Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

This is the news for April First

April 1, 2014

Hat tip to Gin and Tacos.

And now a word from our sponsor.


Washington Post maps that explain the world

August 27, 2013

Max Fisher of the Washington Post has compiled 40 interesting maps that do throw a lot of light on what’s going on in the world.   I linked to some of them in my posts on country comparisons of religion and IQ and racism and diversity.

You can click on 40 maps to see them all, starting with a geopolitical map of world powers as of 200 A.D. and ending with an interactive time-lapse map of the earth as seen from space over 12 months.

Many of the maps have links to accompanying Washington Post article.  If the video link above doesn’t work, you should be able to see the same video on the 40 maps link.

What we’d know if news media were liberal

August 13, 2013

Jack Akadjian, who writes for the Daily Kos web log, recently listed 15 things that all Americans would know if the news medical really were liberal.

1.  Where the jobs went.

2.  Upward wealth redistribution and/or inequaliy.

3.  ALEC.

4.  The number of people in prison.

5.  The number of black people in prison.

6.  U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world.

7.  Glass-Steagall.

8.  Gerrymandering.

9.  The number of bills blocked by Republicans in Congress.

10.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

11.  Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

12.  Tax cuts primary benefit the rich.

13.  What’s happened to the bees.

14.  The impact of temporary workers on the economy.

15.  Media consolidation.

For details, click on 15 things everyone would know if there were a liberal media.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to buy Washington Post

August 6, 2013

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, will buy the Washington Post for $250 million.  I suppose it is not as bad as the Post being bought by the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch.  We’ll see.

Bezos’ politics might be described as Silicon Valley liberalism.  He is a champion of gay rights, but not in the right of his employees to decent working conditions.

I worked on newspapers for 40 years, and liked to believe that journalism was a calling and more than just a way for journalists to earn a salary and owners to earn a profit.

Most (not all) of the historically great American newspapers were owned by families who believed in the newspapers’ mission, rather than by corporations whose main business was elsewhere.

Bezos will own the Washington Post as an individual and incorporate it into Amazon, so he doesn’t fall into either category.  It will be interesting to see what his intentions are.


The Koch threat to independent newspapers

August 2, 2013

The billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are the fourth and fifth richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine.  They own Koch Industries, a conglomerate corporation founded by their father, Fred Koch, which Forbes says is the second largest privately-held American company.

Little known to the general public, they have spent decades funding right-wing, conservative and libertarian organizations, such as the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They reportedly are interested in acquiring the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers owned by the Tribune Company.

My friend Anne Tanner e-mailed me a copy of this letter from David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of The Wire television series, about his concerns regarding the possible Koch takeover.

Dear Friend,

Strange that I acquired a certain notoriety and success writing television drama, yet for some dumb luck, I’d be in a newsroom somewhere watching what is happening to American journalism and wondering when anyone is going to speak up and act.  Yes, I make television now; but The Wire and Treme are narratives rooted in what I came to value in print journalism, and the world that the Baltimore Sun opened up for me when I arrived in that city, fresh out of college.

A newspaper — an honest one — was a marvelous place to learn about the world and to convey what is learned to the community it serves.  But this is only true, of course, if the newspaper is of and for the community and if it values its daily report more than any pre-determined point of view.  So it is alarming to me that the Koch brothers, the billionaire duo so actively engaged in supporting a particular political ideology, are interested in buying the Baltimore Sun and a dozen other newspapers including the Los Angeles Times , the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant .

Join me in signing a petition asking the Tribune Company not to sell to the Koch brothers, and to instead support the local ownership of American news organizations.

My concern does not stem from my distaste for the Koch brothers’ right-wing ideology.  I would be appalled if, say, Arianna Huffington or Ralph Nader or any other politically engaged voice was attempting to buy my local newspaper.  Good journalism needs to be unaligned and indifferent to ideological cant and partisan politics; it needs to be about the acquisition of unaligned fact.

There are many who claim the internet has rendered professional reporting obsolete; that the careful, impartial coverage of an increasingly complex world can be left in the hands of citizen bloggers, that no one needs to be paid to cover institutions consistently and with unbiased and ethical rigor.

I don’t agree.  Reporting is a delicate and professional endeavor.  And maintaining that endeavor is the only way to maintain an open and honest society.  This will remain true whether a news report is delivered digitally or in print, and supporting professional journalism with a revenue stream that is rooted in a committed hometown readership that trusts its local newspaper.

The original sin of American journalism is having listened to Wall Street four decades ago, when it was first suggested that out-of-town ownership by publicly-traded chains were the optimum means of assuring profit and viability.  The seeds of this disaster predate not only the Koch brothers, or the internet, or even the Tribune ownership of my hometown paper.  It goes back nearly three decades to the moment when local ownership of that paper passed from Baltimoreans to those who did not live, or work, or live and die with this city.

Wall Street is very good at manufacturing short-term profit and little else.  And political ideologues are very good at manufacturing a stunted political argument. But for a newspaper to serve its community with care and precision and dedication, the newspaper must be of the city and a part of the city — and beholden only to that city.

