Why he went public
Omar Mohammed was a stealth historian risking death with virtually every keystroke. His is a tale of the anonymity of heroism — until now.
Mohammed, 31, revealed to the Associated Press that he indeed "is the man behind the legendary and widely read Mosul Eye, the pseudonym under which he wrote the catalog of horrors that was life under Islamic State fanatics."
Reporters Lori Hinnant and Maggie Michael broke a tale fit for a Hollywood thriller, though one probably wouldn't believe the story line if you just showed up at your favorite AMC theater.
"Anonymous for more than three years, Mohammed wandered the streets of occupied Mosul by day, chatting with shopkeepers and Islamic State fighters, visiting friends who worked at the hospital, swapping scraps of information. He grew out his hair and his beard and wore the shortened trousers required by the extremists. He forced himself to witness the beheadings and deaths by stoning, so he could hear killers call out the names of the condemned and their supposed crimes."
"By night, he was Mosul Eye, and from his darkened room he told the world what was happening. If caught, he knew he would be killed."
So why go public now, two years after smuggling all his information out of Mosul and relocating to somewhere in Europe? He could have stayed mum even as, a non-AP reporter confirms, he was dealing with other journalists. It's pretty simple:
"Over three years, his double life grew too heavy to bear. His secrets consumed him, sapping the energy he needed to work on his doctoral dissertation and to help Mosul rebuild. In face-to-face conversations with AP reporters over the course of two months, he agonized over how to end the anonymity."
"The day he revealed his identity to the world, Mohammed told AP: 'I feel free.'" In turn, the media requests piled in and his many fans online, notably via Facebook and Twitter, contacted him with thanks. And for good reason.
He'd become "one of the outside world’s main sources of news about the Islamic State fighters and their transformation of the city into a grotesque shadow of itself." He did so by looking around and keeping notes, and blogging, as he maintained his actual life, namely that of a jobless scholar.
Much of his handiwork wound up on his blog, but other materials remained on his computer, lest he blow his cover. That includes photos of fighters and, when contacted by intelligence agencies in his role as Mosul Eye, he turned them back with the mantra, "I am not a spy or a journalist."
Consider what's on your hard drive. Then consider his: tales of death, "filed according to date, cause of death, perpetrator, neighborhood and ethnicity. Accompanying each spreadsheet entry was a separate file with observations from each day."
ISIS was "forcing abortions and tubal ligation surgeries on Yazidi women,” he wrote in unpublished notes in 2015. There were tales of young Yazidi girls dying of injuries from repeated rapes. He smuggled all his handiwork out of Mosul two years ago and is now in Europe, with 300,000 followers on social media, none of whom presumably knew his real identity until now.
For obvious reasons, one can't independently verify some, or even much, of what he's written about for years. And, like his exit and claim to have been dangerously smoking in plain sight of ISIS on the banks of the Tigris, we'll never know for absolute sure what's true.
But the belief among journalists who know that neck of the woods well is that he's smart, sophisticated and very likely to be believed.
The Top 100 in Tech this year were Jeff Bezos and …
It's time to wrap up the year with lists. What may be most notable in a Recode list whose upper tier predictably includes Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook is that the No. 3 slot goes to Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The New York Times and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker for their great sexual harassment/assault exposes.
At the tail end of the list, at No. 100, are Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, executive producers of “Stranger Things.”
A conservative editor's take on Al Franken
Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, writes:
"Al Franken’s resignation speech made no sense. If he is innocent as he claims (he says some of the allegations were untrue and he remembers the rest differently than his accusers) and if he is as confident that the Ethics Committee would vindicate him as he says, he shouldn’t be resigning. Indeed, a duly-elected senator wrongly accused owes it to himself and his constituents to fight on — lies and misremembered accounts shouldn’t chase anyone from the Senate."
A hometown paper on Franken
There's this in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial:
"In an otherwise emotional and gracious speech, the one sour note was Franken’s continued refusal to acknowledge his actions. He continued to assert that the incidents are either untrue or unremembered by him. Some of his closest allies struck a different note."
Who cares about Roy Moore?!
When I checked out the Birmingham portion of Al.com last evening, the most prominent story, dwarfing Moore coverage, was "2017 Class 3A Finals: Hillcrest-Evergreen vs. Randolph County." Also rather more prominent was the University of Tennessee hiring an Alabama assistant football coach as it new head guy.
As for Moore, "The latest polls show a tight race between Roy Moore and Doug Jones, even as accusations continue to fly on both sides."
Demetria Kalodimos, a locally very famous Nashville investigative reporter and anchor at WSMV, cleaned out her desk in the early hours the other night and it's unclear if she'll return. She's now on vacation.
There are several pending lawsuits against Meredith, the owner, from former WSMV employees alleging age discrimination. One pending legal complaint claims station management called Kalodimos “an old maid.”
Fake weather reports
"A widely shared Facebook post showing an impending 12-inch snowfall caused a minor panic on Facebook and Twitter yesterday," reports the Indianapolis Star. "That is, until the professionals stepped in and set the facts straight."
