A Standup to Tell a Complex Tale

Generally, stand-ups are best used to transition from one place or time to another.  Sometimes they can be the right tool to establish your presence at a story or to explain something for which there is no video.  But here is a standup-a LONG standup, in which the journalist uses the technique of drawing on a glass between him and the camera.  Then in post-production the editor adds the visual elements that the journalist is talking about.  See what you think:


Using Tag Clouds to Examine Political Speeches

Sometimes it helps to visualize speeches, not just listen to them, to see which words a speaker uses over and over. One way to understand the context of a speech is to map the words from the text in a “tag cloud.”  So I created these displays which show the most used words in larger font. We plug in the exact text of the speech so you  can see the number of times each key word is used.

Ryan mentioned his mother eight times, mentioned America(s) 16 times and hit the words “crisis” and “debt” over and over. He pounded away on Medicare and mentioned Obamacare five times. The words work and working came up 12 times and emerged as one of his major themes-getting the country back to work.

Paul Ryan’s Acceptance Speech Tag Cloud

Four years ago, Joe Biden mentioned Afghanistan five times in his Vice Presidential acceptance speech. He also used words like “security,” “troops,” and “trust.”   But Biden’s linchpin word was “change.”  That is common word for challengers to use in political stump speeches when their party is not in office, as was the case for Biden and Obama in 2008.

Joe Biden’s acceptance speech tag cloud

At the time of her nomination, Americans barely knew Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.  The governor stayed away from the war in her speech, but used the word “oil” eight times and “energy” six times.

Sarah Palin’s Acceptance Speech 2008 tag cloud

Looking back at those speeches four years ago, it is most striking that the words “jobs,” “recession,” “bailout,” “Medicare,” and “health care reform” were not mentioned in these keynotes.  It does give one pause to wonder what words will be top-of-mind hot issues in 2016 that we are not thinking about today.

Should Journalists Allow NAVY S.E.A.L. to Remain Secret?

Matt Bissonnette did not intend for you to know his name.  His publisher says he is one of the Navy SEALS who participated in the raid on the binLaden compound.  That’s right-his publisher.

Bissonnette wrote a book that provides what he says are undisclosed details of the assault that conflict with the Obama version of the story.  But the publisher asked journalists not to disclose the author’s name, and use a pen name Mark Owen instead.

For journalists, there is a question of whether to grant confidential status, even when they know for sure who this writer is.  Various military websites claim, without proof that he is trying to make a movie deal too.

-What privacy does he give up when he writes a book?

-Without knowing his name, how would the public know whether to trust the source?

-How should journalists weigh the need to know against the safety concerns that might come with being a public person who participated in killing the world’s most wanted man?

Interestingly, it was FOX News that first identified Bissonnette.

Fox reported:

The tell-all book also has apparently upset a large population of former and current SEAL members who worry about releasing information that could compromise future missions. One Navy SEAL told Fox News, “How do we tell our guys to stay quiet when this guy won’t?” Other SEALs are expressing anger, with some going so far as to call him a “traitor.”

And Col. Tim Nye, a Special Operations Command spokesman, said the author “put himself in danger” by writing the book.

“This individual came forward. He started the process. He had to have known where this would lead,” Nye said. “He’s the one who started this so he bears the ultimate responsibility for this.”

According to a press release from his publisher, Penguin Group, “Owen (Bissonnette) was one of the first men through the door on the third floor of the terrorist leader’s hideout and was present at his death.”

In the book, Bissonnette writes “it is time to set the record straight about one of the most important missions in U.S. military history.”

An experienced member of the elite Navy SEAL special operators, Bissonnette also participated in the highly publicized rescue of Captain Richard Phillips in the Indian Ocean in 2009. That mission involved a daring rescue that ended when SEAL snipers shot and killed three Somali pirates with direct shots to the head.

Bissonnette received the rank of chief before he retired.

CBS’s 60 Minutes chooses not to identify Bissonnette, even though his name is public now.  CBS disguised him this way.

When Companies go Straight to the Public

This seems to be happening more often–companies are posting their responses to media stories straight to the public. In this case, it is Koch Industries that has a problem with New York Times coverage. Koch posted an email exchange with NYT journalists asking specific questions about fairness and accuracy. I have to say, the Times comes off in the exchange as aloof.
Take a look and tell me what you think.

In another case, CNBC produced a blistering investigation of the Remington arms company, an old and trusted name in the gun industry.  CNBC claimed a very popular model of rifle has frequently fired without anybody pulling the trigger. CNBC documents injuries and deaths.

Remington didn’t respond for the project but did produce a remarkable online video response employing a former network anchor and high production values.  Gun blogs picked it up.

The NRA also produced a video talk show segment featuring a Remington spokesman. You have to wonder why this spokesman was not available to CNBC. He makes a compelling statement but went directly to the gun public:

University of Texas Newspaper Ignites Trayvon Martin Protest

Cartoonist Stephanie Eisner defended her work in Wednesday’s Daily Texan.
“I feel the news should be unbiased. And in the retelling of this particular event, I felt that that was not the case. My story compared this situation to yellow journalism in the past, where aspects of news stories were blown out of proportion with the intention of selling papers and enticing emotions.”

