Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen: Can the Opinion Pages Resolve Anything?

dylan-farrow-blog480-v3Persuasive writing can be a release of the deepest emotions.  It is often cathartic and healing to share taboo topics in a public forum.  This past weekend, February 1-2, 2014, there were two prominent blogs in The New York Times that featured Hollywood film director Woody Allen’s daughter, Dylan Farrow.  Her open letter offers an opportunity to see how public writing can influence and incite public opinion.

The first is “An Open Letter from Dylan Farrow,” published in the Saturday issue of the New York Times.  It took the place of columnist Nicholas Kristof’s “On the Ground” series, described as a place that “expands on Nicholas Kristof’s twice-weekly columns, sharing thoughts that shape the writing but don’t always make it into the 800-word text. It’s also the place where readers make their voices heard.” Kristof followed up with “Dylan Farrow’s Story” in his Sunday opinion column.  Robin Abkarian of the LA Times responds to both blogs with “Does it really matter whom we believe?

These sexual abuse charges have been around for decades.  Now the blogosphere is hosting a 2.0 version.  How would you respond to Dylan Farrow?  Does it make you view the work of Woody Allen any differently?  Are the opinion pages of the NY Times the proper venue for airing out this case? After all, we aren’t going to resolve the charges on the opinion pages.   Nicholas Kristof explains his motivation:

So why publish an account of an old case on my blog? Partly because the Golden Globe lifetime achievement award to Allen ignited a debate about the propriety of the award. Partly because the root issue here isn’t celebrity but sex abuse. And partly because countless people on all sides have written passionately about these events, but we haven’t fully heard from the young woman who was at the heart of them.

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Number of journalists in jail reaches all-time record

Since 1990, the Committee to Protect Journalists has been issuing reports on the number of journalists jailed worldwide.  The news in 2012 is the worst ever.  Around the globe governments are imprisoning journalists for any number of reasons, but most especially for journalists who dare to critique the worst practices of regimes.  That quickly leads to charges of inciting anti-state terrorism.

In this season of giving where we acknowledge who’s been naughty and nice, we need to acknowledge the contributions that global journalists make and the risks they pose to report the story of what’s really happening–both on the ground in conflict, but also inside the corridors of those in power.

I do not have the courage of my convictions as do so many of those who now sit in jail for telling the truth.  Read the report here.

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Sex, Google, and Videotape

The jokes won’t stop coming.  He has an “open door policy” that gives her “full access.”  She’s “all in.”

The FBI investigation of David Petraeus “started with two women.”  Well let’s meet the main one, a soldier-scholar with great arms.

Here she is, waiting for any number of engagements.  The author of All In never knew a book title could become her own personal destiny.  Paula Broadwell showed off her Michelle Obama-worthy uppers on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart.

And here is an especially cringe-worthy interview with someone named Arthur Kade who cannot disguise his enthusiasm for sitting next to Broadwell.

Here is a photo of David Petraeus and his wife Holly, who have been married for 38 years.

Where does one begin with the Grecian fall of David Petraeus and his biographer/lover Paula Broadwell?  Petraeus, arguably one of the most highly decorated retired military men in U.S. history, was the civilian head of the Central Intelligence Agency until tendering his resignation on Friday, November 9th.  What seemed to be a simple “head to bed” transition in Petraeus’ relationship with Broadwell does not explain the reason for his resignation.  We live in an age when top government officials (e.g., Clinton, Gingrich) engage in extramarital affairs, but many manage to survive these peccadilloes in our “anything goes as long as you don’t wake up the cows” age.

It is not the extramarital affair an intelligence agency like the CIA cared about in this case.  Rather it was the opportunity by the lover or a third party to breach top security.  The FBI had been contacted months ago by Petraeus family friend Jill Kelley of Tampa, Florida, identified now as an unpaid social liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command, who complained that she was being sent anonymous threatening emails.  It turns out that Broadwell was sending said emails and the trail of threats wound up snaring Broadwell’s lover Petraeus through their Google email accounts.  Let’s hope that Petraeus’ Google email wasn’t something like “I’m too sexy” at Google dot com.  Google, like Yahoo! and other secondary emails that many of us use outside of work, do not have the same firewall protection from hackers of an official account used for formal communications in business, government or the academy.

