Hi. I’m Hacking. Not Hacking Cough. Not Hack’s License. Those are common mistakes. I’m just Hacking. My full name, really, is, “Using Illicit Means to Access Private Information With a Computer,” but I go by Hacking for short.
I’d like to nominate myself for an award. I dunno - the Nobel? Time’s Person of the Year – or, umm - Phenomenon of the Year? I know it’s only July – but, when you think about it? This year’s been all about me.
First things first. Hacking is delivering a serious blow to the Murdoch media empire. See – I’m powerful, and they played with me the wrong way. Sure, it started off small, Hacking the voicemail of celebrities and princes. But then they started Hacking the voicemails a murdered adolescent, families of the war dead, perhaps even 9/11 victims?
Hey – I’m just Hacking. I do what I’m told. It’s not my fault that I came back to bite them. But am I, Hacking, having a major impact on the British government and media establishment? You can bet your voicemail on it!
That one’s pretty obvious. Hacking is bad – I’m a violation of rights - when targeting individuals. But I’m still perceived as p r e t t y c o o l when done institutionally.
Take Wikileaks. I hang out with them constantly.
See, the thing about our Information Age is that information on its own, just raw, isn’t always valuable. But I’m the guy who makes it valuable, because with me, whatever you’ve got is Ill Gotten Booty. I mean, as Hacking, I don’t just change our perceptions, I change our perceptions of our perceptions – a stunt that not many of us can pull.
Yeah, yeah – I know. There are people out there who quibble that because Private Bradley Manning was on the inside, what he did wasn’t Hacking. It was Leaking. Frankly, I know Leaking and the guy’s a bit of a bore. Everything’s always “Deep Throat” this, and “Pentagon Papers” that. And I’m like, Get over it, dude. It was the ‘70’s.
Granted, the Hacking Manning did was easy – I mean, I own a thumb-drive kind of easy - but it was still Hacking. He achieved access way above his pay-grade; that information didn’t fall within the purview of his job. In fact, I doubt he even understood most of it. Unlike, say, the Associate Director of the FBI during Watergate. Or Daniel Ellsberg. Trust me: I hear it from Leaking all the *&^$ing time.
But Wikihacks? I agree: it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It lacks… romance. There’s no way Julian Assange would like it. It makes him sound like a goth European teen, and not the Great Albino Hope for Democracy he likes to think he is.
Anyway, I digressed. Take Wikileaks.
In the case of what Manning hacked, situation reports and from Afghanistan and Iraq – the information was striking only for its banality. Honestly, it wasn’t anything beyond what a routine reader of The New York Times or Washington Post (or The Guardian or the Times of London, or Der Spiegel, etc) had been reading about for nearly a decade.
And the State Department memos? Most of those – except in very few cases - confirmed conventional wisdom and the basic competence of the US diplomatic corps.
See – the information was suddenly really, really valuable, because it was Ill Gotten Booty. That was all me. Hacking. And, news outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian and The Washington Post – who already knew it most of it was banal? They still gave me gloriously huge front pages!
That’s because as Hacking, I changed perception. You can’t tell, but I’ve just taken a small bow.
Now, that Julian Assange? These days, he’s taking retroactive credit for the Arab Spring, by releasing all those State Department memos.
The argument is that Tunisians didn’t need Wikileaks to tell them that their government was run by a bunch of corrupt thugs; and a Tunisian fruit vendor didn’t need Wikileaks to tell him that he was the victim of police brutality. But the very fact that Wikileaks released all that hacked information? That was the spark. The people of Tunisia were suddenly so embarrassed that now the rest of the world knew how their government was run, they rose up and threw off the yoke of oppression! And that sparked Egypt, and Libya, and Bahrain, and Syria. Etc.
Frankly, I’m Hacking – I do this for a living – and I’m not sure I buy it. Think of how naïve and sensitive an entire nation would have to be. They have a crappy government for more than two decades, in a region in which they’re surrounded by crappy governments for more than two decades – and suddenly, they essentially blush so hard that they stage a revolution? Vanity’s a bitch, but I’ve never seen her that pissed off. And she’s not that naive.
But for the fact that people are even thinking that? That’s me. That’s Hacking.
