Category Archives: Journalism

Free speech, grand juries and asshats

There are right ways and wrong ways to spout off about government officials. You can say:

I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.

Or you can say:

Metaphorically speaking, I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible public official on whom I am entitled to comment, purely as hyperbole, on a matter of public concern under my First Amendment rights to free speech and to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Cf: The Screwtape Letters, an allegorical series of essays in which C. S. Lewis used Hell as a literary device for comment upon matters of spiritual and political concern.

Source: Department Of Justice Uses Grand Jury Subpoena To Identify Anonymous Commenters on a Silk Road Post at | Popehat

The first might get you summoned to appear before a grand jury costing you thousands upon thousands of dollars in legal fees along with untold hours of lost wages. The last will make you look like a moron with no backbone but at least you’ve had your say and you’ve kept your bank account intact.

Can a Robot Writer Have Journalistic Integrity or Be Ethical?

Robots don’t threaten human journalist jobs because automated content is typically used to expand coverage, not replace existing coverage.

Source: Robots write thousands of news stories a year, but not this one – Jun. 11, 2015

HA! That’s the same line we used when we automated all the factory jobs.  We didn’t replace any existing jobs but we sure made it easy to justify not hiring replacement workers for those that left through natural attrition.

So there’s one less unpaid intern getting experience that will allow them to ease into the shoes of the reporter with two years experience that is replacing the old guy that moved on up or retired. A few years later the editors are bemoaning the lack of experience in those candidates for the entry level journalism jobs. The publishers see this as justification for trying to expand the role of these robot reporters into creating more complex pieces.

I saw the same thing happening in manufacturing as I was automating more and more tasks. We said way back then that this automation stuff would zoom through every industry out there including health care, journalism insurance and the legal industry.

All rise for the court, the Honorable Judge Tin Man presiding.

Who Decides The Issues?

Jay Rosen makes a great point:

Political reporters: You have no guaranteed “role.” That’s a fiction you and your colleagues created to keep the game the same every four years so you don’t have to go to school on how to be useful and powerful in the election system as it evolves. The fiction works if you can get the right people to believe it, but when they clearly don’t care about your “role in the process” how are you going to make ’em care? Got a plan for that?

Source: Campaign reporters: you are granted no “role in the process.” It is your powers against theirs. » Pressthink

During the election cycle we are constantly being told what the issues are, but who decides what those issues are? Is it you? Me? No, those running for office decide what issues they want to run on and those reporting on the election decide what issues they want to report on. However you and I have our own issues. It’s time for the journalist to report on our issues, not theirs and then perhaps the politicians will confront our issues.

New ACLU Cellphone App Automatically Preserves Video of Police Encounters | The Nation

The ACLU has released an app that streams video you are taking to their server for preservation should the police confiscate your phone and destroy the video you have taken. I see a real need for an app like this and I might download it except for one thing, the video is sent to an ACLU server and not a server under my control or at least under the control of someone of my choice.

The app features a large red “Record” button in the middle of the screen. When it’s pressed, the video is recorded on the phone and a duplicate copy is transmitted simultaneously to the ACLU server. When the “stop” button is pressed, a “Report” screen appears, where information about the location of the incident and the people involved can also be transmitted to the ACLU. The video and the information are treated as a request for legal assistance and reviewed by staff members. No action is taken by the ACLU, however, unless an explicit request is made, and the reports are treated as confidential and privileged legal communications. The videos, however, may be shared by the ACLU with the news media, community organizations or the general public to help call attention to police abuse.

Source: New ACLU Cellphone App Automatically Preserves Video of Police Encounters | The Nation

And this is all great if the only reason you might have for moving video to a safe place as you are taking it is to document civil liberties abuse but what if I’m wanting to document a dispute between two private entities and the person who I’m having the dispute with grabs and destroys my phone? I like the app but how about someone coming up with one that will save it to my server or to the service of my choice?

