Posts from March 27, 2004

Horses mouths

Horses mouths
: Audible offers the 9/11 hearings for free. [via OnlineBlog]

Correcting the corrections policy

Correcting the corrections policy
: Robert Cox at The National Debate has been waging a singlehanded campaign to get The Times to publish corrections of its op-ed columnists’ errors, which up until now has been up to the individual columnists.

He has the first glimmers of victory at hand.

Dan Okrent writes in Sunday’s Times:

[Editor Page Editor Gail] Collins explains why columnists must be allowed the freedom of their opinions, but insists that they “are obviously required to be factually accurate. If one of them makes an error, he or she is expected to promptly correct it in the column.” Corrections, under this new rule, are to be placed at the end of a subsequent column, “to maximize the chance that they will be seen by all their readers, everywhere,” a reference to the wide syndication many of the columnists enjoy….

In the coming months I expect columnist corrections to become a little more frequent and a lot more forthright than they’ve been in the past. Yet the final measure of Collins’s success, and of the individual columnists, will be not in the corrections but in the absence of the need for them.

At last. It’s the right move.

: Okrent also acknowledges that NY Times lawyers went after Cox’ parody op-ed correction site with a stupid “sledgehammer.”

I stayed out of that battle as it occurred, since I’m related to both big and small media and thought that in this case, it put me in a conflict. I’ll say now that it turned out the way it should have turned out in the first instance, which I said privately to people who asked. Cox’ page needed to be clear that it was a parody not only because that’s the way to play it safe legally — parody is protected — but also because you never want to confuse your readers. The Times should have asked for just that from the first and I’ll bet Cox would have seen the point and agreed; instead, they pulled out the sledgehammer and gave the paper a bad name in this world even as Okrent has been working hard to rebuild its good name. Happy ending in any case.

: And Okrent says this about columnists in today’s column:

I sometimes think opinion columns ought to carry a warning: “The following is solely the opinion of the author, supported by data I alone have chosen to include. Live with it.” Opinion is inherently unfair.

The same could be put over the door of many if not most weblogs. But the real question is how often it should be used over news reporting. Yup, that’s the real question.

The Daily Stern…

The Daily Stern…
: … takes a day off. Things will heat up again shortly…

Playing by the “rules”

Playing by the “rules”
: Cleveland Plain Dealer editor-in-chief and blogger Doug Clifton looks at at Richard Clarke and sees an issue with background briefings and unnamed sources and spin and the rules of the game called government and the press. Clarke said one thing in his book and another in a background briefing. He tried to explain away the contradiction saying that he was spinning the company spin at the briefing. Says Clifton:

On one level, that’s understandable. Haven’t we all defended the institutions we work for out of loyalty, obligation, self-preservation?

On the other hand, when does principle trump loyalty, obligation, self-preservation? Should Clarke have told his bosses, “I can’t, in conscience, spin for you”? Should he have threatened to quit in protest? Should he have availed himself of the other time-honored Washington tradition, leaked his real feelings -on background – to a well-placed reporter?

At this point that’s all academic and a cloud remains over the credibility of Clarke’s testimony because he played by the rules of Washington. He spun on background in support of the administration he worked for and expected the conventions to be honored.

In so doing he forgot the more basic rule of Washington, first described by Harry Truman: “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

Let’s assume Clarke’s version of things is true. He thought the Bush administration was being less than attentive to the terrorist threat but when called upon to do the administration’s bidding in a background briefing, he played the good soldier.

With the help of a cooperative and, I would add, co-opted, press the American public was mislead on this vital question.

And because briefing on background is so pervasive in Washington, misleading the public is the norm, not the exception.

If the rules of journalism were changed and the use of the unnamed source were banned, would the public have a truer sense of reality?

That’s a discussion for another day.

Strong words, blunt questions.

[Full disclosure: is one of my day-job sites.]

Contrarian to contrarian

Contrarian to contrarian
: Microsoft says it will create a search of blogs and all the Microsnots come out of the woodwork. I don’t get it. Blogs cry for attention and then when they get it, some bloggers cry at the attention.

(Full disclosure: Moreover, on whose board I serve, powers Microsoft’s news search; I don’t know whether it is powering the blog search.)

Liz Lawley at Corante kvetches:

Somehow, the idea of Microsoft

The Old Republic

The Old Republic

: The New Republic’s cover story —, Why the Internet Won’t Topple Tyranny — is a load of naysaying, stick-in-the-sludge, cynical, behind-the-times, underreported, snotty crap.

TNR foreign editor Joshua Kurlantzick argues that because the Internet has not yet toppled a dictatorship and because some dictatorships have lately become more dictatorial, the Internet has failed and it cannot change the world.

For years, a significant subset of the democratization industry–that network of political scientists, think tanks, and policymakers–has placed its bets (and, in many cases, its money) on the Web’s potential to spread liberal ideas in illiberal parts of the world. Whereas once American politicians and democratization groups focused on older technologies, such as radio, today their plans to spread democracy rest in considerable part on programs for boosting Internet access….