To that end, there are Baltimore-based consortiums who have made clear to the Tribune Company that they are ready and willing to purchase the Baltimore Sun and operate the newspaper as a locally-owned enterprise.  There are people in my city who understand that a first-rate metropolis requires a daily paper that is not merely a vessel for profit or ideology, but rather for unbiased, unaligned and properly supported journalism.  And the Tribune company, in divesting itself of its newspaper assets with an eye to local ownership, could undo the great damage that news-chain journalism has done to our civic life.

A sale to the Koch brothers would indeed be a journey from bad to worse.  The only way to restore print journalism for the civic good is to have it practiced and owned by those who live in and are dedicated to the community itself.

Join me in asking the Tribune papers not to sell to the Koch brothers.

David Simon
Baltimore, Maryland

Click on Working Families to sign the petition.

[Update 8/5/13]  Another threat.  Washington Post to be sold to Jeff BezosIt is always a problem when a newspaper or news broadcaster is a component of a corporation in some other line of business, which has interests that will be affected by the way news is covered.  In this case, Jeff Bezos is buying the business as an individual rather than as CEO of Amazon, but the principle is the same.


For an idea of the Koch brothers’ power and influence, click on the following links.

Inside the Koch Empire: How the Brothers Plan to Reshape America by Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

Political activities of the Koch brothers on Wikipedia.

The Koch Club – Koch millions spread influence through nonprofits, colleges by the Investigative Reporting Workshop of American University’s journalism school

Koch Brothers Influence Peddling Exposed for highlights of the AU students’ report on Daily Kos.

Affirmative action for conservatives?

July 1, 2013

Back when I was a reporter for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, our city editor once did an informal poll on our internal e-mail system as to what reporters and editors thought about the topic of abortion.

Not all the reporters and editors responded, but of those who did, there was a large number (including me) who were pro-choice and one brave lonely individual who was pro-life.

I recalled this the other day when I read that the University of Colorado Board of Regents intended to conduct a survey to determine whether conservatives and conservative viewpoints were underrepresented on the university’s faculty.

newspaper-2In the case of the D&C newsroom, I think our near-unanimity was a handicap in doing justice to both sides.  We all tried to be as fair to all points of view as we could, but you never know what you are unconsciously taking for granted until you interact with someone whose assumptions are different.

I don’t what could have been done about this imbalance.  Nobody asked my political opinions when I was interviewed for the job.  I don’t think that would have been a proper question to ask, any more than a question about my religion.  If a newspaper were ever to start an intentional policy of hiring more conservatives and Republicans, what they would get is a lot of opportunists claiming to be whatever they thought would get them hired.

It is a fact of life that certain occupations attract certain types of people, and it is also a fact of life that working in certain occupations gives you a certain point of view.  I doubt you would find, to pick a few random examples, that the political opinions of military officers, climate scientists, engineers or bankers necessarily represent a cross-section of the population.

Looking back on my own work, I think I was biased not so much liberal or conservative as biased toward the point of view of the people I covered—in my case, the Rochester business community.  This is an old and familiar tendency in newspaper work.  The sports writer becomes a fan of the home team, the police reporter take on the point of view of the police, the political reporter starts to think of herself as a political insider.

The answer is not to try to correct a bias with a corresponding opposite bias, and certainly not to put journalism under the supervision of politicians, but to strive for professionalism, which means reporting the relevant facts as accurately and completely as you can, stating opposing views fairly and being willing to acknowledge errors and inconvenient truths.

I don’t in fact think we did a bad job of covering the abortion issue.  Both sides complained about our coverage in about equal measure.


Click on University of Colorado plan to survey political climate draws mixed reactions for a report on the Colorado regents’ plan.  I found the link on the Unqualified Offerings web log.  I agree with  “Thoreau” on Class is a battlefield and Samuel Goldman of The American Conservative on Trolling for Conservatives.

What do you think?

Julian Assange on the Bradley Manning show trial

June 25, 2013

Julian Assange said in an interview Monday that the Bradley Manning court-martial is a show trial.   Just like the show trials in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the verdict has been pre-determined, and the purpose of the trial is to convince the public of the defendant’s guilt.

The judge has ruled out the Manning’s lawyers main line of defense, which is that the information he released was wrongly over-classified, and allowed only one of 33 witnesses the defense wanted to call.  The prosecution will call 141 witnesses, some of whom will present their testimony in secret.  Access by the press is controlled, and less than a quarter of those who applied were granted press credentials.

Assange pointed out that many American newspapers published articles using the information Manning revealed, but not one of them contributed to Manning’s defense fund.  Some reporters may have done so individually, however.

Links for weekend browsing 5/31/13

May 31, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting, and you might find interesting, too.

Our American Pravda by Ron Unz.

The publisher of the American Conservative writes that many important news stories are ignored by the major U.S. newspapers and broadcasters, including the mystery of the 2001 anthrax attacks, evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam and charges by an FBI whistleblower of a high-level espionage ring.  Ron Unz says you need to use the Internet to find the real news.