"A WISH-TV (Channel 8) forecast posted to Facebook showed major snowfall headed Indiana's way. It was shared more than 600 times. Turns out, it's a forecast map from 2014, according to WISH meteorologist and weather executive producer Ken Brewer."
Poynter's TV expert, Al Tompkins, tells me, "I suspect we will see a lot more of this kind of weather fakery in the winter ahead. Until now weather fakery has been mostly confined to fake photos that people post of tornadoes that they claim hit this place or that but were Photoshopped or were captured in another place or time. We have seen fake hurricane tracks that scared the heck out of people. But this one in Indy is particularly awful because it mixes a touch of believability with topicality and disruption and attributes it falsely to a trusted TV weatherman."
"Online sites routinely have a monitor in view to track traffic. But they also need to constantly track what other people are saying in their name. The danger here is that the public will lose faith in what it sees on social media while social media is currently the single biggest source for online traffic for a lot of news sites."
Trying to silence a critic
Can you hide behind a mask of online anonymity and deride a company? It's one of the questions in litigation where a company is suing an anonymous critic for copyright infringement. A federal appeals court seemed to be on the way to holding for the defendant, according to TechDirt, but then seemingly punted and sent the matter back to a trial court.
Leaving the newsroom for the campaign trail
Longtime awarding-winning Dallas television reporter Brett Shipp has quit to run for Congress. Shipp, 59, will run as a Democrat in a bid to oust Republican Pete Sessions from Texas' 32nd District, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reported. He's been an investigative reporter there since 1995 and won three Peabody Awards.
The wisdom of Bill from Capitol Hill
Bill Myers, a Washington, D.C., multimedia content manager, is known to listeners of Chicago sports radio WSCR-AM as "Bill from Capitol Hill" and quite naturally talks sports most of the time. Yesterday he segued into the state of the media, noting the dramatic increases in New York Times and Washington Post readership, as well as the rise of some very editorially strong new sports sites, notably Bleacher Reporter and The Athletic.
People are paying decent money to read their output. But, he wondered, will there be enough citizens ponying up to support investigations of lieutenant governors and local water commissioners? It's an unavoidable and good question, simply put by Bill from Capitol Hill.
The morning Babel
"Trump & Friends" used yesterday's congressional questioning of the FBI director to suggest, again, a possible Hillary Clinton role in spying on the Trump campaign. "At the very top … looks like they had their thumb on the scale of justice, tipping it toward Hillary, away from Donald Trump," said co-host Steve Doocy. You'd think she'd won.
CNN's "New Day" looked at the Franken story, with pundit David Gregory suggesting that, despite the pressure brought by female colleagues in the Senate, any national "reckoning" on the whole issues of harassment is not likely to be led by politicians. They've got too much to risk and this may be an exception that will prove a rule.
"Morning Joe" relied heavily on a Ruth Marcus Washington Post column that argues, "The political calculus is simple: Franken had to go. … He would have been a nonstop distraction, muddling Democrats' case against alleged groper President Trump and alleged child molester Roy Moore."
"Franken paid not only for their sins but also for the alleged behavior of Bill Clinton two decades ago. Democrats under-reacted then and consequently were impelled to overreact now."
Another paper bites the dust
The Texas Observer opens with the tale of the staff of the alternative weekly Houston Press beckoned to a meeting with the editor and the publisher on the very day of the victory parade for the World Series champ Astros.
"Staff writers Dianna Wray and Meagan Flynn arrived at the conference room in a sweat after running some 15 blocks from the parade route. They found the rest of the staff already sitting around a table loaded down with pizza boxes and six-packs of beer. Perhaps it was an office party to celebrate the Astros, Wray thought. Flynn, who had been dreading the meeting since receiving the email, was momentarily relieved. 'There was that glimmer of hope that maybe this is something great,' she remembered. 'And then we saw (editor Margaret Downing's) face.'”
It was all over for the 28-year-old institution and here's the deal on why.
Stalwart journalist Mickey Carroll dies
The New York papers crafted lovely obituaries of longtime reporter Maurice “Mickey” Carroll, 86, who, as Newsday put it, "competed with giants of New York journalism and witnessed the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin."
As The Times noted, he brought streetwise insights to his political reporting for a string of major newspapers — imagine that he actually worked for at least eight New York and New Jersey papers! — and later became "the public face of the emerging Quinnipiac University poll."
Carroll was a force journalistically and also touched many, including Jill Lawrence, commentary editor at USA Today. He was as close to a mentor as she ever had as a result of her experience in the very first New York Univeristy graduate journalism class. He taught government reporting.
Lawrence produced a warm Twitter thread in which she recalled Carroll giving the students an actual New York City press release on the budget. Everybody wrote it up chronologically, starting with the claims of the great things it would bring that were right at the top.
"We didn’t notice that the lead was at the bottom of the second page — daycare cuts!" She swears she never made the mistake again. Carroll would be proud.
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That's it for the week. See you Monday. We've got a Friday night soccer practice and then choir practice and soccer games Saturday and soccer and basketball games Sunday. Somewhere in the mix are tickets with the kids to see the worst NBA team, the Bulls (3-20), vs. the mediocre Knicks (12-12). You've got to occasionally see bad for them to appreciate good.