Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Five days after I saw Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham, I went to a screening of another documentary called Page One: Inside the New York Times. The New York Times has become a big movie star! But what if the fame goes to the Times’s head? I can see it now: the New York Times slipping a nip on the red carpet, flashing its nether regions at photographers while exiting a car, denying ownership of the cocaine in its jeans, swilling tiger blood, winding up on Celebrity Rehab and marrying a Scientologist. Please, New York Times, get yourself a sober coach before it’s too late!
One of the highlights of the documentary is seeing Times media critic and author David Carr (who graciously let me win an arm-wrestling contest at the post-screening cocktail party) take down a guy from Vice, who went to Liberia with a camera and was shocked — shocked! — at what he found there, including feces on a beach and boasts about cannibalism. The dude truly thought he’d discovered an untold story, but Carr told him in no uncertain terms that the Times has been covering genocide in Liberia for decades. I particularly appreciated that moment because one of my pet peeves is people who complain that “the media” doesn’t “tell” them about important stories. All too often, the media is telling you and telling you, but you’re not paying attention! In a 2008 post on the Overseas Press Club Awards, I compared this willful ignorance to a scene from The Last King of Scotland, about Uganda’s brutal dictator Idi Amin. In the movie, Amin expels all Asians from Uganda (as he really did) against the advice of his physician/adviser. After other nations condemn the act, he turns on the doctor:
Amin: “You should have told me not to throw the Asians out, in the first place.”
Dr. Nicholas Garrigan: “I DID!”
Amin: “But you did not persuade me, Nicholas. You did not persuade me!”
I fear people will sink even deeper into obliviousness as they consume more of their news online, where it’s easier to self-censor the news and skip over things like those pesky international stories. As I’ve said before, even though I am online all day, I’m still an enthusiastic reader of newspapers. When you’re forced to flip through the pages, your eye lands on important stories whether you are looking for them or not.
Journalists risk their lives every day to bring you those stories. Foreign correspondents are recognized at the above-mentioned Overseas Press Club Awards dinner, which was held in April this year. The event is always one of mixed emotions — it’s wonderful to see journalists’ work being honored, but the work often conveys news of terrible suffering around the globe. This year’s awards were more upsetting than ever, coming just eight days after the deaths of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed while covering the conflict in Libya. In addition, one of the awardees, Lynsey Addario, had been sexually assaulted when she and colleagues were detained in Libya while on assignment for the New York Times. And photojournalist Joao Silva couldn’t attend — he was still recovering from losing his legs to a landmine in Afghanistan, also while on assignment for the Times.
Days later, on May 2, CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan did an interview with 60 Minutes about the sexual assault she endured while covering the revolt in Egypt. I made the mistake of reading some of the online comments, which, as expected, confirmed my dislike of most people. A popular opinion was that she was asking for it: a blonde woman shouldn’t be doing that job. (Another take on it: she WANTED to be raped for the publicity.) Of course, men also are sexually assaulted, brutalized and, as we’ve seen, killed for doing that job — for bringing us the news.
While I pondered this, news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke … on Twitter. I would normally have welcomed this development. Unfortunately, MrB had just landed in Islamabad — 40 miles away from bin Laden’s compound — on a mission with the Committee to Protect Journalists. He and his party were scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s president and local journalists in order to discuss the 15 Pakistani journalists who have been murdered in under a decade. I hadn’t been happy that he was going on the trip in the first place; now I was really worried. I couldn’t say anything about his whereabouts online, and decided to save any comments about journalists in danger for another day. So I’m saying it now: journalists who risk their lives to keep us informed about world events deserve our thanks. If not for them, we really would be able to complain that “No one told us!” Luckily, they’re around to save us from such ignorance, assuming we ostriches can be persuaded to take our heads out of the sand long enough to absorb their work.
“Ms. Abramson, 57, said being named executive editor was ‘the honor of my life’ and like ‘ascending to Valhalla’ for someone who read The Times as a young girl growing up in New York.”
During my journalism career, any job at the Times would have been like ascending to Valhalla for me. I’d read the Times as a young girl growing up in New Jersey. But I also had an interest in fashion and a father who was an entrepreneur. So, instead of pursuing a job at the Times, I started a fine-jewelry business. Now Jill is running one of the best papers in the world, and I’m posting photos of my shoes. I am consoling myself by imagining that Jill will be slaving over the paper late one night and thinking, “Wow, I wish I could just post a big picture of my shoe on this front page and go home.” Mwah ha ha ha. MWAH HA HA HA! Anyway, congrats to Jill and the Times.
A few final notes:
- Page One: Inside the New York Times opens in New York on June 17 and nationally on July 1.
- Both video clips used in this post are from Family Guy. Where the hell else?
- My usual policy is “no arm-wrestling at cocktail parties” — I made an exception for David Carr — so if you see me at a cocktail party, a handshake will suffice.
UPDATED JULY 4, 2011, TO ADD: I totally forgot that MrB briefly appears in Page One, saying something or other about journalism! I would have mentioned it in the original post had I remembered.