Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved. The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Toronto Star or www.thestar.com. The Star is not responsible for the content or views expressed on external sites.
Distribution, transmission or republication of any material is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited. For information please contact us using our webmaster form. www.thestar.com online since 1996.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency prohibits journalists from having unsupervised interviews with Hurricane Katrina victims who have been relocated to FEMA trailer parks, according to a report in the Baton Rouge Advocate (7/15/06).
“If a resident invites the media to the trailer, they have to be escorted by a FEMA representative who sits in on the interview,” FEMA spokesperson Rachel Rodi is quoted in the article. “That’s just a policy.”
The Advocate report, by reporter Sandy Dennis, describes two separate attempts to talk to people displaced by Katrina that were halted by the intervention of a FEMA security guard. In the first incident, in a Morgan City, Louisiana camp, an interview was interrupted by a guard who claimed that residents of the camp are “not allowed” to talk to the media.
Dekotha Devall, whose New Orleans home was destroyed by the storm, was in her FEMA-provided trailer telling the Advocate reporter of the hardships of life in the camp when a security guard knocked on the door.
“You are not allowed to be here,” the guard is quoted as telling the reporter. “Get out right now.” The guard reportedly called police to force the journalist to leave the camp, and even prevented the reporter from giving the interview subject a business card. “You will not give her a business card,” the guard said. “She’s not allowed to have that.”
First they lose their homes and livelihoods. Now their freedoms.
You'd think they were hit by terrorists.
UPDATE (July 29/06): Today FAIR issued this news release.
After sustained pressure from FAIR activists (7/21/06, 7/25/06) and continued scrutiny from the Baton Rouge Advocate, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it had reversed its policy that severely limited media access to Hurricane Katrina survivors living in FEMA trailer parks.
"We're responding to your criticism," FEMA representative James Stark told the Advocate (7/26/06). "You pointed out some very good points that we shouldn't be trying to muzzle the press…. In no way will FEMA security nor FEMA public affairs stand in the way of media entering the trailer parks with valid credentials and interviewing whomever they like."
The human weapon of mass destructive journalism Judith Miller has apparently 'fessed up to receiving advance intel leaked to her two months before the Sept. 11 attacks, intel which suggested that Al Qaeda was gearing up for a major attack on the U.S. She
In an interview with AlterNet published yesterday, she says -- brace yourself ---
"I had begun to hear rumors about intensified intercepts and tapping of telephones. But that was just vaguest kind of rumors in the street, indicators … I remember the weekend before July 4, 2001, in particular, because for some reason the people who were worried about Al Qaida believed that was the weekend that there was going to be an attack on the United States or on a major American target somewhere. It was going to be a large, well-coordinated attack. Because of the July 4 holiday, this was an ideal opportunistic target and date for Al Qaida.
My sources also told me at that time that there had been a lot of chatter overheard -- I didn't know specifically what that meant -- but a lot of talk about an impending attack at one time or another. And the intelligence community seemed to believe that at least a part of the attack was going to come on July 4. So I remember that, for a lot of my sources, this was going to be a 'lost' weekend. Everybody was going to be working; nobody was going to take time off. And that was bad news for me, because it meant I was also going to be on stand-by, and I would be working too.
"I was in New York, but I remember coming down to D.C. one day that weekend, just to be around in case something happened … Misery loves company, is how I would put it. If it were going to be a stress-filled weekend, it was better to do it together. It also meant I wouldn't have trouble tracking people down -- or as much trouble -- because as you know, some of these people can be very elusive.
"The people in the counter-terrorism (CT) office were very worried about attacks here in the United States, and that was, it struck me, another debate in the intelligence community...''
There's more, much more. Not the least of which is this:
"At the time I also had had a book coming out. Steve (Engleberg, then an editor at the Times), Bill Broad and I were co-authors of a book about biological terrorism. So we were working flat out on that book trying to meet our deadline. I was desperately trying to get my arms around this series that we were trying to do on Al Qaida. I was having a lot of trouble because the information was very hard to come by. There was a lot going on. I was also doing biological weapons stories and homeland security stories. And in Washington, if you don't have a sense of immediacy about something, and if you sense that there is bureaucratic resistance to a story, you tend to focus on areas of less resistance.
"Our pub date was Sept. 10th. I remember I was very worried about whether or not the publisher was actually going to get copies of the books to the warehouses in time...''
To be honest, I don't completely blame Miller here. This was a slippery story to double source. Her editors wouldn't go with what little she had -- although they were more than happy to do so later when she helped march the U.S. unto war with all those smoking guns and mirrors on WMDs. But I just gag when she excuses not chasing this down because of a book deadline.
(T)he decision not to publish pre-9/11 is a toss-up. But why, in God's name, was this information not published in any clear and meaningful way immediately after 9/11, on the pages of the Times itself. Doesn't anyone think that information of advance warnings of the attack in the highest levels of Washington is something that the public needed to know in those early days after the attacks?
Instead, from what we can gather, the information has dribbled out... some of it in a 2005 article in Columbia Journalism Review, and some of it today in a story on an alternative, progressive Web site. Who exactly was the Times protecting in not writing this article in September 2001, immediately after the attack, and why?
So this is now the third time that the timing and flow of a news article with major impact on the electorate and the American political debate was affected by journalists working on a book, and the conflict that posed with their responsibility to newspaper readers. The others are Bob Woodward's withholding of information about the CIA-Valerie Plame case he uncovered during his book research, and James Risen's warrantless wiretapping scoop, which was finally published in the Times after he finished writing a book on the same subject.
There's got to be a better system here. In theory, we think that newspaper reporters writing books is a good thing, certainly for the career of the reporter and usually for the reading public. But must the public's right-to-know be a casualty, time and time again?
Just one more thing: Miller's interview makes it very clear -- as if we didn't already know -- that the White House knew that an Al Qaeda attack was imminent, that its own counter terrorism people were warning of an attack -- and were being ignored.
Oh yeah: One more just one more thing. According to the nice people in the Star library, the Times has not yet reported on this.
THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED (plus I fixed the hed):
Some people have wondered why I have not commented on the ridiculous story earlier this week, the one about the supposed virgin guy looking to get five million hits on his website so that a platonic girlfriend would, um, prick his cherry.
Because it was ridiculous, trivial, a waste of bandwidth -- and, as it turned out, untrue.
What's worse is that the Toronto Sun -- which would later have to retract the story -- at first played it big, real big, and too many media followed like drooling lemmings. This not only speaks to the Sun's news priorities but that of so many other so-called news organizations.
And people wonder why media cred is nose-diving?
We have nobody to blame but ourselves.
UPPITY DATE: Alan Parker, deputy managing editor of the Sun, wrote today to say that that I blew this. He posted his complaint in the comment section below, and you'll find the full submission there.
Here's an excerpt:
... you say the Sun would "later have to retract the story." From that line you link your readers to the Sun story headlined: "Virgin Internet gag exposed by Sun staffers."
That's obviously not a retraction. The Sun has never had to retract anything we published related to this story . Quite the opposite.
The Sun, and only the Sun, busted an Internet hoax that had attracted more than 3 million hits in two weeks and had already spawned stories in print and electronic media across North America, including the New York Post and MTV Canada.
FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Media) has a round-up of the mainstream coverage of the protestors at last week's speech in Atlanta by U.S. Secretary of Deflection Donald Rumsfeld which I blogged about here. The follow-up (or lack of it) is depressing, and not at all surprising.
To some, the questions raised by McGovern were tantamount to heckling—as one May 4 Associated Press headline put it, "Rumsfeld Heckled by Anti-War Protesters During Atlanta Speech." That was echoed by CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien, who said (5/5/06) that Rumsfeld "was heckled by opponents of the war in Iraq. Among them, was Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, who asked him about previous claims weapons of mass destruction were in Iraq." CNN's Wolf Blitzer framed it all as a distraction from more serious issues (5/4/06): "Aside from the anti-Rumsfeld ranting, the defense secretary did get a chance to talk some substance on the war on terror." Though some antiwar protestors in the audience did interrupt Rumsfeld's speech with shouts and banners, McGovern asked his questions after being called on during the designated question-and-answer period, so it's hard to know why that might be called "heckling" or "ranting."
Other outlets were hard-pressed to find much news value at all in the exchange. The New York Times and USA Today (5/5/06), for example, ran tiny mentions of McGovern's questioning of Rumsfeld about his statements regarding the location of Iraq's WMDs and the country's ties to Al-Qaeda. Ironically, the Times made the incident the centerpiece of its May 7 editorial, apparently assuming that its readers were informed about the substance of the matter from other news sources. The Washington Post (5/5/06) ran an AP account of the Rumsfeld speech; the Los Angeles Times (5/5/06), to its credit, actually addressed what should have been the central issue—whether McGovern was right about Rumsfeld's exaggerations and inaccuracies.
The story seemed to be bigger on TV news—all three network newscasts ran stories about it on May 4—but some curious tendencies were evident. ABC World News Tonight played a long clip, but offered no context about who was right on the facts. On CBS, after anchor Bob Schieffer announced that Rumsfeld "ran head on into hecklers that included a former CIA analyst," reporter David Martin said that McGovern "waited his turn to ask a question and then went for Rumsfeld's throat."
It's worth reading the whole thing.
Oh, and speaking of the Washington press puppies, have a look-see at this must-see but very lengthy excerpt from Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, by Salon's Eric Boehlert, just about the best media critic out there. It's free with a one day pass thingie. Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:
It's not fair to suggest the MSM alone convinced Americans to send some sons and daughter to fight. But the press went out of its way to tell a pleasing, administration-friendly tale about the pending war. In truth, Bush never could have ordered the invasion of Iraq -- never could have sold the idea at home -- if it weren't for the help he received from the MSM, and particularly the stamp of approval he received from so-called liberal media institutions such as the Washington Post, which in February of 2003 alone, editorialized in favor of war nine times. (Between September 2002 and February 2003, the paper editorialized twenty-six times in favor of the war.) The Post had plenty of company from the liberal East Coast media cabal, with high-profile columnists and editors -- the newfound liberal hawks -- at the New Yorker, Newsweek, Time, the New York Times, the New Republic and elsewhere all signing on for a war of preemption. By the time the invasion began, the de facto position among the Beltway chattering class was clearly one that backed Bush and favored war. Years later the New York Times Magazine wrote that most "journalists in Washington found it almost inconceivable, even during the period before a fiercely contested midterm election [in 2002], that the intelligence used to justify the war might simply be invented." Hollywood peace activists could conceive it, but serious Beltway journalists could not? That's hard to believe. More likely journalists could conceive it but, understanding the MSM unspoken guidelines -- both social and political -- were too timid to express it at the time of war.
Boehlert has done a bang-up job of distilling the media missteps and toadying up to the administration in the so-called war on terror. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.