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Media Roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

–I am so proud of my old newspaper, The Washington Post. The paper has recently been rendering a major public service: a reckoning of all the shootings of civilians by police that take place in the United States. You might think that information would be routinely collected by Justice, the FBI, or at least every state police agency. You’d be wrong.

Turns out, there is no central governmental accounting. So, the Post stepped into the vacuum and built a database from the ground up.

Turns out, American cops shoot about two civilians a day, every day.

Is that too many? Too few? Just about right? I don’t know, but at least now we can begin to have a debate about it and come to terms with the police. As Juvenal put it 2,000 years ago: Qui custodiet ipsos custodes? Or, Who will police the police? Who will guard the guardians? Who will watch over those who watch over?

In my view, this is exactly why we need a free and independent news media.

–Here we go again with the NSA.

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for a robust, state-of-the-art intelligence service. To my mind, that means spying on other countries in ways that advance our national interests without them even finding out about it. That’s my standard for U.S. intelligence-gathering. Anything else has to yield to the Constitution. When it comes to spying on Americans, there is no reason for the executive branch to take it upon itself to routinely spy on Americans who are not even suspected of having broken any laws.

According to the Times, the secret agency has justified its secret program to a secret court, so we are all supposed to just shut up and submit our data. Absolutely not.

Ssshhh!!

Ssshhh!!

–So, I see that tourists will now be allowed to take photos while touring the White House. Yay.

If only the professional news photographers who cover the White House had the same liberty!

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Why is it so hard to talk about Charleston?

By Christopher B. Daly

What happened in Charleston this week meets the literal definition of terrorism.

Here’s a dictionary definition (from Dictionary.com):

noun

1.

the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

Here’s the FBI’s definition:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

So, why do the media find it so difficult to call it an act of domestic terrorism?

The NYTimes was willing to discuss the issue but not to use the term in its main coverage.

The most extreme case (as so often happens) involved Fox News. The Thursday morning episode of the show “Fox and Friends” hit a new low — in which the hosts and guests strained to frame the violent assault by a white man seeking to take his country back as an assault on religion and an attack on Christians. Wha?

Here’s a brilliant analysis by Larry Wilmore, who is getting better by the week. (courtesy of Comedy Central and TPM).gctqv5mtkz5pr8y6j2bi

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Monday journalism roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s been a busy week for thinking about the news business.

Here’s Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, sharing his reactions to one day’s New York Times with the paper’s “Insider” feature.

–NPR recently did a devastating investigation of the Red Cross’ spending in Haiti. Here is the story behind the story.

Here is Part II of Michael Massing’s survey of the digital news landscape for the NYRB. (Spoiler alert: he’s more impressed by the legacy media than  by most digital natives.)

Here is this week’s offering from NPR’s “On the Media,” which is a consistently worthwhile show. Particularly good: this segment on the nation’s librarians, who have shown an impressive toughness in defense of the public’s right to read without being spied on. Go, librarians!

Here is an original episode of public radio’s “This American LIfe,” which focuses on what might be called “journalism by other means” — opera, drama, etc. Great idea.

As the saying goes: More later!

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Sy Hersh’s latest expose: Did Obama mislead about bin Laden’s killing?

By Christopher B. Daly

Before deciding that veteran investigative reporter Sy Hersh has become the crazy uncle of American journalism, it might be worth considering whether he might be right about the bin Laden killing.

Earlier this week, Hersh unloaded a 10,000-word alternative history of the 2011 raid on that compound in

White House photo, by Pete Souza.

White House photo, by Pete Souza.

Abbottabad, Pakistan. In the official version, a U.S. Navy Seal team risked their lives in a dangerous raid into hostile territory to swoop in, find bin Laden, and (when he made a false move) execute him. It was a major gung-ho moment for the Obama national security team. Even conservatives briefly had to salute the president for having the nerve to order the raid.

Now comes Hersh, the fabled investigator who first came to prominence in 1969 when he broke the My Lai massacre scandal, who says he was dubious from the outset about the Obama team’s story. Hersh argues that his reporting points in another direction. He asserts that bin Laden was effectively in the custody of Pakistan’s intelligence service and that the Pakistani military agreed to stand aside while the Seals pulled off the fatal raid.

