Posts from July 12, 2005


As an emailer said, Sarah Boxer is at it again. The NY Times culture writer assigned to the internet — lucky us — now takes it upon herself to formulate a strange Marxist (or is it Maoist?) analysis of We’, the wonderful weblog of Photoshopped images of solidarity, stiff-upper-lippedness, and defiance to terrorists.

The site displays a range of defiant postures. Some people hold up their middle fingers, presumably for the terrorists to see. Some people posted pictures of American soldiers, presumably for Londoners and Americans to see.

But more and more, there’s a brutish flaunting of wealth and leisure. Yesterday there were lots of pictures posted of smiling families at the beach and of people showing off their cars and vans. A picture from Italy shows a white sports car and comes with the caption: “Afraid? Why should we be afraid?”

A few days ago, We’re Not Afraid might have been a comfort. Today, there’s a hint of “What, me worry?” from Mad magazine days, but without the humor or the sarcasm. We’re Not Afraid, set up to show solidarity with London, seems to be turning into a place where the haves of the world can show that they’re not afraid of the have-nots.

What’s the most charitable word I can give to that: Sophomoric? Yes, that’s it.

And so what if we do want to flaunt our prosperity in defiance of those who would kill us for it? We should damn well flaunt exactly what the terrorists hate and fear most: freedom, sex, commerce, speech, women’s rights, openness, success, prosperity, tolerance. I proposed (in a suggestion the NY Times editorialists today would have really hated — see the post below about the 9/11 memorial) that we should use the now-disputed space at the World Trade Center to build not an International Freedom Center but instead a mall and a theater that shows R-rated movies. Now I say we should have Donald Trump send in a picture of himself wearing a “We’re Not Afraid” button. And pictures of women and Jews, too.

The worst of Boxer’s analysis is that it feeds right into the why-they-hate-us culture: It’s as if she’s offended on behalf of the terrorists for showing them what we have and they do not: freedom. Well, damn it, we are successful and that is what they hate most and so we should brutishly flaunt it.

Further, to hide the essence of our culture and our era — our ability to be prosperous and leisurely — is some strange signal of defeat. Should we hide our westerness, our modernity, our openness, our success, and our freedom as, say Jews had to hide their Jewishness in ’30s Germany? If we do, then it’s time to get out the burkas, ladies.

But, of course, that’s absurd.

This is the same Boxer I complained about when she wrote about Iraqi bloggers (which led to this exchange [and see my parenthetical full disclosure in the post below]).

If only Rather had a blog…

CBS News announced its big new internet strategy after hiring CBS Marketwatch founder Larry Kramer as the head. They invited a bunch of bloggers to the press announcement (but I couldn’t attend, being off in my mountain retreat).

Full disclosures (it’s a day for full disclosures): In their early stages of planning, I spoke with Kramer, CBS News President Andrew Heyward, and editor Dick Meyer offering my two cents.

Features of the new CBS News strategy include:

: A new blog that will “create a candid and robust dialogue between CBS News journalists and the public — a move unprecedented among CBS’s peers in broadcast and cable television journalism.” It will “serve as the conduit between the public and CBS News to take viewers and users inside the news gathering, production and decision-making process via the use of original video and outtakes, interviews with correspondents and producers, and input from independent experts, among other methods.” It’s not an ombudsman; it’s not an anchor blogging; it is an effort to open up two-way communication with CBS’ audience about how CBS News makes its decisions.

They say it’s to be edited — not sure why they don’t say written — by Vaughn Ververs, the National Journal’s editor of The Hotline.

: A “cable bypass strategy” — which is to say that CBS News missed the cable train and so now it’s trying to catch the internet plane. So they will serve news directly to the internet. Broadcasting & Cable reports that this will include a video player called The EyeBox to show 25,000 news clips and an initiative to get TV staffers to feed news to the web 24 hours a day. Let’s hope they have more luck doing this than newspapers have had….

This is a response to many developments: missing out on cable… the growth of the internet as a primary means of delivering news… the shrinking (and aging and dying) of the network news audience… and, yes, l’affaire Rather. If they’d had that blog when the Rather scandal developed, we would have had a place to look for and demand their response and they would have had to have responded. Things might have turned out differently….

Do not build it. Not there

A New York Times editorial attacks 9/11 families for attacking plans for the International Freedom Center at the World Trade Center.

