NYT Week In Review, In Review

Coming next week.  First, however, take a look back……

When readers opened their New York Times on Sunday, Jan. 27, 1935, they discovered the debut of The News of the Week in Review. Snaking along seven columns of a very gray first page were short items, a few paragraphs each, of unsigned, backstage perspective on the events of the previous week.

The first entry was an account of wrangling between Franklin D. Roosevelt and House Democrats for control (and thus pork-barreling rights) over the president’s $4.8 billion work relief program. The anonymous author seemed to relish his cheeky, slightly un-Timesean kicker, which quoted a Republican on the state of the House: “a supine, subservient, soporific, superfluous, supercilious, pusillanimous body of nitwits.”

Over the ensuing three-quarters of a century, the name has been shortened (to The Week in Review in 1967; to Week in Review, no “The,” in 1994). Those digest items grew into essays and acquired bylines. Designers using photos and graphics and cartoons and creative typography made the section easier on the eye. But the Review remained a place where a writer could do something a little different from the daily news report.

The writers — reporters and news editors, mostly — developed a form that was more analytical and less formulaic than the just-the-facts reports in the rest of the paper, but distinct from the more polemical writing of the opinion pages — the editorials, columnists and invited advocates sequestered in the back pages, after a wall of advertising. The Review proved successful enough to win a special Pulitzer citation in 1953 for providing “enlightenment and intelligent commentary.”

Next Sunday, the Week in Review will make another evolutionary leap. The name will be shortened yet again to Sunday Review, the last vestiges of a weekly summing up replaced by a more general timeliness, and that dividing wall breached, so that argument (which will be labeled Opinion) can appear alongside explanation (which will be labeled News Analysis.)

The New York Times Obit For Osama Bin Laden

On days like this we turn to the newspapers for obituaries that are written of the ones who have shaped the world for good or evil.  This is a day for newspapers akin to the times when the death of Stalin or Hitler were announced.  There is no where else that so many words of this nature can be shared than within the pages of a newspaper.  Radio and television can talk endlessly about the death of Osama bin Laden, but it is only the long-form spaces of the printed page where an obit of the type The New York Times penned can be printed.

On days like this we understand better why newspapers still matter in our world.

 I do not have a word count on this obit, but word counts of New York Times obits amuse me.

From the lengthy obit of Osama bin Laden I ripped a few paragraphs.

Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world, as much a myth as a man — what a longtime C.I.A. officer called “the North Star” of global terrorism. He had united disparate militant groups, from Egypt to Chechnya, from Yemen to the Philippines, under the banner of Al Qaeda and his ideal of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.

Terrorism before Bin Laden was often state-sponsored, but he was a terrorist who had sponsored a state. For five years, 1996 to 2001, he paid for the protection of the Taliban, then the rulers of Afghanistan. He bought the time and the freedom to make Al Qaeda — which means “the base” — a multinational enterprise to export terror around the globe.

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Bin Laden began traveling beyond the border into Afghanistan in 1982, bringing with him construction machinery and recruits. In 1984, he and Mr. Azzam began setting up guesthouses in Peshawar, which served as the first stop for holy warriors on their way to Afghanistan. With the money they had raised in Saudi Arabia, they established the Office of Services, which branched out across the world to recruit young jihadists.

The men came to be known as the Afghan Arabs, though they came from all over the world, and their numbers were estimated as high as 20,000. By 1986, Bin Laden had begun setting up training camps for them as well, and he was paying roughly $25,000 a month to subsidize them.

To young would-be recruits across the Arab world, Bin Laden’s was an attractive story: the rich young man who had become a warrior. His own descriptions of the battles he had seen, how he lost the fear of death and slept in the face of artillery fire, were brushstrokes of an almost divine figure.

But intelligence sources insist that Bin Laden actually saw combat only once, in a weeklong barrage by the Soviets at Jaji, where the Arab Afghans had dug themselves into caves using Bin Laden’s construction equipment.

“Afghanistan, the jihad, was one terrific photo op for a lot of people,” Milton Bearden, the C.I.A. officer who described Bin Laden as “the North Star,” said in an interview on “Frontline,” adding, “There’s a lot of fiction in there.”

