Opinion

Jack Shafer

What did Ben Bradlee know, and when did he know it?

Jack Shafer
Apr 30, 2012 21:13 UTC

In 1990, former Washington Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee told journalist Barbara Feinman, who was helping him on his memoir A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures, that he had “a little problem with Deep Throat.” Bradlee, who was then 69 years old, continued:

Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.

This confession and other findings drawn from Ben Bradlee’s papers appear in a book excerpt that was published in New York magazine last night. The excerpt has sparked a near riot in Watergate Nation – the principals who reported the story, other journalists, history buffs, and political devotees for whom the 1972 Democratic National Committee headquarters break-in and Nixon administration cover-up remain an inexhaustible topic of fascination.

The excerpted book, Yours in Truth: A Personal Portrait of Ben Bradlee, which goes on sale May 8, is by former Bob Woodward researcher Jeff Himmelman. Himmelman first surveyed the Bradlee papers as part of a proposed book collaboration with Bradlee, but after the veteran editor decided against writing the book, he gave Himmelman sanction to write his own book based on the material.

Himmelman’s New York excerpt exploits his Bradlee-in-doubt finding for maximum dramatic potential. First, he confronts Woodward with the Bradlee quotations and recounts at length his former boss’s reaction. (Bob is rattled.) Next, he recounts a morning powwow at Bradlee’s house in which Bradlee, Woodward and Himmelman discuss the merits of publishing the two-decades-old interview about Bradlee’s Deep Throat “problem,” debating whether or not it should be included in the Himmelman book. Naturally, Woodward is opposed, saying it would give “fodder to the fuckers” who hate Bradlee, the Washington Post, the Post‘s Watergate coverage, and Woodward.

Who cares if Murdoch lobbied?

Jack Shafer
Apr 25, 2012 20:51 UTC

Pummel Rupert Murdoch and his minions all you want for News Corp.’s phone-hacking of celebrities and crime victims, its computer-hacking, its blagging, its bribing of police, its payments of hush money, its obstruction of justice, and its operation of what former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown once called a “criminal-media nexus.”

But spare me the feigned outrage excited by this week’s interrogations of Murdoch and his son James Murdoch by the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics and practices. The Guardian, the Telegraph and the New York Times, among others, appear to be appalled by news that the media baron lobbied the UK government aggressively so that he could expand his holdings in the tightly regulated satellite broadcaster BSkyB from 39.1 percent to 100 percent. The Times cites subpoenaed News Corp. emails released by Leveson to show a Murdoch lobbyist working “hand-in-glove” with the office of a government regulator.

Isn’t climbing into the skins of regulators the very definition of lobbying? That’s how I understand it. Hate Murdoch all you want, but if you’re invested in highly regulated businesses like BSkyB and you need government approval to invest deeper in the regulated business, then working “hand-in-glove” with the regulators is exactly what the situation calls for. Should the Murdochs have ignored the regulators as they attempted to increase their holdings in BSkyB? Of course not.

Sadly, human trophies are as old as war itself

Jack Shafer
Apr 18, 2012 23:00 UTC

If you talk very long with soldiers who’ve seen combat, they’ll offer that death is a joke. Not a very funny joke, but one that never gets old. With every new war, with every new brigade of recruits, soldiers rediscover the death joke and retell it by taking battlefield trophies of enemy equipment, enemy personal effects and even staged photos with enemy body parts, as the Los Angeles Times reports today.

The Times obtained a series of 18 photos of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posing with enemy corpses and published two of them in a story that began on page one. The living posers are all grins and chuckles, indicating the high mirth that battlefield death brings. In one of the published photos, amused U.S. soldiers hoist two severed legs of a suicide bomber and mug for the camera.

The Times describes other photos it did not run:

Two soldiers posed holding a dead man’s hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man’s hand. Someone placed an unofficial platoon patch reading “Zombie Hunter” next to other remains and took a picture.

Fox mole hunting

Jack Shafer
Apr 11, 2012 22:18 UTC

A Fox News Channel employee has turned mole at the behest of Gawker and has now filed two dispatches from the House that Roger Ailes Built.

In the first, published on Monday, the Fox Mole describes the misery of working for the channel: He (we don’t know for certain it’s a man, but it seems a reasonable assumption) hoped that his Fox gig would help him find “a new job that didn’t make me cringe every morning when I looked in the mirror.” He also leaked a moderately amusing pre-broadcast chat between Mitt Romney and Sean Hannity.

The second, published today, portrays the “soul-crushing” material conditions of working at Fox News. “The basement newsroom is dreary, with no windows, fluorescent lighting, and constant worrying about an infestation from bedbugs, mice or some other vermin,” the Mole writes. He also complains about having to work on ancient computers, about the poor reception that desktop TVs receive, about malfunctioning printers and other office injustices.

Instagrammatical man

Jack Shafer
Apr 9, 2012 23:55 UTC

Today, Facebook purchased Instagram – maker of the wildly popular iPhone and Android photo-sharing app of the same name – for $1 billion. That’s a lot of money for a company that’s less than two years old and has no real revenues. But viewed historically the deal is a smart one. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is onto something. The human desire for self-expression – to say something as simple as “I’m here” – is insatiable, and Instagram exploits it superbly.