Postal service is on its last legs, with little help in sight in the Los Angeles Times.

OC&LpostofficeAs a government corporation, the U.S. Postal Service has the worst of both worlds—a requirement to make a profit, but no freedom of action to do the things necessary to make a profit.  Even so, the USPS might be able to survive if not for the requirement that it fund retirement benefits 50 years in advance—far longer than the USPS is likely to be in existence, unless things change.

At Universities, Too, the Rich Grow Richer by Lawrence Wittner.

Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, received $2.9 million in salary for the 2011-2012 academic year, the year he was forced to resign in disgrace over the Penn State pedophile scandal.   He is an example of how state universities reflect the U.S. trend to huge compensation packages for top executives, wage stagnation for middle-level workers and a growing number of low-paid temporary workers (adjuncts) at the bottom.

Why is the FBI helping a monstrous dictator? by Ted Rall.

A cartoonist and syndicated columnist asks why the FBI has arrested an opponent of Uzbekistan’s corrupt and hated dictator, Islam Karimov, who has massacred his own people and literally boiled opponents alive.  Karimov was so odious that the Bush administration severed relations, but the Obama administration restored the connection, because of Uzbekistan’s strategic location and Karimov’s help in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

Are journalists biased in favor of abortion?

April 19, 2013

Back in the 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, we had a managing editor who used the newsroom e-mail system to provoke discussion and bring the newsroom closer together as a group.  One day he conducted a poll on whether we were pro-choice or pro-life.   Some of us declined to answer, but of those who did, all (including me) were in favor of abortion rights, except for one person.

Did this raise questions about whether we could be balanced our coverage?  Maybe it did, although we seemed to get the same number of complaints from the pro-choice and pro-life sides.   To the extent this was a problem, I don’t know what we could have done about it, except to try extra-hard to be fair to the side we didn’t agree with.   Nobody asked my opinion on this or any other controversial issue when I was interviewed for the job, and for obvious reasons I don’t think newsrooms would benefit from affirmative action policies for conservatives.

Journalism is a field which attracts people with particular sets of values, as does medicine, law, teaching, police work, military service and entrepreneurial business, and these values affect your outlook.   That’s just how things are.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

The reason I write about this subject today is that a lot of people evidently think that (1) the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell should have got more coverage than it did and (2) the reason it didn’t is that journalists are biased in favor of abortion.

Based on my newspaper experience, I think you have to turn to Chaos Theory to explain why some events become national news and others are only local news.   If bias caused the Gosnell case to be under-reporter, this bias affected the right-wing press such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal as much as it did CNN and the Washington Post.   In any case, it is front-page news now.


“Good Night and Good Luck”

October 6, 2012

Watching this excellent docudrama about Edward R. Murrow’s battle with Senator Joe McCarthy took me back, in imagination, to those days.  In 1953 and 1954, when the events of this movie took place, I was a college student in Wisconsin.   I listened faithfully to Edward R. Murrow’s CBS radio news broadcasts, and admired his use of language—precise, strong, not a word wasted and his tone of voice full of majesterial disdain for liars and demagogues.   I don’t remember whether I viewed Murrow’s CBS TV documentary on McCarthy when it was originally broadcast, but later, but I greatly admired it for the same reasons.

I watched it the other night on DVD at the home of my radical friend Larry, who pointed out that the time frame of the movie coincided with the CIA-sponsored coups against the elected governments of Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954—both of which planted the seeds of the tragic histories of those two countries down to this day.  I don’t remember if Murrow ever did broadcasts on those two events.  At the time they did not loom large in my consciousness.  To the extent that I thought about them, I thought about them not as examples of American imperialism, but as episodes in the global struggle against totalitarian Communism.

My writings for the student newspaper were about academic freedom, which all educated, right-thinking people were for, and about racial discrimination, which all educated right-thinking people were against.  I thought the danger to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights came from demagogues like McCarthy and the Southern segregationists.  I did not think there was anything systemically wrong with the basic institutions of American society, nor did Edward R. Murrow.

It is only in the past 20 years, and especially the past 10 years, that I have begun to see that I was wrong, and radical friends such as Larry were right.  U.S. government policies that I saw as byproducts of the struggle against Communism continued and grew stronger after the fall of Communism.

The movie depicts a program that Murrow did defending Milo Radulovich, an Air Force lieutenant who lost his commission on the grounds that he had been determined to be a security risk on the basis of secret information.  He had been asked to sever ties with his immigrant father, who subscribed to a Serbian-language newspaper published on Communist Yugoslavia, and his sister, who allegedly was active in liberal and left-wing causes.

Today this seems almost quaint.  The U.S. government now uses secret information to designate people for “targeted killing”.

Cypherpunks uncut

August 1, 2012

I think the Internet is potentially one of the greatest tools to promote human freedom and access to ideas and knowledge.  I think it also is potentially one of the greatest tools of Big Brother for surveillance and censorship.  For this reason I was particularly interested in the two-part series on the Cypherpunks on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program.  The RT network recently released an uncut version of Assange’s Cypherpunk interviews, which I also viewed with great interest.

