Al-Jazeera's "Palestine Papers" Embarrass All Sides

"Earlier this month, Al Jazeera launched a new feature on its Web site called the Transparency Unit — the network’s in-house version of WikiLeaks," Raffi Khatchadourian blogged Monday for the New Yorker magazine.

"When the unit first went online, there was not much coverage about it in English, but that changed over the weekend when Al Jazeera announced that it had gained access to a large tranche of confidential documents, now being called the 'Palestine Papers.' The papers appear to reveal internal diplomatic negotiations among Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States, to further the peace process in the Middle East."


"The revelations from the heart of the Israel-Palestine peace process are the product of the biggest documentary leak in the history of the Middle East conflict, and the most comprehensive exposure of the inside story of a decade of failed negotiations," Seumas Milne and Ian Black wrote for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

"The 1,600 confidential records of hundreds of meetings between Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders, as well as emails and secret proposals, were leaked to the Qatar-based satellite TV channel al-Jazeera and shared exclusively with the Guardian."

Alan Greenblatt reported for NPR that the documents "indicate that the Palestinian Authority was prepared to offer deep concessions on two of the thorniest issues in negotiations with Israel: Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees."


Dan Murphy wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "Robert Grenier, a former senior CIA official, writes for Al Jazeera that 'the overwhelming conclusion one draws from this record is that the process for a two-state solution is essentially over, that the history of the peace process is one of abject failure for all concerned.'

" 'As an American, the reaction I draw, frankly, is one of shame. My government has consistently followed the path of least resistance and of short-term political expediency, at the cost of decency, justice, and our clear, long-term interests. More pointedly, The Palestine Papers reveal us to have alternatively demanded and encouraged the Palestinian participants to take disproportionate risks for a negotiated settlement, and then to have refused to extend ourselves to help them achieve it, leaving them exposed and vulnerable. The Palestine Papers, in my view, further document an American legacy of ignominy in Palestine.'"

Khatchadourian, the New Yorker blogger, asked, "Has Al Jazeera taken the first step in a journalism arms race to begin acquiring mass document leaks? It would be surprising if other large news organizations are not already at work on their own encrypted WikiLeaks-style portals.


"The New York Times and the Guardian, for instance, have every incentive to follow in Al Jazeera’s footsteps and give people a way to submit sensitive material directly to them rather than through an intermediary, such as WikiLeaks.

"If they aren’t doing this, they most likely will start doing it eventually, and this raises several questions: In a future where in-house WikiLeaks portals are common to mainstream news organizations, is there a role for the original site? Will Julian Assange’s creation become a victim of its own success? And if his movement is taken over by established news organizations, how might it change?"

Ex-President Chides SPJ for Ending Helen Thomas Award

A former president of the Society of Professional Journalists rose to the defense of Helen Thomas, the 90-year-old former White House correspondent who was quoted in the Detroit News in December as saying, “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question."


"Because of her remarks about Israel and Zionist politics in recent months, Helen is now giving many of her colleagues in journalism hell and indigestion — and far too many of them are proving to be every bit as thin-skinned as the presidents, kings and dictators she has shaken a finger at for decades," Christine Tatum wrote Saturday in the Denver Post. She was reacting to an SPJ board vote this month to retire SPJ's Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.

"SPJ leaders have practically twisted themselves into pretzels to justify this shameful decision. It isn't about free speech, they say. Helen is perfectly entitled to that. Instead, this is about 'the good of the Society' — which, they insist, has been compromised by controversy that has consumed the organization's leaders," Tatum continued. "Their e-mail and voicemail accounts have been flooded. They have been called horrible names and have received unnerving threats. They have been hounded for interviews and statements from people with blatant agendas," wrote Tatum, a former Denver Post staff writer who was SPJ president in 2006-07.

" 'It's time we in SPJ stop focusing on this divisive topic and start focusing on what unites us,' SPJ's current national president, Hagit Limor, said.


"In other words, let's get back to defending free speech — just not Helen's.

"While many SPJ members have complained about Helen's incendiary opinions, the vast majority of protests are from people who aren't working in journalism, much less supporting the Society."


Features Editor, Arts Writer Leaving in N&O Cutbacks

"Once again, the News & Observer is reporting in its business pages that members of its own organization are losing their jobs," Neil Morris wrote last week in the Independent Weekly, an alternative paper in Raleigh, N.C.