Sometimes the simpler the message, the more urgent the need to share it. Example: The first thing most people do upon landing at an airport and being told by the captain they can now use their mobile phones is to whip it out and tell someone – anyone! – where they are and where they’re going.

In buying Instagram, Zuckerberg acknowledges that his company’s own mobile app is an inconvenient, ineffective way to say “I’m here.” Using Instagram to transmit pictures of San Francisco, shots of the ballpark or plates full of food to other smartphones lets users convey their here-ness in greater detail and precision than the overcooked stew that the Facebook platform allows. And there is no learning curve: All you need to make an Instagrammatic statement is 1) a mobile device with a camera, 2) an itchy trigger finger and 3) an Instagram account.

Poynter chat: Should journalists support Trayvon Martin, Gov. Walker recall?

Mar 28, 2012 16:07 UTC

Reuters columnist Jack Shafer will discuss Gannett’s response to journalists who supported the Gov. Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin, as well as how ESPN handled the Trayvon Martin situation, specifically by dropping the ban that prevented its staff from publishing photos of themselves wearing hoodies.

The chat, hosted by Poynter, will feature feedback from Twitter users who submit their analysis and commentary by using the hashtag #poynterchats.

The chat begins at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Click here for more on this chat from Poynter.org

Free the Gannett 25!

Jack Shafer
Mar 27, 2012 21:59 UTC

Last week, the hall monitors who run Gannett’s 11 newspapers in Wisconsin brought the mean end of the ruler down on the wrists of 25 journalists for signing petitions to recall Governor Scott Walker.

Kevin Corrado, publisher of the chain’s Green Bay Press-Gazette, spoke the company line in a Mar. 24 column in which he stated that signing the petition constituted a “breach of Gannett’s principles of ethical conduct.” Promising “disciplinary measures” and additional “ethics training” for the signatories, Corrado continued:

A number of the journalists told their editors that they did not consider signing the petition a political act. They equated it to casting a ballot in an election. But we do not make that distinction.

Malia malarkey

Jack Shafer
Mar 21, 2012 22:44 UTC

Almost every professional American journalist accepts the convention that the private lives of the president’s pre-adult children — their participation in school and extracurricular events; their private trips; their personal lives — shall not be covered except, as was the case with the Bush twins, when they’re charged with breaking the law.

The cone of silence that usually shields the president’s children temporarily lifted early this week as a variety of outlets, including Huffington Post and Yahoo News, and the websites of the London Telegraph and the Australian, ran stories about Malia Obama’s vacation in school trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with classmates and 25 Secret Service agents. The White House contacted the outlets and asked that the Web pages be tossed into the memory hole. Most complied, but not before the Blaze captured screenshots of them. The administration even persuaded Politico to redact its original report about the excised pages because it contained information that raised “security” concerns at the White House.

The acceptance of the White House kids’ convention is so universal that even the supermarket tabloids tend to drop their snooping cameras and gossip-pouring pens when it comes to presidential offspring, although Weekly World News columnist Ed Anger played the dissident when he asked: “Why Are Democrats’ Daughters So Ugly?” in the paper’s Aug. 25, 1992, issue, just before Bill Clinton won the presidential election. Anger concluded that if Clinton reached the White House, Chelsea would be the “prettiest” daughter of a Democratic president in 40 years, “but she’s no Tricia Nixon,” he added.

Mike Daisey’s brief guide to answering difficult questions

Jack Shafer
Mar 20, 2012 20:18 UTC

Thanks to the “Retraction” episode of This American Life and his appearance at Georgetown University last night, we now know more than we ever wanted to about Mike Daisey’s damage control theories.

On the radio, Daisey tendered the non-apology apology. Yes, for his retracted episode, “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory,” Daisey confessed that he had lied in the original broadcast about what he saw in China, whom he talked to there, when he talked to them, how many factories he visited, and so on. He also admitted that he lied to This American Life‘s editors in the fact-checking process. For a complete run.

Daisey has now acknowledged his lies, but has also attempted several defenses and obfuscations of them. On his blog last Friday, the day the scandal was broken, he stated that: “I stand by my work,” and “What I do is not journalism.” I leave it to the reader to figure what “I stand by my work” means when the work under discussion has been discredited. But the “not journalism” comment is very peculiar to make at this late stage because, as Craig Silverman points out, This American Life producer Brian Reed put Daisey on notice before the episode ran that they wanted it to be “totally, utterly unassailable by anyone who might hear it.”

Busting Mr. Daisey

Jack Shafer
Mar 16, 2012 22:04 UTC

This week, the highly regarded public radio show This American Life learned a lesson that many journalists, including me, have learned the hard way: It’s almost impossible for an editor to fact-check a contributor who lies.

The show, hosted by Ira Glass, just retracted its Jan. 6, 2012, episode, “Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory,” adapted from Mike Daisey’s popular one-man show, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which is about working conditions in a Chinese factory that makes Apple products.

Daisey’s deceptions were uncovered by Rob Schmitz, a China-based reporter for Marketplace. This American Life will air an hourlong explanation and re-examination this weekend, featuring both Glass and Daisey, about the circumstances behind the retraction. Glass and the show are to be commended for their quick response, and everybody who cares about real journalism owes a debt of gratitude to Schmitz.

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