The first part is more than an hour long and the second part is two hours long, and my guess is that most people who view this post won’t have the time or the interest to watch them in their entirety.  But I am posting them anyhow, for whoever might be interested, and also am linking to them in my Documentaries menu on the right.

The Cypherpunks are a loose movement whose goal is to promote individual privacy by providing encryption that would allow people to prevent unauthorized people, including government agents, from reading their private communication.  Assange interviewed three notable Cypherpunks—Andy Muller-Maguhn of Germany, a member of the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker organization; Jeremie Zimmerman of France, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, which advocates for free circulation of knowledge on the Internet; and Jacob Appelbaum of the USA, an independent computer security researcher and a participant in the Tor project to create on-line anonymity systems.

They drew a frightening, but (I think) true, picture of the ability of governments to collect and record every electronic transaction by every individual—e-mails, credit card purchases, Google searches, bank deposits and withdrawals, telephone calls—while themselves operating behind a veil of secrecy.

Applebaum gave an example of a man indicted for posting information on the Internet in violation of a secret law whose text he was not allowed to see.  The judge was allowed to see the law, and the man was acquitted, but presumably the loophole in the law was tightened up.  I have to write “presumably” because there is no way to know.

Muller-Maguhn said that just as the invention of the printing press made everyone a potential reader, the creation of the Internet has made everyone a potential writer.  Anyone, not just professional writers who are able to please professional editors, has the means of writing out what they think and know, and communicating it to the world.  This is valuable and important, and it doesn’t matter that only a little of the writing is of high quality.

These three, and Assange himself, are more libertarian than socialist.  Assange said the three basic freedoms, from which all other freedoms flow, are (1) freedom to communicate, (2) freedom of movement and (3) freedom to engage in economic transactions, and the third may be the most fundamental.  He may have been playing devil’s advocate when he said the latter, but I don’t think so.

I came across these videos on This Day in Wikileaks, a daily blog with daily news and commentary about Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.  I have put a link to it on my Links menu on the right.

I have put a link to Assange ‘The World Tomorrow’ —Cypherpunks uncut version, the Digital Journal version of the interviews, on my Documentaries menu on the right.

Click on Digital Journal: Cypherpunks Part 1 and Part 2 for the original 25-minute broadcasts.

Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow was broadcast by the RT (Russia Today) network.  It was started by the Russian government for its own purposes, and for that reason should be regarded with skepticism, but it also provides information and ideas not available through the established U.S. TV networks.  In the same way, the Voice of America is an agent of the U.S. government, but provides information to Russians they might not get from their domestic broadcasters.  When I was younger, I never thought I would ever make this comparison, but times have changed.

Outsourcing local U.S. news coverage to Asia

July 26, 2012

When I was a newspaper reporter, I used to console myself with the thought that at least I had a job that could not be shipped overseas.  This is no longer true.  Some newspapers are outsourcing editing and even reporting of local news to countries such as India and the Philippines.

All this is made possible by the Internet.  A lot of information is available on-line.  You don’t have to walk to city hall or the county courthouse to get it.  You don’t have to be in the same city to interview a local official by phone.  Press releases are available on-line, and you can rewrite them as easily in one place as another.  Some public meetings are televised and even available on YouTube; you don’t have to be at the meeting to summarize what was said.

What is lost is the background knowledge that comes from living in a community, which enables you to understand the significance and context of what you report.  But this is not quantifiable.  For certain newspaper executives, particularly executives of newspaper chains who spend only a few years in each place, what counts is cutting and improving the next quarter’s financial results.  Longer-term consequences are somebody else’s problem.

Click on Now They’re Even Outsourcing “Local” Journalism for a report by Ryan Smith on Journatic and Blockshopper, two journalism outsourcing companies.  He told how he worked for Journatic as a copy editor of articles  written about local news in Chicago, Houston and other U.S. cities by far-distant reports in, among other places, the Philippines.

Click on Outsourcing Journalism for an older report on outsourcing local news editing and reporting to India.

Click on Journatic Blockshopper and Mindworks Global Media Services for the home pages of three news outsourcing companies.

Click on Media Outsourcing and Journatic: Hate the Player, Not the Game for a defense of news outsourcing.  The argument is that by giving up the low-end side of reporting, you free up reporters for higher-value activities..

Click on Clayton Christensen for the home page of the man who wrote the book on what happens when you give up on the basic “low-end” work.

Google, Facebook and the filter bubble

June 11, 2012

Eli Pariser, former director of the online organization MoveOn, discovered a surprising and alarming thing about Google.  When he does a Google search, the menu he sees on a give topic is different from the menu one of his friends would see.  That is, Google has algorithms, based on his past Google searches and his demographic characteristics, that give him a unique menu based on what he is likely to be interested in.  Facebook, too, deletes links from his Facebook page that its algorithms determine that he is not interested in.  He found Facebook deleted links from his conservative friends because he clicked on them less often than links from his liberal friends.