"Today, 20 members of the organization were let go; an unknown number of them were offered voluntary buyouts.


"It's my particular displeasure to report that fellow film critic Craig Lindsey was among those laid off today by the McClatchy-owned paper. It's been my privilege to work with and around Craig for several years, getting to know both his renowned eccentricities and his boundless love of pop culture in general and movies in particular.

"His departure is not only personally troublesome but also adds to the number of major news dailies not providing full-time film criticism. Indeed, I believe Craig was the last full-time film critic employed by a major news daily in North Carolina."

Also leaving is a second black journalist, Features Editor Debra Boyette, the only department head of color. She had been features editor since March 2008 and was previously Features copy desk chief and weekend news editor.


"I've been in the newspaper business for 30 years, and I am looking at this as an opportunity — first to relax," Boyette told Journal-isms. "Eventually I hope to use my skills as an editor in a different setting, but I'm also open to whatever possibilities might be out there to do something totally different."

Linda Darnell Williams, senior editor at the paper, told Journal-isms on Monday, "everyone who apparently is leaving is extremely valuable to the newsroom. Lindsay, in particular, brought a unique voice to the paper. And, I've been impressed with the attention that the features staff gave to diverse content in recent years.

"I would think that anyone who cares whether the paper reflects the community would be as alarmed as I am about the trend of declining diversity in the newsroom."


Publisher Orage Quarles III informed employees of the staff reduction Tuesday in an e-mail, the paper reported.

"We continue to make our way through difficult times by making difficult decisions," Quarles wrote. "It is never easy to say goodbye to our friends and colleagues, but we must make these additional cuts to sustain our company and adjust to economic realities."

The Independent said Lindsey, 34, wrote on his Facebook page, "I must say, I’m not surprised that the powers to be put an end to my journalistic rampage in the Triangle, eliminating my position and telling me there is no more room at the paper for someone who mostly does film criticism. I’m kind of surprised that it didn’t happen sooner. . . . I will spend the next several weeks doing the certain-to-be-frustrating task of begging for another job. I say 'begging' because that is what I will most likely be doing, since nobody seems to be hiring. Maybe something will come my way. Maybe I’ll die in North Carolina homeless, starving and penniless. Who can say? Whatever will be, will be."


Groups Team to Fact-Check Obama's Speech, Responses

On Tuesday night, the Huffington Post is teaming up with National Journal, the Center for Public Integrity and the Sunlight Foundation to fact-check President Obama's State of the Union Address, Michael Calderone reported Monday for Yahoo News. "The groups also plan to fact-check Rep. Paul Ryan's Republican response and Rep. Michele Bachmann's tea party response."

Alex Weprin reported for TVNewser that, "All four major broadcast networks, along with the cable news channels, are bringing out the big name talent." Journalists of color include Deborah Roberts on ABC and Wendell Goler on Fox Broadcasting. On cable channels, commentator Juan Williams is scheduled on Fox News Channel, Roland Martin, Ali Velshi and Joe Johns on CNN, Eugene Robinson on MSNBC and Carl Quintanilla on CNBC.


"In the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Jan. 20-23 among 1,001 adults, 61% say they plan to watch the State of the Union address, either on television (54%) or the internet (7%). About a third (35%) say they don't think they will watch," Pew reported on Monday.

JFK Appointed First Black Associate Press Secretary

With the remembrances of the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration; the death last week of Sargent Shriver, first director of the Peace Corps; and the prospect of the first biracial White House press secretary in Bill Burton, now the deputy, it is worth recalling that Kennedy appointed the first African American official in the White House press office.


"When Andrew Thomas Hatcher was appointed associate White House press secretary by President John F. Kennedy in 1960, tempers flared across the nation," Ebony magazine wrote in a 1973 "Whatever Happened to . . ." piece. "Because he was the first black man to be named to the important capital position, the appointment was assailed on the grounds that the move was too drastic, that it created political problems and that Hatcher was not qualified for the job. According to his critics, for example, Hatcher once wrote a press release which mentioned 'Tuffs' University — a mistake that raised questions about his competence. The appointment stuck, however, and Hatcher pressed on in a climate of hostile whites.

"Hatcher was a former editor of the San Francisco Sun-Reporter, had served as regional Western representative of the Stevenson for President Committee in 1952 and 1956, and had been named California's assistant industrial commissioner in 1959, shortly before joining the Kennedy campaign crew."