Turning Online Journalism Into A Profit

UPDATE..There was a typo on this post earlier that made it appear I did not think the NYT’s was top-notch in all they do.  In fact, they are top-notch, and I read their paper that is thrown onto my stoop every morning.  Sorry for the confusion.

I am not so sure this will work. 

The public has been allowed to read for years all the online news for free at The New York Times.  Now the online portion of this operation wants to have a fee structure in place for these readers.

I suspect there will be, among many, a reluctance to pay.

Please understand the reporting, writing, and analysis is top-notch at the NYT’s, and that fact is not in dispute.  I also agree with the Times that  no one should think this news and information should be for free.  So I agree with the need to fund this online service.  On top of that the NYT’s deserves to make a profit.

But my concern is that after having the online news free for so long will people understand that need to pay for it?

No American news organization as large as The Times has tried to put its content behind a pay wall after allowing unrestricted access. The move is being closely watched by anxious publishers, which have warily embraced the Web and struggled with how to turn online journalism into a profitable business.

“A few years ago it was almost an article of faith that people would not pay for the content they accessed via the Web,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company, said in his annual State of The Times remarks, which were delivered to employees Thursday morning.

“This move is an investment in our future,” he said. “It will allow us to develop new sources of revenue to support the continuation of our journalistic mission and digital innovation, while maintaining our large and growing audience to support our robust advertising business. And this system is our latest, and best, demonstration of where we believe the future of valued content — be it news, music, games or more — is going.”

Mr. Sulzberger acknowledged the hurdles The Times must overcome in the minds of many readers, saying he harbored no misconceptions.

“The challenge now is to put a price on our work without walling ourselves off from the global network, to make sure we continue to engage with the widest possible audience,” he said.

Overreach By Gov. Walker And Republicans Clear For All To See

Portion of editorial in The New York Times.

And, in doing so, they reluctantly exposed the real truth behind the maneuver: stripping the unions of their rights was never about the budget, especially once the unions had agreed to significant concessions on pensions and health care. It was always about politics. Governor Walker had hoped to hide behind a cooked-up budget crisis, but the fleeing Democrats at least succeeded in pulling away that facade.

Undermining public unions — and the support they give to Democrats — has been a long-sought goal of the Republican Party and many of its corporate backers. Koch Industries, one of the party’s biggest supporters, spent $1.2 million last year to help elect Mr. Walker and other Republican governors who want to eliminate or reduce bargaining rights. On Wednesday, the State Senate’s Republican leader, Scott Fitzgerald, told Fox News that if unions lose the battle for their rights, they would have less money to help President Obama win re-election.

Some union benefits are exorbitant, but no politician was forced to hand them out. Lawmakers are free to end this practice and should, but ending the basic rights of unions is a very different matter. It could have serious consequences for the Wisconsin Republicans who voted to do so. Recall efforts against Mr. Walker and several Republican senators are already under way. Polls in The Times and The Wall Street Journal have consistently shown large national majorities against these kinds of union-busting moves.

More broadly, the overreach by Mr. Walker and Republicans elsewhere has finally revealed their true agenda to blue-collar voters who either voted for them last year or who stayed home. These voters are not going to benefit from a crippled union movement; they live next door to the teachers and nurses and D.M.V. clerks who are about to lose what little clout they had in the state capital. Many have suffered during the recession and have watched in pain as private-sector unions have been battered to the point of ineffectiveness.

Governor Walker And Shades Of Richard Nixon

OMG!

I laughed when I first heard the tape of Governor Walker being ‘punked’ in a phone call.  The flood of words and thoughts that flowed from Walker is amazing…and troubling

When Walker admitted to thinking of planting troublemakers among the peaceful protestors at the State Capitol I thought of the antics undertaken when President Nixon was in the White House.  Make a mess, create confusion, and blame others.

Walker, believing he was getting a telephone call from billionaire campaign contributor David Koch, discussed the possibility of “planting some troublemakers” among people protesting his budget repair bill and the end of collective bargaining.   

The phone call of course was with a New York-based blogger who recorded the call…gotta love bloggers!

On the tape Governor Walker said “we thought about that” when the topic of placing troublemakers in the Capitol crowd to create chaos was being discussed.  That the very idea ever hatched itself in Walker’s head, or was considered by others around the Governor is appalling.  It is very important that the ‘we’ involved in this matter be ferreted out.  

