Five Best Monday Columns

Jackson Diehl on Obama's delay tactics, Mohamed Keita on African journalism, Juliette Kayyem on Indonesia's tsunami prep, L. Gordon Crovitz on journalism on the internet, and Adam Gopnik on Mad Men nostalgia

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Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post on Obama's delay tactics "Wherever war rages, crisis looms, or a truculent strongman glowers, the message from the White House has been the same: 'Give me space,'" writes Diehl. Obama said those words to President Medvedev of Russia, explaining that his ability to negotiate in an election year is hampered. And Diehl says the sentiment is similar elsewhere, describing Obama's stalling tactics in a range of conflicts, from Syria to Israel to North Korea. But Diehl says events in North Korea have already shown delay can be "disastrous" because it hands power over to leaders like Kim Jong Un. "That's the problem with asking for 'space': It tends to get filled by others."

Mohamed Keita in The New York Times on journalism in Africa Recent years have seen a rise in persecution for independent journalists operating across the African continent. "In the West, cynicism about African democracy has led governments to narrow their development priorities to poverty reduction and stability; individual liberties like press freedom have dropped off the agenda, making it easier for authoritarian rulers to go after journalists more aggressively," writes Keita. The rising influence of China as a trading partner also gives African governments a model of the press that doesn't prize freedom. Keita uses Ethiopia as an example where investigative reporting has changed the country for the better but new policies have clamped down on it. "[S]upport for the press ... must be integrated into a wider strategy of political and media reforms."

Juliette Kayyem in The Boston Globe on Indonesia's disaster preparation "Most scholars in disaster management acknowledge that the truest evaluation of any response system is one that gets as close to a catastrophe as real life allows, but falls short of real damage," writes Kayyem. And so the fear that a tsunami might follow last week's earthquake near Indonesia provided valuable insight into their disaster response after a 2004 tsunami killed hundreds of thousands. The performance wasn't perfect, but populations did begin to evaluate dangerous areas. The most important lesson is that historical memory is the best way to have populations protect themselves. When people remember how to behave from a previous crisis, they can teach future generations. "Governments can warn and support, but the public may be its own best protector."

L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal on reporting in the internet age The responses from a class of Yale journalism students when asked how the internet would have changed the reporting of the Watergate story revealed to Bob Woodward an overconfidence in the power of the internet. When he reported his surprise reading their answers, last week, it led to a wider discussion of journalism in the internet era. "Mr. Woodward concludes that the Internet is 'not that magic and it doesn't always shine that bright,'" writes Crovitz. "It's a great tool for research, including for linking data that before might have been public but was hard to put together ... But at a time when the federal government is only getting bigger and state and local governments are so badly mismanaged, the Web is still no substitute for old-fashioned reporting."

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker on Mad Men nostalgia The return of Mad Men has rekindled debate about whether the show engages only in 1960s nostalgia, or whether it speaks to a more forward-looking truth. "So it seems time to pronounce a rule about American popular culture: the Golden Forty-Year Rule. The prime site of nostalgia is always whatever happened, or is thought to have happened, in the decade between forty and fifty years past," writes Gopnik. He proceeds through the 20th century, giving examples of ways each decade's pop culture spoke to the decade 40 years previous. He suggests it's because the 40-somethings who make movies and produce music are pondering the era just before their birth. This means, he writes, we will only fully understand how the Obama years have solidifed in our memory during the 2050s. "Forty years from now, we'll know, at last, how we looked and sounded and made love, and who we really were."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.