At the time the Ebony piece was written, Hatcher was senior vice president of Hill & Knowlton, the public relations firm. The former aide to Pierre Salinger died "without news media fanfare" in July 1990 in Westchester County, N.Y., Simeon Booker reported two years later in Jet magazine.



"Gringo" Not Always Offensive, but It Can Be Distracting

NPR aired a first-person commentary by a young Latina — who is not an NPR employee — sharing her reaction to a lone gunman shooting a congresswoman and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote on Monday.

In the commentary, Daisy Hernandez, co-editor of Colonize This! Young Women on Today's Feminism, "expressed her 'brown' relief that the Tucson shooter was not Hispanic.


" 'It's safe to say there was a collective sigh of relief when the Tucson killer turned out to be a gringo,' Hernandez said on Jan. 12. 'Had the shooter been Latino, media pundits wouldn't be discussing the impact of nasty politics on a young man this week, they'd be demanding an even more stringent anti-immigrant policy.'

". . . Instead of a thoughtful discussion, the conversation on, in the blogosphere and on Fox News focused largely on the use of 'gringo.'

"Hernandez's essay was called a 'racialist rant.'

". . . You can read the 600-plus comments on, most of them critical of NPR for airing the word 'gringo,' which Merriam Webster defines as a term 'often disparaging a foreigner in Spain or Latin America especially when of English or American origin.'


"The Associated Press style guide, which NPR uses regularly, says it's a derogatory term for foreigners in parts of Latin America, and advises its use only in quotes."

However, NPR's new senior editor for diversity, Luis Clemens, after some debate and research, approved the word. Others signed off on it as well, Shepard wrote.

"Clemens, who is Cuban-American, doesn't always find 'gringo' offensive. The dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, which he says Spanish-speakers consider the ruling body for their language, gives 'gringo' a neutral definition.


". . . In this case, NPR hasn't provided a good explanation publicly — despite the reaction — aside from explanations I received when I inquired. Clearly, based on calls, e-mails and comments, there are radically different interpretations about the word. It may not be an insult in Spanish, but it can be interpreted as one in English.

"But there's an even more important reason not to use a word such as 'gringo': It's distracting. Had Hernandez written that she breathed a sigh of relief that the shooter was not Latino, it wouldn't have changed her meaning or the power of her piece."

D.C. Benefit for Haitian Journalists Canceled

" 'Night of Solidarity' with Haiti’s SOS Journalists, slated for the National Press Club Jan. 26, has been cancelled and may be scheduled for a later date," Hazel Trice Edney wrote Monday for her Trice Edney Newswire.


"The on again-off again event had apparently finally come together late last week when SOS President Guyler 'Guy' Delva, confirmed several performing stars, including Grammy Awarding winning Wyclef Jean. Plus five leading Haitian journalists were set to attend, he said.

"But, in an email Friday, he described events in Haiti as quickly unraveling amidst post-election controversy and the speakers who began cancelling one by one, including presidential candidates Michel 'Sweet Mickey' Markelly, also an entertainer, and Mirlande Manigat."

Meanwhile, Libbi Gordon wrote in the J-School Magazine of the University School of Journalism about three alumni who used their training to cover international tragedies: Yves Colon, Lara Jakes and Alonso Soto.


"After the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, most journalists sent reports of the aftermath to the rest of the world. Colon, however, reported directly to the Haitians about how to remain safe," the story said.

"Colon and a colleague crossed the border from the Dominican Republic one week after the earthquake to start a humanitarian news program. They produced daily radio broadcasts to keep Haitians informed during the aftermath of the earthquake. Because of low literacy rates, radio is the primary source of news and information for many Haitians.

"Several journalists from around the world joined Colon in Haiti to support the project. He also brought on Haitians — some with journalism experience, others without — to prepare broadcasts. Colon trained those with no journalistic skills in how to gather life-saving information, such as food distribution facts, and showed them how to broadcast vital messages, such as where lost family members could be located."


Back in the United States, a spokeswoman for Robert L. Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, said there had been no progress on a plan he announced in June for factories that will build construction materials in Haiti.

"Our proposal was submitted to the IHRC but to date there has been no movement on our proposal," Traci Blunt told Journal-isms last week, referring to the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former president Bill Clinton. The commission did not respond to a request for comment.