Edward Snowden statue installed by artists in Brooklyn removed by park officials

I fully understand the park officials removing an unsanctioned piece of art but……

The NYPD says its intelligence division is investigating the statue and will be searching for DNA or other clues that may bring up a suspect. It’s not clear what charges are possible, NBC continues to report.

via Edward Snowden statue installed by artists in Brooklyn removed by park officials |

Why go to this expense to prosecute the artists responsible?

We Can’t Report On That! The Public Might Not Like What We Found Out.

Dan points out this FAIR article about the New York Time’s executive editor, Jill Abramson, is being replaced by their current managing editor, Dean Baquet. There seems to be a question as to whether or not Baquet will be supportive of investigative journalism.

Dan’s pull quote was about Baquet killing a story while he was at the LA Times about government monitoring of U.S. Internet traffic. What I read below that, however, was much more disturbing to me.

“Later, working at the New York Times, Baquet justified an ‘informal arrangement among several news organizations’ to comply with a government request to withhold from readers the fact that a US drone base was located in Saudi Arabia: ‘The Saudis might shut it down because the citizenry would be very upset,’ Baquet told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan FAIR Blog, 2/6/13. ‘We have to balance that concern with reporting the news.'”

Investigative reporting must be about reporting things that will upset the citizenry. What’s the use in investigating something that isn’t upsetting and what use is the 1st Amendment if newspapers are going to comply with government requests not to upset the citizenry?

UPDATE: Looking into this some more I found a possible reason for Abramson getting canned.

UPDATE: Several news sources reported Wednesday evening that the reason for Abramson’s departure was a pay dispute. Specifically, reports claim Abramson was reportedly upset to discover that she was being paid less than her male predecessor.

Clemency for Snowden?

The New York Times and The Guardian are both calling for clemency for Edward Snowden from the Obama administration citing the abuses he has uncovered. This is good news but I’m doubting it will do much good. Most of the popular media is content to continue rolling out stories blaming Snowden for the economic damage various tech companies are suffering due to the company’s own decisions to be complicit with the NSA in making it easy to spy on their customers.

Honestly? I believe that the upcoming mini-series “The Asset” that ABC is producing is being used as propaganda to further damage Snowden’s reputation, to associate Snowden with Ames. So while a couple of major media outlets are calling for clemency for Snowden it seems like all others are finding ways to paint Snowden in the worst light.

The New York Times editorial can be found here.

The Guardian editorial can be found here.

 And The Atlantic chimes in.

News or Propaganda?

Tech firms have seen a slump of at least $1.7bn in sales this year due mostly to Asian countries losing confidence in the tech firms ability to handle sensitive data without the data being compromised.

An analysis of financial filings from technology giants IBM and Cisco by The Independent on Sunday reveals the two businesses have seen sales slump by more than $1.7bn £1.03bn year-on-year in the important Asia-Pacific region since Mr Snowden revealed in June that US companies had been compromised by the NSA‘s intelligence-gathering in the clandestine Prism programme.“US companies have seen some of their business put at risk because of the NSA revelations,” said James Kelleher of equity research firm Argus Research.

via IT firms lose billions after NSA scandal exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

There are two ways of looking at this. The tech firms have lost this business because they are not trustworthy or the tech firms lost the business because of Edward Snowden’s leaking of sensitive documents. One perspective is gained from reading the news while the other is the result of propaganda released as news.

Groklaw has shutdown

Groklaw has shut down. PJ explains why.

In her explanation she made a statement that I believe we all need to read and think on:

Harvard’s Berkman Center had an online class on cybersecurity and internet privacy some years ago, and the resources of the class are still online. It was about how to enhance privacy in an online world, speaking of quaint, with titles of articles like, “Is Big Brother Listening?”

And how.

You’ll find all the laws in the US related to privacy and surveillance there. Not that anyone seems to follow any laws that get in their way these days. Or if they find they need a law to make conduct lawful, they just write a new law or reinterpret an old one and keep on going. That’s not the rule of law as I understood the term.

If nothing else the rule of law should be consistent. As PJ has pointed out above it isn’t. Not when the law is constantly being reinterpreted or changed.