But in the past few weeks, we’ve watched a handful of vocal family members, who may not represent a majority of 9/11 families, change the dynamic at the World Trade Center site for the worse. They have begun a movement to “take back the memorial,” which means, in essence, eventually purging ground zero of its cultural partners, including the International Freedom Center.

Well, I’d say we could easily turn that paragraph around and say that in the prior few weeks, we’d seen the International Freedom Center change the dynamics at the World Trade Center for the worse. They played a game of ideological hide-and-seek, taking a picture of a victorious, purple-fingered Iraqi voter out of their presentation because, apparently, democracy in Iraq isn’t freedom worth celebrating. They created unimaginable links between 9/11 and American sins of slavery and, by implication, links to the why-they-hate-us worldview of 9/11 and terrorism. They said there’d be debate at the World Trade Center when, until then, I don’t think anyone imagined there would be anything other than memorial and tribute there.

The Times continues:

This protest resulted in a shocking response in late June from Gov. George Pataki. He openly joined the criticism of one of those institutions – the Drawing Center – for an exhibition that it sponsored, in another part of town, that contains controversial images of 9/11 and America’s role in the world. And he has called on all the cultural partners at ground zero for reassurances that their programs will harmonize with the concerns of this small group of family members.

What’s shocking is that anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to have such debates over the graves of the heroes and innocents of 9/11. It was a bad idea to include such an institution there. When I first heard “cultural center” at the World Trade Center, I was thinking perhaps a nice theater or perhaps a downtown extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not a forum for debating issues (and bashing us). But, of course, once you open the doors to art and expression, you can’t shut it off to some and not others; that is not the American way. And so what’s mistaken is to open those doors there, at this sacred place. Do it elsewhere. Not at the World Trade Center.

The Times also takes quite a couple of swipes at the 9/11 families (my emphass):

By attempting to appease one small, vocal group of protesters who are unlikely to be appeased anyway, he is abrogating the rights of everyone else…. What was offered as an open invitation to restore the artistic life of Lower Manhattan will have turned into an invitation to provide only the kind of cultural offerings that please a vocal group of people whose genuine grief has already taken on a sharply political edge.

As if the IFC did not take on a sharply political edge? As if Pataki does not live by politics? That, once more, is why it is a mistake to have this debate there. Where is the debate society headquarters at Arlington? Where is the controversial gallery at Auschwitz? Why are they building this at the World Trade Center?

: Full disclosure: This has been my advice on this blog and, directly, to Debra Burlingame, who now leads this protest. As I told you here, I spoke with her after her Wall Street Journal op-ed exposed what was happening at the IFC and advised that she should not find herself in a game of trying to edit and revise the committee behind the IFC or what it stands for or says; there is no winning that. Instead, I said, the memorial should be reserved for memory and tribute and we should not build distractions to that. I said that should be the families’ goal. Obviously, I was not the only one who advised that. But I’m not a disinterested, dispassionate observer in this story. (Further full disclosure: I consult for a division of the NYTimes Company but I have utterly no connection with the paper’s editorial page.)

The story so far

In news, I’m no fan of scandal journalism because I tend to get lost in the games of he-spat-she-spat and I think that most scandals ultimately have very little to do with our lives and distract from issues and stories that do matter.

In the far less momentous word of so-called personality reporting, I also was no fan of the equivilant, what I came to call bodily fluids journalism: the emphasis on personal scandal over professional products. That is one essential reason why I created Entertainment Weekly: Because of a number of factors in the mid ’80s (the remote control and cable and the resultant fragmentation of the audience; the rise of personality and the value of celebrity to market media; the increasing power of flacks as the new gatekeepers to the famous and what came to pass for news…), the stars’ movie or TV show or album became far less important in media than the stars’ sex scandal or baby or disease or death. So I started a magazine about product over personality, that helped you decide where to spend your money and time.

I don’t mean to stand up above the scandal mongers, all haughty. That’s pretty hard for a former gossip columnist and People writer to do. It’s just the way I look at things.

And that’s why I tend to pay little attention to scandals until I have to… which means I’m often behind the times. I’m not saying that’s necessarily a good thing for a newsman. I was behind on l’affaire Rather until you, my readers, made me catch up and you were right to do so.