Oh what a tangled web indeed.

The videotape angle of this story is not a sex tape.  I’m referring to the conspiracy theory that the real reason David Petraeus resigned was to avoid giving testimony to Congress on the Benghazi attacks of 9/11/12.  Remember how the Obama administration originally linked these attacks to the “Innocence of Muslims” video?  Some think that Petraeus wanted to step aside so he wouldn’t have to answer any tough questions related to the Benghazi narrative.  I’m not so sure about that given the power of Congress to subpoena witnesses.

What we have here is an opportunity for political opportunists to run with this scandal while the parties involved just want to hide.  This is so much bigger than any sex scandal, despite the sad wake such an affair leaves with the two married partners, one of whom (Broadwell), has two young children.

David McCullough: America’s Finest Historian

The only way to teach history, to write history, to bring people into the magic of transforming yourself into other times, is through the vehicle of the story. It isn’t just a chronology. It’s about people. History is human.

Well I admit here that I’m gushing.  I’ve got a writer’s crush on the Pulitzer-Prize winning author David McCullough, age 79.  At some point in your life if you are any kind of reader, I guarantee you will pick up a McCullough book.  That is, if you know what’s good for you.  He’s a lover of all things related to American history and culture.  I’m not sure if he thinks our best days are ahead.  After all, historians tend to look back rather than forward.  They are nostalgic, but not to a fault.  In McCullough’s case, he just loves good ole stories of bygone days.  He’s known to feast on the cuisine of the Founding Fathers and Mothers, such as Martha Washington’s orange cake.

I have not read all of McCullough’s books but I do have a fair number in my personal library.  He has penned three presidential biographies (John Adams, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman), and has tackled eclectic topics from baseball and the Brooklyn Bridge to the Johnstown Flood and the Panama Canal’s creation.   One gets the feeling from his TV interview with Morley Safer that McCullough has many books yet to come.

I love McCullough’s schoolboy passion for life.  It’s infectious.  My dream goal is to interview David McCullough about his early writing job at the United States Information Agency.  He was still in his late 20s, the exact age I was when I worked at the United States Information Agency during the Clinton era.  McCullough worked for Edward R. Murrow, Director of USIA under John F. Kennedy.  I worked for Joseph Duffey, the president emeritus of American University, from where I earned my Ph.D. in 1992 (School of International Service).  That’s enough of a common link to bring us together, don’t you think?  That and the fact that I’m publishing the first book-length account on Edward R. Murrow’s tenure at USIA.  Murrow and Kennedy inspired many a young person to do public service, McCullough among them.  I too served in public service as an avenue to give back to causes greater than my individual self.  What’s  not better than USIA’s motto, “Telling America’s Story to the World?”

Obama Wins: A Sure Thing from the Start

Obama wins.  I’ve been telling everyone all year, including my Japanese students at Sophia University this spring, that President Barack Obama would win a second term in office. That is stating the obvious.

Yesterday was a “let’s get this over with” day.  At least for me.

So let’s see here.  What did we get for our $6 billion investment?  I cannot help but think about the budget of the federal government agency where I used to work, the United States Information Agency, responsible for “telling America’s story to the world.”  Our budget was just over one billion.  So for the equivalent of six years of branding America all over the world, we had election results that kept everything the same in Washington.  The Senate is still controlled by the Democrats.  The Republicans still control the House of Representatives.  A Democrat resides in the White House.

Does anyone foresee a new spirit of togetherness arising from the 2012 election?  A dentist who pulls teeth without anesthesia rates higher than the average member of Congress.

Why don’t we have competitive elections that last about two to four weeks and are financed by the government?  I know.  It’s too small “d” democratic to imagine getting this done in a timely fashion that would benefit the majority spectators to this spectacle.  

