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."
Raymond Bonner is an investigative reporter living in London. He was previously a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and a staff writer at The New Yorker, and is the author of Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
A Brooklyn-based group is arguing that the displacement of longtime residents meets a definition conceived by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
No one will be surprised to learn that the campaign to build a national movement against gentrification is being waged out of an office in Brooklyn, New York.
For years, the borough’s name has been virtually synonymous with gentrification, and on no street in Brooklyn are its effects more evident than on Atlantic Avenue, where, earlier this summer, a local bodega protesting its impending departure in the face of a rent hike, put up sarcastic window signs advertising “Bushwick baked vegan cat food” and “artisanal roach bombs.”
Just down the block from that bodega are the headquarters of Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight “gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.” For too long, organizers with the alliance say, people who otherwise profess concern for the poor have tended to view gentrification as a mere annoyance, as though its harmful effects extended no further than the hassles of putting up with pretentious baristas and overpriced lattes. Changing this perception is the first order of business for Right to the City: Gentrification, as these organizers see it, is a human-rights violation.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Climate change means the end of our world, but the beginning of another—one with a new set of species and ecosystems.
A few years ago in a lab in Panama, Klaus Winter tried to conjure the future. A plant physiologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he planted seedlings of 10 tropical tree species in small, geodesic greenhouses. Some he allowed to grow in the kind of environment they were used to out in the forest, around 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Others, he subjected to uncomfortably high temperatures. Still others, unbearably high temperatures—up to a daily average temperature of 95 degrees and a peak of 102 degrees. That’s about as hot as Earth has ever been.
It’s also the kind of environment tropical trees have a good chance of living in by the end of this century, thanks to climate change. Winter wanted to see how they would do.
In New Orleans and elsewhere, old-line parochial schools are seeing their enrollments plummet.
NEW ORLEANS—A more or less orderly line of 4-year-olds, the boys in uniform blue polo shorts and the girls in plaid-checked jumpers, line up in the corridor of St. Rita Catholic School in the neighborhood known as Uptown.
College banners hang from the ceilings, inspirational passages on the walls, and a sign on the door that says these newest, youngest St. Rita scholars will be heading to college in 2029.
Catholic schools like this one have exceptional records of success; almost all of their graduates do, in fact, go on to college. But that hasn’t been enough to keep them from hemorrhaging students.Confronted with falling birth rates and demographic shifts, rising tuition, the growth of charter schools, and other challenges, parochial schools are seeing their enrollments plummet.
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?