The problem with this, he said, is that unless you proactively seek out diverse sources of information, you will wind up in a bubble in which everything you get through Google or Facebook will confirm what you already think you know.  He wrote a book about this (which I haven’t read) entitled The Filter Bubble:What the Internet Is Hiding From You.

What this means is that unless you proactively seek out diverse sources of information, you’re not going to get diverse sources of information.  That is a fixable problem.  The more serious problem is the other uses that Google, Facebook and other Internet companies make of the data they come on us.  By integrating seemingly minor bits of information from diverse sources, they can come up with a well-informed guess about what products you’ll buy, your politics and religion and even your personal habits.

The problem with this is that (1) this information can be made available to credit reporting agencies, employers, the Department of Homeland Security and other organizations who will use it in ways adverse to your interests and (2) the information may not be accurate.  Parisi in the TED video above says that if you drink milk rather than wine with your meals, and you frequent fast-food restaurants, demographers would say you’re probably a political conservative.  Well, I drink more milk than wine, and I greatly enjoy an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, and I consider myself a political liberal.

Years ago I used to joke that the same software that Amazon uses to determine that “people like you liked the following books” could be used by the Department of Homeland Security to determine that “people like you committed acts of terrorism.”  I no longer think of this as a joke.  President Obama and the Central Intelligence Agency use computer algorithms in drawing up kill lists of people in tribal areas of Yemen and Pakistan.

Click on A little bird tells me… from Making Light for a benign example of individuals using data mining.

Click on Bubble Trouble for an argument by Jacob Weisberg of Slate that Parisi exaggerates the problem.  Weisberg had friends of different political beliefs do Google searches on highly charged political subjects, and found little difference in the results.

Click on Google Personalization for directions as to how to turn off the Google personalization feature.

Click on The Filter Bubble for Eli Pariser’s web log.

Hat tip to Steve B. and Daniel B.

Can George Zimmerman get a fair trial?

June 9, 2012

I think it is a good thing, and not a bad thing, that the killing of Trayvon Martin is a national news story.   If it weren’t, the whole case might have been brushed under the rug.

But George Zimmerman is entitled to a fair trial, in which he is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  And both he and we, the people, are entitled to accurate news coverage, which we have not always got.

It would have been despicable of Spike Lee and Rev. Al Sharpton to publish George Zimmerman’s address even if they hadn’t published the wrong address and subjected an innocent person to harassment.  It is wrong that Zimmerman has to go into hiding—although Trayvon Martin’s family might say that this is better than being dead.

A criminal trial is not a good place to resolve complex social issues.  Racial profiling is a serious problem, Florida’s stand-your-ground law is a serious problem.  But when George Zimmerman goes to trial, the only issue to be tried is whether the prosecution can prove he is guilty of second-degree murder.

Many legal experts doubt that there is a case for a second-degree murder conviction.  Second-degree murder is an intentional but unplanned killing, or assault in which the death of the victim was a distinct possibility.  They argue there would be a stronger case for a lesser charge, such as manslaughter or assault.  Here in New York, there is a crime called “reckless endangerment.” which might fit.

What I wanted to see in the case, and what I now do see, is for the law to treat the killing of a young man as a serious matter.  I am willing to let a judge and jury decide whether Zimmerman has committed a crime or deserves to be punished.  I just want him to be held accountable for what he did.

Click on The Zimmerman Case: Reactions for a roundup by The Agitator of lawyers’ comments on the indictment.

Click on Altering the Zimmerman Tape for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ comment on NBC’s doctoring the tapes of Zimmerman’s 911 call to make Zimmerman appear racially prejudiced.

Click on The Trayvon-Industrial Complex for a post about the exploitation of the Trayvon Martin killing by Rod Dreher of The American Conservative.  The comment thread is well worth reading.

Click on Trayvon Martin Photos for’s report on bogus photos of Trayvon Martin being circulated on the Internet by Zimmerman supporters.  Click on Koch Plays George Zimmerman’s Legal Fees? for’s exposure of another false rumor.  These may be just the tip of the iceberg of false information circulating in the Internet.

Ecuador’s president versus the U.S. embassy

May 23, 2012

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has closed the U.S. base in Ecuador and expelled the U.S. ambassador, while inviting Chinese investment.  According to U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, he is the most popular president in Ecuador’s history.

He survived a 2010 coup attempt.  Interviewed on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program, he told Assange that the United States is the only country in the world not in danger of a military coup because it doesn’t have a U.S. embassy.  He said the U.S. embassy directly paid units of the Ecuadorian national police force, who reported to the U.S. ambassador and not to him.

He said he would welcome a U.S. base in Ecuador provided that Ecuador could establish a military base on Miami.  And he said Ecuador is actively looking for investment by China, Russia and Brazil.  If the United States depends on Chinese financing of its budget and trade deficit, he said, it can’t be wrong for Ecuador to look for Chinese financing.