I didn’t just change Perception, with the Ill Gotten Booty of cables released from the US Embassy in Tunis. I changed Perception of Perception: the alleged impact of that banal information that suddenly became valuable because of Hacking is perceived to be so huge, that people actually believe it set off a wave of revolutions and protests bringing down stagnant regimes and changing the face of the Middle East?
Again, I take a bow.
One last thing - so I don’t have to hear it later from Leaking. With me? With Hacking? It’s all about the Ends Justify the Means. Julian Assange takes credit for the Arab Spring after the fact, even though he set out to embarrass the US government.
With Leaking? Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers? FBI Associate Director Mark Felt? Each set out ahead of time to right a very specific instance of corruption or systemic failure. They knew what it was because of proprietary information they had for working inside the system. They wanted to fix it, and they did.
They weren’t just throwing stones at a system they perceived to be bad – like that goth European teen trying to outsmart the Windows OS with a worm. Because everyone uses Windows, it must be bad! And they weren’t document dumping State Department memos because, if they’re secret, State must be up to no good - in absolutely every instance!
Truth be told, most of the time, I’m not much more than a vandal. Julian Assange and Bradley Manning like to throw stones, simply because they figured out how to pick up a rock.
Leaking, that old bastard, is going the way of vinyl records. They’re still out there, but the only real interest in them is from collectors. Raw, stolen and hacked information is seen as far more valuable than that which comes with the context, care - and dare I say principle? - that Leaking provides.
So yes - I’m Hacking. I’m the one having the impact.
And that’s why I deserve an award. The Nobel, maybe. Phenomenon of the Year? And thank you - I’m taking one last bow.
As the phone hacking scandal consuming Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World (NOTW) tabloid continues to extend its tentacles across the British media and political establishment - forcing the shutdown of a 168 year-old newspaper and threatening the Murdoch’s $12 billion takeover of the BSkyB pay channel - one can only wonder: What would it look and sound like if we could see the hacked voicemails and texts between Rupert Murdoch, and his son and heir-apparent, James Murdoch – as they deal with the fallout from the crisis? Below is one possible conversation.
Voicemail from JAMES: Dad – Listen, it doesn’t look like shutting down News of the World is going to be enough. I just got a call that government regulators want to block the BSkyB takeover until a criminal investigation into the phone hacking is done. And now they’re saying the Murdoch family has too much media control in Britain. Call me.
TEXT from JAMES: Probably not the attitude we should assume right now. Call me?
TEXT from RUPERT: It keeps going to voicemail – a security nightmare. You know that! Just send me texts.
TEXT from JAMES: You really think these are more secure?
TEXT from JAMES: Fine. As long as we can talk. How can we contain the fallout?
RUPERT: We spin it as failings of government. We cannot bribe Royal Protection officers if they are not willing to be bribed. Cameron admitted the government and media are “cozy.” Their fault! Not ours!
JAMES: Hacking Prince Harry is one thing – he’s seen as a professional playboy. How do we contain hacking murder victims’ cellphones, and voicemails of families of war dead?
RUPERT: It will blow over. Remember: what serves the public interest does not always interest the public. Posh and Becks gave their kid a dumb name. In a few days, we start a rumor that Kate and Wills are expecting. Or George Michael gets a blow job. I repeat: phone hacking will blow over.
RUPERT: BSkyB will be ours! You can’t see, but I am rubbing my hands together maniacally! :-)
JAMES: It won’t blow over. It’s spreading.
RUPERT: Scum-sucking tabloid bottom crawlers!!!
RUPERT: Hah! That was a joke! LOL!
JAMES: I’m being sarcastic.
RUPERT: ROTF…? Will have to ask Wendi what that one means.
JAMES: Dad - on the subject of America. We both know I’m no fan of Fox News. Maybe now would be a good time to talk about changing things up a little? Getting rid of Roger Ailes?
RUPERT: After Fox helped swing the election from Gore to Bush with a single phone call? Son, we WANT to extend the Gospel of Reaganism!
JAMES: I agree – a great moment for the free market. Killing Communism. Etc. Hurrah.
JAMES: But Dad – they’re a laughingstock now. Sarah Palin’s all their fault. And she’s no Reagan.
RUPERT: Reagan was a great man. He’s why I became an American citizen! Well, that and rules of ownership for television networks.
JAMES: Reagan’s dead, Dad, as is Reaganism – he could never get elected now. And Fox helped kill it. Time to fix it. Seriously.
