Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ explores the complicated saga of a twisted California killer

February 23, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 23, 2018

David Fincher’s sprawling 2007 thriller, Zodiac, tells the true story of the hunt for a notorious California serial killer through the eyes of a cop tasked with finding him and a cartoonist who became obsessed with the case.

The movie begins on the evening of July 4, 1969, when a gunman fatally shot a 22-year-old waitress and seriously wounded her friend in Vallejo, and ends with a short coda in the early 1980s. (This was actually the Zodiac’s second confirmed attack.) Although one of the last scenes shows Mike Mageau, the survivor of that Vallejo incident, identifying a suspect as his assailant, no one was ever formally charged with the Zodiac’s murders.

That lack of closure is one of several frustrating things about Zodiac, which begins as a rather conventional movie about a serial killer and then evolves into something more complicated.

Early on, the narrative focuses on a crime reporter and political cartoonist at San Francisco Chronicle, to which the killer repeatedly sent missives, and depicts a number of vicious attacks. After one of these — the October 11, 1969, killing of cab driver Paul Stine — two San Francisco homicide detectives steal much of the spotlight.

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A publisher finds her mettle during a fight over government secrets in Spielberg’s new historical drama, ‘The Post’

February 1, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 1, 2018

Steven Spielberg’s dozens of features are too numerous and diverse to categorize neatly. But if some hypothetical archivist were forced to sort the prolific director’s output into two boxes, she or he could do worse than to choose the labels “commercial movies” and “prestige movies.” Jaws (1975), the prototypical blockbuster, would belong in the first box; so would Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and the other Indiana Jones movies (the 1984 prequel and 1989 and 2008 sequels), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993) and its 1997 follow-up, Minority Report and Catch Me if You Can (both 2002), War of the Worlds (2005) and other works, including the imminent Ready Player One and an upcoming Indiana Jones adventure.

Spielberg’s 2017 feature, The Post, belongs squarely with his prestige movies. It’s in good company, rubbing elbows with Empire of the Sun (1987), Schindler’s List (1993)Amistad (1997), Munich (2005 again), Lincoln (2011) and Bridge of Spies (2015). Other than the director’s very first prestige picture, The Color Purple (1985), which was adapted from Alice Walker’s phenomenal 1982 novel, all of these highbrow movies are based on true stories.

The Post reunites the director with Tom Hanks. The star of Bridge of Spies plays against Meryl Streep as the editor and publisher, respectively, of The Washington Post. Today, the newspaper is an iconic American journalism institution, and Ben Bradlee and Katharine “Kay” Graham are legendary figures. But when we meet the lead characters, in 1971, they have yet to secure their legacies.

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Dollars, dreams and journalism: Comparing the visions of Hamilton Nolan and Steve Brill

January 20, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 20, 2016

I recently came across two stories that surveyed the state of the media, and they made for interesting contrasts.

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan wrote “The Problem With Journalism Is You Need an Audience” in the wake of the closures of the quirky, prestige long-form sports website Grantland and, more recently, of Al Jazeera America, the cable news network that aspired to provide in-depth audiovisual journalism. Nolan also references the announcement that the owner of The New Republic is seeking a buyer to take it off of his hands. That last development comes roughly a year after Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes’s purchase of, and announcement of planned changes to, the boutique intellectual magazine with a liberal bent caused a mass walkout of New Republic staffers.

Nolan is something of a cynic, although he would, I am sure, describe himself as a realist. His core message is that there is no mass audience for quality journalism, or at least for a mass-market product that revolves almost exclusively around quality journalism. Instead, he writes, the only business models that are sustainable in and of themselves in the long term are mass-media outlets “that have huge scale and publish everything for everyone (TV news networks, major national newspapers, Buzzfeed)” or niche publications such as trade magazines.

Outside of those two channels, Nolan posits, the only successful types of media are either small-scale operations or ones that are subsidized in some way, whether as a charity or by a tycoon or large media organization that makes its profits elsewhere. Nolan lists The New Yorker, which belongs to the Condé Nast magazine-publishing conglomerate, and Grantland, which was a branch of the ESPN sports-television media empire, as examples of prestige outlets supported by corporations.