The most controversial thing he has done is his crackdown on the Ecuadorian press.  When President Correa was elected in 2007, the government only operated on TV station.  His administration seized two TV stations in 2008, and has sued various journalists for defamation of character.  Journalist Emilio Palacio, along with three owners of his newspaper, El Universo, was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $40 million fine early in 2011.  Palacio fled the country and was last reported living in Miami.

This kind of thing is not unique to Ecuador.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez also has cracked down on the right-wing adversarial press in his country.

Correa defended his action to Julian Assange by saying that five of the seven newspapers in Ecuador are controlled by the big banks, and are working to undermine his administration.  They don’t tell the truth, he said; by arrangement, none of them published any of the U.S. embassy cables, revealed by WikiLeaks, that related to Ecuador.

Assange said the media companies in the United States, Britain and other countries are equally corrupt.  The solution, he said, is to break up the big media companies and make it easier for independent voices to publish, not to use the power of government to suppress freedom of the press.  I think he’s right.  I also think he could have been tougher in his interview on this issue.

I watch Assange’s The World Tomorrow because he interviews Interesting people who would never appear on American network television.  Assange is not an adversarial interviewer – more like Charlie Rose than the late Mike Wallace – and I sometimes have to do some follow-up to get the complete picture, as I did with this interview.

Click on Digital Journal for links to previous episodes and a summary of the latest episode.

Click on President versus the media in Ecuador for a critical Al Jazeera report on President Correa’s struggle with the Ecuadorian press.


The coverup of the BP coverup

May 21, 2012

In September, 2008, a BP oil rig in the Caspian Sea had a blowout and oil spill, caused by exactly the same kind of failure as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a year and a half later.  Yet BP executives before and after the Deepwater Horizon spill maintained that BP had a perfect safety record, and the oil spill could not have been predicted.

BBC investigative reporter Greg Palast, whose interview by Paul Jay of the Real News Network is shown above, said he got a tip about the BP spill in the Caspian Sea, and flew incognito to Azerbaijan to interview eyewitnesses.  He said he was arrested on arrival, and the eyewitnesses were scared of being interviewed on camera, but the facts were later confirmed by a State Department cable which was revealed by Wikileaks.  This was part of the batch of cables that Bradley Manning is being prosecuted for allegedly revealing.

Palast’s story was aired by the BBC and other European TV networks.  He said he provided his information to American TV networks, but they never responded.  It is interesting to speculate why.

Click on BP Covered Up Blowout and Cables Reveal BP Coverup for Greg Palast’s full report.

Click on BP Coverup, Coverup for the transcript of his Real News Network interview.

Click on Greg Palast – Investigative Reporter for Palast’s home page and continuing reporting.

[Added 6/1/12]  If Greg Palast is right, and the two BP oil spills were due solely to that company’s negligence, that means deep ocean drilling may be safe, if it is done with proper safety procedures.

Julian Assange has his own TV program

April 25, 2012

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, now has his own TV program, The World Tomorrow, on the RT (Russia Today) 24-hour news network.   Despite his dangerous situation [1], he looks like he is having a good time.

His first program, shown above, was broadcast last week.  It was an interview with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, with a video hookup between Assange in England and Nasrallah at a secret location in Lebanon.  The interview is shown above.  I thought Assange provided an interesting and informative look at a figure who is little-known in the United States.  I admire his journalistic professionalism and his interviewing technique.  Assange asked probing questions in a civil manner, then allowed his subject to answer without interruption.

His second program, shown below, was broadcast yesterday.  It was less successful, in my opinion.  It was a joint interview with David Horowitz, once a left-wing radical who supported the Black Panthers and now a right-wing Zionist, and Slavoj Zizek, once a dissident in Communist Yugoslavia and now a proponent of Communism 2.0, a new version without the mistakes of the old.  I imagine Assange’s idea was to have the two of them tell their stories, which would have been fascinating, but instead he allowed the program to be dominated by Horowitz’s ranting against the supposedly left-wing President Obama [2].  Horowitz wasn’t engaged in conversation.  He was playing for Team Right against Team Left.

Assange’s program will be broadcast on Tuesdays.  I intend to watch it on YouTube every Wednesday, and I will post a YouTube link to any program I find especially interesting.

Swedish television did an excellent documentary on Julian Assange in December, 2010, to which I linked in a post.  The documentary was taken down, but I found a new version, which I include in my links menu under Important Documentaries.  I also inserted the new version in the original post.


The mystery of Vladimir Putin’s wealth

April 20, 2012

Here is another excellent (if inconclusive) example of investigative journalism by Al Jazeera English.

Click on Vladimir’s Tale for more about Vladimir Putin.

Why care about Vladimir Putin?  He is the President of the Russian Federation, the only nation in the world that, because of its nuclear arsenal, is capable of threatening the existence of the United States.

Mike Daisey made stuff up about Apple

March 19, 2012

Mike Daisey’s stage show about Apple Computer, to which I referred in a previous post, contained a lot of stuff that he just made up.  Foxconn and other components suppliers in China apparently don’t employ child labor on a large scale, as he claimed, though other assertions about labor conditions are confirmed by independent sources.  Some stories he told about encounters with Chinese workers apparently were invented.

