Reporters take on grisly, government-approved murders
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The American press duly notes Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's barbarous crackdown on alleged drug dealers, addicts and enablers — perhaps 5,800 summary executions by both his cops and vigilantes since early summer.
And it's far worse than most media report.
Outlets of very different sensibilities — Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera — now take audiences far deeper into this horror. They include looks at the killers, the self-justifying police and the substantial public support for what's playing out.
For starters, Filipina journalist Ana Santos profiles Ronald dela Rosa, director general of the Philippine National Police (PNP), who is President Rodrigo Duterte's chief executioner and, yes, "treated more like a rock star than a policeman." (Foreign Policy)
"Women sometimes scream or cry tears of joy when they see him; crowds flock to him in public, forcing his own men to huddle around him to protect him from adoring hands. A trail of fans follows him around the country."
Sure, worldwide outrage is inspired by photos of bodies whose faces are wrapped in packaging tape like mummies and adorned with cardboard signs labeling them "pushers" or "drug dealers."
But Santos details how dela Rosa, known as "Bato," or The Rock, is "seen as a hero."
Then, even more telling, we have this: an 18-minute Al Jazeera story that ran on AJ+, the network's online news and current events channel. It puts to shame most of what you've likely seen on American television, if you've seen anything at all, since network foreign reporting these days is largely relegated to fleeting mention of "The Battle for Aleppo."
It's the nervy work of reporter Jason Motlagh, a reporting fellow at the Washington-based Pulitzer Center. As Tom Hundley, a Pulitzer official and former stellar Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent, puts it to me, Motlagh and Santos "offer a jarring look inside the state-sanctioned killing spree."
Most of all, there's a seemingly sweet young woman who, we learn, is part of a husband-wife hit squad. She goes on camera (her face largely hidden) to explain to Motlagh how and why she kills for $150 per hit ($400 for a big-time pusher) — and does so at the behest of a "senior police officer" who's protecting his own drug business. Her husband does the driving, she pulls the trigger.
They also assassinate some who have surrendered voluntarily, she says, since they might leak that same senior officer's name. "The problem is if my boss is named, those who are above him might also be named."
Does she feel even a smidgen of remorse? "Those we kill are not good people, are not regular people, they are the wicked ones…We are just cleaning the trash, and they are the trash. They should be erased from the world."
Is she for real? On Sunday I tracked down Motlagh, who's 35 and lives in Oakland, California and was determined to tell "a dark, deeply personal" tale that would stand apart from much previous coverage.
He followed photographers to one murder and tracked down the victim's relatives' effort to raise money for the wake. Along the way, his fixer (herself a veteran journalist) arranged the one-hour interview.
"At one point she recounted how she seduced and killed a drunk target with a knife stab to the neck," Motlagh said. "It's hard to believe someone as soft-spoken and slight could be capable of such cool violence, but her words rang true."
Motlagh's sense is that "she wanted there to be some record of her exploits because she herself fears for her life. Having killed so many people on behalf of a corrupt senior police officer, it follows that she could be eliminated for her knowledge in this climate of impunity. She has killed many others for precisely this reason."
Then there are the journalists there who cover all this on a routine basis, not just come in briefly, as did Motlagh.
One photographer (on camera, no scarf over his face) told Motlagh that many newspapers and other media outlets don't show shots of deaths scenes. They're just too terrifying.
"At times when you go home, you don't want to even edit the images you shot, when you see the faces, the look of the eyes of the dead," he says. "It leave a mark with you." (Al Jazeera)
Trump, the media critic
"Just watched @NBCNightlyNews — So biased, inaccurate and bad, point after point. Just can't get much worse, although @CNN is right up there!"
What miffed him? It was a perfectly straight Peter Alexander report last evening on intelligence agency beliefs of Russian involvement in the campaign, with at least one (unidentified) intelligence official wondering how a guy who proudly isn't taking some national security briefings can be bitching about their validity. (NBC Nightly News)
What is the opposite of benign neglect? Hostile awareness? CNN, invite him on a special edition of "Reliable Sources." He'll do it.
Facebook and fact-checkers
"The country's most prominent fact-checkers fought a losing battle against the flood of fake news during the presidential campaign. Now, they say, they have one great hope for preventing an even greater wave of propaganda masquerading as news: Facebook." (Politico)
The Murdochs and Sky
In reporting how the Murdoch family is "making another run at buying the rest of Sky PLC, the U.K.-based pay-TV giant, five years after its previous attempt was thwarted," The Wall Street Journal notes:
"Fox’s board was motivated to make the move now as a global arms race to merge content and distribution heats up following AT&T Inc.’s proposed merger with Time Warner Inc., people familiar with the matter said."
Most covered team in sports?
It might be the Golden State Warriors, as the world wonders if a super team has been assembled. Says Jerry West, the combo player-executive legend, the press crush is even greater than that around the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal Lakers of the early 2000s. As writer Bryan Curtis puts it, "There is more interest from foreign media, there are more outlets in America, and, thanks to iPhones, every sportswriter is shooting video." (The Ringer)
Anderson Cooper's favorite book of 2016
"My favorite book of the year is easily David France’s 'How to Survive a Plague,' a powerful history of the HIV/AIDS crisis. So many people seem to have forgotten what happened just a few decades ago: the ignorance and apathy of those in power, and the gay men and women who fought to break the stigma surrounding the plague that wiped out a generation. This book is heartbreaking, but it is also inspiring. We owe so much to those brave activists and to Mr. France for writing this vital book." (The Wall Street Journal)
Toobin on Hogan v. Gawker
Analyzing the fatal Gawker Media loss to Hulk Hogan over his sex tape, Jeffrey Toobin writes, "In retrospect, Hogan v. Gawker in the courtroom looks in some ways like a dress rehearsal for Trump v. Clinton at the polls. In both contests, a star of reality television who initially became famous in another field portrayed himself as an embattled outsider confronting an unaccountable elite. In both, a wealthy and successful man played the victim. And on both occasions that man won a convincing and consequential victory." (The New Yorker)
Dramatic change beckons
The House and Senate passed dramatic, important, belated changes in the operations of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a long embattled group that oversees about $750 million in spending on our overseas press operations, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. It's stuck deep in a gigantic military spending bill, President Obama will sign it and most D.C. press won't care or know it.
