Gone With the Papers-the-Death-of-Journalism

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

I visited the Hartford Courant as a high school student. It was the first time I was in a newsroom. The Connecticut paper’s newsroom, the size of a city block, was packed with rows of metal desks, most piled high with newspapers and notebooks. Reporters banged furiously on heavy typewriters set amid tangled phone cords, overflowing ashtrays, dirty coffee mugs and stacks of paper, many of which were in sloping piles on the floor. The din and clamor, the incessantly ringing phones, the haze of cigarette and cigar smoke that lay over the feverish hive, the hoarse shouts, the bustle and movement of reporters, most in disheveled coats and ties, made it seem an exotic, living organism. I was infatuated. I dreamed of entering this fraternity, which I eventually did, for more than two decades writing for The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor and, finally, The New York Times, where I spent most of my career as a foreign correspondent.

Newsrooms today are anemic and forlorn wastelands. I was recently in the newsroom at The Philadelphia Inquirer, and patches of the floor, also the size of a city block, were open space or given over to rows of empty desks. These institutions are going the way of the massive rotary presses that lurked like undersea monsters in the bowels of newspaper buildings, roaring to life at night. The heavily oiled behemoths, the ones that spat out sheets of newsprint at lightning speed, once empowered and enriched newspaper publishers who for a few lucrative decades held a monopoly on connecting sellers with buyers. Now that that monopoly is gone, now that the sellers no long need newsprint to reach buyers, the fortunes of newspapers are declining as fast as the page counts of daily news sheets.

The great newspapers sustained legendary reporters such as I.F. Stone, Murray Kempton and Homer Bigart who wrote stories that brought down embezzlers, cheats, crooks and liars, who covered wars and conflicts, who told us about famines in Africa and the peculiarities of the French or what it was like to be poor and forgotten in our urban slums or Appalachia. These presses churned out raw lists of data, from sports scores to stock prices. Newspapers took us into parts of the city or the world we would never otherwise have seen or visited. Reporters and critics reviewed movies, books, dance, theater and music and covered sporting events. Newspapers printed the text of presidential addresses, sent reporters to chronicle the inner workings of City Hall and followed the courts and the police. Photographers and reporters raced to cover the lurid and the macabre, from Mafia hits to crimes of passion.

We are losing a peculiar culture and an ethic. This loss is impoverishing our civil discourse and leaving us less and less connected to the city, the nation and the world around us. The death of newsprint represents the end of an era. And news gathering will not be replaced by the Internet. Journalism, at least on the large scale of old newsrooms, is no longer commercially viable. Reporting is time-consuming and labor-intensive. It requires going out and talking to people. It means doing this every day. It means looking constantly for sources, tips, leads, documents, informants, whistle-blowers, new facts and information, untold stories and news. Reporters often spend days finding little or nothing of significance. The work can be tedious and is expensive. And as the budgets of large metropolitan dailies shrink, the very trade of reporting declines. Most city papers at their zenith employed several hundred reporters and editors and had operating budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The steady decline of the news business means we are plunging larger and larger parts of our society into dark holes and opening up greater opportunities for unchecked corruption, disinformation and the abuse of power.

A democracy survives when its citizens have access to trustworthy and impartial sources of information, when it can discern lies from truth, when civic discourse is grounded in verifiable fact. And with the decimation of reporting these sources of information are disappearing.

The increasing fusion of news and entertainment, the rise of a class of celebrity journalists on television who define reporting by their access to the famous and the powerful, the retreat by many readers into the ideological ghettos of the Internet and the ruthless drive by corporations to destroy the traditional news business are leaving us deaf, dumb and blind. The relentless assault on the “liberal press” by right-wing propaganda outlets such as Fox News or by the Christian right is in fact an assault on a system of information grounded in verifiable fact. And once this bedrock of civil discourse is eradicated, people will be free, as many already are, to believe whatever they want to believe, to pick and choose what facts or opinions suit their world and what do not. In this new world lies will become true.

I, like many who cared more about truth than news, was pushed out of The New York Times, specifically over my vocal and public opposition to the war in Iraq. This is not a new story. Those reporters who persistently challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question and examine the reigning political passions, always tacitly embraced by the commercial media, are often banished. There is a constant battle in newsrooms between the managers, those who serve the interests of the institution and the needs of the advertisers, and reporters whose loyalty is to readers. I have a great affection for reporters, who hide their idealism behind a thin veneer of cynicism and worldliness. I also harbor a deep distrust and even loathing for the careerists who rise up the food chain to become managers and editors.

