Great Eastern Hotel, Glasgow
I’ve been following The Guardian’s coverage of the News International phone-hacking scandal. While I think hacking a person’s phone is criminal and should be treated as such, I disagree with The Guardian's apparent position that subterfuge should never be committed by journalists.
I’ve misrepresented myself several times: I dressed in rags and pretended to be homeless in order to get admitted to the Great Eastern Hotel in Glasgow, because I wanted to examine the conditions there. When I heard that a nursing home was neglecting its residents, I pretended that I had an elderly relative I wanted to find a place for. I’ve gone on ride-along with cops who didn’t know I was a journalist, because I wanted to report what they actually said when they didn’t expect consequences. When Sheriff Joe Arpaio was acting as a “celebrity waiter” at a charity event, I went to the restaurant for dinner, pretending to be a tourist from Scotland, and asked him whether he was going to run for governor. There have been other such deceptions - these are only the ones that spring to mind right now - and the sad fact is that they are often necessary in matters of public interest. It should be exceptional, and a last resort, but as long as the privacy of individuals is not being violated, I see no ethical problem with it.
As the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street continues to spread nationwide, media commentators and political hacks show that they don’t understand what is happening. I don’t mean that they are confused, or not entirely getting it; I mean that they actually have no idea what is going on. It is so beyond their ken that they don’t have a political/philosophical language with which to discuss it.
Occupiers are criticized for having no unified ideology, no specific common demands or goals. Their critics are like dinosaurs trying to understand computers. They are unable to comprehend any approach other than the hierarchical one they have been conditioned to see as the only possibility, and so they cannot understand a movement that comes together to discuss and decide upon its goals, rather than gathering around a pre-set dogma. They seek to label because they seek to control, but they can find no labels that will stick to this movement. Their reality is failing them, and so they are afraid.
Urbanized, the third film by the visionary Gary Hustwit, is being screened at the Valley Art in Tempe, AZ, this evening.
Hustwit was my publisher once upon a time. He put out Before in 1997. He’d started Incommunicado Press pretty much on a whim, and, since his background was in music promotion and design (he was also running his own font company), his methods of selling books were the same ones by which independent record companies sold records - lots of touring, performance, T-shirts, any gimmick he could think of. When Peter Plate and I did a West Coast tour, Hustwit filled the trunk of the rental car with books, did the driving, and acted like a carnival barker at the shows. The experience of traveling with him was exhilarating and surreal in equal measure.
Incommunicado Press lasted less than five years. Hustwit got disheartened by not being able to sell beautifully-designed (by him) books that got good reviews but remained largely invisible because he couldn’t afford to buy display space on the tables at the big bookstores. Just before giving up, he tried to convince me that traditional publishing was on the way out and that the future lay in print-on-demand books and e-books. I told him he was crazy, but of course he wasn’t - he was just 12 years ahead of his time. He was supposed to publish How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy?, and, so many years later, I published it in the formats he had championed.
The influence of Incommunicado can still be seen in U.S. independent publishers, but, having decided to hang it up, Hustwit moved on, leaving the publishing world and becoming a filmmaker. When he said he was going to make a film about a font, I thought he was either joking or crazy. As Helvetica proves, he was serious and sane. Anyone who wants to know where U.S. media will be ten years from now might want to find out what Gary Hustwit is thinking right now.
Imagine this scenario in a T.V. show:
A man and a woman are kissing. We see the woman reach into her pocket and pull out a knife. They continue to kiss. We now see only their faces, but the woman makes a sudden, violent movement, the man cries out in pain, and it is clear that she has stabbed him with the knife.
Now imagine this scenario:
The first of these could easily be shown on broadcast T.V. in the U.S. The second could not.
None of the many witnesses I spoke with yesterday saw the young victim either holding or shooting a gun and firmly believe he was unarmed. ABC7’s Carolyn Tyler balanced the police claim that they shot the youngster in self-defense by interviewing Trivon Dixon, who said: “He was running. How could he be a threat in retreat? And he wasn’t running backwards, turning around shooting. He was in full throttle, running away from the police. I don’t see in any way how he could be a threat to the police.”
The Associated Press has warned its journalists not to express any opinions on social networks. In a memo to staff, managing editor Tom Kent wrote:
In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news.
This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues.
AP’s News Values and Principles state that anyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. This point is contained in our social network guidelines as well.
Failure to abide by these rules can lead to disciplinary action.
The vast majority of our tweets on these stories — and on other issues in the news — have been completely in line with our guidelines. They pose no problem at all, and are consistent with the importance of AP staffers being active on social networks.
But social networks, however we may configure our accounts or select our friends, should be considered a public forum. AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues.
Please let your supervisor or me know if you have any questions on this. And thanks.
It’s interesting that Obama waits to announce the killing of Osama bin Laden on the anniversary of Bush’s “mission accomplished” claim - and at a time that interrupts Donald Trump’s T.V. show.
Neil Postman and Guy Debord both called it.
Here’s a fascinating dialogue between Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath about self-publishing and e-books, in which Eisler talks about how he turned down a half-million dollars from a publisher.
I’m something of a Luddite, and I predicted that e-books would never catch on, but it turns out that Amazon is selling more e-books than paperbacks. Very soon, I’m going to put out my backlist as e-books, and also my novel How Do You Like Your Blue-Eyed Boy? which is being published in French as part of Regarde les Hommes Mourir, but has never been published in English.
I found the following exchange between Eisler and Konrath particularly interesting (I’ll explain why after the excerpt):
Barry: The royalty/peasant mentality is pervasive, largely invisible to the people who are part of it, and manifests itself in a lot of contexts. Look what happened when I published my blog post, The Ministry of Truth.
Joe: The one about your NPR essay?
Barry: Right, my essay examining Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four as a thriller, which I wrote at NPR’s invitation. The blog post examined the way NPR edited the essay, and how NPR’s edits revealed that fundamentally, NPR is an establishment media player.
Joe: Your editor was pissed.
Barry: He was. NPR called up Random House and complained about my blog post. And my editor then dutifully complained to me. At first, I didn’t understand the complaints at all. I said, “Why don’t they complain in the comments section of my blog? You know, the box where it says, ‘Leave Your Comment.’ Why not engage my argument? Why are they complaining to you in private?”
Joe: Because they didn’t want to imply you were an equal.
Barry: Bingo. Their attitude was, “If we argue in public with this unwashed blogger, by implication it puts the blogger on the same footing as NPR.” So instead, they called another establishment player, Random House, to settle it all privately. “Straighten out this peasant, won’t you? He’s making us all look bad.”
The weird thing was how much sense the whole thing made to my editor and how little it made to me. I mean, it’s not like I took a dump all over NPR; I just pointed out that they’re an establishment media player playing by establishment media rules. An entirely legitimate and worthwhile argument. But they weren’t concerned about the merits of the argument; they were concerned that the argument was being raised at all, and by someone without the appropriate status to raise it. I just didn’t get it. I asked my editor what, is there some lese majeste law protecting NPR from respectful public criticism? It’s bizarre, how delicate establishment egos can be, how frightened they are of criticism from the wrong quarters.
Joe: Peasants aren’t allowed to criticize the royalty.