Mike Daisey

All this came to light after the WBEZ radio in Chicago, the producers of This American Life, had second thoughts about a program they aired on Mike Daisey and distributed over Public Radio. They did their own investigation and issued a retraction.  Then they did a whole new program about their mistake.

Click on Retracting “Mr. Daisey and The Apple Factory” for This American Life’s press release.

Click on Retraction | This American Life for a link to an audio of WBEZ’s retraction program.

Click on Retraction PDF | This American Life for a transcript of WBEZ’s retraction program.

Click on Mike Daisey Statement on TAL for Daisey’s response.

Click on Apple’s iPad and the Human Costs for Workers in China for a factual account of Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

I give WBEZ credit.  The managers took corrective action as soon as they realized there was a problem.  They didn’t fire the whistleblower or try to cover up.    This is a level of integrity which ought to be routine in large organizations, but isn’t.

Mike Daisey is not a reporter, but what he did is something that reporters often are tempted to do.  They have a good news story, and reach for an extra embellishment that would make it an even better story, which discredits the whole thing.

The other thing to remember is that the problem isn’t just Apple Computer, but the whole system of outsourcing to China.  If this controversy results in an improvement in Apple’s labor practices, this will be good.  But if it merely results in shifting of business from Apple to other companies that are no better or possibly worse, nothing will be gained.

[Added 3/20/12]  Click on The Sad and Infuriating Mike Daisey Case for thoughts of James Fallows, formerly China correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.

In Focus: 2011 in pictures

December 19, 2011

Japan hit by tsunami

The Atlantic’s In Focus picture site has compiled 120 top news photos of 2011, all well worth looking at if you care anything about photography or photojournalism.

Click on 2011: The Year in Photos, Part One for the first 40 pictures.

Click on 2011: The Year in Photos, Part Two for the next 40 pictures.

Click on 2011: The Year in Photos, Part Three for 40 more pictures.

Arab Spring protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Does freedom of press apply to Julian Assange?

December 1, 2011

The U.S. State Department, as well as many high-level American editors and commentators, have questioned whether Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a journalist.  It is a practical as well as a theoretical issue.  If Assange comes under constitutional and legal guarantees of freedom of the press, the government will have a hard time justifying a prosecution of Assange.

Last weekend Assange was given Australia’s top journalism award, the Walkey Prize, that nation’s equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize.  But that won’t impress Assange’s enemies, including the U.S. State Department, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the editors of the New York Times or Britain’s The Guardian, despite the fact that Wikileaks gave the latter two scoops they never could have got for themselves.

I spent 40 years working for newspapers, and I can say from personal experience that journalists are not professionals in the sense that lawyers and professionals are professionals.  Most of us are employees, and are accountable for what we write to our employers, not professional associations.  Many of us do maintain high personal professional standards, and many of us have press credentials, but the second is not contingent on the first.

Fox News reporters, who have no standards whatever, have press credentials, and are accepted as legitimate journalists by the rest of the Washington press corps.  What grounds, then, to they have for questioning the legitimacy of Julian Assange.

Freedom of the press means simply the right to disseminate knowledge and opinion through the printed word, just as freedom of speech means the right to disseminate knowledge and opinion through the spoken word.  You don’t need special status to be entitled to this basic right.  The U.S. Constitution does not contain the word “journalist”; its guarantees are intended to apply to all people, not just those with some official status.

Julian Assange currently faces extradition to Sweden to answer questions related to charges of sexual misconduct.  He fears extradition from Sweden to the United States on as-yet unspecified charges.  His lawyers on Monday will ask Britain’s new Supreme Court to hear an appeal of Assange’s extradition order on the grounds that it is a matter of “public importance.”


Legal protection for blogger/journalists?

November 17, 2011

My friend Anne, a former newspaper reporter and editor, e-mailed me this press release from the University of Iowa.

The line between journalist and blogger keeps getting thinner, and a University of Iowa College of Law legal analyst believes courts need to develop a way to determine which bloggers should have the legal protections afforded traditional journalists.

The analysis, by third-year law student Benjamin Wischnowski, notes that current judicial tests fail to properly identify those bloggers who should be protected by state shield laws that guard journalists in their news gathering.

“The concern is that shield laws present the risk of being under-inclusive by failing to protect bloggers who are legitimate news gatherers, but that they might also be over-inclusive and protect too many bloggers based on a vague, undefined notion of investigative reporting,” Wischnowski says.  “The fact that courts could reach these two contrary results leads me to conclude that courts need more concrete tests for dealing specifically with bloggers.”

… … He suggests courts adopt a test that determines whether a blogger’s work can be considered legitimate journalism by how well it capitalizes on the blog as a medium.  Namely, whether the blogger makes her story available for online editing by readers — a form of crowd-sourcing — and whether she collaborates with other bloggers or readers, for instance, through a comments section.

