Tag Archives: Journalism

A Reporter From Hell

The title of the talk was “The War in Syria Is Not Over,” but it was more like Nir Rosen’s valedictory address. For roughly 20 minutes, the gonzo war-journalist-turned-mysterious-diplomatic-operator—who counts top advisers to both former U.S. President Barack Obama and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad among his acquaintances and admirers—laid out his narrative of Syria’s civil war, the most lethal and defining conflict of the 21st century. In the speaker’s view, no one but he had gotten it right.

The U.S., Europe, and others that continued to sanction and isolate the Assad regime would be culpable for the “new social collapse” likely to follow Assad’s reconquest of much of his devastated country, Rosen told his audience at a Valdai Discussion Club event in Moscow in late February of 2019. “The same countries who claimed to care about the Syrian people and speak on their behalf supported insurgents, tried to overthrow the government and now are trying to starve Syrians,” the published version of the speech reads. “That the Syrian government behaved abhorrently does not justify the international intervention that followed and in fact the intervention helped cause these crimes.” The West’s motives for these ongoing “crimes” in the Levant were so obscure that they could only be described in theoretical terms. “Capitalism doesn’t work the same way everywhere,” he explained. “[T]he value of the Middle East is the accumulation of capital through war.”

In the text, one can forget Rosen is discussing a government that had murdered tens of thousands of people in a network of secret torture camps, bombed bread lines and hospitals, and gassed entire towns. In fact the Syrian dictator and his backers deserved thanks for defending the global order against the jihadist hordes at a steep cost in manpower and prestige. “The world owes Russia and Iran a debt of gratitude for preventing the collapse of the Syrian state,” Rosen said, to an audience that included senior Iranian and Russian foreign policy officials, as well as Robert Malley, the National Security Council’s Middle East director for most of Barack Obama’s second presidential term.

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Posted by on November 6, 2019 in Reportages



Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more?

We live in a time of political fury and hardening cultural divides. But if there is one thing on which virtually everyone is agreed, it is that the news and information we receive is biased. Every second of every day, someone is complaining about bias, in everything from the latest movie reviews to sports commentary to the BBC’s coverage of Brexit. These complaints and controversies take up a growing share of public discussion.

Much of the outrage that floods social media, occasionally leaking into opinion columns and broadcast interviews, is not simply a reaction to events themselves, but to the way in which they are reported and framed. The “mainstream media” is the principal focal point for this anger. Journalists and broadcasters who purport to be neutral are a constant object of scrutiny and derision, whenever they appear to let their personal views slip. The work of journalists involves an increasing amount of unscripted, real-time discussion, which provides an occasionally troubling window into their thinking.

But this is not simply an anti-journalist sentiment. A similar fury can just as easily descend on a civil servant or independent expert whenever their veneer of neutrality seems to crack, apparently revealing prejudices underneath. Sometimes a report or claim is dismissed as biased or inaccurate for the simple reason that it is unwelcome: to a Brexiter, every bad economic forecast is just another case of the so-called project fear. A sense that the game is rigged now fuels public debate.

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Posted by on October 10, 2019 in Reportages


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The seven deadly sins of journalism

A crisis is rarely singular. That’s the problem. The international community could very well have got global warming under control during the last thirty years. That was certainly how it looked at the 1988 World Conference on the Changing Atmosphere in Toronto. Unanimity prevailed – among scientists and politicians. Unanimity that the Earth’s climate was warming and that humans were the cause. And unanimity that action had to be taken as quickly as possible. The conference statement clearly ‘urges immediate action by governments’ in order to limit CO2 emissions. Since then, as we know, nothing of the sort has happened. CO2 emissions continue to increase throughout the world.

This history of political failure has been accompanied by a failure of the media. Politics has not responded to the climate crisis and neither have newspapers, radio stations or TV. Since Toronto, there has been a failure throughout the media to properly describe global warming, to explain the necessary measures, and to demand them from politicians. Climate crisis is one thing. But it could only grow to the extent it has because of a simultaneous crisis in communication, culminating in fake news and disinformation. We define a crisis in communication as the deterioration of public discourse. This process has multiple causes. An incomplete list would include the global deregulation of the media sector in the 1980s and 1990s; the triumph of commercial television and, in America, of conservative talk radio; the increasing pressure of  viewer targets and circulation; media change and the crisis of the newspaper sector; and the emergence  of disinformation, often but by no means always emanating from Russia. In order to understand the climate crisis, we urgently need to examine this crisis in communication.

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Posted by on September 14, 2019 in Reportages


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Bolsonaro’s Attacks Show Why Our Reporting Is Vital

When news emerged this week that the Federal Police had arrested four people accused of hacking the Telegram accounts of various Brazilian officials and providing some of that content to The Intercept, many of our readers asked: What effect will this have on the reporting that we have done and are continuing to do on this secret archive?

The answer, in one word: None.

The public interest in reporting this material has been obvious from the start. These documents revealed serious, systematic, and sustained improprieties and possible illegality by Brazil’s current Minister of Justice and Public Security Sergio Moro while he was a judge, as well as by the chief prosecutor of the Car Wash investigation, Deltan Dallagnol, and other members of that investigative task force. It was the Car Wash task force, which Moro presided over as a judge, that was responsible for prosecuting ex-President Lula da Silva and removing him from the 2018 election, paving the way for the far-right Jair Bolsonaro to become president. The corruption exposed by our reporting was so serious, and so consequential, that even many of Moro’s most loyal supporters abandoned him and called for his resignation within a week of the publication of our initial stories.