JAMES: Think of your legacy.
Uncomfortable digital silence.
JAMES: Dad? Would you call me?
I’ve got a litmus test for whether a film or television show focusing on aid-workers, journalists or policy wonks is going to be a worthy representation about working on the frontlines of the developing world.
It’s the phrase, “Children are dying!” If you hear that one, then you know you’re in for some Hollywood tripe. *
Its most recent incantation has been in the promos for ABC’s Off the Map, by the makers of Grey’s Anatomy. And while the show may well be a successful character-driven drama, the backdrop is a very Disney depiction of what aid-work is actually like.
Strangely, “Children are dying,” is usually an omen of heavy-handed nobility: get out the shovel. But Off the Map is so anodyne that one character is even ignorant of what “gringo” means.
Set “somewhere in South America,” the pilot episode could very well have taken place in the “Swiss Family Robinson” attraction at Disney World. There’s cliff-diving! Did you see that Indiana Jones style rope-bridge in the promo? And there’s zip-lining!
Zip-lining is a sign of real money — a country marketing the golden goose of “eco-tourism” to wealthy foreign tourists who want a little Third World adventure, just hold the actual Third World part of it, por favor. A town with eco-tourism is going to have an infinitely better hospital, with — gasp! — doctors who aren’t flown-in foreigners. But Off the Map hasn’t got room for an actual “South American” who went to school — besides the token hot nurse.
The “jungle clinic” exists in a weird hybrid of what’s meant to be total isolation, and yet it’s crawling with foreign tourists - like Tijuana, like Kuta Beach, Bali; like - well, the Swiss Family Robinson attraction at Disney World.
(Mysteriously, this “jungle clinic” has an ultrasound machine, and yet not a single painkiller for the tourist with a stingray in his foot?)
But these, arguably, are lesser crimes. What Hollywood consistently misses entirely is what motivates a professional person to work overseas.
In the interest of total disclosure, mine is not an unbiased argument. I’m currently shopping my own television series proposal about these very topics. I also lived 17 years overseas, in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia/East Timor, Egypt, Hong Kong and India; and have done the rounds of several low-budget insurgencies, plus the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bosnia - so I know of what I speak.
In Off the Map, three of these tortured souls have left behind a death (two have lost a loved one; one accidentally killed a patient.)
Oh, what tortured pasts! (And this is just a slight variation on the canceled 2009 series “The Philanthropist,” whose lead character James Bonded around the globe to save it and ease the torment of losing a son, who oh-so-heartstringingly showed up in hallucinations and dream sequences. There was also a token hot local chick in every episode.)
Most aid-workers are not actually engaged in self-imposed penance with gut-wrenching nobility. The world of aid, policy and journalism is real enough without the tortured pasts — though Off the Map is so lightweight it’s those shackles to the past that may be the only thing keeping the characters from floating away.
(If you’ve really worked in aid, then the phrase “Children are dying!” suggests an aid-worker so enraptured by his own self-sacrifice that he would be considered naïve to the point of incompetence. If the issue is literally life-and-death, then there’s no time for the histrionics.)
Put simply: most aid-workers (and journalists!) want to get off. They want to get off on doing good. They want to get off on testing themselves against hardship and working on the frontlines of history. They want to get off on the ex-patriate lifestyle.
And sometimes they just want to get off.
This is not a bad thing.
Where else do you go from rookie journalist to sit-downs with the Prime Minister within the first year of your career? And the topic is genocide? Where else can you teach people how to cast a ballot, in what will be their country’s first ever election? Where else can the virologist on the frontlines of HIV prevention sit down to coffee and gossip with a trannie junkie but the backstreets of Jakarta? It beats the White House, it beats stuffing envelopes and it beats the Ivy League.
The push-button shallowness of Off the Map means it’s going to miss the epic tragi-comedy of what working overseas in aid, journalism or policy is really like. It’s wading hip-deep into farce - and finding out, for example, that the national human rights chief is the same guy who just flattened the refugee camp. And now you’ve got to work with him.
Yes, your job may suck. But your sense of humor just improved. You’ll never meet more twistedly, mordantly, funnier people than aid-workers and hacks.
What’s more, with its exotic frontlines-of-history-vibe, working in a Juba, a Baghdad or a Kabul makes it easy to get laid. The pond is small, and - more than anywhere else you’ve ever lived - you are one hot fish. Ask me sometime what “yellow fever” is, and I don’t mean the mosquito-borne disease.
