Media news 2: NY Times “appoints new Jerusalem bureau chief”

May 14, 2004

For an explanation of the new "Media news" dispatches, see the Note in the introduction to "Media news 1: Liberal radio's 'bad jokes and worse taste'."


Below are contents of this dispatch, followed by summaries of the articles, and then the stories in full -- Tom Gross

CONTENTS

1. Nick Berg beheading coverage varies in Arab world
2. (New York Times-owned) Boston Globe so eager to report on US abuses in Iraq, it mistakenly publishes photos from hardcore porn site, Wednesday
3. NY Times appoints Culture editor Erlanger as new Jerusalem bureau chief
4. Times liquidates 'arts and ideas' as dozens cheer

 

SUMMARIES

BEHEADING COVERAGE VARIES IN ARAB WORLD

"In Arab World, Press Coverage of Beheading Varies Widely" (New York Times, May 13, 2004). The videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg, the young American civilian, by Islamic militants received widely divergent treatment in the Arab press on Wednesday, with most papers playing it up but some ignoring it. Most newspapers across the Middle East treated the gruesome videotape as front-page news, though generally secondary to stories about the deaths of six Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. But in Egypt, Al Akhbar, a semiofficial daily, tucked a 10-line news agency report into its inside pages, while another leading daily, Al Ahram, ignored the news altogether. The Syrian papers also ignored the killing... [Tom Gross adds: this contrasts with a great deal of press coverage of prisoner abuse and alleged torture of suspected Iraqi militants.]

A Kuwaiti paper, Al Siyassah al Kuwaitia ran a front-page story with a photograph of one of the militants holding up Mr. Berg's head... The main Arab satellite channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, broadcast just a clip of the video showing Mr. Berg sitting before his executioners, with anchors briefly reading the report.

... Web sites of militant groups expressed joy over the beheading and ran photos from the video side by side with photos of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. One site mocked President Bush's praise for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying, "Zarqawi is doing a superb job." Another wrote, "Please send us a head every day."

BOSTON GLOBE MISTAKENLY RUNS HARDCORE PORN PICS, NOT IRAQI ABUSE

"Globe caught with pants down: Paper duped into running porn photos" (Boston Herald, May 13, 2004). "The Boston Globe was reeling yesterday after graphic photos of alleged sexual abuse of Iraqi women by U.S. soldiers turned out to be staged shots from a hardcore porn Web site. "This photo should not have appeared in the Globe," editor Martin Baron said in a statement. "First, images portrayed in the photo were overly graphic. Second, as the story clearly pointed out, those images were never authenticated as photos of prisoner abuse. There was a lapse in judgment and procedures, and we apologize for it."... Yesterday, WorldNetDaily.com reported the pictures - which show hard-core sex acts and genitalia - came from a pornographic site. Slack said. "Our publisher's not having a very good day today."... The president of the Globe's parent New York Times reportedly is "furious."

NY TIMES APPOINTS CULTURE EDITOR ERLANGER AS NEW JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF

"New York Times Ships Culture Ed Overseas" (New York Post, May 13, 2004). "Steven Erlanger is out as cultural czar at the New York Times, and is being reassigned as Jerusalem bureau chief. Jonathan Landman, one of the few heroes in the Jayson Blair scandal, was made cultural news editor in his place. Most see the change as a sign that Times brass was not happy with the way Erlanger handled movie critic Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell had been sharing the lead movie critic job at the Times with A.O. Scott when Scott was suddenly elevated to the job of chief movie critic... Mitchell quit the Times early this month. His departure was said to be particularly irksome to the Times brass because he was one of the highest-profile African-American journalists at the paper."