According to those who followed the generally subterranean legislative matter, the White House cut a deal with the key Republican House member, Ed Royce of California, that swaps maintaining the federal nature of the VOA for neutering the board.
So Trump can pick a new chief with Senate confirmation. Rick Stengel, the former Time managing editor, had been nominated by Obama to head the board, having just served in the State Department for several years. That nomination is probably dead, dead, deadski, as Michael Keaton put it in "Beetlejuice."
This is all quite important and well-documented by Multichannel News, not so well in a Washington Post editorial, which didn't note the bipartisan nature of chagrin with the media operation. It missed the inherent tensions of the BBG's government-journalism essence and, parenthetically, might have noted how the VOA is overseen by Amanda Bennett, a fine journalist married to the Post's former owner, Donald Graham. (The Washington Post)
Her connection is inelegantly recounted by BBG Watch, a longtime, critical blog on the BBG (whose recent chairmen have included journalists Walter Isaacson and James Glassman) that's often right, sometimes a bit off, but a must-read internally. Bennett may now be a target of the Trump folks, but we'll see. Stengel doesn't see a future for himself, given the election results.
Bottom line: this could be an insidious toy for Trump and make his tweeting look like kid's stuff if he messes with quality journalism. But there's also the reality articulated by an important, if largely unread (by the press) government report done about all this 13 years ago. It was for the House Appropriations Committee and entitled "Report of the Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim World." A key finding:
"Broadcasting represents nearly half the spending on public diplomacy, and it must be part of the public diplomacy process, not marching to its own drummer with its own goals and strategy, sources of funding, and board. Congress needs to reexamine the legislation that created the BBG to ensure that broadcast operations support the strategic mission of U.S. public diplomacy." (Department of State)
It took long enough, but at least Congress is finally doing something, and with the approval of Obama.
Did ESPN miss this?
"An icicle hanging from his chin, first-time winner takes a frigid Millinocket marathon." Yes, a second annual marathon in the bone-chilling cold of Millinocket, Maine. (Bangor Daily News)
Winner Ryan Collins "crossed the finish line with an icicle of sweat hanging from his chin. Someone had to tell Collins it was there because he couldn’t feel it, he said."
The morning babble
Surprise, "Fox & Friends" explicitly noted that some Republicans don't like the notion of the Exxon Mobil CEO as Secretary of State. Steve Doocy cited The Wall Street Journal noting Rex Tillerson grousing about the firm losing $1 billion a year due to sanctions imposed on Russia imposed two years ago. Still, it was sympathetic overall to Tillerson and dubious about the Russia hacking claims.
CNN and MSNBC went down a similar path with Trump-Tillerson-Vladimir Putin, with Mika Brzezinski of "Morning Joe" quoting her father, an eminent foreign policy observer speaking at a Nobel Prize forum in Oslo over the weekend, as wondering what the overall strategic notion will be in dealing with Putin.
CNN's "New Day" also offered its regular coverage of Aleppo and underscored how ISIS is seemingly regaining control elsewhere, including in Palmyra. It's grim, not big for ratings, but good for them.
Drip, drip, drip
As the release put it, "while AP makes every effort to cut costs elsewhere before affecting jobs, AP is laying off 25 staffers in the global News department this week. Like so many media companies, especially in the news business, AP must reduce expenses in order to continue to provide its objective, indispensable news report around the world." (Poynter)
The press, with our propensity for sky-is-falling self-diagnoses, might consider this for a bit of context: American Apparel just informed 3,500 workers they may wind up on the street as a result of the company's bankruptcy. And the new boss of Xerox, which ditched 4,500 earlier this year, said more is to come after at the trouble IT firm splits in two.
Photoshop and fake news
"'Fake news' is one of the biggest real news stories of 2016, and sometimes Photoshop plays a role in the deceit. One of the latest incidents is widespread outrage over a new Fisher-Price 'Happy Hour Playset' that lets kids play with a pretend bar. It sparked plenty of anger from parents, but it was simply a faked box with Photoshopped photos."
Top executives from Apple, Alphabet, Facebook and other Silicon Valley icons will be genuflecting before the president-elect at a Trump Tower session this week. It won't be due to much of anything nice that he's said about the companies, as Recode compiles here. The more benign offerings include this tweet: "Just watched Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on 60 Minutes. She should spend more time trying to get the F stock price up & less on her ego!"
The Onion is pretty funny in revealing that Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing), the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant and Chicago Tribune, among others, is offering a free "Creature Features Newsletter — Inspiring pet stories and cute animal news from around the nation."
"The Creature Features newsletter is a collection of endearing pet stories and inspiring animal news picked by editors across the Tribune Online Content network, including Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and more."
"This weekly dose of cute is guaranteed to pep up your week. Sign up, it's free!"
Oh, wait. My mistake. It's not The Onion. It's for real.
Well, if those papers likely don’t win any Pulitzers for national reporting or feature writing, I hope as a loyal Tribune alum that they at least see dramatically hiked digital revenue from Petco and Hartz Mountain.