Monthly Archives: January 2015

The Monday Rdp (Nous sommes Charlie edition)

By Christopher B. Daly 

Like many other people, I adopted the political slogan “Je suis Charlie” last week. As with any slogan, it is a statement that is not valuable for its literal truth. It is valuable for its political message. It says that in a conflict between murderous doctrinaire literalists and peaceful free-thinking artists, I’m always going to be on the side of the artists. Of course, as a slogan, the statement “Je suis Charlie” also flattens the issue and robs it of much of its nuance. That’s too bad, but in a political crisis, some things do have to wait. Last week, the paramount issue was to defend freedom of speech, thought, and expression.

That’s why it was so disappointing that no high-ranking leader of the United States (the country that invented constitutional guarantees of free speech and press) managed to get to Paris to take part in the giant demonstration over the weekend. Shame on us. (This just in: Obama now gets why this was such a mistake. He could have at least dispatched that great avatar of press freedom Eric Holder to the march, since Holder happened to be in France anyway. Sheesh!)

Thousands of people gather at Republique square in Paris, France, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015.  Thousands of people began filling Franceís iconic Republique plaza, and world leaders converged on Paris in a rally of defiance and sorrow on Sunday to honor the 17 victims of three days of bloodshed that left France on alert for more violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Thousands of people gather at Republique square in Paris, France, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. Thousands of people began filling Franceís iconic Republique plaza, and world leaders converged on Paris in a rally of defiance and sorrow on Sunday to honor the 17 victims of three days of bloodshed that left France on alert for more violence. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

In related news, “Mr. Natural” himself — pioneering underground cartoonist R. Crumb, who has lived in France for a couple of decades — holds forth on the politics of cartooning in an interview with the Observer. Unlike most people, imagesCrumb actually knows what he’s talking about here.

Plus, there’s this. Just when you thinks can’t get any crazier, here is an example of the Saudi attitude toward free expression. A thousand lashes! Read this New Yorker piece and ask why we not only tolerate but actually support that government.

Elsewhere . . .

New York Times media columnist and BU Prof. David Carr has two items of interest to readers of this blog.

In his column today, he reports on his recent trip to CES in LV. My favorite line:

Think about it: What better place to explore the world of virtual reality than Vegas, a place where both Venice and New York are rendered as casinos?

And here’s the syllabus for Carr’s spring course at BU on media criticism. Sorry, but I think it’s too late to sign up.

Also worth reading, NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan on the decision all media faced last week about whether to re-print the offending cartoons.

Great photo but not Kyrzbekistan.

Great photo but not Kyrzbekistan.

And on a lighter note, an embarrassing screw-up at the Times last week resulted in the brief birth of a new nation: Kyrzbekistan (which perhaps ought to exist)

Favorite new flavor: The Ira Glass audio story-telling complex has just launched another subsidiary. The newest part of This American Life is a venture called “Invisibilia” — which just has to be heard to be believed. The first two shows blew me away this weekend: one about a blind guy who taught himself to echolocate (like a bat, a dolphin, or a sperm whale) and the other about the power and consequences of our own dark thoughts. Superb storytelling.

Closer to home:

The Boston Globe has re-invented its soft-news/arts section yet again. Gone is “g” — the daily tabloid insert. In its place is a free-standing regular section with different themes on different days. Enh. The print edition looks pretty dreary (because it’s printed), but the online version looks a bit snappier. Much will depend, of course, on how worthwhile the content is. Here’s the editor’s note from Brian McGrory.

And in other local developments, a hat-tip to Adam Reilly, the new regular news anchor on the evening news program produced by PBS affiliate WGBH in Boston. Reilly brings a welcome measure of intelligence, curiosity, and gravitas to a job that really screams for it. His resume includes a degree from Carleton College and one from the Harvard Divinity (!) School, as well as reporting stints at the late Boston Phoenix and WGBH radio and TV.

Keep up the good work!

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Risen on press freedom (and our secret history)

George Orwell

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”

George Orwell

With that epigram in mind, let’s consider the recent experience of James Risen, the New York Times national-security reporter who is battling to stay out of jail for refusing to reveal his confidential source (or sources) in a case the government is bringing against someone else. [That would be former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, whose case I wrote about last summer in an earlier post.]
In court this week, Risen complied with a subpoena and testified in federal court. He testified that he would not reveal his sources. Well done.
Here’s why what he is doing is so important: Unless reporters find out secrets, they are not really doing their job. Without those stories, we would have next to no idea what our government is doing.
In Risen’s own words (according to the Times story):

Mr. Risen, in the speech last fall at Colby College, noted that many of the most controversial aspects of the government’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — drones, waterboarding, secret prisons, prison abuses in Iraq and more — took place in secret.

“If you took away all the things that the press revealed to begin with in the war on terror, you would know virtually nothing about the history of the last 13 years,” he said. He said that the government was less likely to prosecute leaks of classified information that made the government look good, such as the successful mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

“Stay on the Interstate highway of conventional wisdom with your journalism, and you will have no problems,” he said. “Try to get off and challenge basic assumptions, and you will face punishment.”

Well put.

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The Monday Round-up

By Christopher B. Daly 

Happy 2015, dear readers!

For the first Monday of the new year, let’s get things rolling.

From the New York Times:

THIS JUST IN . . .

Times reporter James Risen went into a federal court today in Alexandria, Va., and told a judge under oath that he has no intention of revealing his confidential sources — ever. From the paper’s own story:

“I am not going to provide the government with information that they seem to want to use to create a mosaic to prove or disprove certain facts,” Mr. Risen said.

–BU Professor David Carr holds forth in his Media Equation column about the challenges facing those who operate on the traditional media model of “one to many.” Now, the many are moving toward a media approach that might be called “me to a few.” As usual, plenty to think about here.

–Can anyone write books on a hamster wheel? This piece finds one author.

–Here’s an op-ed that makes a case for the importance of narrative. The writer argues that evidence (and common sense) indicates that when people are sick and go to see their doctors, they want to describe their illnesses in terms of a story. (“My cousin came to visit and brought this infection, and at first it wasn’t so bad, but then . . .”) And I think most patients want to hear a story back from their doctors.

–This story about China’s ideological wars made my head spin. I think the reason (other than the early hour of the day) was the disorienting use of the term “leftist” in the Chinese context. As this piece indicates, if you’re a leftist in China, that means you are a loyal member of the Communist Party and endorse whatever the party bosses dictate. In my view, the term “leftist” refers to someone who supports individual liberties and resists statism, conformity, and bureaucracy, especially when it attempts to crush dissent or diversity. What China needs is a real “Left” to challenge centralized power and spread freedom of thought, expression, movement, and reproduction.

–A 2015 wish list from the paper’s “public editor,” Margaret Sullivan. She has a point, of course, about anonymous sources — which all journalists overuse — but so does her own paper’s James Risen, who is a good example of why we sometimes need confidential sources.

ELSEWHERE:

–On the Media has a special report on the infamous “Torture Report” by the Senate Intelligence Committee. H-t to OTM for keeping the spotlight on this important issue. We shouldn’t let holidays and other stuff take our eye off this ball.

Enough for now.

Peace in 2015.

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