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This is an interesting and tragic story in Miami. A Miami politician who was outed soliciting prostitutes and laundering money killed himself in the lobby of the Miami Herald. Before doing so, the distraught man called one of the paper's columnists, a friend of many years. Sensing something was wrong, the columnist began recording the…

Miami Madness

This is an interesting and tragic story in Miami. A Miami politician who was outed soliciting prostitutes and laundering money killed himself in the lobby of the Miami Herald. Before doing so, the distraught man called one of the paper's columnists, a friend of many years. Sensing something was wrong, the columnist began recording the conversation without telling the politician. The conversation turned out to be the man's suicide note. (Recording a phone conversation without informing the other party is illegal in Florida, but it's not in many other states. Even in Florida, law is murky at best, as the New York Times reports, citing a 1991 case that allowed business phone conversations to be privately recorded in that state.) Even when in violation of the law, reporters receive strong reprimands and they are taken seriously as violations, but rarely does much else happen. Nonetheless, in this day when newspapers are out to prove they are beyond reproach, the newspaper promptly fired the columnist--even before the crime scene was cleared from their own lobby--basically ending a reporter's career. Is that fair? Debate has already started. Let me ask one more question: If it's such a violation, why did the newspaper run excerpts of that same recorded conversation on the front page of its next newspaper?

Posted by Joel Schettler on July 29 2005 • Journalism

Use the Force

I just read that George Lucas recently opened new headquarters for his film production company. The new campus is located near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, near where the Presidio used to be. Here is a photo of a new fountain at the office complex. I love it. When I think of fountains, I have images of European leaders or mythological figures in my head--cherubs with water streaming from their mouths. It is his campus, so surely his fountain is going to reflect Star Wars characters. But I want to read more into it. I think it shows the place the films have in the world's mythology.

Posted by Joel Schettler on July 27 2005 • Current Affairs

A Regular

I recently came across a song I used to listen to in college. It's by the Minneapolis band, The Replacements. It's now stuck in my head. This wonderful ballad can be understood in many different ways. I'll leave it there. One of my favorite lines from the song: "You're like the picture on the fridge, that's never stocked with food." How sad. It's haunting. Here are the lyrics:

Well a person can work up a mean mean thirst
after a hard day of nothin' much at all
Summer's passed, it's too late to cut the grass
There ain't much to rake anyway in the fall

And sometimes I just ain't in the mood
to take my place in back with the loudmouths
You're like a picture on the fridge that's never stocked with food
I used to live at home, now I stay at the house

And everybody wants to be special here
They call your name out loud and clear
Here comes a regular
Call out your name
Here comes a regular
Am I the only one here today?

Well a drinkin' buddy that's bound to another town
Once the police made you go away
And even if you're in the arms of someone's baby now
I'll take a great big whiskey to ya anyway

Everybody wants to be someone's here
Someone's gonna show up, never fear
'cause here comes a regular
Call out your name
Here comes a regular
Am I the only one who feels ashamed?

Kneeling alongside old Sad Eyes
He says opportunity knocks once then the door slams shut
All I know is I'm sick of everything that my money can buy
The fool who wastes his life, God rest his guts

First the lights, then the collar goes up, and the wind begins to blow
Turn your back on a pay-you-back, last call
First the glass, then the leaves that pass, then comes the snow
Ain't much to rake anyway in the fall

Posted by Joel Schettler on July 19 2005 • Current Affairs

Who Loves the Media?

imageIt seems that the American public increasingly distrusts the news media and feels that it is "too hard on America."  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that people are "overwhelmingly disatisified" with the news.

This study was conducted in early June, just when Democrats were stepping up their criticism of the news media, so perhaps people's opinions have changed regarding the news with the recent developments of the news leaking scandal. In general, Democrats favored the news media more than Republicans, but the survey also found that Democrats were becoming more critical of the media in recent months; for different reasons. "A majority of Democrats (54 percent) said the coverage has not been critical enough, writes Katherine Seelye in the New York Times about the survey. "That is a substantial jump from a year ago, when only 39 percent held that view."

