Tuesday, April 10


Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post has questioned whether Mika Breziniski should have moderated a Women's Economic Forum at the White House.He maintained that she “is entitled to have opinions, on an opinion show, But I think the optics of moderating at the white house are not ideal,” according to a TVNewser.com report.

Journalists are increasingly under fire for joining political parties, signing petitions, donating to candidates, thinking twice before attending public rallies sponsored by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, for speaking engagements with advocacy groups.

Most reporters have a point of view, and news organizations try to impose policies, not just on politics but other community activities, too. For example, here is an excerpt from Reuters' policy: 

"Outside work, Reuters respects the right (and in some countries the obligation) of staff to vote in elections and referendums and does not seek to interfere with that right. The company also recognises that staff enjoy certain fundamental freedoms as a result of their nationality or where they live. Reuters, however, expects journalistic staff in all branches of editorial to be keenly sensitive to the risk that their activities outside work may open their impartiality to questioning or create a perception of bias.... The Trust Principles and the values of unbiased journalism in deciding whether to donate to certain charitable causes or be active in the affairs of their community." [Emphasis added.]

NPR's policy was scrutinized after it sent a reminder about its code of ethics to editorial staff: "NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them. This restriction applies to the upcoming Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallies."

NPR had to go on the defensive. "We are not violating the civil liberties of our employees," wrote Vivian Schiller, former NPR president. "We understand that our employees are citizens as well as journalists. Our policy is not intended to tell them how to live their lives, nor do we compel anyone to become a reporter or work for NPR. But when an individual decides to sign on with NPR as a journalist, he/she understands that comes with certain rules."

NPR's policy on political donations is equally problematic, encouraging a lack of transparency: "Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist's impartiality."

Modern politics and ideological philosophies extend into many parts of life - protecting the environment, property ownership and taxation and making appeals, health care, religion, and education. 

Could the next controls be telling journalists that they cannot send their children to certain schools, practice a faith, purchase a home in certain neighborhoods, seek certain health treatments, write novels, marry, invest, or search out hobbies and friends?

In his book Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism, media historian Eric Burns wrote about journalism circa the American Revolution and he warns that journalists and readers from that era "would be startled by, and perhaps not altogether approving of, the extent to which we have tamed the wildly inglorious impulses of their journalism."

Reporters may start an article with objectivity, but few end that same report with no attitude or opinion. An article lacking in persuasion, advice, analysis or, yes, even morality is not worth reading. 

Every reporter has a point of view. It's not unusual for journalists to admit and monitor their biases, review counterarguments, and issues the hardest challenges on those they support. Perhaps it's impossible to avoid bias in journalism.

Photo of  the Islamic Center of America of Detroit, largest mosque in the United States, courtesy of Dane Hillard and Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, January 14

Culture force

Afghanis may have a better idea of the complete role of US special operation forces than many Americans do. And it's not just about tracking down culprits like Osama bin Laden.

Reporting for the Tampa, Tribune, Howard Altman quotes Air Force Maj. Ge. David J. Scott:  "[T]he larger role of special operators – on average older, better educated and better trained than general purpose troops – is in 'non-kinetic' missions like disaster relief, civil affairs, winning the hearts and minds at the village level and foreign internal defense, all designed to work 'by, with and through host governments.'"

Women soldiers can volunteer to join the Cultural Support Program:  "to serve as enablers supporting Army special-operations combat forces in and around secured objective areas....  training will primarily focus on basic human behavior, Islamic and Afghan cultures, women and their role in Afghanistan, and tribalism."

A year's commitment is required.

Photo, US Department of Defense

Tuesday, January 10

Afghan kittens

Even US Marines like kittens.

Daniela Caride of Taildom reports on a mission led by Marines to transfer pet cats from Afghanistan to the United States: "Brian Chambers found Kiki and his sister, Bones, at only 3 weeks old. Their mother had disappeared and the kittens were left alone to fend for themselves."

Expect to see kittens in the sequel to Fear of Beauty. In fact, a set of yellow tabbies opens the book, and they're based on experiences with Rosebud, shown above, in New York City, circa 1979.

Saturday, December 31

Ding dong

Reason to be thankful that Laashekoh has no cell phones: 

The Wall Street Journal reports that people load special ringtones on phones in case the Taliban stop them and check. "The growing popularity of Taliban-safe phones highlights the increasing sense of insecurity across Afghanistan - and in particular in Kabul," writes Dion Nissenbaum and Habib Khan Totakhil.

We can control what we show, we can hide what we know. But does that change how we think?

Thursday, December 22


Books allow strangers and those who are already very close to discover deeper connections. The inscriptions provide clues into the feelings behind these connections.

Wednesday, October 20


Noah Shachtman in Wired's Danger Room: "In Afghanistan, local and NATO forces are amassing biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens. And now, with NATO’s backing, the Kabul government is putting together a plan to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May."

One Army biometrics manager admitted in the article that such databases become "hit lists" if they fall into the wrong hands. 

The biometrics of an Afghanistan National Police officer from the Kuh-e Safi district are added to the national database with a  handheld monitor.  The system uses fingerprints, iris imaging and facial recognition technology. 

 (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia and US Army Spc. William E. Henry, Task Force Cyclon Public Affairs)