NY TIMES LIQUIDATES "ARTS AND IDEAS" SECTION

"Times Liquidates 'Arts and Ideas' As Dozens Cheer" (The New York Observer, May 10, 2004). "Way to go!" That was how the writer and critic Lee Siegel greeted the news that, come September, The New York Times will be dissolving its Saturday Arts & Ideas section and incorporating "ideas" stories into the rest of the paper. Mr. Siegel is not alone in feeling vindicated by the section's imminent demise. Since its launch in 1997, the section has become a favorite punching bag for intellectual journalists of all stripes, with Mr. Siegel shouting where others have only dared to whisper. (In a New Republic article in 1998, he famously called Arts & Ideas "a weekly banana peel dropped in the path of human intelligence.") "The problem with the section was the nature of the section," Mr. Siegel said. "You just can't isolate 'ideas' from the rest of culture, of life."

"For his part, Steven Erlanger, the paper's culture editor, said The Times was committed to doing "more ideas reporting, not less" - just not in its own designated section. Meanwhile, Patricia Cohen, the section's founding and current editor, seemed peculiarly agnostic about the demise of her realm. "I created the section, so obviously I think it was a good idea to put these stories together," Ms. Cohen said."

[Tom Gross adds: In my opinion, the once-per-week Arts and Idea section of the New York Times was one of the more readable parts of the paper, and its chief writer, Ed Rothstein (who is a friend, and a subscriber to this email list) far better than some of the New York Times editorial page columnists.]

 



FULL ARTICLES

BEHEADING COVERAGE VARIES IN ARAB WORLD

In Arab World, Press Coverage of Beheading Varies Widely
By Abeer Allam
New York Times
May 13, 2004

The videotaped beheading of Nicholas Berg, the young American civilian, by Islamic militants received widely divergent treatment in the Arab press on Wednesday, with most papers playing it up but some ignoring it.

Most newspapers across the Middle East treated the gruesome videotape as front-page news, though generally secondary to stories about the deaths of six Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip.

But in Egypt, Al Akhbar, a semiofficial daily, tucked a 10-line news agency report into its inside pages, while another leading daily, Al Ahram, ignored the news altogether.

The Syrian papers also ignored the killing, though President Bush's announcement of sanctions against Damascus received blanket coverage. A Kuwaiti paper, Al Siyassah al Kuwaitia ran a front-page story with a photograph of one of the militants holding up Mr. Berg's head.

While the news broke close to deadline for many Arab papers, a journalism expert here said concern about protecting Americans from copycat killings was the main reason for the scant coverage.

"It is a responsible decision to avoid giving much exposure to this type of news," said Hussein Amin, chairman of the department of mass communication at the American University in Cairo. "People are highly emotional now because of Abu Ghraib pictures. The government does not want to incite or give ideas to young or extremist people to start taking matters into their own hands."

A Lebanese newspaper, As Safir, published its report on the front page with the by now familiar photograph of Mr. Berg sitting in front of the militants with a headline reading, "Zarqawi Slaughters an American to Avenge Iraqi Prisoners."

The London-based pan-Arab newspapers both led their editions with the beheading reports.

Asharq al Awsat ran the photo of Mr. Berg sitting in front of five militants under the headline "Zarqawi Slaughtered an American." Al Hayat published the story without pictures, under the headline "Zarqawi Executes an American in Retaliation for the Torture."

The main Arab satellite channels, Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, broadcast just a clip of the video showing Mr. Berg sitting before his executioners, with anchors briefly reading the report.

"Every time when we have a tape, there is a give and take to run it or not to run it," said Jihad Ballout, a spokesman for Al Jazeera. In this case, he said: "There was no professional reason why we should air it. Showing the beheading scene would be against decency altogether."

Web sites of militant groups expressed joy over the beheading and ran photos from the video side by side with photos of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. One site mocked President Bush's praise for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, saying, "Zarqawi is doing a superb job." Another wrote, "Please send us a head every day."

In Cairo, some moderate Muslim groups expressed regret that the killing eclipsed the horror of the pictures of abuse at Abu Ghraib.

"I was disgusted, and I felt so sorry," said Dr. Essam al-Erian, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Egypt by constitutional means. "They are crazy people who defamed Muslims and Islam and helped only Bush.

