Wikileaks News



In Wikileaks news, Swedish supreme court has approved Julian Assange’s appeal hearing, a step forward for him after it was turned down in November.   Meanwhile, it has emerged that Google waited six months after the lifting of a gagging order to alert WikiLeaks that emails and other data belonging to its employees had been passed to the FBI. Other news:  Chelsea Manning will write a column for the Guardian from prison.

I forgot to name the Blog of the Week in class today: Kasie Pleiness did a nice job in unravelling the fallout from the Wikileaks cables in Turkey.

One interesting piece to read, about whether journalists should testify at tribunals.

Before Thursday’s class, please listen to The Arms Trader.   Read the Intelligence Factory and A Permanent War on Terror.   Also worth reading is To Catch A Terrorist.  And prepare some questions for Petra Bartosiewicz.

Censorship, Facebook and Travelling with Your Censor (1)

The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet via Daniel Dalledone/Flickr

This 19th-century painting by Gustave Courbet is at the centre of a dispute about Facebook’s censorship, after the social networking site closed down a French teacher’s account for posting the picture, which it deemed pornographic.  Now the man is suing Facebook for violating his rights to free speech and a Paris court is giving him a hearing.  The Verge wins the prize for the clickbait-iest headline, while Slate‘s take on it is as follows:

“Upon first glance, this news might seem like a big win for free expression. Facebook’s indecency policies, after all, are absurdly arbitrary and puritanical, calling for the censorship of nude drawings and breastfeeding photos. And a Courbet fan has a much better chance of winning a free speech claim against Facebook in France than in America: While the First Amendment only applies to government censorship, France’s free speech laws can sometimes be used to punish private censorship, as well…..But in reality, Thursday’s decision could clear the way for civil libertarian nightmares down the road.  European countries generally take a very lenient approach to free speech, granting the government broad powers to censor any expression deemed hateful. Allowing European courts to monitor the online speech hosted by American companies would ultimately result in punishment of unpopular views and chilling of vital expression”

In other censorship news, Peter Hessler wrote a magnificent New Yorker piece about travelling around China with his censor, which adds nuance to the debate.  Also, I can’t help loving this Onion piece about how grateful Chinese internet users are that censorship protects them from “endlessly looping GIFs of sitcom actors rolling their eyes or giving each other high-fives” and “overfiltered photos of food truck tacos or videos of high school students asking celebrities to accompany them to prom” (NOTE: THIS IS SATIRE).

ICYMI the Guardian had a great piece on abuse in a ‘black jail’ in Chicago that was far more reminiscent of pieces we are used to seeing from China or Russia, rather than the US.

READING (We will be discussing the following in class on March 10th, so woe betide anyone who hasn’t read them.)

The Forever War


New York Times/Ashley Gilbertson

As we prepare to finish our discussion on The Forever War, I thought this interview was worth reading:

Why did you write The Forever War, and why did you choose that title?

Whenever I went home to the U.S., people would ask me: what’s it like over there? What does it feel like? What’s it like to be shot at? What’s it like to be woken up by a car bomb? What’s it like to sleep in a village with no electricity? How do you talk to a warlord? Hence my book: I want to show people what it feels like to be in Iraq and Afghanistan: the ambiguity, the heartbreak, the fear and the joy. It’s a visceral book, not really an intellectual one.

As for the title, I should say: the book makes no argument. It is very explicitly not a political book. The title, “The Forever War,” is more metaphor than literal truth. (At least I hope it is). The first chapter of the book takes place in 1998, at the Kabul Sports Stadium, at a public execution carried about by the Taliban on a Friday afternoon. It’s 2008 now, and we are still at war. I’ve expended much of my life’s energies in those wars. Many of us have. It already feels like forever, and it isn’t even over yet.

You must have strong opinions about the war on terror, and both the Iraq war and the way in which operations in Afghanistan have been conducted. Yet the book is almost apolitical. Why?

I think we’ve all heard our share of arguments about these wars. We’ve all heard a lot of moralizing – who was right and who was wrong. I’m exhausted by it; I think probably most people are. But in a deeper sense, I think much of the moralizing we’ve heard is self-indulgent. Moralizing is something you get to do from a TV studio, what someone at a cocktail party gets to do. If you are actually in Iraq or Afghanistan, you don’t get a chance to do a lot of that. People are dying. If my book is about anything, it’s about the reality on the ground. Down there, politics is irrelevant.

Filkins spoke to Terry Gross last year about ISIS here.  On another topic, thanks to Christina No for this fascinating New York Times piece on a Chinese photographer who has published a book of negatives of pictures of 1989.

Gilles Sabrie/New York Times

Reading for next class is:  Revolution 2.0 ps 58-122 (in Ctools.)