Sidney Schanberg was nearly killed in Cambodia in 1975 after staying there for The New York Times to cover the conquest of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge, reporting for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Later he went back to New York from Cambodia and ran the city desk.  He pushed reporters to report about the homeless, the poor and the victims of developers who were forcing families out of their rent-controlled apartments. But it was not a good time to give a voice to the weak and the poor. The social movements built around the opposition to the Vietnam War had dissolved. Alternative publications, including the magazine Ramparts, which through a series of exposés had embarrassed the established media organizations into doing real reporting, had gone out of business.

The commercial press had, once again, become lethargic. It had less and less incentive to challenge the power elite. Many editors viewed Schanberg’s concerns as relics of a dead era. He was removed as city editor and assigned to write a column about New York. He used the column, however, to again decry the abuse of the powerful, especially developers. The then-editor of the paper, Abe Rosenthal, began to acidly refer to Schanberg as the resident “Commie” and address him as “St. Francis.” Rosenthal, who met William F. Buckley almost weekly for lunch along with the paper’s publisher, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, grew increasingly impatient with Schanberg, who was challenging the activities of their powerful friends. Schanberg became a pariah. He was not invited to the paper’s table at two consecutiveInner Circledinners held for New York reporters. The senior editors and the publisher did not attend the previews for the film “The Killing Fields,” based on Schanberg’s experience in Cambodia. His days at the newspaper were numbered.

The city Schanberg profiled in his column did not look like the glossy ads in Rosenthal’s new lifestyle sections or the Sunday New York Times magazine. Schanberg’s city was one in which thousands of citizens were sleeping on the streets. It was one where there were lines at soup kitchens. It was a city where the mentally ill were thrown onto heating grates or into jails like human refuse. He wrote of people who were unable to afford housing. He lost his column and left the paper to work for New York Newsday and later The Village Voice.

Schanberg’s story was one of many. The best reporters almost always run afoul of the mandarins above them, a clash that sees them defanged and demoted or driven out. They are banished by a class of careerists whom the war correspondent Homer Bigartdismissed as “the pygmies.” One evening Bigart was assigned to write about a riot, drawing from the information provided by reporters on the scene. As one reporter, John Kifner, called in from a phone booth rioters began to shake it. Kifner relayed the distressing bit of news to Bigart, who, sick of the needling of his editors, reassumed Kifner with the words: “At least you’re dealing with sane people.”

Those who insist on reporting uncomfortable truths always try the patience of the careerists who manage these institutions. If they are too persistent, as most good reporters are, they become “a problem.”

This battle, which exists in all newsrooms, was summed up for me by the Los Angeles Times reporter Dial Torgerson, whom I worked with in Central America until he was killed by a land mine on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua. “Always remember,” he once told me of newspaper editors, “they are the enemy.”

When I met with Schanberg in his apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side he told me, “I heard all kinds of reports over the years that the wealthy patrons of the Metropolitan Museum of Art would often get to use the customs clearance provided to the museum to import personal items, including jewelry, which was not going to the museum. I can’t prove this, but I believe it to be true. Would the Times investigate this? Not in a million years. The publisher at the time was the chairman of the board of the museum. These were his friends.”

But Schanberg also argues, as do I, that newspapers prove a vital bulwark for a democratic state. It is possible to decry their numerous failings and compromises with the power elite and yet finally honor them as important to the maintenance of democracy. Traditionally, if a reporter goes out and reports on an event, the information is usually trustworthy and accurate. The report can be slanted or biased. It can leave out vital facts. But it is not fiction. The day The New York Times and other great city newspapers die, if such a day comes, will be a black day for the nation.

Newspapers “do more than anyone else, although they left out a lot of things,” Schanberg said. “There are stories on their blackout list. But it is important the paper is there because they spend money on what they chose to cover. Most of the problem of mainstream journalism is what they leave out. But what they do, aside from the daily boiler plate, press releases and so forth, is very, very important to the democratic process.”

“Papers function as a guide to newcomers, to immigrants, as to what the ethos is, what the rules are, how we are supposed to behave,” Schanberg added. “That is not always good, obviously, because this is the consensus of the Establishment. But papers, probably more in the earlier years than now, print texts of things people will never see elsewhere. It tells them what you have to do to cast a vote. It covers things like the swearing in of immigrants. They are a positive force. I don’t think The New York Times was ever a fully committed accountability paper. I am not sure there is one. I don’t know who coined the phrase Afghanistanism, but it fits for newspapers.

Afghanistanism means you can cover all the corruption you find in Afghanistan, but don’t try to do it in your own backyard. The Washington Post does not cover Washington. It covers official Washington. The Times ignores lots of omissions and worse by members of the Establishment.”