The real winners of this contest are the local TV networks in battleground states that cleaned up financially and the political consultants and media types who told us what a barnburner we had on our hands.  Really?

I’m disgusted by amount of money it took to conclude the obvious.  Romney was never any formidable competition.  He is the walking effigy of the modern bogey man known as white male privilege.  There’s very little he could say or do that would remove him from this perch.

We’ve not only stated the obvious with this election—Obama never had any competition for reelection—but also we’re just as politically divided, if not more so, then we were before.

Can someone give me a reason to believe that all is not driven by money and special interests?  As the former executive director of the nonpartisan “good government” citizens’ lobby, Common Cause of New Hampshire, I want to believe that our best days are just ahead.

A promising footnote to all the money excess is that Proposition 30 was passed by the voters of California.  It was a good day for public education.

Help Wanted: Broadcasting in the Public Interest

Imagine there’s no countries, so the song goes.  Well how about imagining a world of broadcasting in the public interest.  That may be as difficult to imagine as a world without state sovereignty.

In the United States, almost all broadcasting is supported by advertisers whose clients are the shareholders and owners of the media companies.  The viewing public that utilizes media for information and entertainment is brought to these companies and their advertising sponsors through programs.  We don’t show up for the ads.  We suffer through the ads to get to the programs we love.

Despite the sluggish economy, global advertising, and consequently, privatized media, continue to grow.  In 2012 alone, North American advertising is projected to total $171 billion.  Ad spending in 2012 on Mother Earth is projected to be $489 billion, which makes North America, where the U.S. is the principal sovereign, responsible for nearly one-third of all the world’s ad costs.

The UK-based ZenithOptimedia predicts this trend in ad growth:

Between 2011 and 2014 we predict 60% of all the world’s growth in ad expenditure will come from developing markets (which we define here as everywhere outside North America, Western Europe and Japan). 50% will come from just ten developing markets. The four BRIC markets alone (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are forecast to account for 35% of global growth. Beyond the BRICs, there are six fast-growing markets we forecast to add between US$1 billion and US$4 billion each to the global ad market, and deliver another 15% of global growth: Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey.

The significance of this global trend is that peripheral countries are modeling their media behavior on the North American model.  This may explain why the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) called on its members to support the public interest in digital conversion in radio and television. 

In what is being called the Seoul Declaration, the region’s public broadcasters meeting in the Korean capital say the digital switchover frees space on the old analogue radio spectrum which should not just be sold for short term gain – it should be devoted to the public good.

Public broadcasters in the Asia-Pacific region are concerned that social needs will be short shrifted by private sales in the switch from analogue to digital.  The digital wave is being led by the global advertising rise in peripheral countries where meeting basic social needs is the greatest.

How do we protect the public good and all that it entails (health, education, environmental safety) in light of a global communications wave dominated by a pro-growth, advertising-centered model?  Should advertisers donate at least one percent of their profits to public interest media?

The Death of Print is Greatly Exaggerated

Newsweek magazine, a global magazine brand in print for eight decades, announced Thursday, October 18th that its last print issue will be December 31, 2012.  It is reducing its staff in anticipation of being solely digital as of 2013.  Does this worry any stalwart print media folks?  It shouldn’t.  The Big D these days isn’t just Dallas.  It’s Digital.  We’re all migrating online.  Of course this is also a costs saving move by a print publication that has lost its edge, but editor-in-chief Tina Brown manages to put the positive spin on this development when she made the announcement at strictly online The Daily Beast.

Currently, 39 percent of Americans say they get their news from an online source, according to a Pew Research Center study released last month. In our judgment, we have reached a tipping point at which we can most efficiently and effectively reach our readers in all-digital format. This was not the case just two years ago. It will increasingly be the case in the years ahead.

It is important that we underscore what this digital transition means and, as importantly, what it does not. We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it. We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism—that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.

Writer Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is linked to Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, won’t miss the print medium.

Here is the first cover of Newsweek from February 1933.  Note the emphasis on global events as well as the cost per issue.

Will you miss the print version of Newsweek or is this just media business as usual in the 21st century?

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