Interestingly, this recent interview with journalist and businessman Steve Brill focuses on newspapers, which don’t seem to fit into any of the categories Nolan reviews. (Maybe they qualify as niche publications?)

When his comments are considered on a superficial level, Brill sounds nearly as cynical as Nolan. Brill blasts the management of the newspapers, both large and small, with which he dealt as head of Press Plus, which helped establish pay walls for newspaper websites.

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A brave exercise in truth-telling: The Heritage Foundation’s Obamacare recap promotes bad news about a bad law

March 27, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 27, 2015

With the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, taking place on Monday, the media have been packed with assessments of the law. But not all assessments are created equal.

Take the article (excuse me — I meant to say, the “brave exercise in truth-telling”) written by Melissa Quinn of the Daily Signal, an outlet of the conservative Heritage Foundation. She got things off to a terrible start:

Five years ago on March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the health care law’s provision took effect in 2013, and Americans have since been experiencing the effects of the law—both good and bad. Millions learned they were not able to keep their original insurance plans and more than 7.7 million received subsidies from the federal exchange.

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Bias, bias everywhere, and not a drop of good old-fashioned patriotic American red-blooded conservative coverage of Obamacare

March 26, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 26, 2015

With the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, taking place on Monday, the media have been packed with assessments of the law. Two of them caught my eye, for no other reason than that they flitted across my Twitter feed.

Tony Pugh of McClatchy’s Washington, D.C., bureau wrote more than 1,400 words on the Affordable Care Act’s rocky five-year history. PolitiFact’s Steve Contorno and Angie Drobnic Holan assembled an assessment that spanned more than 2,000 words. (That count doesn’t include the article’s bibliography, which lists 31 different interviews, articles and studies that formed the basis for the story.)

Now, conservatives love to bellyache about how the mainstream — oh, excuse me; lamestream — media is biased toward liberals. Sadly, anywhere one turns, one finds evidence that these complaints are accurate. Check out these fawning paragraphs that Pugh wrote to conclude his story:

As the health care law hits age five, it’s way too early to pass judgment on its effectiveness, said health care blogger Robert Laszewski. The law’s main provisions have been in place for only about 18 months, Laszewski said. Marketplace insurers are still being subsidized by the federal government, and only about half of the estimated 22 million marketplace plan members the CBO envisions in coming years have purchased coverage.

“I would rate Obamacare, 18 months after implementation, as incomplete,” Laszewski said. “Anybody who wants to look at Obamacare and talk about whether it’s a success or a failure, call me in 2017.”

Obviously this reporter is totally in the tank for Obama, right?

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The revolution will be 3D-printed (and open source): Cory Doctorow explores the inventions and economy of the future in 2009’s ‘Makers’

January 8, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 8, 2015

Suzanne Church is a popular 40-something business columnist for the San Jose Mercury News when she gets her big break. It begins when she questions Landon Kettlewell, the CEO of Kodacell — the newly merged companies of Kodak and Duracell — at a press conference describing his new corporate fiefdom. Late that evening, the shrewd executive impulsively (and rather improbably) e-mails Church with an invitation to “embed” with one of his company’s free-wheeling entrepreneurial teams. The reporter’s decision to accept the invitation changes the lives of countless thousands of people, especially those of Church, Kettlewell and the two men she is soon living with and reporting on nearly every waking hour.

With this, Canadian-born author and blogger Cory Doctorow sets in motion the plot of Makers, his 2009 science fiction novel about the economy of a near-future United States. The novel is competently written but uneven: Doctorow’s scenario for how embedded journalism will work in the near future strikes me as rather unlikely, and a significant amount of dialogue comes off as pretty didactic — a lecture, rather than a conversation.

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An incomplete interview: The Wichita Business Journal chats with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch

March 2, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
March 2, 2014

The Wichita Business Journal is launching a new design this week. To serve as the linchpin for the remodeled publication, the editors snagged an interview with an important local businessman: Charles Koch.