Yesterday, I got email from a blog friend asking why I haven’t been on top of l’affaire Rove (formerly known as l’affaire Plame) and the truth is that I just didn’t keep up with all the ins and outs. The implication when people ask a blogger why he’s not writing about a story is that there’s a political motive: Why are you and Reynolds ignoring Rove? Confess! Apologize! Blog! But, in fact, it’s usually just the case that the blogger simply doesn’t care about the story and since a blog isn’t a newspaper of record — a blog is personal — that’s perfectly fine. I have not been a devotee of the Niger-Wilson-Plame-Miller-Cooper-Rove game of hot potato from the start. It’s a pretty sleazy story of overlapping hidden agendas. I don’t get my rocks off digging into scandals. And so I have not written about it. I haven’t had anything worthwile to add.

Still, I will admit it’s time to catch up. But I look at the mountain of charges and countercharges with exhaustion. Just today, I read the NY Times story about White House silence (what we used to call stonewalling) on the hit reality show Rove and the Reporters past the jump without getting a summary of what exactly is now known or acknowledged about Rove’s involvement. The Times assumes that we’re all keeping up on every back-and-forth like good Sisyphusean scandalmongers. I haven’t been. But The Times can’t edit every story for ignorant dolts like me who haven’t been keeping track of a story. Newspapers try; they add background graphs into the middle of tales but in the case of a saga like Rove/Plame, it’s impossible to sum it all up in a graph or two.

About a year ago, I wrote a post (which I can’t find right now, being bandwidth challenged in the mountains but here‘s the same material in a Powerpoint on how technology changes news) arguing that if you created a news product from scratch today, you wouldn’t include those background graphs. You’d link to the background instead. News would fork into ‘now’ and ‘then.’ The only problem is that news organizations aren’t structured to give the news that way. Newspapers especially don’t tell you what’s happening right now; they tell you what happened a few hours ago, when they’re good and ready. Apart from the scattered background graphs, they also aren’t good at getting you up to speed on a story you’ve missed; they don’t gather collected wisdom. Newspapers and newsrooms just aren’t structured to do that.

But the web is structured to do just that: to tell you what’s happening right now and to gather collected wisdom.

So I need someone to give me the story so far. Or the scandal so far.

I went to Wikipedia’s entry on Karl Rove and it was pretty good, though this triple negative took me 5 minutes to parse:

It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was classified information.

[The only way to make that sentence more befuddling would be to put it this way: “It would not have been illegal if Rove was unaware that Plame’s CIA employment was not public information.” A quadruple negative. But I digress.]

Now you can the argument about whether Wikipedia is factual and edited and journalistic and all that. But at least it did help me get up to speed.

Now the question remains whether I care. Sorry, but if I went to a party and heard one group dissecting Plame/Rove and another group dissecting War of the Worlds, I’d join the latter conversation. In a blog, it’s hard to feign interest.

: LATER: If you subscribe to the content analysis school of you-are-what-you-don’t-write-about then Dave Winer finds evidence that NPR is part of the vast right-wing conspiracy.

What’s in a name?

Tom Gross, author of an influential newsletter about coverage of Israel, writes a wonderful op-ed in the Jerusalem Post about the BBC’s brief rediscovery of the word terrorist, which its ridiculous editorial guidelines all but ban — except, it appears, within hours after a militant-insurgent-bomber nearly blows up your journalistic ass:

Britain’s first bus bombing took place barely half a mile from the BBC’s central London headquarters, and for a day or so after last Thursday’s multiple bomb attacks the BBC, the influential leftist daily Guardian and even the British-based global news agency Reuters all seemed suddenly to discover the words “terrorism” and “terrorist.” In Saturday’s Guardian, for example, one or other of these words appeared on each of the first 11 pages.

In marked contrast to BBC reports about bombs on public transport in Israel – bombs which in some cases were even worse than those in London since some were specifically aimed at children and most were packed with nails, screws, glass and specially-sharpened metal shards in order to maximize injuries – terms like “guerrilla,” “militant,” “activist” or “fighter” were suddenly nowhere to be seen.

Nor – again in contrast to their coverage of Israel – did BBC correspondents, on either its domestic or international services, provide sympathetic accounts of the likely perpetrators, or explain to viewers that we must “understand” their “grievances.”

Tom points us to Gene’s post on Harry’s Place with screenshots of the BBC’s coverage before and after a crackdown by its PC police.