But world leaders, journalists, and political scientists who tout the Internet as a powerful force for political change are just as wrong as the dot-com enthusiasts who not so long ago believed the Web would completely transform business. While it’s true that the Internet has proved itself able to disseminate pop culture in authoritarian nations–not only Laos, but China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere–to date, its political impact has been decidedly limited. It has yet to topple–or even seriously undermine–its first tyrannical regime.

Well, how long did it take radio to topple a regime? Did radio ever topple a regime? Did TV? It didn’t tear down the Wall (see below); as communism teetered, isolated Moscow was more progressive than media-bombarded Berlin. Though, let’s also add that the spread of culture instead of just politics did have an impact on the pent-up demand for freedom in Berlin (the lusted-after commodity of the West wasn’t political debate; it was bananas… and rock ‘n’ roll). And besides, who set that as the pass-or-fail test of a medium as a catalyst of change: start a revolution or give up? Let’s also remember that the Internet is new and is not widely available in such places as Cuba and North Korea.

The story is shamefully ignorant of the medium and the inroads it has made. There isn’t a mention of Iran, the situation I know best, where 100,000 weblogs are reporting news that can’t be reported and scaring the mullahs and even making them join in.

There isn’t a sense that what makes it possible for the Internet to make inroads is its distributed structure: Yes, China can cut off a site here and a site there. But a thousand, then a million webloggers and expats and citizens can repeat information and news and opinions that have been forbidden. It takes time — damnit — but these seeds will grow. Yes, China has jailed some Internet writers but, as I heard from a sociologist from China a few weeks ago, Internet access is handled by pay-as-you-go cards and most users are, in the end, anonymous and can’t be hunted down. He also said that China has failed at blocking Google and its caches of pages. (Ditto Iran.) Seeds will grow.

There isn’t even a sense of what the Internet can do in the United States and Europe.

Another shortcoming of the Internet is that it lends itself to individual rather than communal activities. It “is about people sitting in front of a terminal, barely interacting,” says one Laotian researcher. The Web is less well-suited to fostering political discussion and debate because, unlike radio or even television, it does not generally bring people together in one house or one room.

Well, tell that to Howard Dean or OK, so that’s in a free nation where we do have a right to gather. But we’ve seen the Internet bring people and opinions together in Iran (and, again, I’ll apologize that I’m not more up to date on other nations but Iran is, at least, a proof of concept). The writer is woefully ignorant about the basic and proven capabilities of the medium.

The TNR story further ignores the power of the connected expat community. I just got a contact from someone who is trying to bring Turkmenistan expats into weblogs for human rights organizing and activism.

There’s some strange, jealous agenda coming out of TNR: an old, fuddy-duddy activist viewpoint that says this new-fangled Internet thang can’t be as good as old-fashioned pamphleterring and armed insurrection.

Would Che blog?

No one says the Internet is going to rebuild the world overnight — especially in countries where technology and connectivity and openness exist in inverse proportion to oppression. Repressive regimes will try to block the Internet just as they try to block news from getting in or out and just as they try to block all other media and communication. But the Internet can spread news and connect people and let the world watch tyranny and organize protest and resist repression like no other medium before.

The Internet is subversive.

In the last century, Coke meant freedom. In this century, the Internet means freedom.

[Thanks, Oliver, for sending the story.]

Good bye, Lenin

Good bye, Lenin

: Last night, I went to a late show of Good Bye, Lenin because no one else in the family but me would want to drive forty minutes to see a two-hour movie in German about East Berlin and the fall of the Wall.

It was worth the drive. Lenin is a comedy about communism: A devoted mother — who had to raise her children alone when her husband went to the West — sees her son arrested in a democracy demonstration, falls to a heart attack, and spends eight months in a coma. In the meantime, the Wall came down and her son protects her from further shock by making believe that the old DDR still reigns: finding her familiar commie brands for her and even making East German TV news to explain the Coke billboard that suddenly appears outside her window. In the process, he reinvents his nation and its socialism into what it should have been but never was.

I was lucky enough to spend time behind the Wall in the ’80s. It’s experiences like that that do remind you how lucky you are. Every time I’d come back across Checkpoint Charlie, I was grateful for the colors and tastes and life and choice of the West. That’s such a trivial measure of freedom, but it’s the scale of reference we, the free, have. These days, the news is concentrating on so many more drastic contrasts between freedom and tyranny: in Iraq before the war, in Iran, in North Korea… But sometimes, it’s not so obvious.

What’s so wonderful about Good Bye, Lenin is that it finds the subtle, humorous, even sympathetic way to illustrate that contrast: how a dictatorship can tear apart a marriage and a family and how its victims still live through it, how they cope and love and even laugh. It shows how the damage of a dictatorship can be masked by the courage of its victims. There are no raised fists here, no jackboots, no shots; there’s not even any pain apparent on the surface. But it’s there, underneath, and it becomes apparent only when freedom draws the contrast.



… That beautiful word means that Vagablog is working again. Thank you, Mike Rowehl.