Opinion

Jack Shafer

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.

If this is the work of a media mole, Gawker should think about replacing him with a hippo, which the site may have the opportunity to do soon if, as an unnamed Fox News spokesman told Mediaite, the channel has already identified him.

The problem with smoking media moles out is that they’re like Spartacus – there’s always another wise guy willing to risk his job to tell tales on his bosses. As one who reported on the secret doings inside other media organizations for many years, I can tell you that finding a newsroom asset who will spill the beans on his bosses, leak embarrassing documents and otherwise rat his organization out is as easy as placing a phone call.

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.

Dismantling the Capote myth

Jack Shafer
Mar 14, 2012 21:14 UTC

Long before literary provocateur John D’Agata was rankling the journalistic establishment with his unorthodox reporting “techniques” — changing dates, merging quotations, altering statistics, constructing composite characters — to “seek a truth … but not necessarily accuracy,” writer Truman Capote was doing the same in his most famous work, 1966′s In Cold Blood.

Capote always insisted his “non-fiction novel,” his new literary form, was “immaculately factual.” But almost immediately after the book was published by Random House after being serialized in the New Yorker, he was accused of getting the story wrong by Esquire magazine writer Philip K. Tompkins in a June 1966 piece titled “In Cold Fact.”

Over the years, the accusations have continued from many corners, including friendly ones. In his sympathetic 1988 book, Capote: A Biography, Gerald Clarke acknowledges that the final scene in the book, which takes place at a graveyard, is fiction. That scene, which is filled with dialogue, has the investigator in the murder case meeting with a friend of one of the slain girls in the cemetery where the murdered Clutter family is buried. Clarke writes that Capote constructed it: “Since events had not provided him with a happy scene, he was forced to make one up.”

Chris Hughes friends the New Republic

Jack Shafer
Mar 9, 2012 23:43 UTC

Chris Hughes joins the pantheon of vanity press moguls with the announcement today of his purchase of a majority interest in the New Republic. The 28-year-old Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook, commands a net worth that Forbes put “in the $700 million range” last year. Based on this portfolio, Hughes should be able to sustain the magazine’s annual losses — which Anne Peretz, the ex-wife of former owner Martin Peretz put at $3 million a year — for a couple of hundred years after his death.

Of course, vanity press moguls rarely commit to their publications for life, and few sustain the relationship after death. Learning nothing from the vanity moguls who have gone before them, they recycle all of their errors. As their publisher’s promises to cut deficits and turn a small profit go unmet; as the editor he inherited from the previous regime turns out to be a dolt; as the staff gets caught giggling about the stupid things the vanity mogul said in story meetings; as the mag ends up making the vanity mogul enemies instead of the new, powerful friends he wished for, he begins to understand that publishing isn’t the creative paradise he sought.

Despite the heartache of owning marginal publications, millionaire after billionaire has lined up in the last generation to buy in or launch a publication of his own. The vanity moguls’ contemporary ranks include Mortimer Zuckerman (the Atlantic, Fast Company, the Daily News), Richard Mellon Scaife (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), Harvey Weinstein (Talk), Martin Peretz (New Republic), Arthur L. Carter (The Nation, New York Observer), Jared Kushner (New York Observer), John Warnock and William Hambrecht (Salon), convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon (Washington Times, Insight, World & I, UPI), Sidney Harman (Newsweek), David Bradley (National Journal, the Atlantic), Warren Hellman (Bay Citizen), and Bill Gates (Slate). But they’ve been with us since the 1890s, when William Randolph Hearst used his family fortune to spread his newspaper ego across the nation.

Kony baloney

Jack Shafer
Mar 8, 2012 21:54 UTC

Call me a traditionalist, but when a non-fiction film’s soundtrack includes anything but incidental music, my eyes cease to view it as a documentary and begin to receive it as propaganda. Kony 2012, this week’s viral video sensation on YouTube and Vimeo, reaches for the heart-melting, minor-chord music about 16 seconds into its 30-minute run, efficiently alerting me to its emotional scheme.

Produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children, Kony 2012 implores viewers to purchase bracelets and action kits (tax deductible!) to help stop the murdering, raping, looting and enslaving ways of African warlord Joseph Kony, head of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, and to forward the video to friends. Kony 2012 also calls for U.S. support for Ugandan efforts to capture the warlord. According to the YouTube counter, the video has been viewed close to 40 million times since its release on Monday, although New York attributes that performance to clever marketing, high production values and a website that made it easy to push the link to celebrities who tweet.

Whatever the source of Kony 2012‘s viral power, it has been more than matched by a swift anti-viral counterreaction, with commentators at the Atlantic, the Guardian, Jezebel, the Independent, the Wronging Rights blog, the Traveling While Black blog, the Backslash Scott Thoughts blog and the Visible Children blog scrutinizing the video and its maker-marketers. They criticize the Invisible Children project for exaggerating the evil Joseph Kony is perpetrating these days; for engaging in paternalism that verges on colonialism; for failing to note that some of the “good guys” that the group supports are known to rape and loot themselves; for pretending that viewers sharing a video with other viewers will change the world; for selling “yesterday’s papers” and calling it news; for portraying Africans as helpless victims in need of saving by Westerners; for oversimplifying the central-east African crisis; and for other clap-your-hands-and-everything-will-be-all-right dreams.

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