I Can’t Call It Treason

Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States defines treason thusly:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

via Article Three of the United States Constitution – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Neither Bradley Manning nor Edward Snowdon levied war against the U.S. nor did they adhere to Enemies of the US, giving Aid and Comfort in what they did. I’m sure they broke the law in doing what they did but I think the U.S. is or will be stronger for their efforts. Are they heroes? I won’t use that strong of a word but they are definitely not traitors to their country.

Flutterby™! : Government overreach outrage of the moment 2013-06-10 05:59:58.699733-07

Dan has a list of links to news items dealing with the US government’s snooping on it citizens. Rather than repeating them here I’ll just send you over there. He did include a graphic that explains why I view Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning as more heroes than villains. I’m not sure either chose the best approach for making the information public that they did but the information did need to be released.

It Should Come As No Surprise

I open up Google News this morning and I’m greeted by this headline:

NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal
•Top secret PRISM program claims direct access to servers of firms including Google, Facebook and Apple
•Companies deny any knowledge of program in operation since 2007

via NSA taps in to user data of Facebook, Apple, Google and others, secret files reveal | World news | The Guardian.

This news actually broke a couple of days ago but it was limited to one cell phone carrier giving up all of its transactional metadata on its customers. Since then we’ve found out that it isn’t just cell phone information but also everything digital in our lives.

It isn’t like we really didn’t know this was happening, how could we not know with the theme of so many of the story lines running through pop culture pointing directly to Big Brother and his surveillence abilities. This can’t be a surprise but it is confirmation of our fears of a reality we didn’t want to admit to.

So where do we go with this knowledge? For one thing we need to acknowledge that there does need to be intelligence gathering efforts by our Department of Defense and some of the details of those efforts do need to remain secret. However, with secrecy comes a limit to the oversight so what remains secret needs to be kept to a minimum. And, see, that’s what I don’t think people in government grasp. For instance, we have this from James Clapper:

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in an unusual late-night statement Thursday, denounced the leaks of highly classified documents that revealed the programs and warned that America’s security will suffer. He called the disclosure of a program that targets foreigners’ Internet use “reprehensible,” and said the leak of another program that lets the government collect Americans’ phone records would affect how America’s enemies behave and make it harder to understand their intentions.

“The unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation,” Clapper said of the phone-tracking program.

via US declassifies phone program details after uproar : News :

See, I don’t think he fully understands that one of the threats facing our nation comes from our own government. The more stuff the government does behind our back the more stuff we start imagining them doing behind our back when stories like this come to light. We lose trust in the government when we learn that they have secretly been doing things that might step over the line of what we authorized them to do in our constitution. You don’t subject us to unreasonable seach and siezures without probable cause and this snooping appears to have been an unreasonable search without probable cause.

I am somewhat encouraged, though, that maybe those in charge do have some understanding of my concerns. Mr. Clapper has declassified the two programs that were leaked:

At the same time, he offered new information about both programs, saying he wanted to correct the “misleading impression” created by out-of-context news articles even as he acknowledged that publicly discussing the programs comes with inherent security risks.

“I believe it is important for the American people to understand the limits of this targeted counterterrorism program and the principles that govern its use,” Clapper said.

The problem is that if you keep it secret we are going to imagine the worse when the secret becomes public knowledge, and it will become public knowledge. Someone will leak it. You just need to understand that those leaking the information are probably more hero than villain.

Controlling the Message

Kathleen Parker is upset about a couple of things. She sees the run in the White House had with Bob Woodward and the press being denied access to the President when he played golf with Tiger Woods as an ominous threat to a free press. But apparently she also sees the “blogosphere” as a threat to the free press too.

I’m bothered by Gene Sperling’s effort to bully Woodward into not publishing his story placing the origin of the idea for the sequester on the White  House, there is plenty of corroboration that Woodward is correct, but I’m bothered because I just don’t like bullying. I don’t see this, as Parker does, as a danger of the independent press losing access to the White House.