The Obama administration quickly pushed back. So did some American journalists, such as Peter Bergen of CNN.

Then came a second wave of articles covering the controversy, raising such questions as: if Hersh’s story is so great, why wasn’t it published in The New Yorker (which is Hersh’s institutional home base)? Here’s a version by the always interesting Gabriel Sherman in New York mag. The most disappointing point raised in Sherman’s fine piece was the no-comment by David Remnick, the top editor of The New Yorker. (Come on, David.)

Before coming to any conclusions, everyone should settle in and prepare to do a lot of reading. I would also recommend paying particular attention to someone who really knows what she’s talking about: Carlotta Gall, who was the New York Times‘ bureau chief in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2013. During those dozen years, she too was on the trail of bin Laden, and she followed leads into the lawless “tribal areas” between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Fearless, tough-minded, and thoroughly empirical, Gall is skeptical about the Hersh’s story but points out that it tracks some of the rumors, leads, and facts that she heard while in the region. In a piece for the Times magazine posted yesterday, Gall wrote that she “would not dismiss the claims immediately.”

Here she is talking to John Hockenberry today on his NPR show “The Takeaway.”

And an update: TNR offers an explanation for why Hersh is so isolated in this instance.

To step back a bit, here’s my view about Sy Hersh: he is a national treasure. Even when he gets things wrong (as he sometimes has over the decades), Hersh performs two important public services:

1. Never trust the official version.

2. When in doubt, dig in and do your own reporting.

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Monday media roundup (the Tuesday edition)

By Christopher B. Daly 

Just wrapping up the spring semester, so I’ve been a little busier than usual. With apologies for the delay, here’s a rdp of recent developments and commentary about the news business:

–THE ECHO CHAMBER: Here’s an intelligent discussion of the recent Science article examining the “echo chamber” effect of social media — to wit, do people on Facebook arrange their feed such that they hear mostly (or exclusively) from people who agree F1.largewith them politically? The helpful folks at Harvard’s Journalist’s Resource have not only analyzed the Science article, they have also put in the context of other, similar studies.

–NYT NAILS THE SALON BIZ: The New York Times has struck again, this time with a major expose of a local industry that is much more widespread than Starbucks — the business of fingernails and toenails. The investigation by Sarah Maslin Nir has exploded, as it deserved to. She ripped the lid off a deeply corrupt industry. Reading her accounts of the women in the manicure business made me angry. It sounded like many of them had never left China: they have to buy their jobs with upfront money; they work for no wages at all until the boss decides they’re worth something; they make sub-minimum wages when they get paid; the chemicals they work around cause all kinds of harm; and on and on.

The Times has gotten a little of push-back for hyping the series (some of which is captured in this odd piece by the NYTimes‘ own public editor), but I disagree. What would Joseph Pulitzer have done? What would WR Hearst do with this kind of material? Of course, they’d shout it from the rooftops and demand reform.

One particularly impressive innovation: the Times published the articles in Chinese, Korean and Spanish as well as English.

The fallout so far: more than 1,300 comments; Gov. Cuomo is already submitting reform legislation; some of the owners are starting to cough up back pay; customers are finally beginning to wonder how their mani-pedis can be so cheap; and the journalist has been celebrated in print and on NPR.

For anyone in the news business not suffering from sour-grapes syndrome, there’s a lot to learn here. Start with the ancient wisdom: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

–ADVICE FOR JOURNALISTS: Speaking of the public editor, here is Margaret Sullivan’s wisdom about journalism, boiled down to 395 words. Way to go in being concise.

–BETTER LIVING THROUGH METRICS: Jeff Jarvis unloads on his latest Big Idea that Will Transform/Disrupt/Save Journalism. Here ya go. He says we need better metrics, which is probably true.

–RELIABLE SOURCES: Here’s the newly re-designed website for Brian Stelter’s program on CNN.