Koch and his brother, David, control Koch Industries, which is estimated to have $115 billion in annual revenues. Because the business is privately held, it’s ineligible for the Fortune 500; if it qualified, it would rank 17th, according to CNN. The conglomerate is reportedly the second-largest private company in America.

More to the point, the Koch brothers have become heavy hitters in the political world. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that their company and its affiliates have given $2.6 million in the current election cycle, which ranks 11 out of all donors. Last year, the business spent $10.3 million on lobbying, making Koch Industries 31st on the overall list.

But that, to borrow the cliché, is just the tip of the iceberg. The Koch brothers helped fund the Tea Party — and so much more…

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Twitchy is mad as hell, and it’s not going to take it anymore: Ambassador Samantha Power edition

February 27, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 27, 2014

The Obama administration’s liaison to the United Nations, gave a lecture Sunday night at UCLA. Ambassador Samantha Power, the author of a Pulitzer Prize–winning book on repeated American inaction in the face of genocide, was speaking at the invitation of the Daniel Pearl Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the memory of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was murdered in 2002 while reporting on al Qaeda terrorism activity in Pakistan. Pearl, infamously, was beheaded in a video that was posted on the Internet.

At some point on the evening of the lecture, Power posted the following tweet:

A number of conservative-leaning Twitter users reacted to Power’s message with a mixture of bafflement and outrage.

Several of these comments were collected by Twitchy, the quick-reaction infotainment site founded by conservative commentator Michelle Malkin. The organization gets most of its juice by finding supposedly outrageous tweets (generally from non-conservatives) and publishing outraged responses from conservatives.

Twitchy first posted about Power’s purported faux pas at 8:14 a.m. on Feb. 24, the morning after Power’s controversial tweet. That inaugurated a series of what would turn out to be seven separate articles, all bylined “Twitchy Staff.”

The first article quoted a tweeter asking if Power’s message was the dumbest tweet ever, or just of the week. “Arguably the former,” staffers wrote. After a tweet by conservative writer David Freddoso that called Power’s comment stupid, staffers added: “Yep. The idiocy, it scorches.”

Immediately following a tweet calling Power “an absolute idiot,” Twitchy closed out one of its articles with this observation: “Dangerous incompetence and appeasement from the Obama administration. Again.”

Twitchy’s fifth post about this kerfuffle, at 2:34 p.m. on the 24th, featured more than a dozen tweets calling for the ambassador’s resignation or firing. Included was this message from a conservative writer with more than 77,000 Twitter followers:

The elegance and wisdom of Burge’s dazzling punditry there is impossible to deny, is it not?

Now, there are plenty of ways to interpret the Power message that so outraged the folks spotlighted by Twitchy; in fact, the ambassador tweeted these two follow-ups in response to the stir that her original post caused on Twitter:

So Power acknowledges that Pearl was killed by bigots because of his religion and nationality. And her correction asserts that is not specifically his story but rather the work of the Daniel Pearl Foundation that reminds us that “individual accountability + reconciliation are required to break cycles of violence.”

Twitchy, by the way, dedicated a post to those two Power tweets. It was headlined “‘Definition of flailing!’ — Amb. Power ‘clarifies’ Daniel Pearl tweet; Doubles down on idiocy.”

For all the energy that Twitchy expended gathering outraged reactions to Power, no one on the staff evidently could be bothered to look up the full text of the ambassador’s remarks. I found a copy of them, which the U.S. mission to the United Nations evidently posted on the night of Power’s speech, with little effort.

Now, the lecture would take a while to process fully; the text runs just shy of 4,000 words, and I’ve only skimmed it. Still, a bit from near the beginning of the remarks jumped out at me. After acknowledging the murdered journalist’s parents, Power said:

I think their son would be very proud that the foundation established in his memory is dedicated to inter-cultural understanding. Given the circumstances of Daniel Pearl’s death, we should recognize how remarkable that is. Much of the world’s sorrow can be traced to cycles of retribution, where one group seeks revenge for real or imagined wrongs done by another.