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Posted by on August 7, 2019 in South America


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A Private War

When young women come to me and say, “I want to be a war reporter!” after seeing Hollywood films that glamorize the job, I always tell them gently to consider the life that it entails. Perhaps the mantra that first-wave feminists gave us is not true after all: you cannot have it all. Or at least not without dark consequences.

In 2012, while working on a story about war criminals in Belgrade, Serbia, I got a devastating early morning phone call: my colleague and friend Marie Colvin was dead, killed by Bashar al-Assad’s bombs in Homs, Syria. Her roller-coaster life is captured in a new film, A Private War, currently in theaters.  

The director of A Private War, Matt Heineman, won accolades for his brilliant documentaries on the drug war (Cartel Land, 2015) and the Islamic State (City of Ghosts, 2017). He struggled, as did the actors, to make the film truly authentic. But because it is not a biopic (Heineman resists the term) and some characters are composites, the movie is confusing to those of us who know the real story. There were no good guys at the Sunday Times, where Colvin worked, who cared for her well-being. There were instead editors who wanted scoops at the expense of the safety of their reporters. Colvin had many friends in London, but none of them were similar to the Bridget Jones–style girlfriend character (portrayed by Nikki Amuka-Bird) in the film. Her last boyfriend was not a caring and loving Stanley Tucci but rather a man who gave her immense heartache and distress. There were no “heads on sticks” in Bosnia, as the character meant to be Colvin’s first husband, Patrick Bishop, says in one of the opening scenes (heads were on sticks in Chechnya). Colvin’s second husband, Juan Carlos Gumucio, is erased from the script altogether, though he played an important role in her life.
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Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


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Making ‘the Guardians’ Time person of the year is courageous – but it ignores America’s relationship with power

It’s always good to have our profession honoured, albeit that the living martyrs of journalism should be accompanied by the ghost of another. But the moment I learned of Time magazine’s person of the year front cover – the award going to Jamal Khashoggi and the other “guardians” who have “taken great risks in pursuit of greater truths” – I remembered Spielberg’s movie Bridge of Spies.

When captured Soviet agent Rudolf Abel’s defence lawyer (Tom Hanks) asks Abel (Mark Rylance) if he is worried, he replies: “Would it help?”

The right question. Would it make any difference? Is Time’s choice of its 2018 front page going to change anything? Or was it chiefly aimed at Trump? The raving lunatic in the White House was its “person of the year” in 2016, just before he took office. He said he expected the accolade again this year, and indeed he’s the 2018 runner-up. If he had known this, Khashoggi himself would surely turn in his grave – wherever the Saudis eventually reveal it to be.

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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in North America


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Is war reporting losing the propaganda battle?

War reporting is easy to do but difficult to do well. No one taking part in an armed conflict has an incentive to tell the whole truth. This is the case in all forms of journalism, but in time of military conflict the propaganda effort is at its peak and is aided by the chaos of war, which hobbles anybody searching for the truth about what is really happening.

Military commanders are often more aware than reporters of the complexity and uncertainty of news from the battlefront. Citing such reasons, the Duke of Wellington doubted if a truly accurate account of the Battle of Waterloo could ever be written.

During the American Civil War, the Confederate general “Stonewall” Jackson made a somewhat different point. Surveying the scene of recent fighting with an aide, he turned to him and asked: “Did you ever think, Sir, what an opportunity a battlefield affords liars?”

He meant that war opens wide the door to deliberate mendacity because it is so easy to make false claims and so difficult to refute them. But there is more at work here than “the fog of war” that over-used phrase which exaggerates the accidental nature of the confusion and is often conveniently blamed as the cause of misinformation.

Propaganda, the deliberate manipulation of information, has always been a central component of warfare and never more so than at present. It tends to get a bad press and is the subject of much finger-wagging, but it stands to reason that people trying to kill each other will not hesitate to lie about each other.

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Posted by on November 22, 2018 in Reportages


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Here’s what I found out when I spent the day with Israel’s most controversial journalist, Gideon Levy

Gideon Levy is a bit of a philosopher king although, sitting in his postage stamp garden in a suburb of Tel Aviv, straw hat shading mischievous dark eyes, there’s a touch of a Graham Greene character about Haaretz’s most provocative and infamous writer. Brave, subversive, sorrowful – in a harsh, uncompromising way – he’s the kind of journalist you either worship or loathe. Philosopher kings of the Plato kind are necessary for our moral health, perhaps, but not good for our blood pressure. So Levy’s life has been threatened by his fellow Israelis for telling the truth; and that’s the best journalism award one can get.

He loves journalism but is appalled by its decline. His English is flawless but it sometimes breaks up in fury. Here’s an angry Levy on the effect of newspaper stories: “In the year of ’86, I wrote about a Palestinian Bedouin woman who lost her baby after giving birth at a checkpoint. She tried at three different [Israeli] checkpoints, she couldn’t make it and she gave birth in the car. They [the Israelis] didn’t let her bring the baby to the hospital. She carried him by foot two kilometres to the Augusta Victoria [Hospital in east Jerusalem]. The baby died. When I published this story – I don’t want to say that Israel ‘held its breath’, but it was a huge scandal, the cabinet was dealing with it, two officers were brought to court…”

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Posted by on September 28, 2018 in Middle East


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The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.

Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.

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Posted by on September 20, 2018 in Uncategorized


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The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences

Every day the news is filled with stories about war, terrorism, crime, pollution, inequality, drug abuse and oppression. And it’s not just the headlines we’re talking about; it’s the op-eds and long-form stories as well. Magazine covers warn us of coming anarchies, plagues, epidemics, collapses, and so many “crises” (farm, health, retirement, welfare, energy, deficit) that copywriters have had to escalate to the redundant “serious crisis.”

Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is.

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Posted by on September 12, 2018 in Reportages


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