Posts from January 18, 2005

God is dead. Film at 11.

God is dead. Film at 11.

: Well, CBS Chair Les Moonves gets one message about the future of news and keeps repeating it like a media mantra:

Moonves, who will ultimately select Rather’s replacement, said he believes many young viewers are turned off by a single “voice of God” anchor in the Internet age….

“Those days are over when you have that guy sitting behind the desk who everyone believes to the `nth’ degree,” Moonves told reporters. “It’s sort of an antiquated way of news telling and maybe there’s a new way of doing it.” …

“We have to try and reinvent that,” he said. “One of the ways we’re looking at is making it younger and more relevant, something that younger people can relate to as opposed to that guy preaching from the mountaintop about what we should and should not watch.”

Got that? No god-from-the-mountaintop thing. Strike the Mt. Sinai set, boys. Throw out the tablets.

But I joke. It is the right message. Moonves is also talking about a multi-city, multi-anchor approach. Been there, seen that. Seen that fail. And there’s this:

Asked twice, Moonves wouldn’t rule out a role on the evening news for Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, whose “The Daily Show” skewers politicians and the news media each night. Moonves is co-chief executive of Viacom, which owns both CBS and Comedy Central.

Well, that’s fun, too. It won’t happen, but it’s fun to imagine.

The problem with all this is that Moonves talks about change and about what the news shouldn’t be. But he doesn’t yet talk about what the news should be. It’s not about pandering to a young demographic. It’s about respecting the public. It’s about having a conversation. It’s not about the style. It’s the substance, Les.

Feeling the chill… in more ways than one

Feeling the chill… in more ways than one

: This is what the FCC’s censorship has brought: Rampant stupidity necessitated by stupid government. From the AP:

Fox says it covered up the naked rear end of a cartoon character recently because of nervousness over what the Federal Communications Commission will find objectionable.

The latest example of TV network self-censorship because of FCC concerns came a few weeks ago during a rerun of the “Family Guy” cartoon. Fox blurred out a character’s naked butt, even though the image was seen five years ago when the episode originally aired.

“We have to be checking and second-guessing ourselves now, and that’s really difficult,” Fox entertainment president Gail Berman said Monday. “We have to protect our affiliates.” …

PBS executives also said this weekend they will edit out a glimpse of a naked woman in a fictional account of a terrorist “dirty bomb” attack that will be aired next month after being shown first on HBO.

Shame on the New York Times

Shame on the New York Times

: Sarah Boxer’s story on IraqTheModel in today’s New York Times Arts section is irresponsible, sloppy, lazy, inaccurate, incomplete, exploitive, biased, and — worst of all — dangerous, putting the lives of its subjects at risk. Let’s start with her lead:

When I telephoned a man named Ali Fadhil in Baghdad last week, I wondered who might answer. A C.I.A. operative? An American posing as an Iraqi? Someone paid by the Defense Department to support the war? Or simply an Iraqi with some mixed feelings about the American presence in Iraq? Until he picked up the phone, he was just a ghost on the Internet.

So here is a reporter from The New York Times — let’s repeat that, The New York Times — speculating in print on whether an Iraqi citizen, whose only apparent weirdness and sin in her eyes is (a) publishing and (b) supporting America, is a CIA or Defense Department plant or an American.

Ms. Boxer, don’t you think you could be putting the life of that person at risk with that kind of speculation? In your own story, you quote Ali — one of the three blogging brothers who started IraqTheModel — saying that “here some people would kill you for just writing to an American.” And yet you go so much farther — blithely, glibly speculating about this same man working for the CIA or the DoD — to sex up your lead and get your story atop the front of the Arts section (I’m in the biz, Boxer, I know how the game is played).

How dare you? Have you no sense of responsibility? Have you no shame?

It’s not as if you have the slightest — not the slightest — bit of responsible reporting that would guide you to put that speculation in your lead (and, of course, whenever a reporter launches that speculation high up and never really answers it, she’s trying to lead the reader toward the same speculation — that, too, is a trick of the trade, eh, Boxer?). All you have is the rantings of one known internet troll whose spittle-specked babblings have been dismissed in saner quarters. But you hang your lead on that. I hope that is all you end up hanging.