"Republicans increasingly express the view that the press is excessively critical of the United States," the survey said, with 67 percent agreeing with that statement now compared with 42 percent in July 2002. About a quarter of Democrats say news organizations are too critical, the same level as three years ago, writes Seelye. "Any good will that the news media earned after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, appears to have eroded. In November 2001, fully 69 percent of all respondents said that the news media stood up for America. Only 17 percent found it too critical."

Seelye also writes: "At the same time, 60 percent said that the news media did a good job of protecting democracy while only 19 percent said they were hurting democracy. Now, only 47 percent say the news media protect democracy and 33 percent say they hurt it ... A growing political divide is evident behind this response as well. Two years ago, 31 percent of Republicans said that news organizations were hurting democracy; now, 43 percent agree with that view. Democrats have held relatively stable views on the subject, with 56 percent saying the news media help democracy."

Posted by Joel Schettler on July 16 2005 • Journalism

Protecting Sources

Judith Miller went to jail today. If you don't know  the story, she is a New York Times reporter who, according to today's New York Times story, refused to reveal her confidential source to a grand jury investigating the disclosure of a CIA operative.

"If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press," she read from a statement as she stood before Judge Hogan. "The right of civil disobedience is based on personal conscience, it is fundamental to our system and it is honored throughout our history."

Here is a summary of what has happened thus far in this complicated case. "This leak investigation began after undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity was published by columnist Robert Novak in a July 2003 column. Novak cited two unnamed "senior administration officials" as his sources. Following the Novak column, several other journalists, including Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, reported receiving the same information. The leak has been characterized as a politically-motivated attack on Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, because Wilson publicly criticized the Bush administration's assertion that Iraq had been attempting to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons."

Supposedly, Judith Miller was working on the story about who leaked the information when the grand jury investigating the matter issued a subpoena for Miller to reveal her source. She hasn't written the story, with or without the confidential source, and still the court ruled that she betray her source. If you don't know anything about the case, I urge you to read the link above. It is an important day in journalism.

There is much to understand here and the story is very complicated. Several things make this case unique. One, many states have laws protecting journalists from revealing their sources. Yet, this is a federal case, and there is no national shield law. Another unique factor is that a crime was involved.  One analyst said that the reporter was required by law to reveal a source because this source was "essentially an eye-witness to a crime." That's what makes this case different.

University of Chicago law professor Jeffrey Stone said in an interview that the New York Times does not have rights higher than the U.S. legal system. He argues the case is not a source privilege. The reason for such a privilege (much like attorney-client privilege) is not to protect the attorney, the doctor or the reporter, but to protect the person disclosing the information from the fear that they will suffer harm for doing so. Yet, in this case those making the disclosure were committing a crime, argues Stone, and there is no public policy that deals with that. He uses the analogy of a patient seeking advice from a doctor in keeping the truth in order to defraud an insurance company, that the identity of this person can not be kept secret in a doctor-patient relationship.

So, if this is your belief. If you feel that there is good reason for Miller to go to jail, then prosecutors must believe that a crime has been committed. If it's enough of a crime to waive any shield laws and send a reporter (who has yet to even use her private source in her reporting) to jail for simply keeping her word to a source, then it's enough of a crime to prosecute who leaked the name. I think that when the bailiff took her away, the bar has been raised. The talk shows have already given the leak a name: Karl Rove. Already, you hear the PR machine starting to say he didn't really "knowingly" commit a crime. I think that now that an innocent person is in jail, it's very hard not to call the original act a crime.

Where was Novak in this entire scenario? What else is going on? Why isn't he being held to the same fire to identify his source when he wrote the original column outing Valerie Plame? Isn't it ironic that the entire case evolves around uncovering a CIA operative's identity? Isn't it also ironic that Judith Miller goes to jail on the very day that Bob Woodward's book, The Secret Man, hits the shelves? We live in a different world.

Posted by Joel Schettler on July 06 2005 • Journalism