The latest twist in the phone-hacking scandal: the announcement by a judge heading the government inquiry that he'll conduct seminars on press ethics
Lord Justice Brian Leveson speaks at the inquiry into alleged phone hacking by the British media / Reuters
LONDON -- The phone-hacking scandal here encircling the Murdoch media empire has been marked by each day bringing a new revelation more startling than the day before. Today's blaring headline in the Guardian, which has been the leader in breaking phone hacking stories, was that the News of the World, which has been the leader in hacking into phones, may have hacked into the phone of a woman whose eight-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered by a pedophile in 2000.
Adding to the salacious and sordid nature of the story, the Guardian reported that the phone had been given to the grieving mother, Sara Payne, by Rebekah Brooks, the now-disgraced former editor of the News of the World. Brooks, who has steadfastly denied she ever had any knowledge of phone hacking during her stewardship, said in response to the latest revelation that it was "unthinkable" that Payne may have been targeted by anyone working for News of the World.
Brooks and Payne had formed a close personal friendship after the editor took up the crusade for a law to allow parents to acquire more information about convicted sex offenders living in their area. During that campaign, which was successful, Brooks said the phone was given to Payne by News of the World to make it easier for the paper's reporters to keep in touch with her.
However staggering the latest revelations might be, they are not what leave me shaking my head in disbelief as I follow this scandal. On the contrary, it is an announcement by the judge who has been named to head a government-appointed inquiry.
"The focus of the inquiry,"Justice Brian Leveson said at a news conference on Thursday, "is the culture, practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter's relationship with the public, the police and politicians."
I have read and reread that sentence so many times that I can recite it rote. But I still can't come to grips with it. A government committee is going to look into the culture, practices, and ethics of the press? And further, the committee is going to examine journalists' relationship with politicians, the police, and the public?
As Justice Leveson elaborated about his investigation, I was more dumbfounded. He said that beginning in October, he will conduct seminars on the ethics of journalism, as well as on investigative reporting. He also reminded journalists that he could require them to provide the committee with their files, but said that at this point, "I would rather invite" journalists, editors and owners to do so.
Press seminars? Sounds like something more appropriate for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
Probing investigative journalists, and "inviting" editors and owners to cooperate? Many a congressman might salivate at the notion of getting the files of Sy Hersh or Jane Mayer, or having Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. at the witness table. But American journalists go to jail before appearing even before a grand jury.
"It's unthinkable in America," said Jon Snow, the prominent anchor of Channel 4 News, said about the Leveson committee. "Absolutely."
Yet no one here seems troubled by this committee and its mandate. It's routine. Indeed, three prominent journalists are members of the committee, including David Bell, a former chairman of the Financial Times.
What explains the difference? The First Amendment, Snow says. Britain has no constitutional proscriptions on government regulation of the press.
An Official Secrets Act keeps British newspapers from publishing many classified government documents that would be published in the United States. British libel law allows public figures to keep newspapers from printing information that may tarnish their image. At the request of plaintiffs, who have included soccer stars and business executives, judges routinely issue "superinjunctions," which ban a newspaper from publishing even truthful information about an individual.
Then there is the cozy relationship between British journalists and British politicians, which has been the subject of considerable hand-wringing here in light of the phone hacking scandal.
"The truth is, we have all been in this together - the press, politicians and leaders of all parties - and yes, that includes me," Prime Minister David Cameron said a few weeks ago, in the early days of the scandal. "Because party leaders were so keen to win the support of newspapers we turned a blind eye to the need to sort this issue, get on top of the bad practices, to change the way our newspapers are regulated."
Rupert Murdoch was the most assiduously courted press baron, because he had the most power, his newspapers and television station reaching a substantial percentage of the British population. He was a virtual member of the cabinet of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Blair's top aides wrote in his memoir. He was one of the first guests received by Conservative Party leader David Cameron upon becoming prime minister -- entering through the back door as Mr. Murdoch, to some amusement, told a parliamentary committee hearing last week.
But we American journalists should be careful about becoming holier than thou on this matter of relationships with politicians. Our relationships may not be as open and brazen as in Britain, but they are potentially as damaging. Many a front-page story or scoop comes from a journalist's having formed a strong bond with a politician, or having curried favor by writing favorable stories--and withholding critical ones.
One final thought on the differences between American and British journalism. At American newspapers, there is a separation between editorial and news reporting. At no newspaper is that more evident than at the Wall Street Journal, where over the years, its editorial page has been staunchly conservative, while the reporting has been politically straight, often exposing government practices and programs that the editorial board commends.
At American newspapers, there is an editor for the editorial page, and a different person edits the news pages. At British papers, there is only one editor, for both.
This is not to say that American papers are better. But there is a difference between the approaches, the practices, the ethos, and the ethics. We will see more as the Leveson committee holds its "seminars."
The Republican nominee publicly asked a foreign government to leak emails from a cabinet secretary, dismissed the Geneva Conventions, and seemed confused about where Tim Kaine came from.
Just when it starts to seem that Donald Trump can’t surprise the jaded American media anymore, the Republican nominee manages to go just a little bit further.
During a press conference Wednesday morning that was bizarre even by Trump’s standards, he praised torture, said the Geneva Conventions were obsolete, contradicted his earlier position on a federal minimum wage, and told a reporter to “be quiet.”