"They wasted all the gains the Arabs received from exposing the horrors of Abu Ghraib prison and instead shifted all the attention to this shameful act."

 

BOSTON GLOBE SO EAGER TO DEFAME U.S. IN IRAQ, IT MISTAKENLY PUBLISHES PHOTOS FROM HARDCORE PORN SITE

Globe caught with pants down: Paper duped into running porn photos
By Herald staff
Boston Herald
May 13, 2004

news.bostonherald.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=27679

The Boston Globe was reeling yesterday after graphic photos of alleged sexual abuse of Iraqi women by U.S. soldiers turned out to be staged shots from a hardcore porn Web site.

"This photo should not have appeared in the Globe," editor Martin Baron said in a statement. "First, images portrayed in the photo were overly graphic. Second, as the story clearly pointed out, those images were never authenticated as photos of prisoner abuse. There was a lapse in judgment and procedures, and we apologize for it."

The "lapse" came after City Councilor Chuck Turner and perennial pot-stirrer Sadiki Kambon called a press conference in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal to display more purported abuse photos. Turner claimed they came from "a very legitimate person" but admitted they hadn't been authenticated. Kambon said he got them from a representative of the Nation of Islam. Neither Turner nor Kambon returned calls.

But yesterday, WorldNetDaily.com reported the pictures - which show hard-core sex acts and genitalia - came from a pornographic site.

The Globe ran a picture of Turner and Kambon displaying the images. In a large shot in the paper's early editions, pornographic details are clearly visible. In later editions, the photograph was reduced, making the images slightly more obscure. A number of news outlets - including the Herald and The Associated Press - attended the conference but did not run a story after determining the photos were highly suspicious.

The issue reportedly was the subject of much Globe newsroom debate. According to WorldNetDaily, Globe reporter Donovan Slack did not approve of the photos being published but they were OK'd by "three Boston Globe editors."

Her story did note the pictures "bear no characteristics that would prove the men are US soldiers or that the women are Iraqis."

Slack told the Herald she had "no comment," then hung up. But she is quoted on the Web site saying she was "surprised" the Globe decided to run the story.

"It's insane," Slack said. "Can you imagine getting this with your cup of coffee in the morning? Somehow it got through all our checks. Our publisher's not having a very good day today."

Later she quips, "I'll be working at Penthouse soon!" The president of the Globe's parent New York Times reportedly is "furious."

 

NY TIMES APPOINTS CULTURE EDITOR ERLANGER AS NEW JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF

NYT Ships Culture Ed Overseas
By Keith J. Kelly
New York Post
May 13, 2004

Steven Erlanger is out as cultural czar at the New York Times, and is being reassigned as Jerusalem bureau chief.

Jonathan Landman, one of the few heroes in the Jayson Blair scandal, was made cultural news editor in his place.

Most see the change as a sign that Times brass was not happy with the way Erlanger handled movie critic Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell had been sharing the lead movie critic job at the Times with A.O. Scott when Scott was suddenly elevated to the job of chief movie critic.

"There is a feeling that the Elvis Mitchell thing was mishandled and that the Arts and Leisure section is in total disarray," said one industry source.

The section has also been hard hit by a series of successful raids on staffers by ex-cultural czar Adam Moss, who was tapped to be the new editor in chief of New York magazine on March 1.

Mitchell quit the Times early this month. His departure was said to be particularly irksome to the Times brass because he was one of the highest-profile African-American journalists at the paper.

Times Executive Editor Bill Keller put out a memo saying Mitchell's departure was amicable - but few believed it.

Landman, the former Metropolitan editor who had urged that Jayson Blair be stopped from ever writing for the paper, was appointed assistant managing editor for enterprise last year.

