Thursday, June 23, 2005

And about time too

Linda Foley, at long last, has backed away from her outrageous attack on American servicepeople. In an essay on the Guild's website, she repeats the familiar claim that she's the victim of a right-wing lynch mob. Yet she somehow manages to choke out the admission that maybe her words at the May conference in St. Louis went a little too far.


In other words, the essence of my message is: Don’t kill the messenger. I should have said it that way in St. Louis. Instead, I decided to draw a parallel between the assault on journalists for their work and the assault on journalists covering Iraq. I used strong words and said it rather clumsily, but the St. Louis crowd got the point.

If I made a mistake, it was in trying to cover the issues surrounding safety for journalists in Iraq in an off-the-cuff way. I regret that my in-artful phraseology, and the storm it incited on the right, may detract from a critically important issue for journalists, especially those who cover war.


No kidding. This was all I ever wanted from Ms. Foley, and I can only wonder why it took her so long to get around to it. Oh well. Better late than never. And thanks for doing the right thing, however grudgingly.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Guild compounds its guilt

Buoyed no doubt by my dismal showing in the Newspaper Guild election, union president Linda Foley has at last seen fit to strike back at her critics. Well, actually, she’s still in hiding. Instead, she has sent forth a fellow named Andy Zipser to do battle in her stead. Zipser is editor of the Guild Reporter, our union’s newsletter. The latest electronic edition leads off with an article written by Zipser and headlined “Right-wing attack-dogs savage TNG president for comments on Iraq deaths.” By all means read it; as the headline suggests, it’s full of frenzied rhetoric, yet utterly devoid of substance. No; it's worse. Far from retracting Foley's original slur, this article repeats it.

Let’s review. I’m a member in good standing of the Guild who was shocked to learn that on May 13 Linda Foley gave a speech in which she asserted that the US military in Iraq deliberately targets journalists for death. Anyway, that’s certainly what she seemed to be saying. I suggest you judge for yourself, by reviewing the links on the left, where you’ll find a transcript and a videotape of her comments.

But to save time, here’s the part that caught my attention:

Journalists, by the way, are just being targeted, ah, verbally or, ah, or, ah, politically. They're also being targeted for real. Um…in places like Iraq. And and, ah, what outrages me as a representative of journalists is that there's not more outrage about the number, and the brutality, and the cavalier nature of the U.S. military toward the killing of journalists in Iraq. I think it's just a scandal.

And it's not just US journalists, either, by the way. They target and kill, ah, journalists from other countries, particularly Arab countries like Al -, like Arab news services like Al-Jazeera, for example. They actually target them and blow up their studios, ah, with impunity … and, ah, this is all part of a culture that it's okay to blame the individual journalists and it just takes the heat off these media, ah, conglomerates who are actually at the heart of the problem.


I think a reasonable person, reading this, would conclude that Linda Foley had just accused US soldiers of deliberately murdering journalists. But again, if you doubt the accuracy of the transcription, take the trouble to listen to her words on the videotape and come up with your own interpretation.

Anyway, this assertion by Foley alarmed me, and should have alarmed every working journalist, for obvious reasons. Either it was true, in which case the world’s mightiest army is deliberately killing us off. Or it was untrue, in which case the leader of America’s major newspaper union is willing to retail a gross and horrific lie about American servicemen and women.

And that’s not just a cruel injustice; it’s a menace to our profession. We journalists are already reviled by millions of our fellow citizens; quite simply, they don’t trust us. They think we deal in innuendo, half-truth and outright fabrication. Survey after survey shows that reporters have never been held in lower public esteem. In the midst of all this, in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair and Dan Rather fiascos, the president of the union of newspaper reporters makes a shocking assertion about men and women who risk their lives to protect us, and then fails to present a scintilla of evidence to back it up. Any journalist who values his job, his career or the honor of his profession has an obligation to demand better.

So I did. And this contemptible article is the response.

Why contemptible? Well, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s so dreadful in so many ways. But here’s the heart of it—the piece contains neither a retraction of Foley’s scurrilous charge, nor a single scrap of evidence to support it. Indeed, Zipser compounds the calumny by quoting another fellow who shares Foley’s paranoia—a fellow named Aaron Glantz, who covers the Iraq war for Pacifica Radio. I admire Mr. Glantz for his courage; he’s certainly been there and done that. And I’ll take his word for it when he says,

“I’ve had a gun pointed at me by American soldiers numerous times and felt that my life was threatened by an American soldier, simply because they were so scared and trigger happy.”

Not hard to believe; such things no doubt happen. But note the next paragraph:

Moreover, Glantz added, as Western journalists are so intimidated by such behavior that they pull out, “the Iraqi journalists who remain and the Pan-Arab journalists who remain are specifically being targeted by the U.S. military, I believe, when they broadcast controversial material.”


Oh, he believes that, does he? Well, that’s fine. But does he have evidence for it? Any evidence at all? Not a scrap; not a shred. Yet Zipser and the Guild are perfectly content to broadcast the assertion without a trace of skepticism.

