor out there without a magazine and she'd bring a lot of attention to Newsweek."

Barry Diller, boss of IAC, which is bankrolling Brown and The Daily Beast, is on the board of the Washington Post Co., so he would be familiar with the pluses and minuses of the magazine. Wash Post said that in the first half of 2010 the magazine lost $8.5 million.

Diller could not be reached for comment.

And Brown, who has edited Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and the late Talk magazine, said she's not interested. "I very much admire Sidney Harman's willingness to take on a great news magazine that needs reinvention," she said. "But I've never been happier than in my partnership with Barry Diller creating The Daily Beast."

Read original here:

Monday, August 2, 2010

Digital Tampering 101

Hat tip to the Beeb, for the link to this piece about the perils of digitally tampering with news photos. Don't do it. Fakery is dishonest and readily detectable. Dozens of faked images are posted here for scrutiny, from the Economist's British Petroleum/Obama cover to Winston Churchill's belatedly cigar-less visage on a poster.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Breitbart treatment for Breitbart shows ease of manipulating video

Is this video real? Hey, video can't lie, right? Just ask CBS, The Washington Post, Fox, and other news outlets who've faithfully covered Andrew Breitbart's videos.

Last week, Breitbart released a highly edited video purporting to show former USDA official Shirley Sherrod making racist comments. He was exposed as a fraud when the full video came to light and it was clear Sherrod was actually making an impassioned case against racism.2

But for 24 hours, the mainstream media covered the edited Sherrod video as though it were real news—just as they'd covered Breitbart's equally deceptive videos about ACORN that smeared that organization.3

And that's why it's so galling that the media is now ignoring MoveOn's shocking new video of Breitbart himself. Our video, just as truthful as any Breitbart has ever released, deserves equal coverage from the news media.

MoveOn is distributing this selectively-edited video that gives "wing nut" conservative Andrew Breitbart the same treatment he dished out to Shirley Sherrod's NAACP speech. Silly yet effective.

1. "How Andrew Breitbart Hacks the Media," Wired, March 11, 2010

2. "Shirley Sherrod, scalp for the right wing," Salon, July 20, 2010

"White House apologizes to Shirley Sherrod," The Washington Post, July 21, 2010

3. "Walsh: Breitbart should've been discredited for pushing heavily edited ACORN videos, yet Fox ran with his Sherrod smear," Media Matters for America, July 25, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paywall keeps 90% of London Times Readers Away!

London Times Loses 90% of Readers - The Daily Beast Rupert Murdoch, who famously bought the London Times in 1981 in a "calculated gesture of bravado and mischief," may have miscalculated. Owning The Sun and News of the World had brought him profit but much woe, according to veteran journo Simon Jenkins.
Buying The Times, then in desperate straits, would infuriate his enemies, raise his world profile and dilute his image as a vulgarian.Given the dire state of the newspaper industry, it could not conceivably make money. Fifty offers were received by Thomson but none was related to the paper’s (negative) value. An anti- Establishment owner would have bought The Times to get The Sunday Times, and closed it. Murdoch did not.

Whether it can make money from the pay wall remains to be seen. Murdoch is stubborn, though.

Boundaries Crumble in New Delhi Cancer Ward

A poignant guest post today comes from Der Spiegel's Padma Rao, South Asia Bureau Chief, via the Indian weekly, Outlook. | The Crab Knows The Way. She is now back to committing acts of journalism at her usual pace, having gotten the all-clear from her doctors. Bravo, Ms Rao.

Here we all are, uniformly bald, with even our eyebrows singed off by chemotherapy. The Babylonian drone of Pashto, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Hausa and Kashmiri around me at New Delhi’s Apollo Cancer Clinic contains neither a reciprocal vocabulary, nor a mutual grammar. But the commonality of a deadly illness swells the urge to communicate and blurs formality. Pantomime ensures plenty of conversation.

Amid this, the doctors at the clinic, permanently dressed in green scrubs and Crocs, dash between the operation theatre and clinic. There is empathetic surgical oncologist Sameer Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit whom all in the tense state—Hindu and Muslim—unanimously hold up as a trophy of ‘Kashmiri’ achievement; and there is his soft-spoken Muslim colleague Feroz Pasha, of the archetypical ‘good bedside manner’.

