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."
Emma Perrier was deceived by an older man on the internet—a hoax that turned into an unbelievable love story.
Emma Perrier spent the summer of 2015 mending a broken heart, after a recent breakup. By September, the restaurant manager had grown tired of watching The Notebook alone in her apartment in Twickenham, a leafy suburb southwest of London, and decided it was time to get back out there. Despite the horror stories she’d heard about online dating, Emma, 33, downloaded a matchmaking app called Zoosk. The second “o” in the Zoosk logo looks like a diamond engagement ring, which suggested that its 38 million members were seeking more than the one-night stands offered by apps like Tinder.
She snapped the three selfies the app required to “verify her identity.” Emma, who is from a volcanic city near the French Alps, not far from the source of Perrier mineral water, is petite, and brunette. She found it difficult to meet men, especially as she avoided pubs and nightclubs, and worked such long hours at a coffee shop in the city’s financial district that she met only stockbrokers, who were mostly looking for cappuccinos, not love.
Three families of fallen servicemembers received next-day UPS letters from President Trump after a turbulent week in which Trump falsely claimed he had called “virtually all” of the families.
The Trump administration is scrambling to defend the president’s characterization of his communications with grieving military families, including rush-delivering letters from the president to the families of servicemembers killed months ago. Donald Trump falsely claimed this week that he had called “virtually” all fallen servicemembers’ families since his time in office.
Timothy Eckels Sr. hadn’t heard anything from President Trump since his son Timothy Eckels Jr. was killed after a collision involving the USS John S. McCain on August 21. But then, on October 20, two days into the controversy over the president’s handling of a condolence call with an American soldier’s widow, Eckels Sr. received a United Parcel Service package dated October 18 with a letter from the White House.
The staggering scope of the country’s infrastructure initiative—and what it means for the international order
The Pakistani town of Gwadar was until recently filled with the dust-colored cinderblock houses of about 50,000 fishermen. Ringed by cliffs, desert, and the Arabian Sea, it was at the forgotten edge of the earth. Now it’s one centerpiece of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative, and the town has transformed as a result. Gwadar is experiencing a storm of construction: a brand-new container port, new hotels, and 1,800 miles of superhighway and high-speed railway to connect it to China’s landlocked western provinces. China and Pakistan aspire to turn Gwadar into a new Dubai, making it a city that will ultimately house 2 million people.
China is quickly growing into the world’s most extensive commercial empire. By way of comparison, after World War II, the Marshall Plan provided the equivalent of $800 billion in reconstruction funds to Europe (if calculated as a percentage of today’s GDP). In the decades after the war the United States was also the world’s largest trading nation, and its largest bilateral lender to others.
A neuroscientist on how we came to be aware of ourselves.
Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?
The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.
Rumors are swirling over what took place in the final hours before four U.S. servicemen died—but a clear picture of what actually took place is only beginning to emerge.
On October 4, a small group of U.S. troops were preparing to leave a meeting with community leaders near the small town of Tongo Tongo in Niger. They were close to the Malian border, traveling in unarmored pick-up trucks with limited weaponry and a few dozen of their Nigerien counterparts. Then they were ambushed.
By the time the more than 30-minute assault was over, three U.S. troops were confirmed dead and two more were gravely injured. Another, Sergeant La David Johnson, was missing and his body would not be recovered for another two days. French aircraft, called in for back-up, circled overhead as fire was exchanged below. They later helped to evacuate survivors.
This account, based on public statements from the Trump administration, interviews with U.S. Africa Command officials; former State Department and intelligence officials; and the man who almost served as the senior director for Africa on the National Security Council, along with additional reporting from other news outlets like CNN and The Washington Post, suggests a direct link between the fatal ambush and the absence of a clear strategy or perhaps even a cursory understanding of U.S. operations in Africa by the Trump administration.
DeepMind’s new self-taught Go-playing program is making moves that other players describe as “alien” and “from an alternate dimension.”
It was a tense summer day in 1835 Japan. The country’s reigning Go player, Honinbo Jowa, took his seat across a board from a 25-year-old prodigy by the name of Akaboshi Intetsu. Both men had spent their lives mastering the two-player strategy game that’s long been popular in East Asia. Their face-off, that day, was high-stakes: Honinbo and Akaboshi represented two Go houses fighting for power, and the rivalry between the two camps had lately exploded into accusations of foul play.
Little did they know that the match—now remembered by Go historians as the “blood-vomiting game”—would last for several grueling days. Or that it would lead to a grisly end.
Early on, the young Akaboshi took a lead. But then, according to lore, “ghosts” appeared and showed Honinbo three crucial moves. His comeback was so overwhelming that, as the story goes, his junior opponent keeled over and began coughing up blood. Weeks later, Akaboshi was found dead. Historians have speculated that he might have had an undiagnosed respiratory disease.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
In Season 2, the terrific NBC sitcom continues to explore ethics without sacrificing complexity or humor.
Last month, the NBC sitcom The Good Place returned for its second year after a first season that was widely praised as “surreal and high-concept” and “ambitious and uniquely satisfying.” In the two-part pilot, the show introduced a woman named Eleanor (Kristen Bell) who dies and finds herself in a non-denominational heaven by mistake—and who decides to learn how to become a better person in order to earnher spot in the afterlife. With that premise, The Good Place revealed what would eventually become the show’s most important theme: ethics. To avoid being sent to The Bad Place, Eleanor enlists her assigned “soul mate,” a former professor of moral philosophy named Chidi (William Jackson Harper), to teach her how to change her selfish ways.
What I learned from attending a town-hall meeting and listening to students’ concerns
Sometimes it takes a group of young people to set you straight.
For months now, I’ve been reading about college students who’ve been seeking “safe spaces.” They’ve often been met by derision—even the highest ranked Urban Dictionary definition is mired in sarcasm, describing them as having “pillows” and “soothing music” that “allows them to recover from the trauma... of exposure to ideas that conflict with their leftist professors.”
I also had some mid-life skepticism about teenage hyperbole, that is, until I attended a town hall meeting at Duke University (my alma mater) earlier this month. The “community conversation,” as it was called, had been hastily convened to discuss the rash of racist and homophobic incidents on campus. Listening to those students—and watching their expressions—I realized that what’s been happening at Duke is serious, and no amount of sarcasm can disguise the pain and anger on campus, or cover up the real dangers lurking there.
A trove of recently released documents confirms that Washington’s role in the country’s 1965 massacre was part of a bigger Cold War strategy.
A trove of newly declassified diplomatic cables reveals a surprising degree of American involvement in a brutal anti-communist purge in Indonesia half-a-century ago.
In Indonesia in October 1965, Suharto, a powerful Indonesian military leader, accused the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) of organizing a brutal coup attempt, following the kidnapping and murder of six high-ranking army officers. Over the months that followed, he oversaw the systematic extermination of up to a million Indonesians for affiliation with the party, or simply for being accused of harboring leftist sympathies. He then took power and ruled as dictator, with U.S. support, until 1998.
This week, the non-profit National Security Archive, along with the National Declassification Center, published a batch of U.S. diplomatic cables covering that dark period. While the newly declassified documents further illustrated the horror of Indonesia’s 1965 mass murder, they also confirmed that U.S. authorities backed Suharto’s purge. Perhaps even more striking: As the documents show, U.S. officials knew most of his victims were entirely innocent. U.S. embassy officials even received updates on the executions and offered help to suppress media coverage. While crucial documents that could provide insight into U.S. and Indonesian activities at the time are still lacking, the broad outlines of the atrocity and America’s role are there for anyone who cares to look them up.