“Newspapers do not erase bad things,” Schanberg went on. “Newspapers keep the swamp from getting any deeper, from rising higher. We do it in spurts. We discover the civil rights movement. We discover the women’s rights movement. We go at it hellbent because now it is kosher to write about those who have been neglected and treated like half citizens. And then when things calm down it becomes easy not to do that anymore.”

The death of newspapers means, as Schanberg points out, that we will lose one more bulwark holding back the swamp of corporate malfeasance, abuse and lies. It will make it harder for us as a society to separate illusion from reality, fact from opinion, reality from fantasy. There is nothing, of course, intrinsically good about newspapers. We have long been cursed with sleazy tabloids and the fictional stories of the supermarket press, which have now become the staple of television journalism. The commercial press, in the name of balance and objectivity, had always skillfully muted the truth in the name of news or blotted it out. But the loss of great newspapers, newspapers that engage with the community, means the loss of one of the cornerstones of our open, democratic state. We face the prospect, in the very near future, of major metropolitan cities without city newspapers. This loss will diminish our capacity for self-reflection and take away the critical tools we need to monitor what is happening around us.

The leaders of the civil rights movement grasped from the start that without a press willing to attend their marches and report fairly from their communities on the injustices they decried and the repression they suffered, the movement would “have been a bird without wings,” as civil rights leader and U.S. Rep. John Lewissaid.

“Without the media’s willingness to stand in harm’s way and starkly portray events of the Movement as they saw them unfold, Americans may never have understood or even believed the horrors that African Americans faced in the Deep South,” Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, said in

2005 when the House celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. “That commitment to publish the truth took courage. It was incredibly dangerous to be seen with a pad, a pen, or a camera in Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia where the heart of the struggle took place. There was a violent desperation among local and State officials and the citizens to maintain the traditional order. People wanted to keep their injustice a secret. They wanted to hide from the critical eye of a disapproving world. They wanted to flee from the convictions of their own conscience. And they wanted to destroy the ugly reflection that nonviolent protestors and camera images so graphically displayed.

So when the Freedom Riders climbed off the bus in Alabama in 1961, for example, there were reporters who were beaten and bloodied before any of us were.”

Our political apparatus and systems of information have been diminished and taken hostage by corporations. Our government no longer responds to the needs or rights of citizens. We have been left disempowered without the traditional mechanisms to be heard. Those who battle the corporate destruction of the ecosystem and seek to protect the remnants of our civil society must again take to the streets. They have to engage in acts of civil disobedience. But this time around the media and the systems of communication have dramatically changed.

The death of journalism, the loss of reporters on the airwaves and in print who believed the plight of the ordinary citizen should be reported, means that it will be harder for ordinary voices and dissenters to reach the wider public. The preoccupation with news as entertainment and the loss of sustained reporting will effectively marginalize and silence those who seek to be heard or to defy established power. Protests, unlike in the 1960s, will have a difficult time garnering the daily national coverage that characterized the reporting on the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement and in the end threatened the power elite. Acts of protest, no longer covered or barely covered, will leap up like disconnected wildfires, more easily snuffed out or ignored. It will be hard if not impossible for resistance leaders to have their voices amplified across the nation, to build a national movement for change. The failings of newspapers were huge, but in the years ahead, as the last battle for democracy means dissent, civil disobedience and protest, we will miss them.

Chris Hedges is a weekly Truthdig columnist and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His newest book is “The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.”

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Naheed Ali’s Book on Diabetes Receives Rave Reviews

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

dr AliIn this day and age, readers of all ages everywhere are looking at their quality of life, dietary habits, and physical issues linked to unrelenting diseases such as diabetes. Bestselling author Naheed Ali takes charge and counts on life-changing answers to help diabetics have a fruitful, better life in his brand new project titled ‘Diabetes and You: A Comprehensive, Holistic Approach.’

The objective is to raise knowledge and information concerning diabetes via this realistic guide book. The information is offered without any nonsense and utilizes a straight-to-the-point technique. The book also tells us how diabetes brews stress and how someone can tackle the illness in more ways than one.

In this remarkably thorough book, Dr. Ali brings up issues and provides genuine outtakes and useful findings for healthy living as a diabetes sufferer. Under his thoughts, fundamental concepts about the heart, mind, motivation, and everyday diet, affect the overall knock which diabetes has on our health. Additionally, he thinks diabetics should have a comprehensive idea about diabetes to stay away from further physical mishaps that this disease can bring to the table. The book serves up the steps one needs for churning up a healthy lifestyle to face diabetes the proper way, as the author is an avid supporter of the adage, ‘Prevention is quite better than cure.’