That the crowds in and around the Capitol these past nine days have been very peaceful is without question.  Not one single arrest was made last Saturday when 68,000 demonstrated on the Square.  NOT ONE! 

As I thought more about the phone call and Walker’s remark I reflected about how Richard Nixon and those around him acted when in power.

Recall the Brookings Institution and the idea it should be bombed?  The Nixon tapes made it clear what the goal was.  Create a problem and blame it on others.

Nixon: “We are going to use any means… . Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institution cleaned out and have it cleaned out in a way that has somebody else take the blame.”

Hmmm……

Chuck Colson thought a great idea would be to firebomb the institution and steal files while firefighters……public employees with collective bargaining….would dash the flames.

I think we need to know who the “we’ happen to be that work for Governor Walker that would hatch an idea about placing “troublemakers” into a protest crowd at the Capitol. 

Were they trying to test the patience of all involved, including law enforcement?  Who brought the idea to Walker?  Why was that person not released from state service at once?    Where did this idea get discussed?  In the Governor’s office?  The residence?

This is serious as it could have led to chaos and even bloodshed had it been put into action.

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There was some levity at one point on the tape.

As the tape wandered along I was smirking when Walker confessed that he reads The New York Times, as he commented on a front page story the paper did about Wisconsin.

Can you imagine Richard Nixon ever admitting that on tape?

The New York Times Takes On The NRA

A powerful editorial in the New York Times should be read by concerned citizens.  I am proud to say that much of what has been stated on CP regarding the need for gun control over the past few days is reflected  here.   There needs to be common sense brought back into play when it comes to guns and the NRA.

In part the editorial reads…..

As lawmakers in Washington engage this week in moments of silence and tributes to Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other casualties, they should realize that they have the power to reduce the number of these sorts of horrors, and their lethality.

To do so, they will need to stand up to the National Rifle Association and its allies, whose lobbying power continues to grow despite the visceral evidence that the groups have made the country a far more dangerous place. Having won a Supreme Court ruling establishing a right to keep a firearm in the home, the gun lobby is striving for new heights of lunacy, waging a campaign to legalize the possession of a gun in schools, bars, parks, offices, and churches, even by teenagers.

It reflexively opposes even mild, sensible restrictions — but if there is any reason left in this debate, the latest mass shooting should force a retreat. Is there anyone, even the most die-hard gun lobbyist, who wants to argue that a disturbed man should be able to easily and legally buy a Glock to shoot a congresswoman, a judge, a 9-year-old girl?

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The gun itself was purchased by Mr. Loughner at a sporting goods store that followed the bare-minimum federal background check, which only flags felons, people found to be a danger to themselves or others, or those under a restraining order.

Mr. Loughner was rejected by the military for failing a drug test, and had five run-ins with the Pima Community College police before being suspended for disruptive activity. Why can’t Congress require a background check — without loopholes for gun shows or private sales — that would detect this sort of history? If the military didn’t want someone like Mr. Loughner to be given a firearm, neither should the public at large.

Newspapers Have Right To Publish Leaked State Department Cables

The New York Times had it right today when they wrote about why they went to press with the leaked State Department cables.  These cables were going to be made known one way or the other, so why not deal with the story in a professional journalistic method.

Of course, most of these documents will be made public regardless of what The Times decides. WikiLeaks has shared the entire archive of secret cables with at least four European publications, has promised country-specific documents to many other news outlets, and has said it plans to ultimately post its trove online. For The Times to ignore this material would be to deny its own readers the careful reporting and thoughtful analysis they expect when this kind of information becomes public.

While I think the stolen cables will make for troubles with crafting foreign policy, and working with international contacts, I also recognize the value in knowing what our government does in our name.  We all should care about that.

The New York Times addressed that matter today.  I have always stood by the press when reporting stories for these reasons, and do so again at this time.  There will be the usual remarks about the press, and The New York Times in particular. Those comments are now so often used they are beyond trite.  Those who scream the loudest are the ones least able to understand the need for a free press, or the role the press serves in our democracy.  For the rest of us the need is obvious.