Next paragraph:

The mystery began last month when I went online to see what Iraqis think about the war and the Jan. 30 national election. I stumbled into an ideological snake pit. Out of a list of 28 Iraqi blogs in English at a site called Iraqi Bloggers Central, I clicked on Iraq the Model because it promised three blogging brothers in one, Omar, Mohammed and Ali.

What mystery? Two of there brothers were in New York in the flesh more than a month ago. Do you still have a clip file at The Times? Have you heard of Google? Try a search and you’d have found plenty to dispel what you call a mystery. Try reading Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post. Or Dan Henninger in the Wall Street Journal. Or try listening to Brian Lehrer’s interview with them on WNYC (you can hear the archives online). Try reading any of the many bloggers who wrote about meeting them. Send one of us an email. Ask us a question. Wait for the answer. That’s how reporting worked, in my day.

[Now let me break off here to make sure everyone knows my relationship to this story: It started with email correspondence with Zeyad, the first Iraqi after the war and after Salam Pax to start blogging. He, in turn, convinced the IraqTheModel brothers and others to blog. Later, Spirit of America — a charity that sends direct help to Iraqi people in the form of tool belts, sewing machines, and TV equipment — hired a wonderful blogger named Kerry Dupont who had, on her own, sent laptops and cameras to bloggers in Iraq, including these gentlemen. SoA decided that supporting citizens’ media in Iraq was a worthy goal; they financed the creation of an Arabic-language blogging tool, something I’d lobbied for on this blog. When Harvard held a conference on international blogging, SoA paid to bring two of the brothers, Mohammed and Omar, to the U.S., where they also wanted to promote their own project, Friends of Democracy. I had the privilege of meeting them here. At SoA’s request, I also made introductions that led to the interviews in the Post and WNYC. They were asked whether they wanted to do interviews here and they wanted to, asking only not to go on TV and not to use their full names, for security reasons.

[Note, by the way, that Boxer does use their full name. They don’t even use it on their blogs. I am usually very critical of people who do not use their names on their weblogs — but I do make an exception for those whose lives might be at risk if they did. I will still not use their full names here. {Update: See my correction below.}

[I should also add for those who did not read the posts at the time that when the irresponsible Prof. Juan Cole spread Martini’s slander, I went batshit.]

Boxer, unfortunately, continues…

The blog, which is quite upbeat about the American presence in Iraq, had provoked a deluge of intrigue and vitriol. People posting messages on an American Web site called Martini Republic accused the three bloggers of working for the C.I.A., of being American puppets, of not being Iraqis and even of not existing at all.

Isn’t this amazing: The New York Times choses this time to quote a blogger without fact-checking them and trying to find someone from the other side. They pick this blogger, known to be a bit, well, from the fringe. Again, Boxer, a Google search would have have been quite handy. You’d have found this story about this from the National Review. Oh, I know, you’re probably not a subscriber; not many of those at The Times. But that’s what makes the internet so wonderful: You can expand you reporting and hear more than one side and you don’t even have to put the source material in a brown paper wrapper. You quote Martini and length but quote no one who questioned their baseless accusation. You simply spread them again. That’s journalism?

Boxer then goes on to tell about one of the brothers, Ali, leaving the blog and not joining the U.S. trip. She quotes from his last post to IraqTheModel. She does not, however, quote his followup post about this on his own blog, called Free Iraqi:

So I did not quit because of any distrust of America’s plans in Iraq, I was not treated badly by any American, I have no problem with any right-wing blog and I never had any problem in dealing with extreme left blogs. I and my brothers have only some disagreement on few points. I had a different feeling about the trip and was more skeptic than them. Now I see that I have overreacted and I had to be more patient. I say that despite that I was right about the unecessary dangers that may come from such a trip, because my reaction created many speculations among our readers that could’ve been avoided had I not post such obscure message. My brothers seem to have done what they were comfortable with and they say that no one put any pressure of any kind on them.

