Sunday, February 18, 2018


I was lucky enough to attend the premiere last week of a great new documentary on some of the worst child labor abuses worldwide, including in the United States itself.

Invisible Hands, which is directed by filmmaker/journalist Shraysi Tanden and produced by Charles Ferguson, shovels out the truth in a direct and sometimes upsetting approach. It reveals near slavery-like conditions for youngsters in India, China, Indonesia, Ghana, the Congo, and even the U.S.

The screening was appropriately held at the United Nations. 

And many American corporations, from Nestle to Philip Morris, are among the villains in this story, which shows their overworking of children in everything from cocoa bean fields to electronics factories. And here in America, the tobacco fields are causing health risks to some that surpass those of smokers.

Tanden's work is enhanced in many ways by her ability to speak with the very youngsters being exploited. 

See more on the film HERE. And you may see it at the Oscars next year.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


I can usually find the humor and fair comment in a political cartoon, even if I don't agree with it.

But Wednesday's image in the Albuquerque Journal of two men robbing a couple at gunpoint and being referred to as "Dreamers," left me and many others puzzled.

As those following the recent DACA immigration debate know, "Dreamers" is the nickname given to immigrants who were brought here as undocumented children and have since grown into working, law-abiding adults. The DACA debate includes proposals to give them a path to citizenship.

Today's cartoon by Sean Delonas was seen by many as both offensive and a mischaracterization of who they are.

It brought swift online condemnation, as well as a note from Editor Karen Moses. See it below:

Political cartoons are often satire and poke at more than one point of view. I do not presume to know what cartoonist Sean Delonas was trying to convey in his cartoon that was published in Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal. 

But on one level it appeared to us to be poking at President Trump’s rhetoric by portraying a quaking Republican couple who were painting Dreamers with a broad, totally false, brush.

Obviously, that was not the message received by many readers. Instead, many saw an extremely objectionable cartoon and thought that was the position of the Journal. It is not.

In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions. This was not the intent, and for that, the Journal apologizes. I repeat that the Albuquerque Journal does not condone racism or bigotry in any form.

I also want to reiterate that we do not agree with many of the opinions expressed on the editorial pages, which are intended to encourage debate. Also, the editorial board decides what to publish on these pages, and that is separate from the newsroom and its reporters. 

Karen Moses, Albuquerque Journal

Thursday, February 1, 2018


Janet Cooke
I recently went to see the new film, The Post, which documents the battle of The Washington Post, and to a degree The New York Times, over publication of the Pentagon Papers.

The Pentagon Papers were, of course, the secret classified history of the Vietnam War conducted over many years by the Defense Department and leaked in 1971 to the Times, and later the Post, by Vietnam veteran and military analyst Daniel Ellsberg.

With the likes of Tom Hanks as then-editor Ben Bradlee, Meryl Streep as Post publisher Katharine Graham and Steven Spielberg directing, the film was nothing short of fantastic. 

It told a great true story of how journalism is often needed -- then and now -- to uncover lies and deception at the highest offices of the nation. The movie, which I urge you to go watch, involves not only obtaining classified information, but disclosing what that classified information says.

In this case, the secret report revealed how the federal government had consistently lied to the American people about the war and the true difficulties that were being faced in battle and in opposition.

Like All the President's Men some 40 years earlier, which depicted the Post's uncovering of the Watergate scandal, this film is a great reminder of the need for a strong and demanding press. In both cases, the paper used secret sources to get the truth and faced public and legal battles from the White House. 

For years, both the Times and the Post have rightly pointed to these stories as examples of their success and dogged reporting. The two remain among the top news sources in the nation and have in recent years done some of the best reporting on Donald Trump, as well as the recent sexual harassment and assault cases that could well see some more Pulitzer Prize honors in the coming months.

But at the same time, both have a black eye in their history of a different sort that might deserve similar cinema examination.

In the Post's case it is Janet Cooke, while the Times stumbled with Jayson Blair. 

Jayson Blair
These infamous cases of reporters perpetuating serious public lies in their reporting, their forced ousters and the subsequent efforts by each newsroom to repair the damage with in-depth and humbling self-examinations are just as worthy of film scrutiny as the handling of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. 

