Posts about News

ONA: The definition of civil war in Iraq

Zeyad was interviewed on the stage at the Online News Association by USA Today’s Mark Memmott and the room was pin-drop-silent from start to end. I thought it was riveting and so did many others.

Zeyad told the story of the beginning of his blog and then about milestones in its life and the transformation of his thinking about the war — from the start of the war, when Zeyad was optimistic for Iraq; to the lack of media coverage of prodemocracy demonstrations in Baghdad in 2003; to the death of his cousin at the hands of American soldiers; to his current view of the war. When Zeyad pushed for and got an investigation into his cousin’s death (which found the Americans at fault), he said he saw a backlash among his readers. “They accused me of all kinds of things, particularly because I [had been] optimistic. I realized some people were supporting me just because I was saying things they wanted to hear.”

Memmott asked about the accusation that news media here are not covering enough good news in Iraq. “That what I thought in the beginning,” Zeyad said. “Over the last year, I think they are not covering how bad it is.” What are they missing? “Most of the coverage revolves around attacks on American forces and, of course, I understand that. But they are missing the sectarian violence going on around the country. And it’s also extremely difficult for Western media to get that story.” He praised a story in the Washington Post a week ago profiling a neighborhood and also praised some Times coverage. “But it’s not enough.” He said the TV coverage he has seen has been dreadful.

Zeyad explained that today, he gets most of his news from local message boards, “a great treasure trove. Sometimes, you have to sift through a lot of rubbish and propaganda…. But at the same time, you get some gems from these sites.” He explained that when he sees the same reports on opposing boards, he knows he has hit news. He suggested that media should be doing this themselves; he hasn’t seen evidence that they are.

He painted a terrifying picture of life in Baghdad, of “neighborhood shelling neighborhood.” In his Sunni area, “almost every night there is an exchange of mortar shells between neighbors and I haven’t seen that in any Western media. It goes on every night…. Sometimes, it’s just ordinary people from both neighborhoods. Trust is gone.” (Later, with Paul Brennan of the BBC, we sat in the hall and watched an Alive in Baghdad report about local patrols and Zeyad recognizes his own neighborhood.)

Asked whether this is civil war, he said: “I ask you back: How do you define a civil war? Does what I describe sound like a civil war — neighborhoods fighting each other? Yes, I think that’s a civil war.”

From the audience, he was asked whether he has feared for his life. “Yes, I was fearful for my life all the time and I had to weigh everything that I posted.”

Asked to quantify “how much of the story” Americans are getting — 80 percent or 20 percent, say — Zeyad said we are getting half the story. What’s missing? “The local story. I’m sure you get news about attacks — suicide car bombs — all the time, almost every day. And, of course, news about the government, which is really irrelevant. The government doesn’t control anything and doesn’t even control the Green Zone.” Coverage, he said, “should focus on the people and what’s going on on the street.”

Memmott ended asking whether Western media can do anything to help Iraqi bloggers. Zeyad replied: “They can help by publicizing the blogs… I don’t think they are getting the attention they should get. Right now they are a source of information complementing western coverage and they are a great source. They cover almost anything.” He points to the blog of an 18-year-old girl in Mosul, who writes about going through checkpoints to get to school. This isn’t just numbers, Zeyad says. “You get a great insight from these. It also puts a human face on the war. ”

: Here’s E&P’s report.

News shmucks

Anyone who has spent more than six months reporting, editing, or watching the news could have guessed that John Mark Karr was just a sicko who was looking for attention. But, no, the news shmucks couldn’t help themselves. They had to dredge up the Jon Benet story because — why? — they had such fond memories of writing every damned hour about a dead little girl? I got a call last week from one of the cable networks asking whether I’d been following what the blogs were saying about Jon Benet. I said proudly that I had no frigging idea what they were saying, if anything, and that I didn’t care. The cable news person said, ‘good for you,’ and went looking elsewhere. There’s always somebody ready to talk about Jon Benet. It’s at moments like these that I feel ashamed for my ‘profession.’ They call this news? They call this journalism? It’s not the voyeurism that’s most offensive. It’s the stupidity.

: LATER: Howard Kurtz asks:

Will every anchor, correspondent and producer who shamelessly hyped the John Mark Karr story now apologize for taking the country for a ride?

Don’t hold your breath. . . .

So Karr was a fake, and the media caravan moves on. But I don’t think the public forgets. They should teach this one in journalism schools for a long time.

Will do.

So that’s where you’ve been hiding

The Guardian thinks it discloses the undisclosed location.

Making war look worse

This is a post I just put up on Comments is Free. The discussion there is already lively; if you feel moved to comment, please head over there….

Those bloggers have done it again: They’ve caught a fake used in a major media story.

After Reuters ran a photo last week of black smoke over Beirut, suspicious bloggers noted that smoke isn’t known to rise in incredibly symmetrical bulbous billows. That was clear evidence of Photoshopping, using a tool to “clone” one part of a picture so you can cut-and-paste it over other parts. Someone took this photo, added smoke and made it darker. You can see the before-and-after most clearly here.

The sleuth who proved the hoax was Charles Johnson, the man behind the controversial Little Green Footballs blog and the same man who uncovered the faking of the memos used in Dan Rather’s fateful – for Rather, that is – story about George Bush’s military service. In that case, too, Johnson took the original and the fake the showed how the deception was done by dissecting and overlaying the efforts at technical trickery.