Families disagree about things.

Yet Boxer says that Ali “seemed to have gone through a radical transformation when he found that his brothers, both described as dentists on their Web site, had met President Bush. Odd.” You know, Boxer, “seemed” is an awfully bad word for a good reporter. “Seemed” means you don’t know the facts; you’re speculating again.

Boxer could have emailed Ali or his brothers at that point. Heck, two of them — Mohammed and Ali — were called and interviewed on American radio only a week ago. But, no, Boxer did not go to the source. She went instead to the aforedismissed MartiniRepublic.

And then she brings up the stupidest tin-hat episode of all: The Martini bozos acted as if their conspiracy theories had born fruit because they found that the IraqTheModel domain was hosted in — gasp — Texas (implication: the Bush state!). Worse yet, the company that registered the domains is called CIATech Solutions. And, of course, the CIA always clearly identifies its operatives; it’s a brand, don’t you know?

Once more, Boxer, if you’d just turned to Google, you would have found that CIA Tech Solutions is owned by a nice guy named Jeff Reed who donated domain hosting for a list of Iraqi bloggers, including ones quite anti-American. And if you went to his site, you’d confirm that CIA stands for Complex Internet Applications Technical Solutions, so you wouldn’t need to rely just on Ali.

She repeats MartiniNutjob’s conspiratorial speculation: “Why else… would the brothers have been feted in Washington?” Maybe because people make friends online — even across such boundaries — and want to meet them. And she repeats more tin-hat crap I won’t bother to repeat. More of the same.

She complains: “Surely Iraq the Model did not represent the mainstream of Iraqi thinking.” I just love that red herring. Who said this one blog should represent the mainstream of Iraqi thinking? It’s a blog with the opinions of three brothers.

Does The New York Times represent the mainstream of American thinking, Ms. Boxer? Do you? I think not. So what’s your point?

Finally, she writes about the real disagreement among the brothers: The two who came to the U.S. had no problem with press coverage and with meeting President Bush; Ali did. As I quoted above, Ali wrote about that.

The kicker to the story, the whole point of of the story is this:

“Me and my brothers,” he said, “we generally agree on Iraq and the future.” (He is helping his brother Mohammed, who is running on the Iraqi Pro-Democracy Party ticket in the Jan. 30 election.) But there is one important difference: “My brothers have confidence in the American administration. I have my questions.”

Now that seems genuine.

That’s where Boxer was headed all along: This Iraqi who blogged in favor of liberation — who still has on top of his new blog the words, “I was not living before the 9th of April and now I am, so let me speak!” — couldn’t possibly be real, could he? But if he has questions about the American adminstration, then Boxer — on behalf of no less than The New York Times — concludes that maybe he could be real after all. That seems genuine to her.

That seems shameless to me.

: UPDATE: Ed Cone blogs on this, too.

: LIES SPREAD: That’s just the problem with telling them. Now the BBC is — surprise, surprise, surprise — gleefully jumping on Boxer’s folly.

But some anti-war activists said it was a CIA-sponsored propaganda tool.

The brothers strongly denied the claims, but the row has led to severe ructions in the online Iraq community.

I supposed I should expect no more of the BBC.

: Here is a wonderful comment from Janice Abrahams, a friend and colleague who lead the development of the Arabic language blogging tool SoA funded. I quote in full:

I work with 24 year old Omar every day building the arabic blogging tool. He is patient, kind, funny, blazingly intelligent and yes, his english is better than half the people in this country.

I’m an American. I’m a technologist, and I am also of the opinion that Omar and Mohammad are heros.

They are text-book kind of heros. Working 80 hours a week to further democracy kinda heros. Real heros.

All they care about is making their country better. They endanger themselves 24×7 to do it, never complain and hardly get enough sleep. I know.

I feel ashamed sometimes, and never talk to them about this sort of idiotic, lazy, horrid journalism — because I am too embarrassed, in the face of their bravery and unending dedication to their cause, to even bring it up.