 

NY TIMES LIQUIDATES 'ARTS AND IDEAS' AS DOZENS CHEER

Times Liquidates 'Arts and Ideas' As Dozens Cheer
By Rachel Donadio
The New York Observer.
May 10, 2004

"Instead of 'The section failed,' why not say 'We failed the section?'"-Jay Rosen

"Way to go!" That was how the writer and critic Lee Siegel greeted the news that, come September, The New York Times will be dissolving its Saturday Arts & Ideas section and incorporating "ideas" stories into the rest of the paper.

Mr. Siegel is not alone in feeling vindicated by the section's imminent demise. Since its launch in 1997, the section has become a favorite punching bag for intellectual journalists of all stripes, with Mr. Siegel shouting where others have only dared to whisper. (In a New Republic article in 1998, he famously called Arts & Ideas "a weekly banana peel dropped in the path of human intelligence.") "The problem with the section was the nature of the section," Mr. Siegel said. "You just can't isolate 'ideas' from the rest of culture, of life."

For his part, Steven Erlanger, the paper's culture editor, said The Times was committed to doing "more ideas reporting, not less"-just not in its own designated section. Meanwhile, Patricia Cohen, the section's founding and current editor, seemed peculiarly agnostic about the demise of her realm. "I created the section, so obviously I think it was a good idea to put these stories together," Ms. Cohen said. "Having said that, there are many ways to effectively cover any subject, and the paper is still committed to covering those stories."

Indeed, one could say that Ms. Cohen's non-response points to the most frequently heard criticism of the section: Its on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand approach makes for toothless coverage of ideas that already don't necessarily lend themselves to newspaper word-lengths or style. As one intellectual journalist and Times-watcher summed up the problem: "They don't use semi-colons."

"I never felt it had a very strong identity," Jay Rosen, a press critic and professor at the New York University School of Journalism, said of the section. "I could never figure out what the idea was, although it seemed to me that [columnist] Ed Rothstein, who I respect as a journalist and a writer, was kind of the voice of the thing."

But Mr. Rosen wasn't prepared to dance on the section's grave just yet. "I don't think they should have killed it; they should have improved it," he said. "Instead of 'The section failed,' why not say 'We failed the section,' which would mean 'This was a good idea'-and it still is-'but we couldn't deploy ourselves the right way.' If you start a religion section and then decide it's boring, did religion fail? The subject has the responsibility to make itself vivid and alive?" he said.

The problem may be that the section seemed blithely uninterested in wooing the kind of readers who seemed most likely to want to devour it every week. A former editor at the Washington Post Style section, Ms. Cohen said she aimed the section at "the general reader."

"You don't need to have a Ph.D. to understand these articles," Ms. Cohen said. "I think basically the reason Joe Lelyveld chose to hire someone like myself with a newspaper background as opposed to someone in the academic world, or perhaps from Lingua Franca-I know he'd talked to people there before he talked to me-was exactly that reason. It's a difficult line to walk between the experts-the intellectuals who know their subject in incredible depth-and the general reader."

Ms. Cohen said she chose not to "replicate" the opinions offered on the Op-Ed page and in the Week in Review. "I think covering ideas as news is actually refreshing," she said. "From the beginning, I didn't want to approach the stories with an agenda. The point was not to publish my idea or your idea about a subject, but to cover the intellectual world with the same sophistication and detail that the paper covers other subjects."

Yet some say this approach was the section's fatal flaw. "The only idea given sovereignty at a newspaper is, 'We cover all sides; we take the view from nowhere.' And that's fatal to ideas journalism," said Mr. Rosen. "The best ideas journalism has always been, and is now, in places with an editorial perspective."

The section's news formula was easy to parody. Here's Mr. Siegel's riff: "Professor A thinks that all urban Americans more than 20 pounds overweight should be exterminated in order to increase leg room on buses and subways. Professor B thinks this violated the civil rights of overweight people. Of course, this is an old argument, one that goes back to the first century, when the Romans would routinely shorten their slaves in order to have a clearer view of the street during rush hours. Professor C thinks that this argument will continue 'for as long as people share the public space with other people.'"