This coming May will mark 15 years since the Blair scandal erupted at The Times, which revealed in a lengthy Mother's Day 2003 report how the young reporter systematically plagiarized, falsified and outright created numerous stories over several years.

The revelation of deceit and falsifications by Blair eventually led to his firing and the resignations of Times Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd. It also sparked the creation of the paper's Public Editor, an ombudsman-type position that helped keep the paper on the right track for more than 10 years before being eliminated in 2017.

An Independent Lens 2014 documentary, A Fragile Trust, examined the Blair story quite well. But to date no other docudrama style film has been made.

And its been nearly 37 years since Cooke was forced to return a Pulitzer Prize for her false story, Jimmy's World, about a non-existent, eight-year-old heroin addict. The front-page story began to unravel after the award sparked demands to find and help the youngster.

When Cooke eventually admitted her journalistic sin, she was let go and then-executive editor Ben Bradlee offered to resign, but was kept on the job.

Interestingly, it was the internal reviews by both papers that helped repair their damaged reputations. The Times' Mother's Day report spanned four inside pages, while the Post ombudsman of the time, Bill Green, was credited with writing one of the most in-depth investigations and reviews of any news outlet.

The Post, which hired the first-ever newspaper ombudsman back in 1970, eliminated the position a few years ago.

Cooke's resignation letter. Credit: Mike Sager
The idea of a Cooke or Blair movie is not to undercut the great accomplishments of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate stories. They remain important examples of investigative news and the need for such reporting -- especially at a time when so many in Washington, Donald Trump chief among them, are seeking to knock down true journalism.

You can include in that grouping Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning film from two years ago that highlighted how The Boston Globe broke the Catholic church scandal back in 2003. It won the Best Picture Oscar, while the reporting it was based on won the Pulitzer Prize.

But to look at the Cooke story or Blair's transgressions is important to remind people what can go wrong, and how these papers dealt with it and regained trust. A similar story was that of Stephen Glass, the fabricating writer from The New Republic who was the subject of the movie Shattered Glass after his fabrications were exposed in 1998.

A great lesson from that story was how the magazine disclosed his wrongdoing and bounced back with strengthened accuracy checks and new policies to guard against it in the future.

Of course, in the current anti-news frenzy there is a danger that many of those who scream "fake news" would use a Blair or Cooke flick to support their false claims. Still, it is a great opportunity to point out the need for such tight journalistic standards and the ability for newsrooms to admit mistakes and go about learning from them.

A Cooke film has been discussed and several scripts written, according to veteran producer Doug Wick, whose past work includes Gladiator and Working Girl. He still co-owns the rights to her story along with TV and film legend James L. Brooks, who's known for The Simpsons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Terms of Endearment. 

"We're still interested in it and if suddenly there is a perfect actress who means something it helps get it done," Wick told me in a recent interview. "It has been tricky to get the script exactly right. You don't have that much leeway because it is a tragedy. We keep revisiting it and looking for the right opportunity and that's always about the right filmmaker, and we are circling it. We haven't exactly discovered the right version to make it a great movie."

One of those who has been involved in trying to get a film made is journalist Mike Sager, who worked with Cooke at the Post, briefly dated her and has been in touch ever since. He penned a lengthy GQ piece about her in 1996 and another in 2016 in Columbia Journalism Review. He also received a portion of the $750,000 rights fees along with Cooke, according to a 1996 Los Angeles Times story.

"I think she probably has a conflicted view of a movie coming out and is not proud of that time in her life and wishes it would just go away," Sager said in an interview. "I would love it to happen, but I haven't seen an indication that anyone is willing to pick it up and run with it. If they are, they are welcomed to find me." 

As for Cooke, Sager said she remains somewhat secluded and has not done any interviews in years. She was unreachable for comment on the film idea.

Wick said one of the interesting parts of the story is the idea that Cooke was wrongly assumed to have "street cred" and connections because she was African-American. 

"Because she is one of the few African-American reporters there is a stereotyping and misunderstanding of her skill set," Wick said. "The assumption that she somehow would create street cred, that she of course would be the person who would know who is shooting heroin in the street ... the complicity with the Post that because she was black somehow she would have access to the black culture, which she had not grown up particularly connected with at all."

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


As the Pulitzer Prizes inch closer for 2018 (the deadline for entries just passed and awards will be announced April 6), speculation is growing as to who is likely to take home the coveted honors.