Assignments:  1)  Write a 500-word blogpost on your response to Restrepo – was it balanced and impartial? How effective was it? Analyze your response to the film compared to the Vanity Fair article and the photographs in the New York Times. In your view, which was the most effective in conveying the reality of conflict?

2) How developed is citizen journalism in your country?   Write a 300-word blog providing the context for your country: do citizen journalists exist there? How is internet infrastructure and access? Is it censored? What social media tools are most popular among citizen journalists?   Mention one or two prominent or emerging voices.   If there are no citizen journalists, write a piece analyzing why.

And, just to clarify, there is NO midterm exam for this class.  So please channel your energies into your writing.


Breaking News


Pro-Russian gunmen fire at Ukrainian border guards/AFP


In tomorrow’s class, our guest Bill Foreman will be talking about how to cover breaking news and the role of wire agencies.  Ahead of the class, please read the following for discussion

Ukraine Delays Heavy Weapons Pullback, Blames Rebel Attacks(AP)

Ukraine Says Cannot Withdraw Heavy Weapons as Attacks Persist (Reuters)

Pro-Russia Troops Violate Truce Outside Ukraine Port City (AFP)

New Violence Belies Talk of Peace in Ukraine (NYT)

Thanks to Yardain Amron, for pointing out this interesting story about how Syrian human rights activists are appropriating ISIS imagery and videos to try to call international attention to the scope of the violence.


Restrepo reax


New York Times/Outpost Films/National Geographic Entertainment

Interesting article, just out, on Sebastian Junger and America’s male identity crisis, as he releases a third film The Last Patrol which includes one of the soldiers in Restrepo, Brendan O’Byrne.

“The whole society is fascinated by war,” Junger says. He tells me about giving lectures across the country. He’ll stop in the middle of his talk and ask people to raise their hands if they’re against war.

“Everyone raises their hands,” he notes. “And then I’ll say, ‘But who here has paid $12 to be entertained by a Hollywood war movie?’ Just about everyone raises their hand.”

“War is so compelling that you can even get a room full of pacifists to pay money to be entertained by it.”


1) Dexter Filkins “The Forever War” to end

2) Restrepo and the Imagery of War, also Infidel (NYT)

3) Restrepo Director and Photographer Killed in Libya (NYT)

Assignment: Write a 500 word blogpost on your response to Restrepo.  Was it balanced and impartial? How effective was it? Analyze your response to the film compared to the Vanity Fair article and the photographs Tim Hetherington took of the same soldiers in the New York Times pieces above. In your view, which was the most effective in conveying the reality of conflict?  And has it changed your views on the efficacy of embedding for journalists?  (for Tuesday Feb 24th 12 noon)


Press Freedom on the Decline

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Worldwide press freedom is on the decline, according to Reporters Without Borders.  Finland, Norway and Denmark have the freest media, while Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea are at the bottom of the list.  China slid to 176 out of 180, and the US dropped 29 spots to number 49 out of 180 countries meaning its press is less free than that in Burkina Faso, Salvador or Botswana.  Why the precipitous slide?

“We consider that the Obama administration has launched a war against whistleblowers,” [RSF US Director Delphine] Halgand said. “This year is a continuation of the concern we already expressed that national security protection has been more and more threatening freedom of information in the U.S.”

The organization is also concerned about the impact of Ferguson, where at least 15 journalists were arrested.

Last week, blogpost of the week was Collin Fifer’s on disaster porn.

Please come to class on time tomorrow, since we will be watching a film.

Reading: Dexter Filkins “The Forever War” 168-277

Into the Valley of Death (Sebastian Junger, Vanity Fair)

ASSIGNMENT: For Thursday Feb 26th 9 am:  How developed is citizen journalism in your country?   Write a 500 word blog profiling one prominent citizen journalist (extra credit if you manage to interview them!)  Make sure to also provide the context for your country, such as how many citizen journalists there are, what challenges they face and which social media tools are the most popular.   If there are no citizen journalists, write a piece analyzing the obstacles to the emergence of citizen journalism – or, if you have touched upon that before – whether there are prominent citizen journalists in exile.




Matthias Oegendahl/EPA

Police in Denmark have now shot dead the suspect behind two attacks on Saturday, including an attack on a cafe where a public seminar on Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression was being held.   Thirty shots were fired into the cafe, during the event featuring Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks.   The New York Times reports he had “drawn a cartoon in 2007 of Muhammad as a dog at a traffic circle and was on a “death list” drawn up by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as was the murdered editor of Charlie Hebdo, Stéphane Charbonnier.”   A 55-year old film director, Finn Norgaard, was shot dead at the cafe, and later on a 37-year old man guarding Copenhagen’s central synagogue were killed in the two attacks.