Individuals become symbols, faiths become enemies, and hate becomes a currency of identity — all that we have in common — as fellow parents, fellow students, fellow believers — all that we have in common becomes reduced to a catastrophic alchemy of Us versus Them.

That was the ugly mindset of the men who murdered Daniel Pearl because he was a reporter, an American and, most of all, because he was a Jew. In that infamous video, the killers advertised their ruthlessness, betrayed their faith, and sought further to inflame passions that divide the world. Not long thereafter, the Daniel Pearl Foundation took its brave stand on the opposite shore, guiding us toward a more profound response to hate: urging dialogue, shared learning, reconciliation, and a recognition that individual — not collective — accountability is required to break cycles of violence.

Now, people are certainly free to disagree with Power’s assertions here. But they don’t seem particularly baffling or objectionable to me. And call me crazy, but I certainly don’t think that they constitute grounds for calling Power an idiot, asking if she smokes crack or comparing her to feces.

The Daniel Pearl Foundation itself would seem to agree. After all, it had invited Power to speak — she was, in fact, delivering the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture. The morning after the event, the organization tweeted:

Twitchy evidently never bothered to scan the foundation’s Twitter feed, even though it was linked to in two of the Power tweets that Twitchy itself cited. Nor is there any evidence that Twitchy sent an email or put in a call to the Daniel Pearl Foundation to get its reaction to anything Power said or tweeted.

Of course, Twitchy isn’t a news organization. It doesn’t seem to be geared toward advancing any specific policy goals, either. Instead, Twitchy is part of — well, not the conspiracy (real or imagined) that Hillary Clinton long ago bemoaned. No; Twitchy is part of a vast right-wing outrage machine.

Twitchy isn’t focused on reporting, or considering, or thinking. Rather, it’s a component in a vast virtual echo chamber, finding and promoting various spurious provocations.

The great Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum regularly uses a great phrase, “nothingburger,” to dismiss overhyped stories, hollow promises or ginned-up controversies. But for Twitchy, whether any given outrage has any substance or not is entirely beside the point. The fact that it will get some people angry is justification enough to throw up one, two, three or seven different posts about whatever comment is at hand.

Failure to disclose: Journalism, ethics and Breitbart ‘news’

February 25, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 25, 2014

Last week, I wrote about the Texas Tribune, which was the subject of a lengthy critique documenting serious issues with journalism ethics, notably rampant conflicts of interest and lax disclosures of same.

As noted in that blog post, I first became interested in the Tribune after seeing a pair of tweets Wednesday by Michael Quinn Sullivan, a conservative Texas political activist. Sullivan, it would turn out, posted another message on Twitter later the same day that also caught my eye.

#TxLege #GOP Rep. Threatens To Sue For Discussing His Voting Record: http://t.co/GOny8aj8w8 via @BreitbartNews

— Michael Q Sullivan (@MQSullivan) February 20, 2014

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How much is money mixing — and interfering — with news at the Texas Tribune? A political activist voices grave concerns

February 22, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 22, 2014

On Wednesday, a tweet by a conservative Texas political activist caught my eye.

“In which Huffington Post attacks @TexasTribune for assorted bad behavior,” Michael Quinn Sullivan wrote. “For whom do I cheer? #GetPopcorn[.]” Shortly afterward, Sullivan tweeted, “Is this best described as ‘pay-to-play’ journalism? It seems to waddle and quack, so…”

Both messages linked to this article by Jim Moore, a former Texas television reporter who now runs a liberal-leaning political action committee called Progress Texas. He’s also the co-author, with Wayne Slater, of Bush’s Brain. The 2004 book profiles Karl Rove, the political consultant who helped make George W. Bush the nation’s 43rd president.

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One Wondrous Sentence: On naming the right names

December 27, 2012

This one wondrous sentence urges reporters and their audiences to celebrate the heroes, not the villains, of tragedies such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter.

Right now, everyone knows the name of the Connecticut shooter — but we should know everything about Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, who bravely chased down the shooter and tried to tackle him before being fatally shot.

Source: Sally Kohn, “Celebrate the heroes, not the shooter,” Salon, Dec. 17, 2012.

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