Booze and chemical recreation, if you go that route, are cheap and easy to come by. Laws of the “real” world simply don’t apply. If you get caught, the local police are likely to be corrupt enough to be bribed into submission.
And while most are already cynical about the press, no one should labor under the misapprehension that all aid-workers are good. There are self-serving careerists and incompetent wanna-be’s in the aid-biz, the same as any other industry. Plus, just because you call it “aid,” it doesn’t mean it’s beneficial. Just look at Haiti. (Click here. Click here. Click here. Click here.)
Amid all that, is some very real dedication, by people who spend their lives using journalism, diplomacy, medicine, teaching, science and social entrepreneurship to improve lives.
Make no mistake: there is poverty in this world. There is tragedy. The tens of thousands of professionals working to stop it are a global sub-culture all their own. It’s a universe that deserves to be examined for its many successes and all its myriad, marvelous flaws.
But it’s never Disney.
*Angelina Jolie’s “Beyond Borders” has it, uttered repeatedly by a close-to-cardiac-arrest Clive Owen. “Hotel Rwanda” does not. The “Killing Fields” does not, nor does “The Year of Living Dangerously.” The wonderful recent film “Balibo” does not. The fabulous series of episodes in which “ER” went to a country similar to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to my knowledge, did not. The Broadway production “Time Stands Still” does not.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A group founded by American actor George Clooney said Tuesday it has teamed up with Google, a U.N. agency and anti-genocide organizations to launch satellite surveillance of the border between north and south Sudan to try to prevent a new civil war after the south votes in a secession referendum next month.
“We are the antigenocide paparazzi,” Clooney said.
Clooney, wearing a photo-vest and three days’ worth of stubble, is in a village in southern Sudan. He stops before a Valentino Achak Deng Foundation school, named for one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys,” the child soldiers who fled the more than two decade-long conflict. It’s now home to 100 high school students, including girls.
“Those ‘Lost Boys’ going back into classrooms - it’s better than a red carpet moment,” Clooney said. “It’s tear-jerking.”
Sudan has been home to decades of civil war. The north-south conflict, separate to the Darfur conflict, has claimed more than 2 million lives.
The southern part of the country, which is largely Christian and black, is likely to break free of the Arab-ruled north in a January 2011 independence referendum.
But the North may not want to let it go: independence would mean the South gains control over 80 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves.
“If the civil war does reignite, it’ll be a blockbuster.” Clooney looks away, misty-eyed. “I shudder to think of the opening weekend alone.”
A Hollywood mega-star, Clooney has appeared in films including the “Ocean’s Eleven” series, “Syriana,” and “Michael Clayton.” This is his fourth trip to the region.
In November, Clooney came to southern Sudan accompanied by Ann Curry, from NBC News. Together with John Prendergast, the co-founder of the “Enough Project,” the group toured regions still scarred by fighting and met with people affected by the conflict.
“In human terms, this has the potential to be the highest grossing civil war in Africa,” Clooney said.
Clooney’s boots-to-suits activism has also led to his meeting with President Obama in October, to discuss the Sudan situation. The US has been spear-heading diplomatic efforts to prevent a renewed outbreak of the conflict.
Clooney came out of the meeting with praise for the president. “His leadership on this issue is Oscar-worthy.”
Los Angeles - A group of Haitian orphans is in Los Angeles for a week-long trip to raise awareness for the cause they consider essential to the recovery of their nation - preventing the arrival of any more celebrities to rescue Haiti.
“What we want to see is effective policy prescriptions for Haiti, not dilettantes in photo-vests,” said 11 year-old Henri Bellereve, one of the three orphans who made a surprise visit to Nobu, the popular LA eatery renowned for celebrity sightings.
Nine months after the devastating January 12, 2010 earthquake, Haiti has seen actor Sean Penn, singer Wyclef Jean, former President Bill Clinton - and now, Prince Charles lend their names and support to the recovery process.
Despite the A-list names, roughly 1.3 million people continue to live in “tent city” refugee camps, and much of the funding intended for the reconstruction remains undisbursed.
“The celebrities we have now - sure, they mean well,” said another of the orphans, 13 year-old Lucien Napoleon, while declining to pose for a photograph with a Hollywood B-lister eating a macrobiotic salad and eager to brand himself with a cause.