Closer to home, the US media is being accused of bias in the reporting of the shooting deaths of 3 students in Chapel Hill.

“Dr. Mohammad Yousif Abu-Salha, the father of the two slain women, also questioned the attention his daughter’s killing had received in comparison with crimes committed by Muslims.  “If a Muslim commits a crime, it’s on the news 24/7 for two months,” Dr. Abu-Salha, a psychiatrist in Clayton, N.C., told The Associated Press. “When we are executed in numbers, it’s on the news for seconds.”

A #muslimlivesmatter campaign was started, but does not seem to be trending any more.

“Natasha Tynes, a Jordanian-American media consultant, wrote on Facebook, “I guess there is no ‘Je Suis’ hashtag for the three Muslims gunned down in Chapel Hill.”


Al Dragho/AP

One of the women killed, Yusor Abu-Salha, had previously done a Storycorps interview, where she spoke of the “blessing” that growing up in the US had been. “We’re all one, one culture,” she said.

READING: Dexter Filkins “The Forever War” ps87-167Articles by Kathleen McLaughlin

For Tuesday: Come prepared with at least two questions for Kathleen McLaughlin, including one specifically focussing on one of her stories.

For Thursday Feb 26th:  How developed is citizen journalism in your country?   Write a 500 word blog profiling one prominent citizen journalist (extra credit if you manage to interview them!)  Make sure to also provide the context for your country, such as how many citizen journalists there are, what challenges they face and which social media tools are the most popular.   If there are no citizen journalists, write a piece analyzing the obstacles to the emergence of citizen journalism – or, if you have touched upon that before – whether there are prominent citizen journalists in exile. (Thurs Feb 26th, 9am)

Lessons in Dissent, and Advice for Journalists

How does a 14-year old mobilise tens of thousands to change government policy?  Find out by watching the film, Lessons in Dissent, which will be shown at UMMA on Friday followed by a q&A with the director.

Felix Salmon has been giving advice to young journalists (tl; dr:  Don’t do it!)

And now#AdviceForYoungJournalists is trending, some more useful than others.

For the next class, please read Woman’s Work and The Forever War (ps 1-86)

  • Assignment: Write a 500-word blogpost on your view of the limits of acceptability in reporting and showing death. Should the public see images of dead US soldiers and coffins? Should we be able to watch footage of executions by militant groups, or should we be protected from this by internet providers?

Brian Williams Remembers….



From The Wrap

From The Wrap

NBC Nightly News Anchor Brian Williams is in serious trouble.    He’s had to apologise for falsely claiming that he was on a helicopter downed by Iraqi rocket fire in 2003, a claim he had publicly repeated on friday.   The scoop came from Stars and Stripes, which quoted his letter of apology saying,  “I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy.  I feel terrible about making this mistake.”  He said he had “misremembered” what happened.

The apology still leaves many questions unanswered, with some still saying that Williams misrepresented what happened.  But now his credibility is badly damaged, and Twitter has been whooping it up with #BrianWilliamsMisremembers

Realise that I forgot to name a blog of the week last week.  I enjoyed Yardain’s post on access to information in Qatar, especially the time he spent poking around the government website.  This week, I liked Savannah’s post on how four years of drought in Syria may have been a factor behind the revolution.

  • READ: Nothing to Envy ps 221 to end
  • Close to the Action, AJR 2004
  • Embedistan: NYT series
  • Assignment: Write a 500-word blogpost about the control over coverage of conflict inside your country. Are journalists embedded with military groups? How much control over journalists do they exert? Is it safe for independent journalists to report without being embedded?   Is the situation the same for local journalists and international ones? If there is no conflict, write about what measures the government takes to control journalists.


“We all assumed this would be the moment of our execution….”

Lyndsey Addario/NYTimes

Fascinating piece in the New York Times magazine about Lyndsey Addario, the photojournalist, though I look forward to the day when doing work while pregnant is actually not newsworthy.   Thanks to Carolyn Gearig for pointing out.

Before Thursday’s class, please read Nothing to Envy ps160-220

For a discussion on Ebola reporting, look at

Reporting Ebola: A Story of Divergent Western and African Experiences (World News Publishing Focus)


Here are some rebuttals to the egregious Newsweek story we talked about in class.   The Washington Post ran a story about the long and ugly tradition of treating Africa as a dirty, diseased place.  Humanosphere called it racist, and this interview with a medical anthropologist was interesting.  In two tweets, Howard French and Siddharta Mitter sum it up:

WRITE: A 300-word blogpost about the coverage of a natural disaster in your country. Was the media coverage ‘a single story’ or did any pieces stand out, and if so, how? Was the Western coverage more critical than that of the media from your own country?