This Is About Ethics In Spy Games Journalism

The  Intercept journalist James Risen has published a fascinating retrospective on his time covering intelligence and security for the New York Times. He discusses how many of his stories exposing CIA wrong-doing during the Bush Administration were spiked by editors who nevertheless gave front-page coverage to stories that appeared to confirm the existence of the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction that were the pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He also writes about his court appearances in 2014 and 2015 when the Obama Administration threatened him with imprisonment for not revealing confidential sources in stories about the CIA’s activities in Iran.

NYU Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen says this was “the most important thing published about journalism today.” Risen’s piece made me think of this tweet from the last days of 2017:

Risen’s account of when and why some of his stories were spiked reminded me of the wonderful ‘Road To Damascus‘ episode from Season 2 of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It deals with the story of how the CIA recruited a double-agent, how that fact was leaked to journalist Tim Weiner, and how the reporting of that story in the New York Times probably caused the death of that double-agent. It was one of the most compelling things I listened to in 2017.

Quoted in the New York Times discussing the cancellation of Rita, Sue and Bob Too

The Royal Court Theatre has cancelled a revival of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Andrea Dunbar’s 1982 play about grooming and sexual exploitation. The cancellation came after it was revealed in October that Max Stafford-Clark, who directed the original production and co-directed the revival, had been forced to resign as creative director of Out of Joint due to multiple allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour.’

The venue had recently staged No Grey Area, an event in which 150 stories of sexual abuse and exploitation were shared over the course of an afternoon. The Royal Court’s artistic director Vicky Featherstone has called for the British theatre community to reckon with the abuses of power, just as Hollywood is doing now that the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behaviour has been revealed. In this context, says the theatre, staging Rita, Sue and Bob Too is “highly conflictual.”

I spoke to New York Times correspondent Anna Codrea-Rado about the cancellation and am quoted in her report: Continue reading “Quoted in the New York Times discussing the cancellation of Rita, Sue and Bob Too”

Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer

Donald Trump

The Trump candidacy is looking ever more likely.

Here are a couple of opinion pieces noting the rise of the anti-politics he represents and why leaders within the Republican Party are now unable to stop him.

First, Josh Marshall, the editor of Talking Points Memo, describes the political ‘debt’ to the truth that the Republicans have racked up in recent years. Continue reading “Anti-Politics as a Debt and a Cancer”

Round-up: Charlie Hebdo and the PEN Courage Award

Charlie Hebdo is not a racist publication. But even if it was, its stand against fundamentalist religion took courage and should be applauded.

Freedom of expression is being debated yet again, and this time my colleagues at the PEN American Center are in the middle of the discussion.  Six of its members have withdrawn as ‘literary hosts’ from the annual fundraising gala, in protest at the decision to award Charlie Hebdo a ‘Freedom of Expression Courage’ award.

In the New York Times, Peter Carey, one of the boycotting authors, is quoted as saying:

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about?”

Salman Rushdie was also quoted in the New York Times piece, defending the award:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” Mr. Rushdie said. “What I would say to both Peter and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them.”

Continue reading “Round-up: Charlie Hebdo and the PEN Courage Award”

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report needs to be converted to HTML, pronto

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has release a shocking report into the CIA use of torture during America’s post-9/11 panic.  The New York Times has a handy 7 point summary, pointing out that the torture was more brutal and extensive than previously supposed, that it was ineffective, and that CIA officials lied to Congress and made exaggerated claims to journalists about the effectiveness of the programme.

Its truly sickening and should not have happened.  The USA is supposed to be better.  It has set a terrible example to brutal human rights abusing regimes like Iran.  Ayatollah Khameni has been pointing out America’s hypocrisy.

It looks like the United Kingdom might have been complicit in the torture programme too.

For those of us who want to read the full report, a 525-page PDF version is available on the webspace of Senator Diane Feinstein.

Plenty of journalists have been writing about the report.  Andrew Sullivan has ‘live-blogged’ his reading of it.  When they do cite a paragraph, they can’t link directly to it.  It strikes me that far more people would be able to read an engae with the report if it were in HTML format.  This is a ‘live’ example of the principle behind my Leveson Report (As It Should Be) project.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report should be converted to HTML as soon as possible, preferably hosted by a civil liberties NGO or a newspaper.  It took me a while to convert the Leveson Report into HTML but a crowdsourced effort could convert this torture report in a matter of days, if not hours.

This Week on Twitter

Was it last year, or 2009, or maybe 2008, that was branded “The Year of Twitter”? I am tempted to say that it’s an accolade deserved this year too. We’ve had the Arab Spring, the Japanese earthquake, the Royal Wedding and the death of Osama Bin Landen this year, and it’s only May. All these globally significant events have been defined and re-defined in the popular consciousness by the micro blogging site we have come to know and love. In the case of #OBL the event was actually live-tweeted by a Pakistani citizen journalist. 2011, the Year of Twitter again, right?

I think this misses the point. it’s better to say 2011 has already been an important year for events, and Twitter has both reflected and amplified those events.

It is also affecting more traditional news gathering too, so my claim (above) about “the popular consciousness” holds true even if not everyone uses Twitter. This critique by Felix Salmon of the New York Times‘ coverage (or rather, its coverage of it’s own coverage) shows how the organisation is in denial about how social networks affect it’s relevance and it’s reporting. Meanwhile, this article by Frédéric Filloux points to the wider evolution of news. This has a knock on effect for everyone.

In some cases, independent Twitter users are providing a crucial link in the news reporting chain. News editors have been fuming for years about super-injunctions, and their inability to mention gagging orders in their coverage. Meanwhile, Twitter regularly carries the names of those celebrities who have sought injunctions… So why has the main stream news media jumped on the story about one particular tweeter who has explicitly revealed the details of particular super-injunctions? The answer is of course that it provides an excuse for papers to reveal such details by other means.

In this story, apparently some of the tweets are actually inaccurate. Is this a fatal flaw, a reason for heavy censorship? Not really. As we saw earlier this week when a quote was misattributed to Martin Luther King Jnr, the same networks that propagate the inaccuracies are also the place to correct them. Social networks are surprisingly good at doing this. With the rise of the Internet, we have also seen the rise of new social norms and eittiquette. Forwarding on a false story is quite a major faux pas in the 21st century, perhaps more so than printing gossip, rumour and anonymous sources. The major reason for the New York Times’ loss of credibility in recent years was it’s failure to fact-check the anonymous government sources that told reporters that Saddam did have WMD. The paper was ruthlessly manipulated by the Bush Administration hawks, and yet does not seem contrite. If only Twitter had been around in 2002-03, we may have had the tools to more effectively call the news media, and through them, the US government, to account.