The court would then determine whether that level of interaction is enough for a reader to understand that the blogger is practicing journalism and disseminating legitimate journalism, or is merely publishing libelous or defamatory statements about another person or organization.  Shield law protections can then be extended if the blogger’s work is considered legitimate news reporting

Shield laws for bloggers are problematic for the same reason that shield laws for journalists are problematic.  They create rights limited to a category of people designated as journalists by some governmental or legal authority.  The great press critic, A.J. Leibling, wrote cynically that “freedom of the press belongs to those who own one,” but the benefit of the age of the Internet is that freedom of the press belongs to all.  Net neutrality is more important to bloggers than any shield law.

The press release distinguishes between legitimate bloggers and those who merely use the Internet to publish defamatory or libelous statements.  I know enough about law to know that shield laws do not shield you from libel or slander suits (nor should they).  Saying that you got your information from a confidential source is not a defense.

What is needed is legal protection for whistleblowers.  It should not be a crime to reveal secret corporate or governmental information, no matter what kind of a confidentiality agreement you’ve signed, if the purpose of the secrecy is to conceal wrongdoing from the public.

Click on Law school analysis suggests legal protection for blogger/journalists  for the full press release.

Three-card monte needs its ringers

November 9, 2011

Click on Jay Smooth’s ill Doctrine for more like this.  (Hat tip to Eschaton.)

Gannett’s rich reward for a failed CEO

October 25, 2011

Gannett Co. Inc. owns the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, where I worked from 1974 to 1998.  Newspaper work was good to me, and Gannett was good to me, but I’m glad I was able to retire when I did.  I am reminded why I’m glad as I read this by David Carr in the New York Times.

Craig A. Dubow

Craig A. Dubow resigned as Gannett’s chief executive [on Oct. 6].  His short six-year tenure was, by most accounts, a disaster.  Gannett’s stock price declined to about $10 a share from a high of $75 the day after he took over; the number of employees at Gannett plummeted to 32,000 from about 52,000, resulting in a remarkable diminution in journalistic boots on the ground at the 82 newspapers the company owns.

Never a standout in journalism performance, the company strip-mined its newspapers in search of earnings, leaving many communities with far less original, serious reporting.

Given that legacy, it was about time Mr. Dubow was shown the door, right? Not in the current world we live in. Not only did Mr. Dubow retire under his own power because of health reasons, he got a mash note from Marjorie Magner, a member of Gannett’s board, who said without irony that “Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information.”

But the board gave him far more than undeserved plaudits.  Mr. Dubow walked out the door with just under $37.1 million in retirement, health and disability benefits. That comes on top of a combined $16 million in salary and bonuses in the last two years.


And also this, by Peter Lewis, formerly of the Des Moines Register, New York Times, Time magazine and Stanford University journalism school.

Mr. Dubow … required many employees to take unpaid leaves of absence, and instituted pay freezes.  He referred to this as “increasing workplace efficiencies.” … …

Mr. Dubow managed to keep earnings high, according to analysts, by cutting costs (i.e. people) more aggressively than any other company in the media industry.  Gannett refers to this as “workplace restructuring.” … …

Gracia Martore, who replaces Dubow as CEO, said: “We will continue our relentless quest to provide trusted news and information and will actively support the people and businesses in the communities we serve.”

These people are lying.  The corporate goal is not to serve the consumer; it’s to maximize profits and pay packages for top executives.  Can anyone argue that Gannett newspapers and journalism are better today, and that news consumers are better served?

How did Mr. Dubow and Gannett serve the consumer?  They laid off journalists.  They cut the pay of those who remained, while demanding that they work longer hours.  They closed news bureaus.  They slashed newsroom budgets.  As revenue fell, and stock prices tanked, and product quality deteriorated, they rewarded themselves [with] huge pay raises and bonuses.

via Words & Ideas.


The greatest infographic ever drawn

May 16, 2011

Double click to enlarge

Edward Tufte, author of The Visual Display of Quantitative Information and Envisioning Information, wrote in the former book that this chart, drawn by the French engineer and civil servant Charles Joseph Minard in 1861, “may well be the best statistical graphic ever drawn.”

I’ve admired Tufte and his work for decades.  You can’t understand the contemporary world without understanding statistics, and, as W. Edwards Deming said, no number means anything unless it can be meaningfully compared with something else.  Where statistics are concerned, a good graphic is worth a thousand words of text – provided the graphic presents the information understandably and without distortion.

The graphic above on Napoleon’s retreat is a great example of how to do it.  At a glance, you can see the position and size of Napoleon’s army on the map at any given date, and how it dwindled as it advanced, then retreated.  A second glance, at the line on the bottom, shows the temperates on the dates during the retreats.

I read Tufte’s first two books in the 1990s, when I worked for Gannett newspapers, which were a pioneer in presenting graphic information, and I recommended them to everyone who would listen to me.  I still recommend them to all newspaper editors, graphic designers, technical writers and individual citizens who want to avoid being misinformed.



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