The group was motivated to act by what they say is the “false promise” of celebrity in the recovery process. “Fugees” frontman Wyclef Jean, they point out, was denied the right to run for president in Haiti and immediately descended into petty politicking, before Brown University redeemed him.
Piping into the conversation is 12 year-old Geraldine Pierre.
“What’s most significant now is that of the $1.15 billion in reconstruction funds pledged to Haiti by the US government in March, just $300 million has been spent. The rest has been held up in State Department bureaucracy,” she said.
“Sometimes you think, What if we had a really cool celebrity helping us get those funds? Like the former leader of the free world, whose wife is the Secretary of State?” said Pierre.
“Then you realize - Oh, wait. We already have that,” she said.
Trailed by a crew from Haitian television, the group toured renowned celebrity eateries, including and the Ivy, Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower, to see for themselves what gives rise to celebrity do-gooderism.
Noting the $28 Lobster Cobb salad at Sunset Tower’s Terrace restaurant, Napoleon sighed. “These are exactly the conditions that send a Ben Affleck to the Congo.”
But doesn’t having a celebrity name attached to a humanitarian crisis raise awareness?
Bellereve admits their mission is controversial.
“Clooney throws a telethon, and everyone gets to feel warm and fuzzy texting $10 to Wyclef Jean, under the assumption the money will be spent and spent well,” said Bellereve.
But the problem, he says, is lack of follow-up.
“At this point, what we wonder is, do celebrities actually motivate people to help, or do they think, That’s OK - Sean Penn’s fixing it?”
What the group says they don’t want for Haiti is what we’ve seen in other countries, from Burma to Rwanda.
“More often than not, celebrities refill the coffers or their own consciences with a week of roughing it by pretending to be an aid-worker or a journalist,” says Napoleon. “Then it’s back to the red carpets, and we’re long since forgotten.”
As reconstruction efforts in Haiti falter, the first deaths are being reported by people killed in storms associated with hurricane season because of the limited shelter provided by a living in a tent. Just two percent of rubble has been cleared from the capital, Port-au-Prince, meaning just 10 percent of stronger temporary shelters have been built. Sexual assault in camps is rampant.
When Prince Charles lent his name to rebuilding Port-au-Prince’s historic center, the orphans realized it’s time to work more effectively with the celebrities they have, before bringing in more.
“Who knows? Maybe it will work,” says Pierre. “But I’d like to quit living in a tent and in fear of being raped or getting cholera before I spend my Saturdays shopping for souvenirs at the restored Iron Market.”
The orphans’ two day visit includes a number of speaking engagements, including at the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles and the Church of Scientology.
It’s that time of year again — when Manhattan bears witness to the expression of the highest aspirations for global harmony and the most inspirational ideas for the advancement of humankind. Yes, Fashion Week - followed quickly by the United Nations General Assembly!
While one event captures the world’s attention for its political intrigue, backroom negotiating, nail-biting suspense and life-altering drama, the other is the UN General Assembly. So let’s take a look at it from a fashion perspective.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak Thursday. His sartorial choices almost always lean towards Brooks Brothers, except for one “Weatherproof” jacket he wore simultaneously on the Great Wall of China and three stories high in Times Square.
With off-the-rack and angry voters confronting him at town-hall meetings, the president may very well wish he could be two places at once, and the General Assembly may give him the room he needs for some soaring bespoke rhetoric, reaffirming American leadership in these, our troubled times. It beats thinking about the mid-terms.
But overall, Barack - from the fashion point of view, where’s the hope and change? The fashionista to watch here is First Lady Michelle Obama, who aims for simple elegance with the not-so-haute couture of J Crew - which may still be too high-falutin’ for the Tea Party crowd. Attention K-Mart shoppers!
Another member of the US delegation strutting the catwalk of power is former First Lady and current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton - whose straightforward pantsuits and skirt and jacket ensembles are nearly always in primary colors! (Seriously.) Maybe that’s why Hillary hasn’t entirely eluded her past just yet.
But with Iran inching toward becoming a nuclear power, Iraq without a government, and trouble-spots from Haiti to Yemen needing attention, are pantsuits the image the US needs to project around the world? Remember when Condoleezza Rice made headlines with the leather boots she donned shortly after taking the same job, in a look that said dominatrix-meets-war-on-terror? Even President Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright celebrated fashion by jabbing back at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein - who had called her a “serpent” - by donning a golden snake brooch.