Another risk of covering ideas as news is the tendency to create forced trends. "The bad thing is, the section looked at the world of ideas the way newspapers almost always do: Either you write about scandal, or you write about big trends," said Robert Boynton, who directs the graduate magazine-journalism program at N.Y.U.'s journalism school. Or, as Mr. Siegel put it, "If Professor Hoffenstoffen at the University of Okefenokee wrote a revisionist history of the washing machine, then this meant that American intellectuals were now turning to the formal study of major appliances."

Yet even as a news section, the section wasn't exactly breaking news. "I don't feel like it set the pace for coverage of ideas," said Scott McLemee, a senior writer at the Chronicle of Higher Education. "Obviously I still looked at it every week, and I still kicked myself now and then, but I almost never had a sense they were going to scoop me."

Times have changed. The Arts & Ideas section was conceived during the waning years of the culture wars, when intellectual debates often fell along more ideological lines. Steve Wasserman, the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review, who said he spoke to The Times early on about joining the section but took himself out of the running for its editorship in 1996, said the original idea for Arts & Ideas was to track the "epiphenomena" in the culture that produced, say, a photographer like Robert Mapplethorpe-before the story became a legislative one about curtailing funding to the National Endowment for the Arts for sponsoring erotic work like Mapplethorpe's.

"The Times became seized with the notion that ideas have consequences. The idea was to report the ideas even before the consequences are made palpable in a political sense; it seemed to me enlightened," Mr. Wasserman said. Whether the section lived up to its promise is another question entirely. "I think it did fitfully do so, but it increasingly seemed rudderless," he added. "Early on in the first year and a half of its life, I knew a fair number of writers who turned to it with enthusiasm. After that, it was ever less relevant."

Scott McLemee agreed that there was a strong whiff of the passť in The Times' approach to the world of ideas. "There was a period of time 10 years ago that what was happening in the humanities lent itself to the culture-war framework-an entrenched position versus avant-garde or postmodern," he said. "Those kind of fights were winding down, but were still pretty strong. I don't know when the entropy began to kick in, but it sure did. And it became more artificial to frame things in the same way."

Alexander Stille, an ideas journalist who has been on contract with Arts & Ideas, said newspaper coverage of culture is more important than ever. "After the end of the Cold War, I think cultural stories gained dramatically in importance. Instead of there being a kind of conflict in the world between ideologies and military alliances, the main problems in the globalized world were fundamentally cultural," said Mr. Stille, who teaches at Columbia University's School of Journalism and took time off from writing for The Times earlier this year to write a book. "Sept. 11 is ultimately about a clash of cultures," Mr. Stille said.

Mr. Stille called it a "strategic mistake" to dissolve the section. "I think there's a big danger, if you get rid of it as a special section and simply disperse [ideas stories] throughout the paper during the course of the week in the regular news sections, that the effect of those stories is simply diluted," he said. "If they can figure out a better, more imaginative way of doing something like this, that's great. The answer is not to get rid of it."

What about bringing in a new editor? Some people familiar with the section said The Times had tried to replace Ms. Cohen before. Ms. Cohen was offered a job on the national desk in 2000, but she insisted on keeping her place at Arts & Ideas. (Ms. Cohen said she wanted a more flexible schedule and "it's fun to run your own shop." ) The rest of the section's staff, including Mr. Rothstein and two reporters, Emily Eakin and Felicia Lee, is now in limbo, waiting to see where The Times will send them.

For his part, Sam Tanenhaus, the new editor of the Book Review-who before taking his new post was a distinguished ideas journalist himself-said the dissolution of Arts & Ideas was "news to me." But he offered a ray of hope to those who think the paper of record should be a more forceful presence in the world of ideas. At the Book Review, he said, "we certainly intend to do features of various kinds in addition to reviewing books. Some will be book-related ideas pieces. Absolutely."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.