Naheed Ali, MD, is an author, speaker, and health advocate. His book, ‘Diabetes and You: A Comprehensive, Holistic Approach’ became the #1 diabetes book on Amazon.com recently. Ali has been quoted or heard on KDRO Radio Kansas City, Weight Watchers Magazine, Star Magazine, Atlanta Business Chronicle, Fox News, Dallas Morning News, MSN Health, WVON Radio Chicago, AOL News, and others.

Dr. Ali received a Biology degree from Adelphi University and went on to earn his M.D. in 2008. He published a refereed medical journal article at 23, and now pens books with detailed health information that normally remains unresolved, often interpreted on his own hard knock experiences.

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Being A Muslim Soldier at Fort Hood

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

IslamOnline.net & Newspapers

CAIRO – Every morning, Sgt. Fahad Kamal reports for work at Fort Hood military base to treat ailing soldiers returning from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Being a good Muslim means being good to everyone,” Kamal, a Muslim army medic, told The Dallas Morning News on Sunday, November 22.

The 26-year-old, who served in Afghanistan before moving to Fort Hood, spends most of his time treating his traumatized fellow soldiers.

On November 5, Kamal heard the news that a Muslim army physician went on a shooting rampage in the military base, killing 13 people and wounding 30.
Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim army psychiatrist, is the sole suspect in the shooting.

Immediately, Kamal joined his fellows in rescuing the wounded of the attack, refusing to leave the base to see if Fort Hood needed help treating victims.
The Muslim combat medic said that Islam is against violence.

“That man happened to be a Muslim, but in our religion, we don’t condone such violence.”

*Fort Hood Tragedy… Muslim Soldiers Speak Out

Maj. Derrill Guidry, another Muslim soldier at Fort Hood, agrees.

“He (Hasan) cracked under the pressure of his own fears,” he said.

“In terms of Islam, he was just plain wrong.”

The Fort Hood attack drew immediate condemnation from all leading American Muslim organizations, including Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

US Muslim groups have also launched a fund to help the families of the Fort Hood victims.

Tolerant Army

Since joining the army, Kamal has been open about his Islamic faith, answering his fellow soldiers’ questions about the religion.

“Jesus is one of our prophets as well,” Kamal answers his fellow soldiers, to their great surprise.

When Kamal first decided to sign up for the army, his mom initially refused, fearing discrimination.

“I was scared,” his mother, Nabeela, said.

“I didn’t want him to be far from the family, because he is my oldest son. Father was going through chemotherapy at that time.”

The mother had another concern.

“Are they going to look down on you?” she asked.

“Mom, this is America,” Kamal answered.

At his military service, Kamal easily mixed with soldiers of other faiths, swapping gifts with friends at Christmas and feasting on both roast turkey and biryani on Thanksgiving Day.

Concerns have been growing about anti-Muslim backlash over the Fort Hood shooting.

US Army chief of staff General George Casey has warned that the attack could prompt a backlash against Muslim soldiers.

But Kamal says that he has never felt discriminated against as a Muslim in the US military.

He even sees the Army as more knowledgeable and tolerant of Islam than the general public.

The Muslim soldier recalls one day when he was bantering with a fellow soldier, when he ribbed his friend, saying “You loser!”

“You terrorist!” the fellow soldier replied.

Though the soldier was joking, the drill sergeant called the guy out in front of everyone.

“You window licker! You peanut butter eater! This Army is diverse,” the sergeant angrily told the soldiers at the drill.

Muslim Patriot

In 2007, Kamal was deployed to a 15-month tour in war-torn Afghanistan.

During his tour in the southern province of Kandhar, Kamal packed a copy of Sura Yaseen, “the heart of the Quran,” in the left chest pocket of his uniform.

The Muslim medic was valued by his commander for his native Urdu language skills, sometimes asking him to translate or brief troops on basic greetings.

He was also admired for remaining calm under pressure.

“I like helping people,” said Kamal. “It feels good to see you made a difference.”

During his tour, Kamal went on night patrols, where soldiers are encountered with improvised explosive devices.

“He’s a very patriotic individual, and he enjoys what he does,” Kamal’s brother, Faez, 23, said.

Many Muslim soldiers have lost their lives during their military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At Arlington National Cemetery, amid a sea of crosses, there are crescents carved on tombstones. There are Muslim names on Iraq war memorials at Fort Hood.

“We’re serving and sacrificing alongside our fellow service members,” said Jamal Baadani, a Marine Corps veteran who founded the Association for Patriotic Arab Americans in Military after the 9/11 attacks.

There is no official count of Muslims serving in the 1.4 million-strong US armed forces because recruits are not required to state their religion.

But according to the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affair Council, there are more than 20,000 Muslims serving in the military.

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