Odds on favorites have to include coverage of the Trump-Russia story and the sexual assault and harassment scandals.

One of the hints of potential winners each year are the finalists for The Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Journalism given annually by the Harvard University Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Those finalists were released today. See them below:

The six finalists for the 2018 Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting are:

Asbury Park Press
Shannon Mullen and Payton Guion
Renter Hell
This investigation exposed the hazardous living conditions of thousands of tenants in New Jersey’s government-supported housing. As a result, the state issued more than 1,800 violations, and two state senators introduced a bipartisan bill aimed at fixing many of the issues brought to light in the series.

BuzzFeed News
Melissa Segura
Broken Justice In Chicago
BuzzFeed News investigated a Chicago detective accused by the community of framing more than 50 people for murder. The findings from the series led to the freeing of an innocent man from prison after 23 years, and authorities reviewed the cases of other prisoners.

Miami Herald
Carol Marbin Miller, Audra D.S. Burch, Emily Michot, and the Miami Herald digital team
Fight Club: An Investigation into Florida Juvenile Justice
This investigation found widespread beatings and brutality, sexual exploitation, and medical neglect in Florida’s juvenile detention centers. As a result, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice overhauled its hiring practices and created an Office of Youth and Family Advocacy to investigate complaints.

NPR and ProPublica
Nina Martin and Renee Montagne
Lost Mothers
The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world; NPR and ProPublica found at least half could be prevented with better care. This series tracked maternal deaths, saved lives by raising public awareness of complications, and prompted legislation in New Jersey and Texas.

STAT and The Boston Globe
David Armstrong and Evan Allen
The Addiction Trade
STAT and The Boston Globe exposed treatment centers, middlemen, and consultants that exploited people seeking addiction treatment, and has led to criminal and congressional probes. Stories ranged from insurance fraud schemes, to poor care at Recovery Centers of America, to patient health put at risk on the TV program Dr. Phil.

The Washington Post
The Washington Post staff
The Washington Post examined Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible links between the Trump campaign and Kremlin agents, and the United States’ response throughout 2017. The Post’s reporting contributed to the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Special citation:
The New York Times
Emily Steel, Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Michael S. Schmidt, and New York Times staff
The Harassment Files: Enough Is Enough
By revealing secret settlements, persuading victims to speak, and bringing powerful men across industries to account, such as Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K, New York Times reporters spurred a worldwide reckoning about sexual harassment and abuse.

The winners will be announced March 6.

Monday, January 29, 2018


It is interesting what is and isn't being covered about the turmoil at the Los Angeles Times in recent weeks.

With a unionization vote and changes in both publisher and editor, the Times itself has been on top of the story, along with The New York Times, which ran a lengthy account this morning.

But few other national outlets have appeared to weigh in on the doings out west. It would seem to be of interest with claims of union-busting attempts, a "shadow newsroom" in the works, several sexual harassment allegations and the recently dismissed former publisher's "frat house behavior."

See the L.A. Times coverage HERE and The New York Times HERE. Ken Doctor, meanwhile, has a good account at

The Wall Street Journal had a more limited story, while The Washington Post used an AP report.

C'mon CNN, MSNBC and Fox. Not to mention the networks and news magazines. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, January 18, 2018


The New York Times made an interesting move today on its letters page, turning over the newspaper real estate to Donald Trump supporters and posting only letters from those who support the president and continue to do so.

The paper plans to publish a similar page on Friday, but with letters from those who voted for Trump, but now object to his work.

The paper posted this explanation:

The Times editorial board has been sharply critical of the Trump presidency, on grounds of policy and personal conduct. Not all readers have been persuaded. In the spirit of open debate, and in hopes of helping readers who agree with us better understand the views of those who don’t, we wanted to let Mr. Trump’s supporters make their best case for him as the first year of his presidency approaches its close. Tomorrow we’ll present some letters from readers who voted for Mr. Trump but are now disillusioned, and from those reacting to today’s letters and our decision to provide Trump voters this platform.

See all the letters HERE.

Some excerpts are below:

....Donald Trump has succeeded where Barack Obama failed. The economy is up, foreign tyrants are afraid, ISIS has lost most of its territory, our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem and tax reform is accomplished. More than that, Mr. Trump is learning, adapting and getting savvier every day. Entitlement reform is next! Lastly, the entrenched interests in Washington, which have done nothing but glad-hand one another, and both political parties are angry and afraid....

