Saturday, September 03, 2005

NYT: Too busy planning cookouts to focus on the actual paper (I'm referring to the Times, not myself)

Former Senator Bob Dole issued a plea on Friday from Judith Miller, the reporter for The New York Times, her first public statement since being jailed in early July. After a luncheon address at the National Press Club, Mr. Dole read a letter given to him last week by Ms. Miller in which she repeated calls for the passage of a federal shield law that would enable journalists to protect their sources.
In her brief statement, Ms. Miller said that "the battle for freedom has many fronts" and mentioned that she was just one of more than 20 American journalists facing possible jail sentences for refusing to identify confidential sources.

The above is from Lynette Clemetson's "Bob Dole Issues Jailed Reporter's Plea"
in this morning's New York Times and we're spotlighting it for a reason. No, not just because, to put in language that the Times can understand, if Dole's their designated hitter, it's going to be a long nine innings.

Clemetson's presumably attempting to portray Judith Miller's case in a light that adds something new (it doesn't) and that makes you feel something for Miller (ditto). How she manages to miss Evonne Coutros' "Jailed reporter to miss tribute for her father" (North Jersey Media Giant) says a great deal about how badly the Times has mishandled the p.r.

Miller as dutiful daughter denied the right to see her late father honored wouldn't play universally. But the Times will never be able to reach some critics (and that's between them and Miller -- I'm not judging them). But the people the Times needs to reach are the ones who haven't been following the story closely and have had little interest in it. The apethetic and uninformed. A heart tugging tale (which, honestly, Clemetson might have been embarrassed to write but I'm sure there's someone at the paper who would grab it) about a daughter missing out on a tribute to her late father because she was standing on principle and being punished for it (I'm noting the way the article should be handled, not making my own personal case for Miller) would tug at the hearts. It's the sort of sob-story twist that maintains Miller iconic status (the I-Judy quality that infurates or delights) while also humanizing her in a way that casual readers would respond to.

The same people who get swept away in the "drama" of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston -- "It could be us, honey!" -- would relate to that angle.

But this is the same paper that also this morning files "U.N. Official Urges China to Deepen Commitment to Rights" (by Chris Buckley) without ever mentioning their own imprisoned employee. That an editor caught neither omission speaks to the fact that the paper's in holiday mode and not real concerned about what they print today.

It may also explain why Elisabeth Bumiller gets a solo byline on "Promises by Bush Amid the Tears." That's not a slam at Bumiller (note there's no intended humor in the following). Here's an excerpt from the article:

Mr. Bush flew back to Washington from New Orleans without paying a visit to the chaotic makeshift trauma center set up in one terminal at the airport, where many patients evacuated from the city's hospitals were dying before they could be airlifted to other cities.
For the first time, Mr. Bush acknowledged that the government response to the catastrophe had fallen short. "The results are not acceptable," the president said as he left the White House about 9 a.m., his face grim.
Later, however, after a walking tour of Point Cadet, a poor neighborhood of flattened one-story bungalows in Biloxi, Miss., Mr. Bush amended his remark to say, "I'm certainly not denigrating the efforts of anybody." He added, "I am satisfied with the response, I'm not satisfied with all the results."

[. . .]
Throughout his day, Mr. Bush did not address the shocking images of the desperate and dying on television, even when he was asked by a reporter in Biloxi "why the richest nation on earth can't get food and water to those people that need it."

Biloxi is a good portion of this article. But Bumiller's got a solo byline with a confusing end credit:
"Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington for this article. Kate Zernike contributed reporting from Biloxi, Miss." Due to the emphasis on Biloxi in the article (the second half of the article relies heavily on details from Biloxi), Zernike should have shared the byline. But the end credit makes it appear that Bumiller was in D.C. If so, are her observations of Bully Boy's New Orleans activities (or, more to the point, lack of activities) based on what she saw on TV?

I'm not saying that's the case, I am saying that's how the end credit makes it appear. Everyone's on holiday today and the paper isn't real concerned with how they portray themselves in text or credit apparently.

That's apparently also why there's no report in the paper regarding an event on television. Cedric e-mailed this Associated Press story (he found it at AOL) entitled "Rapper Takes Bush to Task During NBC Telethon: TV Networks Join Forces, Set Date to Air Hurricane Fundraiser:"

Rapper Kanye West surprised viewers of an NBC benefit concert for Hurricane Katrina victims on Friday by accusing President George W. Bush of racism.
"George Bush doesn't care about black people," West said from New York during the show aired live on the East Coast on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax, just before cameras cut away to comedian Chris Tucker.

If you're new to the topic (no, I'm not referring to members), you can check out Democracy Now!'s "Race in New Orleans: Shaping the Response to Katrina?:"

JUAN GONZALEZ: Dr. Beverly Wright, while it is indeed true that federal officials had some major responsibility in this, there's also, I have been seeing reports statements from the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana that have shocked me in the way that they seem to be out of touch with even the reality going on in their own state.
DR. BEVERLY WRIGHT: I would say that this is true but I really believe that part of that is because communication is just not working. Nobody can communicate with anyone. My voice at this time, however, is, I'm of two minds. First there is the academic side of this voice, because I work at an historically black college and university. And I also worked as director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. We have been working with people for the last 15 years dealing with what we call environmental injustice. So, I see it in two ways as a person who was born and raised in New Orleans and loves the city very much, and on the other hand looking at what the response has been, not only to the tragedy of Katrina, but what the response has been now for years, the toxic exposure for people living in the Mississippi river chemical corridor. We have no emergency response for that. So, it's not surprising that the emergency response for this catastrophic situation seems to be non-existing. But what I really see happening is that people are not taking into consideration -- when I say people, I'm talking about the government. The pre-hurricane conditions of the city. Then we have to deal with what the post-hurricane conditions are, which are intrinsically tied to the pre-hurricane conditions. And then moving on to what we call the rebuilding stage, there are so many factors directly related to class and race, for those of us who live in New Orleans, it's mostly race and class follows race. It's because of our race that our class is what it is. People forget that New Orleans is 67% black. That's of the ones that are being counted. More than 50% of that 67% live below poverty. This is mostly driven by the economic base of the city, which is tourism. That means that low-paying jobs as waiters, dishwashers and cooks. Literally I would say that there's been a huge resistance to raising the minimum wage that would raise the quality of life for most of the people in New Orleans. A second part of that is that the poverty in New Orleans for the most part has been hidden. Because the people in New Orleans have a very long history they have been there since it was under control bit French and Spanish. So the history is long. That's why the culture in New Orleans is such -- is just so enticing, people want to come from all over the world for the music and the food. It has to do specifically with that history. But I am very concerned about what is happening since the hurricane.

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