C’mon, Hil! The “Hillary Doctrine” may be about the “American moment” and the pantsuits of pragmatic internationalism. But mix things up a bit. This year’s asymmetrical hemlines say unpredictability! Keep al-Qaeda on its toes!
Of course, one of the most-watched world leaders to make their way into the General Assembly Thursday is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He dressed in business-casual on Monday, with a tie-less suit at the Millennium Development Goals summit - in which he declared capitalism dead. Hey Mahmoud! Karl Marx called and he wants his manifesto back!
But all eyes will be on Ahmadinejad on Thursday for his address to the General Assembly. Will he stick with business casual, or go with the “Members Only” jacket - the look he’s sported so frequently since the brand premiered in 1981? That happens to be the same year the US embassy staffers held hostage in Tehran were released after 444 days of captivity - a siege in which Ahmadinejad allegedly took part!
Ahmadinejad will likely be dressing for sanctions-blocking success, as he maneuvers to
consolidate Iran’s power in the Middle East with nuclear weapons technology. Is Ahmadinejad’s jacket of choice a sly reference to his push for Iran to join the world’s “members only” nuclear club? Will he be so bold as to block future UN weapons inspectors from the country, like he did in June? That line of thinking is so 2002, Mahmoud! And it didn’t work for Saddam!
But let’s not ignore some of the lesser pariah states.
Shifting slightly from fashion to personal styling, another favorite to watch is Zimbabwe’s dictat - excuse me, President Robert Mugabe.
Taking Zimbabwe from Africa’s brightest hope to international basket-case during his 30 years of iron-fisted rule, Mugabe at least has the decency to be the only world leader to sport a Hitler-like moustache! It’s a look that truly says, “Only God can remove me from power.”
Last but not least, a plea for a fashion intervention for Great Britain. The Brits’ coalition government features, of course, David Cameron as Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg as his deputy. Sure, their dress-sense says “10 Downing Street,” but they’re both the blandest looking white people, you probably have to be British to tell them apart. They’re the “Lands End” of global politics. Really, Great Britain, if you want to move on from the Tony Blair “lapdog” era of British power, isn’t it time to break some fashion rules? Maybe Ahmadinejad can loan you some jackets.
‘Twas nine years after the September 11th attack,
But the faultlines revealed by that trauma are back.
Where once, we were a nation that mourned for its heroes,
We’re now mired in debate about a mosque at Ground Zero.
The arguments are broken down broadly in three:
The first, Let them build it! It’s called “liberty!”
Next, Why put a mosque here? Muslims only want strife!
The past simply proves they hate our way of life!
Third’s, We respect Muslims, but in this neighborhood,
(Like the Catholic church at Auschwitz,)
“Can” doesn’t mean “should.”
The issue was local to New York’s downtown
Now, politicians are batting it here, there and around.
(It’s not even a mosque, its supporters have cried –
But a community center, a 92nd Street Y!)
For many, it seems a mere ploy for attention -
A problem to exploit for the November election.
On Bloomberg! On Gingrich! On blogosphere, too!
On Obama, who flip-flopped – so disappointingly new!
On Fox News, on Stewart and the guys who work late!
Sarah Palin on Twitter: You must “refudiate!”
We’re still at a loss of what we should do
To distinguish the many from the terrible few.
The question is, Muslims – what role do they play?
A position familiar to Jews, Blacks and gays.
Most gleefully watching it get out of hand
Is Osama Bin Laden, in – my guess – Pakistan.
Nearly a decade has gone and we’re still prey to his vices
His hatred - plus fear - shape our identity crisis.
(Life’s no better for Muslims – but that was never his plan.
‘Twas just megalomania by a very warped man.)
But it’s not just Osama - the world’s watching us fight.
They have to. We’re the superpower(!) - which uses its might
For leadership, that’s frankly both brilliant - and dumb.
And they’re looking for signs of the US to come,
With our glorious paradox of rule by majority -
Who’d fight to the death for the rights of minorities!
So let’s take a moment to consider the cost
Of all this tense vitriol on the Ground Zero mosque.
I’m not casting a verdict on who’s right and who’s wrong,
But I mean this sincerely: Can’t we all just get along?