Reuters, however, did not wait 11 days, as CBS did, to respond to the outing. Yesterday, it pulled the photo, apologised, and suspended the photographer, Adnan Hajj. The photographer was already controversial in certain blog circles for taking part in what some contended was a stage-managed presentation of the deaths at Qana.

One wonders why anyone, especially a photographer and journalist, would feel compelled to amplify war. No matter what side you are on, does anyone really need to make war worse?

This morning in New York, I watched a TV interview with the two police officers whose story as the last of too few survivors pulled from the World Trade Center has been made Oliver Stone’s new movie, which opens here Wednesday. Asked whether the movie conveyed their own horror at being trapped for 13 and 22 hours, they said that it couldn’t be made bad enough. Yet that surely did not stop Stone from trying. That is what artists often do when faced with tragedy: they struggle with how to make it bad enough. This is why Elie Wiesel has said that one must not bring theatre to Auschwitz or Auschwitz to theatre; one cannot make it bad enough and – as we have seen in countless movies and miniseries – efforts to make it worse only trivialize the tragedy by unnecessarily over-dramatizing it. And, no, I am not drawing a parallel in any way between any of these events, only between the efforts to amplify.

If this photographer were a dramatist, one wonders why he would see the need to Photoshop reality. Does blacker smoke make the damage worse? Is a dead child in Qana any more tragic if the scene around her is more photogenic?

But, of course, the photographer is not a dramatist. He is a journalist. And that makes the effort to goose up the news both more puzzling and more troubling. I suppose one could argue that these could be the acts of hacks hungry for Page One: it’s simple sensationalism. But I doubt that.

It seems more likely an act of agenda that fits into the current argument about proportionalism in the Hizbullah-Israel war. One side of the argument is, of course, that Israel’s security was violated by Hizbullah, and it has a right to defend itself and to assure that these attacks will stop by disarming or disabling Hizbullah. The other side of the argument we hear now is that Israel’s response is disproportionate, an argument I find puzzling in war, where the disproportion is in winning or losing (I have blogged on this here and here and here). If the effort is not to make war look worse but to make one side in it look disproporationate, then I suppose it makes sense to make the smoke bigger and blacker. It makes sense if that is your agenda.

It doesn’t make sense if what you’re trying to do is report the news.

The other subtext of this incident is one I hope is fading away: the supposed rivalry of blogger v mainstream journalist. There was quite the kerfuffle in the blog world this last week when the dean of the Columbia Journalism School, Nicholas Lemann, wrote in The New Yorker continuing that faux feud (read about it here and here). The professionals in this narrative supposedly say that they are the ones holding the standards.

But then along comes a case like the doctored Reuters photo, where the professionals are the ones violating any standards and the bloggers are the ones catching them at it. Where there’s smoke …

What isn’t anti-Semitism

This is frightening: A new CNN poll asked Americans, “Based on what you have read or heard about the actor Mel Gibson, do you think he is or is not anti-Semitic — that is, prejudiced against Jewish people?” Twenty-four percent were unsure, which is amazing in and of itself. Twenty-three percent said he is anti-Semitic. And 52 percent said he is not anti-Semitic.

Well, what the hell does it take to be anti-Semitic? An SS uniform? Good God, I’d say Gibson’s behavior fairly defines anti-Semitism.

So maybe Bill Maher is right:

As I watch so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would (Can you imagine what Bush would do if a terrorist organization took over Canada and was lobbing missiles into Montana, Maine and Illinois?) – and, by the way, does anyone ever ask Hezbollah for restraint. you know, like, please stop firing your rockets aimed PURPOSEFULLY at civilians? – it strikes me that the world IS Mel Gibson. Most of the time, the anti-semitism is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there’s been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out.

PC war

I can’t stop shaking my head about yesterday’s front-page Times piece by Steven Erlanger about complaints from France and the EU, “echoed by some nongovernmental organizations” — and echoed, now, by The Times — against the “disproportionate use of force” in the Hezbollah/Israel war.

Of course, there is disproporationate use of force. Hezbollah attacked. Israel attacked back. It’s a war. Israel is going to try to win. In fact, Israel is going to try to destroy Hezbollah.

The alternative — the proportionate use of force — reminds me of an old Star Trek episode, I believe, in which two nations on a planet came to an agreement for civilized use of force. Rather than bothering with the bombs and guns, a certain number of people from each side had to turn themselves in to be killed. This argument isn’t hard to lampoon. But Erlanger doesn’t try. Only toward the end does he finally include this:

Referring to complaints that Israel was using disproportionate force, Dan Gillerman, Israel’s United Nations ambassador, said at a rally of supporters in New York this week, “You’re damn right we are.”

: And speaking of ridiculous ways to speak about this war, Eat the Press is right to pat Jon Stewart for ridiculing the networks about not calling this war — almost on the brink, on the brink… — and then for saying that we feel this war only “at the pump.”

Yes, much safer than hang-gliding in volcanoes

ABC News argues that being assigned to Iraq is not dangerous.

News is what you make it

Cory Bergman argues that Craigs List is a community news site.

It’s the ultimate citizen journalism site, and it beats traditional news sites in popularity in many cities — an important realization for local media to broaden the definition of news as we know it.

Yes, but I’m not sure that most people go there to share or find news.