But the more important reason to publish these articles is that the cables tell the unvarnished story of how the government makes its biggest decisions, the decisions that cost the country most heavily in lives and money. They shed light on the motivations — and, in some cases, duplicity — of allies on the receiving end of American courtship and foreign aid. They illuminate the diplomacy surrounding two current wars and several countries, like Pakistan and Yemen, where American military involvement is growing. As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name.

Other newspapers around the world had this state department cables story dominate their front pages.  The Guardian in an editorial comment made this statement. 

 Anything said or done in the name of a democracy is, prima facie, of public interest. When that democracy purports to be “world policeman” – an assumption that runs ghostlike through these cables – that interest is global.

The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. If American spies are breaking United Nations rules by seeking the DNA biometrics of the UN director general, he is entitled to hear of it. British voters should know what Afghan leaders thought of British troops. American (and British) taxpayers might question, too, how most of the billions of dollars going in aid to Afghanistan simply exits the country at Kabul airport.

No harm is done by high-class chatter about President Nicolas Sarkozy’s vulgarity and lack of house-training, or about the British royal family. What the American embassy in London thinks about the coalition suggests not an alliance at risk but an embassy with a talent problem.

Some stars shine through the banality such as the heroic envoy in Islamabad, Anne Patterson. She pleads that Washington’s whole policy is counterproductive: it “risks destabilising the Pakistani state, alienating both the civilian government and the military leadership, and provoking a broader governance crisis without finally achieving the goal”. Nor is any amount of money going to bribe the Taliban to our side. Patterson’s cables are like missives from the Titanic as it already heads for the bottom.

The money‑wasting is staggering. Aid payments are never followed, never audited, never evaluated. The impression is of the world’s superpower roaming helpless in a world in which nobody behaves as bidden. Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, the United Nations, are all perpetually off script. Washington reacts like a wounded bear, its instincts imperial but its power projection unproductive.

America’s foreign policy is revealed as a slave to rightwing drift, terrified of a bomb exploding abroad or of a pro-Israeli congressman at home. If the cables tell of the progress to war over Iran or Pakistan or Gaza or Yemen, their revelation might help debate the inanity of policies which, as Patterson says, seem to be leading in just that direction. Perhaps we can now see how catastrophe unfolds when there is time to avert it, rather than having to await a Chilcot report after the event. If that is not in the public’s interest, I fail to see what is.

Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets. Were there some overriding national jeopardy in revealing them, greater restraint might be in order. There is no such overriding jeopardy, except from the policies themselves as revealed. Where it is doing the right thing, a great power should be robust against embarrassment.

What this saga must do is alter the basis of diplomatic reporting. If WikiLeaks can gain access to secret material, by whatever means, so presumably can a foreign power. Words on paper can be made secure, electronic archives not. The leaks have blown a hole in the framework by which states guard their secrets. The Guardian material must be a breach of the official secrets acts. But coupled with the penetration already allowed under freedom of information, the walls round policy formation and documentation are all but gone. All barriers are permeable. In future the only secrets will be spoken ones. Whether that is a good thing should be a topic for public debate.

WikiLeaks State Department Cables Are Utterly Fascinating

Mind-numbing is the only word to use after reading Day One of the impressive story concerning the leaked State Department cables.   While history buffs read parts of cables that make it into books years after the events took place, the four pages of insight and material that made it into The New York Times, and pages of other papers all over the world today is alarming, but also utterly fascinating.  There is no way be a news junkie and follow international news daily, and not be thrilled with reading this material.  I love to follow what is happening all over the world and so this insight about the names and events that make up my morning newspaper every day is impossible to not talk about.  On the other hand there is no way not to be highly troubled that these cables were stolen and will impact international relations. 

Apart from those feelings the news organizations around the world, including the much respected New York Times, has every right to report this story.  There will be more about the freedom of the press aspect to this story here on CP in the hours to come.  After all, the press does not work for the government.  They work for us.

The news from these leaks are absolutely fascinating and demand a full read.

In part some of the highlights are here.

The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the United States’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Among their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:

¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

¶ Thinking about an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in Chinese Muslim detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.

¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.

 An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoyed supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he was undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignored his edicts.

¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.

¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” the government’s most secure communications status. But some 11,000 are classified “secret,” 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn.