Monthly Archives: December 2010

WikiLeaks and The New York Times

Despite whatever you think about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, you have to admit – watching traditional news organizations like The New York Times back-pedal in their ‘classification’ of what Wikileaks really is, can be very fascinating.

This past week Julian Assange was granted bail in London (thanks to the support of many WikiLeaks supporters, including filmmakers Ken Loach and Michael Moore).
Bill Keller – Executive Editor of The New York Times – came forth with his opinion of Julian Assange by stating: “I don’t regard Julian Assange as a
kindred spirit.  If he’s a journalist, he’s not the kind of journalist that I am.”

What kind of journalist are you, Bill?

Well, you’re the son of George Keller – a former chairman and chief executive of the Chevron Corporation. The same company which is guilty of some of the worst
human rights and environmental abuses in the world. George Keller’s popularity grew in his early career when he was one of the first major oil company executives to discover reserves in Saudi Arabia. In the 1980’s he oversaw a merger with Gulf Oil to form the Chevron Corporation in 1984.  From 1964 to 1992, Chevron left over 600 unlined oil pits in the Amazon rainforest and ended up dumping 18 billion gallons of toxic pollution into rivers used for drinking water.  To this day, it has resulted in birth defects and deaths from cancer to those living in the northern region of the Amazon.  Keller senior was also there when Chevron enacted a violent repression against a peaceful opposition to oil extraction by hiring private military units to open fire upon protestors in the Niger Delta region.

In 2003, Bill Keller openly supported the invasion of Iraq.   Let me repeat that:  Keller openly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its no wonder he’s taking such great pains to redact vital information from the Wikileaks cables.

He labeled Paul Wolfowitz as a, “Sunshine warrior”.  The same “sunshine warrior” who betrayed the trust of the World Bank Organization by reordering policies to fit in with the Bush administration’s neo-conservative ideals.  Oh, and not to mention the arrangement of huge pay raises and guaranteed promotions for those who Wolfowitz was secretly sleeping with at the World Bank.

In 2005, Bill Keller defended Judy Miller – the same reporter who helped this country go to war in the first place.  Miller, who got her story of weapons of mass destruction so wrong. Even Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell pointed to Miller’s story as a primary motive for the U.S. entering the war.

Speaking of Condoleeza Rice… she happens to be good friends with one David E. Sanger — the very person old Billy assigned to monitor and control the release of the Wikileaks cables through The New York Times. Even a recent report from pointed out that:

Sanger is no establishment outsider. He sits as a member of the elite Council on Foreign Relations as well as the Aspen Institute Strategy Group together with the likes of Condi Rice, former Defense Secretary William Perry, former CIA head John Deutch, former State Department Deputy Secretary and now World Bank head Robert Zoellick among others.


Am I saying Keller is an evil guy?  No, I’m not.  Am I saying that his personal ‘connections’ may be influencing his journalistic decision making?  Absolutely.  I’m arguing that he has a very narrow mindset when it comes to understanding the changing nature of journalism.  People are sick and tired of mainstream media organizations reshaping, reediting and redacting news and information based on who their personal golfing buddies are.  Keller might criticize Julian Assange for not being a ‘real journalist’, but maybe what we need are more people like Assange, not like Keller.  People who are more concerned with allowing the one and only truth to be revealed, rather than some watered-down, makeshift version of it.


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Wiki my Leak (and someone get Sarah Palin a new Visa)

Praise be to those who are hacking into Sarah Palin’s incredibly boring looking website.  Praise be to those who have frozen her credit cards.  Praise be to those who are hacking Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Amazon and others in retaliation for the recent arrest of Julian Assange and the attacks on Wikileaks.

…Yeah I said it…

And I’ll say it again  …Wikileaks will go down as one of the most important intermediaries of real information this country, and the world, has seen in the past 50 years.  Why 50 years?  If you examine contemporary media history, you’ll quickly see how vital information has traditionally been vacuumed up by broadcast television and spit out into what can most commonly be summed up as short and bitter-tasting soundbites. Though television news has been a crucial medium within the field of journalism overall, it has inevitably had a negative impact on newspaper reading habits.

Before the beginning of the 1960’s, television was seen more as a form of entertainment.  The real threat came against the film industry, which quickly began to panic in the shadows of a growing wave of television sales.  Anyone could now tune in for shows like Perry Mason, I love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone through black and white images beaming from broadcast satellites from outer space (the same place Sarah Palin’s family immigrated from years ago).

Then something happened.  In July 1962 a certain satellite was launched.  The Telstar I.  With that one move, television became an important medium for news.  On that same day, live television originally appearing within the boundaries of the United States were suddenly being picked up in France. International news suddenly became viewable to anyone.  Well, anyone who owned a television at least.  There was a digital divide then, just as there is today.  But to anyone who happened to own a television set, the world was yours.  And best of all, you didn’t even have to leave your couch.

News became a shared experience.  Or at least, so we thought.  Instead of lining up at the water cooler to talk about the latest newspaper headlines – usually written by some working-class hometown kid who you knew from down the block – people were suddenly talking about the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite – a man who could be 2900 miles away but win you over with that raspy voice and neck tie about as thin as his hairline.

From there, not even the sky was the limit …

Kennedy and Nixon fought it out in the presidential debate.  Next it was Kruschev vs. Kennedy, live on the air in 1962.  This was so popular that we decided to tune in for Kennedy’s assassination the following year.  Five years later it was Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.  60 Minutes aired for the first time in 1968.  The landing on the moon, the destruction of the Challenger, the events in Waco, and the destruction of the Twin Towers.  These are all events which have supposedly ‘brought us closer’.  Events which have played out in real-time, for real human beings.  People who have been leaning back in their chairs, watching the world play out before them with little means to fight back.

As part of “Fit to Print”, we have set out to understand not only how reading habits have changed over the past half century with the rapid deterioration of the newspaper industry, but also to learn how people are ‘leaning forward’, out from their television chairs and into their computer chairs (I didn’t say we haven’t become any less lazy).

On a recent trip to Seattle, we interviewed former Seattle P.I. editor Candace Heckman.  Candace was laid-off with several other staffers when Hearst Newspaper Company decided to shut down the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  “Television really played a big role in our news ecosystem”, stated Candace. “I always saw the web as the opportunity for newspapers to take back what had been taken from them by television”.

You would have hoped.

As the events surrounding Wikileaks have unfolded, I can’t help but to look around and see a bunch of people who are getting off their asses.  Finally.  Maybe its the high unemployment rate or bone-chilling weather now drifting around the country, but whatever it is, it most certainly is interesting.  While we were in Seattle and Portland this past week, everyone was talking about Wikileaks.  Everyone from a young Seattle coffee shop kid with tats all over his arm, to an old-school newspaper publisher who still believes in print.

Fox News recently reported that more than 3,000 people have been participating in “Operation: Payback” – an organized cyber retaliation against those who have targeted Wikileaks.  Sarah Palin has been receiving the shit-storm of this ‘payback’ after stating that Julian Assange is an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands.”  ‘Operative’ seems like a word she probably looked up when killing moose during a taping of her recent reality television show.

The fact of the matter is, Assange has willingly turned himself in.  Now the officials have no fucking clue what to do with him.  Genius.

If Assange is what he is alleged to be – a rapist – then let him be judged in a court of law.  Something he is clearly willing to do.  But aren’t we forgetting something here?  Oh right, the quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables that have been left for us to discover on our own.

Wikileaks has presented something important within the world of journalism.  Yes, ‘journalism’.  That all too sacred word.  What they have presented is the fact that you don’t have to have the backing of a traditional news organization (print or broadcast) to get important information out there.  The government and mainstream media have been in bed with each other for too long.  It’s no wonder we have been hearing too many stories about the ‘dangers’ of Wikileaks instead of the potential freedoms it may present.

Without hunters and gatherers like Assange (love him or hate him), governments will become more oppressive, viewpoints more polarized, and societies less inclined to participate in something they can actually fight back against.  Television, web and radio broadcasts will only give you the outline of what Wikileaks has to offer.  This time you have to seek out the information yourself.  If you care to know, that is.

We may never win the battle on big government transparency, but at least Sarah Palin will have her card declined the next time she goes to buy some moose marinade!

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Art and journalism …sometimes a fine line…

This past Saturday members of the group Latitudes – an independent Barcelona-based curatorial office – hosted an event for the “Fit to Print” production team at the New Museum in the Bowery neighborhood of lower Manhattan. In what turned out to be a soggy Thanksgiving weekend here in New York City, the New Museum had an exceptional turnout for those seeking the anti-football and leftover turkey hangover.

For the past few months the New Museum has been hosting an exhibition called “The Last Newspaper”.  The focus of the exhibition rests on the assumption that the legacy newspaper business won’t be crumbling anytime soon, but our interpretation of what constitutes news just might.   The mission of the exhibition is on how people are affected by what they see and read in the news.  In a sense this exhibit is ahead of its time, but it is also behind it.  Exhibition-goers are allowed to glance non-traditional ways in which news can be interpreted.  On the top floor of the gallery is a room filled with cocktail dresses each designed with interwoven newspaper headlines and photographs.  Who wouldn’t want to go to a dinner party wearing a sparkling dress with images of the twin towers collapsing or of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina plastered from head to toe?

As you gaze through the three floors of newspaper photographs, headlines and sculptures, you can’t help but think of deceased artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.  As a neo-abstract artist in the 1970s and 80’s, Basquiat had the imagination and spirit to mix current and historical events with modern art.  In a monumental 1983 work titled “Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart)”, Basquiat created a painting which focused on the police beating of New York City graffiti artist Michael Stewart . I would imagine that if he were still alive, Basquiat would have been intrigued by this exhibition.  It wouldn’t be fair to classify it as news transformed into ‘pop culture’, but we can perhaps settle for ‘news culture’.

As we began to gather for the panel discussion for “Fit to Print”, I had to be called back into the room by a friend because I was too intrigued by the wall-to-wall displays of vintage newspaper front pages in one of the rooms.  It was hard not to examine the way in which newspapers implemented multiple sub-headlines back in the early part of the twentieth century.  In a way, many start-up news websites are creating similar sub-heads to draw reader attention in the vast wild west of search engine optimization.   This would be a topic our guest speaker, Jason Fry, would speak about during our panel discussion.

Jason Fry, who spent nearly 13 years at The Wall Street Journal as a columnist, editor and projects developer for what would become, joined the “Fit to Print” discussion along with Carmen Cusido, a recent graduate of Columbia Journalism School and current staff reporter with The Trenton Times.  The discussion was well-rounded and covered a lot of ground within the world of digital and print journalism.  Fry, who was one of the first interviews we conducted for the project, described his early dealings with the web at The Wall Street Journal, “The web version and the print version were two completely separate operations”, he mentioned.  He also described his fear for the newspaper industry now. “The question is ‘what will the emerging business model [for news] look like, and how long will it take to get here?”, stated Fry. For Carmen, the questions weren’t geared so much towards her previous experience, but rather how she is holding on to her current position as beat reporter for The Times. “There are only a certain number of stories we can cover”, she mentioned.

Lets hope that more exhibitions will crop up in the near future which detail not only the history of the newspaper industry, but also the significance of the digital revolution.  How will future generations look back upon the early part of the twenty-first century and the way in which journalism was reinvented?

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