Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Among the important studies the Committee to Protect Journalists does annually are its reports on the number of journalists jailed and killed around the world.

Sadly, this year's report on journalists behind bars  -- just out today -- shows a new record high of 262, up from 259 last year. It also points at least a partial finger of blame at President Donald Trump's unfair fake news claims.

As CPJ stated:

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoricfixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21.

See the full report HERE

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


It's hard to believe only two months have passed since The New York Times first broke the story of Harvey Weinstein and the numerous women who revealed acts of sexual harassment and other unacceptable behavior by the Hollywood producer.

Since then, the issue has exploded with similar claims, and worse, against powerful men ranging from Kevin Spacey to Matt Lauer. And with swift repercussions that have lost these and other men jobs, contracts and, most importantly, respect.

But as important is the respect, support and awareness that these brave women have sparked for themselves and other survivors of such offensive behavior -- and a believability that should not have taken so long to come about.

Among those also to be credited are the news outlets such as the Times, The Washington Post and others who have dug into the stories and disclosed the horrible pattern of abuse by some of America's most powerful and most famous men.

Knowing the backlash their subjects would inflict, the news outlets in most cases did the most thorough reporting through in-depth interviews and fact-checking of accusers, researching of claims, dates and times, and running down every possible piece of evidence that backs up their reporting.

In the case of the Post, which broke the story of legendary journalist Charlie Rose's history of harassment, a false claim attempted by the disgraced James O'Keefe outlet Project Veritas was exposed after an O'Keefe minion tried to trick the newspaper into believing a fake accusation about U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

The Post showed its professionalism by checking the claim that Moore, already the subject of numerous accusations of abusive behavior and harassment of under-aged girls, had impregnated the woman as a teen. When it didn't check out, they revealed the attempted scam. 

And the Times continued its work today with a lengthy 8,000-word story on Page One that revealed Weinstein's behavior went beyond the harassment and abuse to influential deal-making aimed at silencing his accusers and threatening reprisals.

It reported, in part:

He gathered ammunition, sometimes helped by the editor of The National Enquirer, who had dispatched reporters to find information that could undermine accusers. He turned to old allies, asking a partner in Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premier talent shops, to broker a meeting with a C.A.A. client, Ronan Farrow, who was reporting on Mr. Weinstein. He tried to dispense favors: While seeking to stop the actress Rose McGowan from writing in a memoir that he had sexually assaulted her, he tried to arrange a $50,000 payment to her former manager and throw new business to a literary agent advising Ms. McGowan. The agent, Lacy Lynch, replied to him in an email: “No one understands smart, intellectual and commercial like HW.”

The Times report goes further to detail how the Hollywood mogul allegedly traded favors with tabloid reporters to kill negative coverage of him or his clients, while also claiming many Hollywood agents knew of his sexual harassment and still sent clients to work with him. 

Time magazine, meanwhile, revealed its Person of the Year today, acknowledging these same sex assault and harassment survivors for the influence they have had. Dubbed "The Silence Breakers," the Time cover story describes several examples of women who were mistreated and how and why they came forward.

Time stated:
This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight. But it has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries but don't even seem to know that boundaries exist. They've had it with the fear of retaliation, of being blackballed, of being fired from a job they can't afford to lose. They've had it with the code of going along to get along. They've had it with men who use their power to take what they want from women. These silence breakers have started a revolution of refusal, gathering strength by the day, and in the past two months alone, their collective anger has spurred immediate and shocking results: nearly every day, CEOs have been fired, moguls toppled, icons disgraced. In some cases, criminal charges have been brought.

As the story continues to break and more names and accusers are expected to come forward, journalists need to keep battling against the threats of those who would seek to silence the silence breakers, and those who believe them.

And with the Pulitzer Prize juries set to review entries in just a few weeks, don't be surprised if these stories and others are among some of the top picks.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


My favorite Pulitzer Prize winner this year had to be the tiny Storm Lake Times of Storm Lake, Iowa, a 3,000-circulation paper that took home the editorial writing prize on Monday for some real  shoe-leather work.

Editor and publisher Art Cullen raised the issue of how local government entities planned to defend themselves against lawsuits related to agricultural and irrigation toxins in local water. When they would not reveal their funding, the paper kept digging and uncovered the fact that the defense cash came from companies known for their own questionable practices such as Koch Industries and Monsanto, according to The Washington Post.

The Pulitzer Board described the work as "editorials fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa."

For years I was lucky enough to cover the Pulitzer Prizes annually for Editor & Publisher. When the biggest awards in journalism were announced inside the third-floor World Room at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I was as excited as any of the hopeful candidates.

At E&P, we also had a string of finding out the finalists names in advance for several years, a scoop that upset the decision-makers at Columbia, but one that still gets some people reaching out to me for such information. Alas, the well of leaks dried up years ago.