–NYT MEDIA COLUMNIST: Curious minds want to know — when will the Times name a successor to David Carr? Carr is irreplacable, of course, but there should be a successor. Since his death in February, all the air seems to have gone out of the Times’s Media vertical. They need to get their mojo back.

Muddy Waters mojo

–In separate posts, I am hoping to write soon about the NCAA, the new local evening news show on PBS in Boston, and what may have been the busiest news period in all human history. Stay tuned.

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Remembering Tony Lukas, teller of true stories

By Christopher B. Daly 

As a service to my readers, I am posting this brief life of Tony Lukas, author of “Common Ground” and many other fine works of narrative non-fiction. I wrote this for American National Biography Online, a marvelous authoritative resource for information about prominent Americans.

Tony Lukas

Tony Lukas

Lukas, J. Anthony (25 Apr. 1933-5 June 1997), Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, was born Jay Anthony Lukas in New York City to Edwin Jay Lukas, a prominent civil rights lawyer, and Elizabeth Schamberg, an actress. After his mother committed suicide, young Tony was sent to the Putney School, a progressive boarding school in southwestern Vermont. In 1951 he entered Harvard College, where he promptly joined the staff of the independent student-run newspaper the Harvard Crimson. One of his classmates and a fellow editor of the paper was David Halberstam. Lukas graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1955 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and pursued graduate studies at the Free University of Berlin. From 1956 to 1958 he served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Japan, where he wrote for the Voice of the United Nations Command.In 1959 he got a job at the Baltimore Sun covering the police beat for $105 a week. He quickly made his mark and took on a variety of assignments. Seeking a foreign assignment that the Sun could not provide, he joined the New York Times in 1962. He was once again on the same staff as Halberstam, and the two ambitious rivals crisscrossed the globe on assignment. Lukas served in the paper’s metro, Washington, and UN bureaus before going abroad and filing dispatches from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, Japan, Pakistan, South Africa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and elsewhere. Eventually he joined the staff of the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Lukas won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1968 in the category of Local Investigative Specialized Reporting for a feature story he wrote for the Times about the life and murder of Linda Fitzpatrick, an affluent young woman caught up in the drug culture of New York City. Feeling out of touch with the youth of his own country after many years abroad, Lukas delved more deeply into Fitzpatrick’s story and widened the scope of his reporting to include a number of other young Americans. He later told their stories in a multiple biography titled Don’t Shoot–We Are Your Children! (1971).

During the same period, Lukas spent a year back in Cambridge as a Nieman fellow at Harvard. Returning to the Times, Lukas became a roving national correspondent based in Chicago. There, he plunged into covering the trial of the “Chicago Eight” (later reduced to the “Chicago Seven”)–political radicals accused of conspiring to riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Making regular trips to the U.S. district court in Chicago, Lukas covered the trial from the fall of 1969 through the winter of 1970. During their five-month trial, the defendants cursed loudly and often in the courtroom. Since the Times style rules forbade the use of obscenities, Lukas littered his trial stories with the phrase “barnyard epithet” instead. That reporting resulted in The Barnyard Epithet and Other Obscenities: Notes on the Chicago Conspiracy Trial (1970).

In the early 1970s Lukas dove into freelance assignments for major magazines, including the Atlantic, Columbia Journalism Review, Esquire, Harper’s, the Nation, and the New Republic. In 1971 he became a cofounder of MOREmagazine, which engaged in a critical examination of journalistic methods and ideals. The magazine, which was widely read by journalists, lasted seven years. Lukas also helped found the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which provided free legal counsel for journalists, along with other services to the profession.

His next major project was an examination of the Watergate scandal. In April 1973 the New York Times Magazineasked Lukas to look into the abuses of power committed by President Richard Nixon. That assignment grew into the book Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years (1976). Consumed by the story and determined to write a coherent narrative of the notoriously opaque Watergate saga, Lukas produced a nearly six-hundred-page book that cemented his reputation as a deep researcher.