The media pages have been alive in recent months with prognostications about the impending death of CNN, and multiple diagnoses about what’s causing its demise.
Most recently, Vanity Fair’s Michael Wolff critiqued the leadership, or lack thereof, by the head of CNN/US, Jon Klein - and his efforts to shake-up CNN’s primetime line-up as both symptom and treatment of the illness.
Others, including Politico and the New York Times’ Ross Douthat, have insisted that because of its impartial editorial line, CNN is losing viewers to the left leaning MSNBC or the right leaning Fox. In Politico’s words, CNN needs to “get more personality.”
Douthat insists that CNN should bring back Crossfire, the debate program which allegedly fell at the hands of Jon Stewart, because viewers like to watch on-air slugfests.
The real diagnosis, however, may be deceptively simple. The sad truth is, CNN no longer reports the news. It merely does “lives” — an endless stream of anchors or talking-heads, blathering on about the subject du jour.
A 24-hour news channel, you see, is a good thing. Live news, more often than not, just blows.
When I first started looking at the CNN death knells, in April, I spent a day watching coverage of the coal mining disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia, in which there was an on-going search for four trapped miners after a blast killed 25 of their colleagues. (Sadly, all four were eventually found dead.)
CNN’s coverage consisted of live feeds from press conferences; lots of satellite interviews with talking-heads related to the mining industry; the occasional live question-and-answer with a correspondent, standing in a field in West Virginia.
I counted exactly one news package. (And it was a very low-rent one with wallpaper images cobbled together from feeds from local broadcasters, with no reporter on the scene.)
Where was the reporting?
In days of yore, say, the mid 00’s and the 90’s, CNN would send one of its correspondents — let’s say Christiane Amanpour — with a cameraman and perhaps a producer into a situation, to film events, do interviews and develop visual sequences with people informed about the situation at hand. She would write a script and shoot a piece to camera - placing herself on the scene and elucidating more about the situation. The team would feed an edited “news package” — a story — home, to be broadcast.
But where were CNN’s news packages on how coal mining communities are coping in a world that’s meant to be evolving toward alternative energy? Where’s the news package from another mine that shows what a day in the life of a miner is like? Where is the news package about the community pulling together to support one another, or help coming in from other towns?
I’m sorry, but talking heads, Google Earth and computer graphics of mining techniques just don’t do it for me. And that’s pretty much what CNN’s live coverage consisted of.
“Live” can also be blamed for the wholesale decline in the caliber of the discussion.
Most of us remember when Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed the US Airways jet on the Hudson — for a certain amount of time, that was extraordinary live news — something CNN does well.
Then it devolved. As the coverage dragged on, Wolf Blitzer was saying things like, “Of course in an plane crash, you shouldn’t stop to get your things from the overheard compartment…. Let’s turn now to Person-at-the-Scene.”
Person-at-the-Scene: “What’s important to remember in an emergency is not to get your things from the overhead compartment… Now let’s turn to Air-Disaster Analyst So-and-So” - who repeats the same line about overhead compar — enough already!
It seems pretty obvious that when you have to spend hour after hour filling up live air, then the quality of the information and analysis you’re going to impart is going to become ever more trivial.
And — paging Jon Klein and Michael Wolff — when CNN’s regular news-programming consists, at times, of anchors reading Twitter out loud, should network execs really be so surprised that no one is tuning in to primetime?
The problem is that the news package I mentioned earlier — the one from the mine, reported, perhaps, by Christiane Amanpour? That would take all day to shoot and edit, and it’d come to a total of about 2-3 minutes of material. Tops. It’s expensive — far more expensive than having a talking-head babble on camera for the same amount of time.
With her defection from CNN to the Sunday morning circuit for ABC, Christiane Amanpour, I would wager, saw the writing on the wall. The veteran of Bosnia, Somalia, Israel/Palestine, Iran, Rwanda (among other places) would have been able to clearly see that CNN is no longer a place for a correspondent who wants to report news. (And now, rumors abound that Anderson Cooper also has one foot out the door.)
Yes, CNN appears to be dying. But the cure is not to be found in bringing back Crossfire, nor in developing an editorial bias, nor in finding someone provocative enough to drag viewers back to primetime.
The cure lies in blowing off live news coverage — in order to report the news.
(An earlier version of this piece appeared on TrueSlant. )