See, in Parker’s world there is the “official media”, of which she is a part and then there is the “alternative media” of which she is in competition with. She seems to think the “official media” is a part of the fourth estate while the “alternative media” is not and is an outlet for politicians to get their word out bypassing the gatekeepers in the fourth estate.

“Add to these likely sentiments the fact that Americans increasingly dislike the so-called mainstream media, sometimes for good reason. Distrust of media, encouraged by alternative media seeking to enhance their own standing, has become a tool useful to the very powers the Fourth Estate was constitutionally endowed to monitor. When the president can bypass reporters to reach the public, it is not far-fetched to imagine a time — perhaps now? — when the state controls the message.”
~ Kathleen Parker

See, I’m troubled because the Administration wants to hide the fact that they thought up the idea for this sequester but now want to blame the Republican leadership for it so are bullying reporters to keep the facts from being put out there. She’s upset because the “alternative media” is being given access to the White House also.

Kathleen, can’t we all just get along?


CNNs Integrity and Accuracy in Reporting

I’m still bothered by the news I commented on yesterday about CNN’s silence in their coverage of happenings in Iraq. I’m bothered even more by a link provided by Dan Lyke. For a contrast let’s look back about six months ago to an October 25, 2002 interview of Eason Jordan conducted by WNYC’s Bob Garfield.

BOB GARFIELD: I’m sure you have seen Franklin Foer’s article in The New Republic which charges that the Western press is appeasing the Iraqi regime in order to maintain its visas — to be there reporting should a war ultimately break out. What’s your take on that?

EASON JORDAN: The writer clearly doesn’t have a clear understanding of the realities on the ground because CNN has demonstrated again and again that it has a spine; that it’s prepared to be forthright; is forthright in its reporting. We wouldn’t have a team in northern Iraq right now if we didn’t want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn’t report on the demonstration if we didn’t want to upset the Saddam Hussein regime. We wouldn’t have been thrown out of Iraq already 5 times over the last several years if we were there to please the Saddam Hussein regime. So the story was lopsided, unfair and chose to ignore facts that would refute the premise of the article.

BOB GARFIELD: Well what is the calculus? In the New Republic article he cites the coverage of Saddam Hussein’s birthday by CNN which he deemed to be not a huge news event. Are you tossing bones to Saddam Hussein in order to be there when, when it really matters?

EASON JORDAN: No. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Now, there is Iraqi propaganda that is news! I mean there is propaganda from a lot of governments around the world that is newsworthy and we should report on those things. Saddam Hussein’s birthday is a big deal in that country. We’re not reading Iraqi propaganda; we’re reporting as an independent news organization.

BOB GARFIELD: Back in ’91 CNN and Peter Arnett in particular were heavily criticized, mostly by civilians, for reporting from within Baghdad during the U.S. attack in ways that they’d consider to be utter propaganda and to– out of context and not reflecting the overall reality of Saddam Hussein’ regime. Have you analyzed what you can get access to without appearing to be just a propaganda tool for Saddam?

EASON JORDAN: Well absolutely. I mean we work very hard to report forthrightly, to report fairly and to report accurately and if we ever determine we cannot do that, then we would not want to be there; but we do think that some light is better than no light whatsoever. I think that the world, the American people will be shortchanged if foreign journalists are kicked out, because even in Peter Arnett’s case there were things that he reported on — and this is a long time ago now — but things he reported on that I don’t think would have been reported at all had he not been there. We feel committed to our Baghdad presence. We’ve had a bureau there for 12 years with occasional interruptions when we’ve been thrown out, but we’re not there to please the Iraqi government — we’re not there to displease the Iraqi government — we’re just there to do our job.

I think I’m going to unprogram CNN from my office TV. This goes beyond just being upset with CNN’s lack of journalistic integrity. As Dan points out in a comment this goes beyond just silence and journeys into complicity. CNN was assuring us that they were giving us accurate reporting of what they were seeing in Iraq all the while not telling us how bad things had truely become.