There is a buzz, the surgeon is in. Dozens of Kashmiris immediately scramble past all other doors in an unruly but concerted beeline for Kaul’s. Animated debate in Kashmiri wafts from the room. Apart from the cancer—and therein lies a clue to Kaul’s excellence at putting his very tense patients at ease—there is much to be discussed: the latest buzz from the Valley, the state of Srinagar’s lakes, the two political ‘family firms’, the puzzling exclusion of Kashmiri Pandits from all dialogue on the future of Kashmir, the shenanigans of the security forces in the Valley. No surprises then that Kashmir’s most famous hardline Muslim separatist is Kaul’s patient. When Syed Ali Shah Geelani was diagnosed with cancer, he insisted on being treated by the Kashmiri Pandit alone: even if in faraway Delhi.

As I await my turn, tall men with wild looks pace the corridor and pluck at magnificent beards, their shalwars flapping around their ankles. Surma-rimmed eyes peer from behind chadors, dishdashas swish and flutter past urgently, grizzly elders in prayer-caps finger beads and mutter nervously. To Indian eyes, these people look no different from those among the milling, roaring crowds at a Hafiz Saeed carnival or a Jaish gala. The ones who carry Kalashnikovs and scream ‘Death to India’.

Surely some of my fellow-patients harbour some form of resentment towards India, I wonder idly. Or have relatives who are openly hostile? For those who could afford to: why not hospitals in Europe or Russia? Why ‘infidel’ India? The India that, as they see it, slurps up borders, hogs rivers and treats its Muslims shamelessly? Yet here they are, in the heart of India’s capital and in the cavernous basement of its largest private hospital, in search of a cure and—a second life.

A woman from Peshawar lifts her veil to reveal a beautiful face marred by a giant, unnatural growth. An ancient man from Jalalabad in a pakol hat wheezes and wipes his one ‘good’ rheumy eye, the other mutilated by a tumour. Jolly Punjaban Sweetie, who, in a complete departure from TV soaps, loves and accompanies her sick mother-in-law to the radiation centre every day, pinches the rosy cheek of five-year-old Khalil, across whose head snakes a giant scar. Brain cancer has paralysed him, but he wills his way past a line of chairs to accept chocolate from an old and toothless Bengali lady who wears a new sari every day, as though the daily date with radiotherapy were no less than one with a temple deity.

As a foreign correspondent in and out of South Asia’s wars and resentments for decades—which I must probably thank for my recent tumour—and only too aware of our complicated image among our ‘Islamic’ neighbours, I am intrigued. “Indians working in Afghanistan to seek greater protection,” reads one headline in the paper I have just unfolded. “Pakistan continues to sponsor terrorism in India,” reads another. “Bomb blast in Pune kills 9, Islamic militants behind the attack”, reads a third.

And yet, 10,000 foreigners with serious illnesses—the majority from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Arab world—thronged Delhi’s Apollo Hospital in 2009 alone. Nearly 50,000 visited it as out-patients.

After seven months at the hands of Apollo’s round-the-clock specialists who burn their candles at both ends trying to save lives, even as peaceniks light theirs in flickering, futile hope at international borders, I find my own glowing bright with conviction.

Are doctors India’s foreign policy aces? Most certainly so. Could they hold the key to both international relations and crucial negotiations in our own backyard? Absolutely. Disease as a unifier in the corridors of hope and pain? Why not? After all and beneath the chadors, the Bengali saris and the dishdashas, behind the bindis and the beards and on the black-and-white monotony of an X-ray, every tumour looks the same.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tkcacik Kicks 'Nothing-based Dystopia ' of Media

“Phone sex,” writes Maureen Tkacik in the Columbia Journalism Review,

is not so unlike being a reporter. A central challenge of success at both is keeping random strangers—horny guys, hostile hedge-fund managers—on the phone, talking to you, confessing to you, growing fond of you, resolving to talk to you again. And at all times, phone-sex operators, like reporters, are expected to remain detached, wise to “The Game,” objective—but in a way, that’s crap. It’s not easy to become beloved by strangers if not a single part of you truly yearns for that love.

The ex-Time mag, ex-Wall Street Journal, ex-Gawker, ex-Jezebel hack laments the present state of journalism and its branding fetish, but aims for 'journalistic redemption' in rebranding herself. "Look at Me!" is the Misty lyricized title of the article that obsesses at length about the self-obsession of bloggers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

So how 'Despicable' is the Calendar section today? - LA Observed

Some Los Angeles Times journalists are less than rapt over the way their listings magazine, Calender, came wrapped in a movie ad. CLick this link to read full story in the original. Too much intersection between the film industry and the film reviewers.
I am bracing for the multi-plex , multimedia assault by the marketeers of Eat, Pray, Love (referred to by cognoscenti as 'Eat, Pray, Barf'!)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

CNN Editor Fired Over Tweet Praising Hezbollah Mentor

It took less than 140 characters for Octavia Nasr to end her 20-year career with CNN. And those characters weren't anything along the lines of "I quit." Slate reports that,
the senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs tweeted about how she respected Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who died on Sunday. Fadlallah supported suicide bombings against Israel and was a critic of both Israel and the United States. Nasr apologized for the tweet and even wrote a blog post on Tuesday night about the issue. In it, she wrote that when she tweeted about respecting the cleric, she was referring to his attitude toward women's rights: Fadlallah gave women the right to hit their husbands if they were attacked first. "Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet," Nasr wrote on her blog. "It's something I deeply regret." By Wednesday she was unemployed. In a leaked internal memo, Parida Khosravi, the senior vice president for CNN International Newsgathering, wrote, "At this point, we believe that [Nasr's] credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward," according to New York magazine's Daily Intel blog.

Read original story in New York

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pressing the envelope: Gates Tightens Rules for Military and the Media

Hat tip to THOM SHANKER of the NY Times for this piece about the new media rules since General McChrystal had his stones rolled by Hastings and lost his command.

WASHINGTON — Nine days after a four-star general was relieved of command for comments made to Rolling Stone magazine, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued orders on Friday tightening the reins on officials dealing with the news media.

The memorandum requires top-level Pentagon and military leaders to notify the office of the Defense Department’s assistant secretary for public affairs “prior to interviews or any other means of media and public engagement with possible national or international implications.”

Just as the removal of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal from command in Afghanistan was viewed as President Obama’s reassertion of civilian control of the military, so Mr. Gates’s memo on “Interaction With the Media” was viewed as a reassertion by civilian public affairs specialists of control over the military’s contacts with the news media.

Senior officials involved in preparing the three-page memo said work on it had begun well before the uproar that followed Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal. But they acknowledged that the controversy, and the firing of one of the military’s most influential commanders, served to emphasize Mr. Gates’s determination to add more discipline to the Defense Department’s interactions with the media.

“I have said many times that we must strive to be as open, accessible and transparent as possible,” Mr. Gates wrote in the memo, which was sent to senior Pentagon civilian officials, the nation’s top military officer, each of the armed-services secretaries and the commanders of the regional war-fighting headquarters. “At the same time, I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media, often in contravention of established rules and procedures.”

The memo by Mr. Gates, a former C.I.A. director, also demanded greater adherence to secrecy standards, issuing a stern warning against the release of classified information: “Leaking of classified information is against the law, cannot be tolerated and will, when proven, lead to the prosecution of those found to be engaged in such activity.”

A copy of the unclassified memo by Mr. Gates was provided to The New York Times by an official who was not authorized to release it. Douglas B. Wilson, the new assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, and Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, verified its content.

Mr. Gates’s memo “is based primarily on his view that we owe the media and we owe ourselves engagement by those who have full knowledge of the situations at hand,” Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Gates was particularly concerned that civilian and military officials speaking to reporters sometimes had only a parochial view of a national security issue under discussion. The new orders, Mr. Wilson said, were devised to “make sure that anybody and everybody who does engage has as full a picture as possible and the most complete information possible.”

The repercussions of the Rolling Stone profile have included heightened concerns that military officers will become warier of the press — and it is expected that many officers will read the new memo as an official warning to restrict access to reporters.

Mr. Wilson and Mr. Morrell rejected those assumptions, saying Mr. Gates would remain committed to having the Pentagon work closely with reporters.

“From the moment he came into the building, this secretary has said that to treat the press as an enemy is self-defeating,” Mr. Morrell said. “That attitude has been reflected in his tenure: he has been incredibly accommodating, incredibly forthright and incredibly cooperative with the news media. That said, he thinks we as a giant institution have become too undisciplined in how we approach our communications with the press corps.”

But correspondents who cover national security issues, a realm that routinely requires delving into the classified world, have come to rely on unofficial access to senior leaders for guidance and context — and for information when policies or missions may be going awry.

Officials involved in drafting Mr. Gates’s memo cited several recent developments as central to his thinking. They included disclosure of the internal debate during the administration’s effort to develop a new policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, similar public exposure of internal deliberations over the Pentagon budget and weapons procurement, and, among others, an article in The Times describing a memorandum on Iran policy written by Mr. Gates and sent to a small circle of national security aides.

On behalf of the military, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was consulted during the drafting of the memo on media relations and “fully supports the secretary’s intent,” said Capt. John Kirby, the chairman’s spokesman.

He cited Admiral Mullen’s visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, last weekend, in which the admiral told American military officers and embassy personnel that “we must continue to tell our story — we just need to do it smartly, and in a coordinated fashion.”

Mr. Gates’s memo also orders senior civilian and military leaders to coordinate their release of official Defense Department information that may have national or international implications, and to ensure that their staff members have the experience and perspective “to responsibly fulfill the obligations of coordinating media engagements.”

The memo is expected to reanimate the professional public-affairs cadre among the Pentagon’s civilian and military staffs, who have made no secret that they have felt challenged by the growing numbers of contractors hired for “strategic communications” issues. It was one such contractor who brokered Rolling Stone’s profile of General McChrystal.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Spy Ring

Andrew Marshall on the Russian suburbanite espionage ring, in the London Independent.

Andrew Marshall: Everyone benefits from a little espionage

Most world powers tacitly accept this trade-off: they spy on us, and we spy on them, and the world is a safer place as a result

The Russian spy saga has been good, cheap entertainment.

It has presented us with the image of shady people living under assumed names while performing elaborate pantomime routines with luggage to get information that could surely be found more easily on the internet.

But there are good reasons to examine this more closely; and not just because it should make us wonder about our secrets and their safety. In fact, it can be argued that espionage is good for security, even espionage by our enemies: perhaps especially by our enemies, if it helps them understand us a little better and makes them feel more secure.

Most world powers tacitly accept this trade-off: they spy on us, and we spy on them, and the world is a safer place as a result. Most people accept that their own governments are entitled to spy on others, just in case they are hostile or lying; is it really anything but hypocrisy to expect the others to behave differently?

Forget the idea that Google has eliminated the need for intelligence. Much information, it is true, is more freely available than ever before.

But the hard stuff – the critical and sensitive details of national security planning, like the intention to go to war – is not; and nor is the really soft stuff, the thoughts and feelings of others.

The justification for intelligence-gathering is that there is still information that either is so secret that it can only be gathered by covert means, or is inside someone's head. You won't find the president pondering his plans on Facebook. And that is the critical element: human intentions can only be judged by humans.

Huge advances in technical intelligence, signals and surveillance have boosted the capacity of governments to make assessments about the capabilities of their enemies – their location, armaments, disposition, equipment – but their intentions remain opaque, as decision-makers have discovered only too often.

Judging those is the job of the most highly-placed intelligence agents – agents that would be serviced by intelligence officers like the deep-cover illegals uncovered last week by the US. They weren't there to spy on their suburban neighbours over the hydrangeas; they were there because they could meet the most sensitive sources without causing any concern to anyone.

Both sides, in the Cold War, knew the value of espionage; and they would even, on occasion, acknowledge that there was a balance that helped preserve the peace. In 1987, when the US discovered that Moscow was bugging its embassy (shocking!), Secretary of State George Shultz admonished Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev for a breach of trust. Mr Gorbachev told him not to be naïve: indeed, he said, spying was a critical means of promoting stability.

Jack Matlock, former US ambassador to Moscow, tacitly admits in his memoirs that Mr Gorbachev had a point. "Espionage, after all, is one means by which governments verify that agreements are kept," he said – a crucial check on the other side, which both know is there and which keeps them (kind of) honest.

The best case for the importance of spies comes from the early 1980s, when the Cold War was threatening to turn white-hot. Ronald Reagan's rhetoric and the increasingly forward strategies of his military alarmed the Russians and convinced them that war might be edging closer; more importantly, that it might come without warning.

Yuri Andropov, the crumbling gerontocrat in charge of the Kremlin, nursed a particularly bad case of Cold War paranoia. According to Oleg Gordievsky in his book, Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions, Moscow launched an operation to improve intelligence – Operation Ryan, Raketno-YadernoeNapadenie ("Nuclear Missile Attack").

Ten months later, the West began feeding their most paranoid fantasies with Able Archer, a nuclear command post exercise. It involved no real weapons, but it clearly looked awfully real to the Russians. Moscow Centre, alarmed, sent residencies a flash telegram reporting an alert on American bases and asking for further information. The message was clear: the Russians were thinking of hitting America first, before the Americans launched. How did the spies help? They seem to have played at least a small role in calming Moscow and reassuring it that the exercise was just that: an exercise.

But more important, the West also had its spies. The US initially refused to countenance that Russia had ever believed that war was imminent, but the evidence from its own intelligence sources convinced them otherwise: this had nearly sparked the Third World War.

The Soviet Union in 1987 was a closed, authoritarian state that feared for its place in the world, and it couldn't read its adversary well. Espionage probably helped persuade its leadership that they had less to fear than they had thought. We in the West would have been better off, in fact, if the Russians had known more: if their spies had been closer to the centre of power and more able to reassure their leaders.

Russia was often well-served by its intelligence machine, as Vladimir Putin well knows. Its intelligence officers were among the most clear-sighted members of the ancien régime and they saw long before others which way things were heading. And most importantly, its leaders trusted them, when they didn't trust either the reassurances of Western diplomacy or publicly available information which they regarded as propaganda.

Of course, there is just as much – perhaps more – bad intelligence as good: but Iraq, the Falklands, or Pearl Harbour all show the dangers of failure to collect intelligence, or its abuse, not of spying itself. By creating greater transparency – giving states greater insights into their adversaries and their intentions – espionage can contribute to making the world a safer place.

And if it helps persuade our adversaries that our intentions are peaceful, it seems a small price to pay – to host a few foreigners whose spare time is spent brushing up against each other in public places.

Andrew Marshall is a former foreign editor of The Independent who also worked for Kroll, a leading corporate intelligence firm.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New Al Qaida Magazine Instructs 'Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom'

Al-Qaida launched its first online propaganda magazine in English on Tuesday, a move that could help the terror group recruit inside the U.S. and Europe, according to the Associated Press. It's not very glossy

The magazine, called Inspire, [reportedly] is being run by al-Qaida's branch in Yemen, which has been linked to the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt of a U.S.-bound airliner, according to the Associated Press.
Some cynics, such as the reporters at the Atlantic Magazine, detect a whiff of US cyberwarrior counter-propaganda about the project and have scanned the first issue for your reading pleasure without the risk of Jihadi cyberworms!

The launch suggests that, as al-Qaida's core has been weakened by CIA drone airstrikes, the group hopes to broaden its reach inside the U.S., where officials have seen a spate of homegrown terrorists.

"This new magazine is clearly intended for the aspiring jihadist in the U.S. or U.K. who may be the next Fort Hood murderer or Times Square bomber," Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar and former CIA officer, said.

Tuesday's launch did not go smoothly. The magazine was 67 pages long, but all but the first three pages were just garbled computer code, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist websites and obtained a copy of the magazine.

The table of contents included articles such as "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," which promised to be "a detailed yet short, easy-to-read manual on how to make a bomb using ingredients found in a kitchen."

"We also call upon and encourage our readers to contribute by sending their articles, comments or suggestions to us," the magazine's introduction read.

At the heart of al-Qaida's propaganda effort is Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical U.S.-born cleric now living in Yemen. Authorities say his online sermons, in English, have inspired several recent terrorist plots in the United States. The magazine promotes an article by al-Awlaki titled "May Our Souls be Sacrificed for You." But like most of the magazine, the article did not appear in the version circulated Tuesday.

Until now, al-Qaida has relied on Arabic websites to carry its message. Now it appears to be capitalizing on its recent success recruiting inside the U.S.

Using propaganda on the Internet, the terrorist group has been able to attract Americans such as Bryant Neal Vinas and Najibullah Zazi, two admitted al-Qaida terrorists. Both were radicalized in New York and traveled to Pakistan to join the fight against the U.S.

In a recent terrorism case in New Jersey, prosecutors say two U.S. citizens watched al-Awlaki's videos on their cell phones and took inspiration in his call for smaller, single acts of terrorism.

The editorial staff at Inspire have some way to go til they get the cyber-cover art down to maximize attention. Compare Inspire to the latest Rolling Stone cover, below, with its double-barrel impact that drove everyone Gaga and helped bring down Stan the Man, a four star general. The launch issue (geddit?) of the Jihadi raghead rag, Inspire lacks punch.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ooh La La! Porn Merchant in Three-way bid for Le Monde

John Lichfield, a veteran reporter for London's The Independent, reveals how the iconic French newspaper, Le Monde, is to be taken over by a consortium that includes a tycoon who built a fortune on porn. Click here to see the original article.

The journalists of Le Monde, the most prestigious French-language publication in the world, have contemptuously defeated an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to intervene in the sale of their struggling newspaper.

As a result, Le Monde, once known for its uncompromising austerity, will today fall into the hands of the former romantic and business partner of Yves Saint-Laurent and a radical, self-made billionaire who founded his fortune on internet pornography, chat lines and peep shows.

Le Monde's journalists, who have controlled the newspaper for almost half a century, voted by over 90 per cent to accept the majority ownership bid of a consortium headed by Pierre Bergé, 81, the retired fashion impresario, and Xavier Niel, 42, one of France's most successful, and controversial, internet entrepreneurs.

The decision was matched by equally crushing votes by Le Monde's reader-shareholders and the employees of several subsidiary publications. The managing board of Le Monde will confirm the choice today, guaranteeing the immediate future of one of the world's most distinctive and respected newspapers.

The bid by Mr Bergé and Mr Niel was always likely to be the most attractive to Le Monde's employees and readers. The entrepreneurs, and the third member of their consortium, Matthieu Pigasse, a merchant banker, had promised the journalists a "blocking" vote on future changes and complete editorial independence.

President Sarkozy's clumsy intervention two weeks ago – summoning the newspaper's editor-in-chief to the Elysée to back a rival offer – only served to make the outcome certain and the scale of the vote overwhelming. Mr Sarkozy is reported to have objected to Mr Niel as a co-owner of Le Monde on moral grounds.

Mr Niel, now a multi-billionaire, started his business career at the age of 19 by launching a sexual contact service on Minitel, France's dial-up precursor to the internet. He branched out into peep shows before making a colossal fortune from his internet access and telephone companies, Free and Iliad.

Among many other business interests, Mr Niel owns the rights to the songs written by the 1960s French pop singer, Claude François. He is therefore the owner of the global rights to the music, but not the English lyrics, of the karaoke classic, "My Way".

In 2006 Mr Niel was given a two-year suspended sentence for embezzlement. More recently, he has backed two left-wing, investigative websites in France, Bakchich and Mediapart.

These ventures into radical politics and journalism are believed to be the real reason for Mr Sarkozy's opposition to his part-ownership of Le Monde.

The president is reported to have feared that Mr Niel, and the equally leftwing Mr Bergé, a backer of the Socialist candidate, Ségolène Royal, in 2007, would turn the newspaper into an anti-Sarkozy vehicle.

The president tried to persuade Le Monde's editor-in-chief, Eric Fottorino, that he and his staff should back a rival consortium, consisting of France Telecom, the Spanish newspaper El Pais and the owner of the centre-left news magazine, Le Nouvel Observateur. The bid included several people with connections with the president's centre-right party.

Le Monde, once known for its elaborate French and its grey pages, has surrendered readers and advertising revenue to the internet in recent years.

It has also made strategic errors, such as spinning off part of the ownership, and revenue, of its excellent web-site to another company.

It has abandoned some of its legendary austerity and wordiness in the past decade. There are now photographs, sports coverage and large, less ponderous headlines. Many readers find the changes refreshing. Others say the newspaper has been irretrievably dumbed down.

Either way, Le Monde's circulation fell by 4 per cent last year, to 288,000. The Le Monde holding company, which also owns weekly magazines such as Courrier International, Telerama and La Vie, lost €25m (£20.5m). Its journalists have fought tooth and claw to maintain their de facto control over the title for years. Two months ago, they accepted that they had no choice but to relinquish majority ownership to a new investor.

In a speech to staff on Friday night, Mr Fottorino backed the Bergé-Niel-Pigasse consortium. The question was, he said, to whom should Le Monde "give the keys of the company" without "selling our editorial independence". Although the Le Nouvel Observateur-El Pais-France Telecom bid was "honourable" and "solid", the business plan and guarantees given by Mr Bergé and Mr Niel were clearer, he said.

They also explicitly "recognised" Le Monde's "history" as an intelligent, independent voice. In other words, Le Monde may be about to change hands but its journalists plan to continue to do things "Their Way".