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.