For several years Lukas held a series of positions that allowed him to continue to research and write books. In 1976-1977 he was a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. The next year he was an adjunct professor at Boston University’s School of Public Communications. During 1977-1978 he took part in the Study Group on Urban School Desegregation sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge. He credited the group, especially the education scholar Diane Ravitch, with deepening his understanding of issues of equity in education. In 1978-1979 he had a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1979-1980 he was an adjunct lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In 1982 he married Linda Healey, an editor at Pantheon Books.

Starting around 1978, Lukas began the research for a book about Boston’s response to court-ordered school desegregation, usually known as “the busing crisis.” The result was his masterpiece, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (1985). Blending history, journalism, and sociology, Lukas created a braided narrative of three Boston families–one Yankee, one Irish, and one African American–to illuminate the forces that led to the federal court order to desegregate Boston public schools and the aftershocks of that ruling. Common Ground was hailed as a major work for its treatment of race and class in modern America, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1986 as well as the National Book Award and many other prizes.

Around this time Lukas began to suffer from depression. Still he continued to work. Lukas came out of the experience of writing the Boston book with a greater awareness of the role of class in American life. That interest drew him to a time in American history, the early twentieth century, when class warfare seemed plausible and perhaps imminent. The result was his final book, Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America. A sprawling work of history and reportage, Big Trouble tells the story of the miners’ struggles in the West and the mysterious assassination of a former governor of Idaho.

On 5 June 1997, while he was in the late stages of completing Big Trouble, Lukas committed suicide in his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At the time of his death, he was president of the Authors Guild. Published posthumously, Big Trouble was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1998. After his death, the J. Anthony Lukas Prize Project Awards were established in his honor. The prizes, awarded annually and co-administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard’s Nieman Foundation, recognized excellence in nonfiction that addressed a political or social concern.

Tall, rumpled, and sad-eyed, J. Anthony Lukas was a tenacious reporter and researcher, known for conducting extensive interviews and accumulating mountains of facts. He was a reporter’s reporter, famous for his epic research. Throughout his career, Lukas elevated the standards of American journalism, both in his work with professional organizations and in his masterful demonstrations of narrative nonfiction.


BibliographyLukas’s papers–including manuscripts, letters, and subject files–were donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison. His reporting can be found in the online archives of the Harvard Crimson, the New York Times, and the many magazines he wrote for. Lukas was the subject of many interviews and profiles, notably a sketch by John McPhee in the New Yorker, 30 June 1975, and an alumni note in Harvard Magazine, Sept.-Oct. 1997, which includes a fond reminiscence by David Halberstam. A detailed assessment of Common Ground appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Jan. 2014. Lukas’s brother, Christopher, addressed his family’s history of suicide in his book Blue Genes (2008). Obituaries appeared in the New York Times and Washington Post, 7 June 1997, and a tribute appeared in the Baltimore Sun, 9 June 1997. Also helpful is a remembrance by the Washington Post book editor Jonathan Yardley in the Post on 9 June 1997.

Christopher B. Daly


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American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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Media mashup

By Christopher B. Daly

A couple of recent developments need noticing:

–The NYTimes’s redoubtable foreign correspondent John F. Burns is retiring. In an unusual note about personnel matters published in today’s paper, the Times gives Burns a fond salute.

Also not to be missed: Burns’ last story was a colorful account of the re-burial of English King Richard III. At the end of his final piece, Burns closes with a “kicker” in the form of a quote — “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Not original, of course, but a nice touch.

–The Times flooded the zone in the East Village yesterday to cover the gas explosion and building collapse. By my count, there were 18 reporters and photographers involved (judging by bylines and photo credit lines), not to mention all the nameless

Victor J. Blue/NYT

Victor J. Blue/NYT

editors. Among the team of metro reporters was Tatiana Schlossberg, whose role is featured in the Times’ “City Room” blog. Which is fitting, since she is the daughter of one prominent New Yorker (U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy) and the granddaughter of another prominent New Yorker (Jackie O).

–The gang at Vice Media, the unshaven new news organization, has found a big new platform for distributing its news reports: HBO. Plans call for a daily newscast from Shane Smith and his band of disruptors.

Raising the question: who is NOT a journalist these days?

Shane Smith in a suit.

Shane Smith in a suit.

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