But the strangest comments, easily, came when Trump was asked about allegations that Russian hackers had broken into the email of the Democratic National Convention—as well as further suggestions that Vladimir Putin’s regime might be trying to aid Trump, who has praised him at length. Trump cast doubt on Russia’s culpability, then said he hoped they had hacked Hillary Clinton’s messages while she was secretary of state.
In his convention speech, he suggested that Muslims need to earn the rights that all other Americans enjoy.
I love Bill Clinton. But I didn’t love his speech Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Given the job of humanizing his wife, he came across as genuinely smitten. But he failed to do what he’s done in every convention speech he’s delivered since 1992: tell a story about where America is today and what can be done to move it forward. He called his wife a great “change maker” but didn’t define the change America needs right now.
But the worst moment of the speech came near its end, when Clinton began to riff about the different kinds of people who should join Hillary’s effort. “If you love this country, you’re working hard, you’re paying taxes, you’re obeying the law and you’d like to become a citizen, you should choose immigration reform over someone that wants to send you back,” he said. Fair enough. Under any conceivable immigration overhaul, only those undocumented immigrants who have obeyed the law once in the United States—which includes paying taxes—will qualify for citizenship. Two sentences later, Clinton said that, “If you’re a young African American disillusioned and afraid … help us build a future where no one’s afraid to walk outside, including the people that wear blue to protect our future.” No problem there. Of course African Americans should be safe from abusive police, and of course, police should be safe from the murderers who threaten them.
Since tough questioning has failed to hold the candidate accountable, broadcast outlets need to apply pressure where it counts—to Trump’s ego.
The media is nothing if it can’t hold a presidential candidates accountable—if newsrooms and editorialists can’t force a White House aspirant to keep a promise, uphold precedent, and address suspicions that he’s a tool of Moscow.
Journalism is a joke if we let Donald Trump slide.
And so I have an idea for CNN, MSNBC, FOX News and the three broadcast networks:
Stop interviewing Trump, and stop paying his surrogates, until he releases his tax records.
I don’t make this proposal lightly. I understand as well as anybody that interviewing presidential candidates is an important way to inform the public, especially when the questioning is objective, tough, and revealing of the candidate’s character and policies.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
The Democratic vice-presidential candidate built a career around winning urban and suburban voters. Could this be what Hillary Clinton needs to offset Donald Trump’s rural support?
PHILADELPHIA—In choosing Tim Kaine as her running mate, Hillary Clinton picked a partner who embodies the Democratic Party’s increasingly metropolitan future.
Kaine’s political ascent in Virginia—from mayor of Richmond to lieutenant governor and then governor and senator—has been propelled by his strength in the state’s racially diverse and heavily white-collar urban and suburban areas.
In following that approach Kaine departed decisively from the model that Mark Warner, now his fellow Democratic senator, utilized to win election as Virginia’s governor in 2001. Warner aggressively courted culturally conservative rural voters. Though Warner initially had great success with his strategy, it is Kaine’s model that has proven more durable for Democrats—not only in Virginia but, increasingly, around the United States. Even Warner relied on metropolitan voters to survive a hard turn toward the GOP outside urban areas in his razor-thin 2014 reelection. Those are the same voters who carried President Obama to his Virginia victories in 2008 and 2012—and on whom the Clinton/Kaine ticket is relying in 2016.
Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against three police officers, meaning no one will face criminal penalties in the April 2015 death of the Baltimore man.
In April 2015, a 25-year-old black man in Baltimore named Freddie Gray was arrested on questionable grounds and thrown into a police van. By the time he arrived at the county jail less than an hour later, his neck was nearly severed. After a week in a coma, Gray died. His death set off mass demonstrations and a few riots in Baltimore, and they galvanized the police-reform movement: How could a man who posed no threat to the police have been killed while in police custody? To many observers, the case seemed like a clear-cut example of police brutality that called out for criminal prosecution, and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby quickly brought a strong slate of charges against six officers.
Women are in fact more likely to choose lower-paying jobs, but numbers do a poor job of highlighting the cultural biases that can shape their decisions.
In discussions of the gender-pay gap, there’s one counter-argument that comes up a lot: The gap isn’t real, because after adjusting for the different types of jobs men and women tend to have, the gap shrinks to single digits. And so, the argument goes, men and women aren’t paid the same amount of money because they are choosing to go into different professions, and the labor market rewards their choices differently. In other words: unequal work, hence unequal pay.
There’s a lot of truth to this: Men and women do tend to choose different careers, so much so that researchers have a term for it: “gender occupational segregation.” And because of this occupational sorting, the most commonly mentioned figure of the gender-gap debate—that an American woman only earns 79 cents for every dollar a typical American man makes—is indeed too simple.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.
Without elaboration, I will note for the record something, yet another thing, that to the best of my knowledge has never happened before:
The Republican presidential nominee repeatedly said just now, at a live press conference, that he “hopes” Vladimir Putin and his Russian government have control of the emails hacked from Hillary Clinton’s server — emails that, as Clinton’s critics have taken the lead in pointing out, include her time as Secretary of State and contain classified information.
You can see a clip of one of the times he actually said it here:
Trump to Russia: I hope you find the missing Hillary emails (some of which could contain classified intelligence) pic.twitter.com/fy919ChGuE
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.