....I voted for Donald Trump and, considering the alternative, I would do so again. Newsflash: Not all Trump voters are Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” Many of us are well-informed and highly educated, and we are weary of the Democrats’ tiresome focus on identity politics, class warfare, and disparagement of corporations and the “wealthy.”....

.....By any measure President Trump’s first year has shown prodigious progress. As a child of the ’60s I admire his iconoclastic nature, optimism and unapologetic humanity. When asked during the campaign about his truthfulness, he replied that maybe he is too truthful. He does ruffle feathers, but seems to end up being right about most important things. I think Mr. Trump is doing a terrific job against all odds, and is getting better. I am proud when I see the First Couple representing us on the world stage. Tens of millions of thoughtful, compassionate Americans agree with me.....

Friday, January 12, 2018


In the ongoing coverage of Donald Trump nearly every journalistic question and media ethics challenge has arisen.

The latest is, well, a sh--hole.

That's the phrase the president reportedly uttered (sans dashes) during a recent White House meeting when he supposedly told the assembled participants that the U.S. should limit immigrants from countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and several African nations. 

Reports indicate he was reacting to a possible bipartisan agreement to keep the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, Act and ensure border security funding.

Some in attendance say Trump stated, "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?"

As you would expect, the profane and offensive language drew strong coverage, and harsh rebukes.

But it also raised the question of using such specific wording to quote the president.

Most news outlets, from CNN to The Washington Post, used the profanity in their web stories and even headlines, marking a rare occurrence. In many cases when such language is cited, dashes are often placed to break it up.

In print today, The New York Times and the Post used the entire phrase in their Page One stories, but not in print headlines. The New York Post, never one to shy away from a vulgar head, went with a local subway story on its front page, while the rival Daily News, not a Trump fan, declared "SH** FOR BRAINS" on the cover with a cartoonish image that depicted the president as such.

Cable news went with the full verbiage in on-screen graphics for much of the evening Thursday night. MSNBC backed off slightly this morning, while CNN kept with the full wording.

Trump is not the first president to use profanity in a private meeting. But such a direct attack on other nations' citizens, with a racist tinge as well, gives the incident more news value, especially when it relates to the hot-button issue of immigration.

How to report it, however, is clearly a mixed question. As we are seeing, different outlets are handling it in different ways.

The AP Stylebook, long the bible for such usage, states in its latest edition:

obscenities, profanities, vulgarities

Do not use them in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.

Try to find a way to give the reader a sense of what was said without using the specific word or phrase. For example, an anti-gay or sexist slur.

If a profanity, obscenity or vulgarity must be used, flag the story at the top for editors, being specific about what the issue is:

Eds: Note use of vulgarity "f---" [or "s---"] in story. However, online readers receiving direct feeds of the stories will not see that warning, so consider whether the word in question truly needs to be in the story at all.

When possible, confine the offending language, in quotation marks, to a separate paragraph that can be deleted easily by editors.
In reporting profanity that normally would use the words damn or god, lowercase god and use the following forms: damn, damn it, goddamn it.
If the obscenity involved is particularly offensive but the story requires making clear what the word was, replace the letters of the offensive word with hyphens, using only an initial letter: f---, s---.
In some stories or scripts, it may be better to replace the offensive word with a generic descriptive in parentheses, e.g., (vulgarity) or (obscenity).

When the subject matter of a story may be considered offensive or disturbing, but the story does not contain quoted profanity, obscenities or vulgarities, flag the story at the top:

The New York Times, in its own story about the issue, quoted its associate managing editor for standards, Phil Corbett, as saying, "It seemed pretty clear to all of us that we should quote the language directly, not paraphrase it. We wanted to be sure readers would fully understand what the story was about." It added that, "The Times, unlike some papers, omitted the obscenity from its headline and push alert, using the term 'vulgar language' instead."

"We are still inclined to be somewhat restrained -- for instance, by avoiding the actual vulgarities in the headline," Corbett added.

Asked for his policy, Post Executive Editor Martin Baron emailed: 
“When the president says it, we’ll use it verbatim. That’s our policy. We discussed it, quickly, but there was no debate.”