For me, the most worrisome aspect of this entire affair is the realization that few of my colleagues are troubled by this in the least. They seem to believe there’s nothing at all to fret about when a prominent voice in American journalism feels free to slander American soldiers. Of course, there’s a great deal to fret over, if you care about the state of our profession and the good name of our fellow citizens. Or, for that matter, if you care about how journalists will be treated by soldiers in future conflicts. Will these guys ever trust us again? Why in heaven’s name should they, when we lie about them, without shame?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Five

That's how many write-in votes I got. Five.

What a relief! I was afraid I might have been elected. All I wanted to do, of course, was to call attention to the outrageous conduct of Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley.

Did it work? I guess not. But I'd have been ashamed of myself if I hadn't tried.

So what's next? I have an idea...something I and my fellow journalists might possibly do, by way of apology to the troops...lemme work on it and get back to you, okay?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Well, they spelled my name right...

At my paper, we refer to the Boston Herald as "the enemy." :-) Still, my union campaign seems to have gotten the Herald's attention. How decent of them to provide some much-needed free publicity.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Here's what I said

In case you're wondering, here's the leaflet I passed around:

For a representative who respects the truth


CHOOSE HONOR


Write in

HIAWATHA BRAY

For BNG Executive Committee At Large


On May 13, in a speech in St. Louis, Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley accused the US military of deliberately murdering journalists in Iraq. She presented no evidence for this assertion, and has refused to offer any. I know, because I’ve phoned her multiple times. Foley has said that she will make no further public comment on the matter. This won’t do.

I take my union membership very seriously. I’m a veteran of the 1995 Detroit newspaper strike. While many of my colleagues went back to work, I refused to cross the picket line. It cost me a job, but I couldn’t see stabbing my fellow union members in the back.

Today the nation’s bravest men and women are fighting and dying on our behalf. We who are safe at home are under no obligation to support the war, but we have no right to lie about those who are fighting it, slandering them even as they risk their lives for our sakes. It’s reprehensible, and I won’t have it. That’s why I’m asking for your write-in vote for an at-large seat on the Executive Committee of the BNG. In that position, I’ll do my best to demand accountability from our national union leaders, and to uphold the honor of our profession.

In addition, I urge you to contact the Guild at (202) 434-7177 and demand an explanation. For more information on Foley’s comments, visit my Web log—choosehonor.blogspot.com. Also, contact me by e-mail at watha@monitortan.com.

Here we go

I flipped on the tube this afternoon, and caught part of the movie Hoffa, a less-than-successful biopic starring Jack Nicholson as the Teamsters leader. The movie tries too hard for an "epic" feel and saddles Nicholson with ludicrous makeup that aims at making him look more like Hoffa. Who needed that? Just let Nicholson be Nicholson, and rely on his acting to carry the part. His acting was, in fact, pretty darn good. The script had its moments, too. Could have been quite a movie if the filmmakers had relaxed a bit.

What's this got to do with Linda Foley? Just this: Partly inspired by Hoffa, I today began my write-in campaign to get on the executive committee of my Newspaper Guild union local. I'm a single-issue candidate: I want Linda Foley to explain herself, and won't be silent until she does so. And I can do a better job of demanding an explanation if I'm part of the union leadership.

So I went to Kinko's and made up 100 leaflets, then drove to the newsroom and spread them around. I hope Ms. Foley's enormity is the talk of the newsroom by this time tomorrow, and that more and more union members will take a stand.

As for my campaign, what shall I do if I win? Demand a recount, probably.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Foley's reply: Silence

Memorial Day has come and gone, and so I figured that Newspaper Guild president Linda Foley would now be willing to go on the record and explain her claim that the US military deliberately kills journalists in Iraq.

I was wrong. I phoned the Guild yesterday and left a message for Foley. The callback came about an hour later, but the person on the line was Candice Johnson, the capable and affable spokeswoman for the Communication Workers of America, the Guild's parent union.

Johnson told me that Foley would speak to me off the record as a union member, but not for publication on a blog or anywhere else. I told her that this was unacceptable; Foley made her claim in a public venue and should have to defend it publicly. I also explained to her that Foley's decision to make her inflammatory claim without evidence to back it up put the entire profession of journalism in a bad light. Johnson was courteous, and (dare I say it?) sympathetic, but she could do no more.

Well, she did do a little more. She actually tried to defend her boss. "Her point during that panel," said Foley, "was to talk about how journalists have been scapegoated by forces in society...there are hundreds of journalists killed every year. This has raised concerns among journalists, the Guild included."

No argument there. This is indeed the sort of issue I'd expect the Guild to address. But does Foley really believe that soldiers, sailors and Marines are under orders to whack reporters? Johnson replied, "That’s not ever been said by anybody."

I then read her the relevant portion of Foley's remarks, in which she appears to be saying exactly that. Johnson replied that she didn't interpret Foley's words as I did. "I interpret it as a call for the investigation of the deaths of journalists," Johnson said.

Well, that's where things stand. We're having a union election at our newspaper. I think I'll run as a write-in candidate, in an effort to draw attention to this bizarre incident.