Even though Boxers lazy, DANGEROUS article, just added another brick to the wall of their mortal danger, the brothers will never complain, never waver, and they will hardly even pay attention.


They’re too busy changing the lives of the people in their country.


PS: “It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.” Thomas Paine

Reporters too often forget that they are dealing with real people and can have real impact on their lives.

: Here’s a response from Jim Hake, founder of Spirit of America.

: In the comments, Tex corrects me: I said that the brothers do not use their names on their blogs; he found an instance where Ali did; link in the comments. I will still say that’s one of the brothers and it’s a bit buried, not like the NYT using the name of all three brothers. There’s certainly precedent for not using names in The Times…. unless you are of the belief that there are a lot of people named Source.

And another commenter finds that when two of the brothers announcd that they would run for the national assembly, they used their last name and so did I. I stand corrected. I have done it. So take that sin away from my recitation above. Plenty left.

[Let me add this: Thank you, Tex, for correcting me. I don’t mean to turn this moment of factual error into a distracting opportunity for blogger triumphalism but I will: It took no time for Tex to catch me in the error and call me on it. As I often say, when a blogger makes a mistake, other bloggers decend upon him like white blood cells on a germ. And that is a good thing. So I was wrong about that aspect; I leave it up above so you can see I was wrong; I put the correction here so you can see it; and we’re all better off for it. So thanks.]

: LATER: And it keeps spreading. Now Seth Godin writes a post about the problem with CIA blogs. Readers come down on him — as they damned well should, saying no one has shown for one second that such a thing exists — and he back off, as damned well he should and then tries to backpedal to say he’s just talking theoretically and complaining about a world where such a thing could happen and if it did what would happen to the trust in the medium? Well, Seth, lots of things could happen but idle speculation about that will get us nowhere; it’s the speculation and the spreading of it that ruins the trust. The medium corrects itself effectively. Now we’ll see how long it takes The Times to correct itself.

: Yes, I did email Dan Okrent at The Times with a link to this post. More when I hear it.

: There was a meme starting in the comments that this was only an arts story. I said it still had to be true and those who commented and I don’t disagree about that. But it’s not an arts story everywhere. The Times has a wire; here it’s a news story.

: TimesWatch has this on Boxer from June, 2004. At the end of a story about the screening of a movie on Vietnam, she wrote:

She ends: “Those in the crowd seemed angrier than Mr. Davis. They wanted to talk about the land mines left behind and the long-term effects of Agent Orange on the children. They wanted to know what had become of the bombers and pilots. And how is it, they asked, that after 30 years the United States finds itself in yet another quagmire?”

: Let me make one thing very clear: I like, read, and respect The New York Times and I care about journalism and that is why it’s worth going after this story: to turn journalism into a self-correcting mechanism, as we call our new medium. No, I don’t go after every story with something wrong (though I know you’ll now demand that I should or I’m a hypocrite); I don’t know enough about all those stories. But this one is wrong on so many levels and that’s why I said so.

: UPDATE ON BOXER’S REPORTING: I asked and found out from Omar and Mohammed at IraqTheModel that Boxer never tried to contact them or ask any questions of them; she tried to contact only Ali. That’s bad reporting: lazy and incomplete. But, sadly, that’s how some reporters behave: They don’t want to ask the one more question that will ruin the story they want to write.

: EVENING UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds writes:

At the moment, the New York Times is in court, demanding constitutional protection for its sources. If they’re exposed, it fears, they may suffer consequences that will make others less likely to come forward in the future. That, we’re told, would be bad for America.

But the New York Times has no compunctions about putting the lives of pro-American and pro-democracy Iraqis at risk with baseless speculation even though the consequences they face are far worse than those that the Times’ leakers have to fear. It seems to me that doing so is far worse for America.

When journalists ask me whether bloggers can live up to the ethical standards of Big Media, my response is: “How hard can that be?” Not very hard, judging by the Times’ latest.

For shame, NY Times

For shame, NY Times

: There is a horribly irresponsible story about IraqTheModel in today’s NYT. I am headed into a meeting but will comment soon!