More important, however, was the idea that the Pulitzer could be won by any newspaper, of any size or readership. To this day, The New York Times - which garnered three more prizes on Monday - can be challenged by the likes of a Point Reyes Light or Grand Forks Herald in the competition that gives no weight or sympathy to staff size or revenue.

You win because you speak truth to power, dig up the real story, or challenge the status quo. 

In my 11 years at E&P, I was lucky to write about many notable Pulitzer winners -- ranging from The Village Voice's Mark Schoofs, who won that weekly's first Pulitzer in 2000 for a lengthy series on AIDS in Africa (for which he caught malaria during his time overseas) to The Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, MA., honored in 2003 when it went all out on the story of four local boys who drowned in a river boating tragedy.

One of my favorites, however, was The Boston Globe's Spotlight team revelations about the Catholic Church. Although far from a small newspaper, The Globe had additional challenges as it took on one of the city's sacred institutions - a battle many saw in the 2016 Oscar-winning film Spotlight

What the film failed to mention, however, was that the coverage won the 2003 Public Service Pulitzer, considered to be the most prestigious, and the only one without a cash prize.

So as this year's winners properly enjoy their accolades, knowing they are well-earned in this time of newsroom cutbacks and instant deadlines over dogged reporting and fact-finding, readers should also rejoice that such true newspapering is still going on.

And as the editor of the Storm Lake Times put it, still scaring "the bejeebers" out of those in power.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Very sadden to hear today of the death of Jimmy Breslin, the legendary former columnist for the New York Daily News, Newsday, New York Herald-Tribune and others.

For those of us from several generations, Breslin was New York. The epitome of the loud-talking, tough-writing, cigar-smoking newsroom scribe who would dig out the news, and his views, with little concern for backlash.

He took on the streets with real stories about real people, and the politicians with gritty truth -- even running for city council president himself once. His typewriter -- yeah, remember typewriters? -- plucked words that attacked many previous ivory towers, from City Hall to the Vatican.

His books ranged from novels of quirky characters to non-fiction looks at issues ranging from the early New York Mets to the Nixon impeachment.

When he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1986, I was a sophomore at Brooklyn College studying journalism and news and read his daily missives with joy and hope that a journalist's words could make a difference. 

I am sure I was not alone in seeing the way Breslin, and many in those past tabloid and daily newspaper days of New York and elsewhere, could speak truth to power and demand answers.

And he was in the news himself at some moments. Along with his city council run, Breslin drew international attention in the summer of 1977 when the so-called Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz sent a letter to Breslin revealing his psychotic thoughts and plans during a murder spree that ended with six dead and seven wounded. 

When the Pulitzer committee gave Breslin his prize, they wrote that it was for "columns that consistently champion ordinary citizens." That was him to a tee.

When I got my first job at a small newspaper in New Jersey two years later, I always remembered Breslin's approach in that way. That it is how ordinary people were affected by government, crime, taxes, schools, and daily events that was important in journalism. Any news person worth their salt knows that is the focus, or should be, of most any news story.

During my career, I have been lucky to interview Breslin on several occasions. First during my time at Editor & Publisher, and more recently at Media Matters for America. The last time was just four years ago when I wrote about the 37 journalists on the NRA's "enemies list," Breslin among them. 

His reaction: "Put me first on the list."

One of my favorite stories was Breslin's piece in 1963 on the man who would dig JFK's grave. Dispatched to Washington by the Herald Tribune to find an angle on the funeral of the 35th president, Breslin has written that the gravedigger was the most likely unknown part of the story, and among the most important simply for his job.

Breslin wrote, in part:

Clifton Pollard was pretty sure he was going to be working on Sunday, so when he woke up at 9 a.m., in his three-room apartment on Corcoran Street, he put on khaki overalls before going into the kitchen for breakfast. His wife, Hettie, made bacon and eggs for him. Pollard was in the middle of eating them when he received the phone call he had been expecting. It was from Mazo Kawalchik, who is the foreman of the gravediggers at Arlington National Cemetery, which is where Pollard works for a living. "Polly, could you please be here by eleven o'clock this morning?" Kawalchik asked. "I guess you know what it's for." Pollard did.

He hung up the phone, finished breakfast, and left his apartment so he could spend Sunday digging a grave for John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

See the entire column HERE.

He revealed years later that when Pope John Paul I died in 1978, he went to Rome looking again for the under-written story. He came up with the idea of writing about the embalming of the pope, which his piece viewed as poorly done in Italy at the time. He said his then editors at the Daily News declined the idea.

And now it is we who write about this death, and his life. And at a time when national politics and local government need fiery news voices more than ever, let's hope that those in our profession seek to continue Breslin's work even as they face stiffer competition, budget cutbacks and a White House more anti-press than ever.