Hours later, she issued a statement. “I apologize for what was in hindsight an ambiguous cartoon related to the Trayvon Martin shooting.”
“I intended to contribute thoughtful commentary on the media coverage of the incident, however this goal fell flat.
“I would like to make it explicitly clear that I am not a racist, and that I am personally appalled by the killing of Trayvon Martin. I regret any pain the wording or message of my cartoon may have caused.”

For whatever the Daily Texan did wrong in publishing the cartoon, an editor smartly met a small group of protestors in plain sight of anybody who wanted to see the exchange.  The paper captured video of the exchange and posted it on the Texan website.

This American Life’s Retraction, Mike Daisey’s Reaction

This weekend, the public radio show, This American Life issued an hour-long retraction for its most listened to show ever, the program about the Foxconn plant in China.  The plant is the factory that makes virtually all of the Apple products that you know, iPod, iPad and so on.

While nobody can be happy about the lies in the original program, Ira Glass shows us how to make a correction.  He doesn’t offer a lame excuse, an addendum on a web page.  He dedicates just as much time airing a retraction as he did to the original story.  He takes responsibility for the program that aired.   The downloads for this program are free.  They don’t charge to download a retraction.  It is a small point, but not at all subtle.

The lies were uncovered by Rob Schmitz, a Shanghai-based reporter for Marketplace.  Rob admits this was not some huge investigation that made the story unravel. Instead, he felt the story  Mike Daisey had told to Ira Glass and to audiences around America just didn’t sound right. So he started with tracking down Daisey’s Chinese interpreter.  It was a simple Google search.

In her interview with Rob, Cathy disputes much of what Daisey has been telling theater audiences since 2010 and much of what he said on the radio. Rob also talks to Mike Daisey about Cathy’s version of the trip and tries to square the two accounts.  Act One. Cathy’s Account.

Cathy says a lot of what Daisey tells audiences about Foxconn is not true. Security guards do not have guns, they talked with many fewer workers, they visited many fewer factories, the story about visiting workers as young as 12, 13 and 14 years old at Foxconn. Cathy says they met workers who looked young, but she says Daisey did not meet workers as young as that.

When Rob presses Daisey, Daisey admits he met with far fewer “outlawed” union members than he first claimed, his story about the young girls fell completely apart, his stories about workers who claimed they had been poisoned on the job was based totally on stuff people had told him.  He said refused to say he lied, but he didn’t meet an actual worker who had been poisoned on the job as he has repeated claimed.  Time after time, details in his stories do not check out.

One of the more interesting moments in the retraction is when Cathy says Daisey is a writer and it is OK when he makes up some of the facts.  It is a window into the understanding of a Chinese citizen who does not expect that everything they hear on the radio has to be true. She was not the least bit surprised to hear Daisey exaggerated some of his story.

Act Two. Mike’s Account. Host Ira Glass has a lot of questions for Mike Daisey, beginning with why Daisey lied to Ira and This American Life producer Brian Reed about how they could fact-check his story with Cathy Lee. Ira also explains This American Life‘s fact-checking process, in general. (15 minutes).

Act Three. The News That’s Fit to Print. To get a sense of what really is true of Apple’s working conditions in China, Ira talks to New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg. Duhigg, along with Times reporter David Barboza, wrote the newspaper’s front-page investigative series in early 2012 about this subject. And while Duhigg won’t tell you how to feel about Apple and its supplier factories’ practices, he does lay out the options for how you could feel, in a very clear and logical way. Duhigg is also the author of The Power of Habit. (12 minutes).

Here is the Marketplace report. It is an unemotional, factual and low-key piece that does not even lead with the fact that Marketplace caught Daisey lying.

A note from Ira Glass
Glass told Daisey he felt terrible for him, but he also felt lied to. Astonishingly, rather than admitting to more lies, Daisey came back to Glass to try to provide more “context” for why he told his exaggerated story the way he did.  He said his goal was to “make people care.”  He admitted he took “a few shortcuts in his passion to be heard.”  He said his story is theater, not journalism. And Daisey said “it was completely wrong for me to have it on your show.”

.Daisey says he when he performs in a theatrical context he has no plan to reveal that some of his story is made up. He says audiences understand in that context, that some of what performers say is made up.  That is the context of the theater, he says.

It raises the question doesn’t it, is the only way to get to people to fabricate? To exaggerate?  Glass confronts Daisey by saying “it just isn’t true.”  Glass goes on to tell Daisey be thinks Daisey exaggerated and/or lied in other parts of the story too. Ira says what people want is “honest labeling.” Ira says, “I think when somebody says something happened to them that people believe it.”

Update: This is the strange way that Daisey opened his stage act this weekend.
He does not admit in the revision that he is a liar, he says he stands behind the work.  Astonishing.

Last year, performer Mike Daisey sat down with Jeff Brown for Art Beat to discuss his much-talked-about one-man show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs.”  It was that show that caught Ira Glass’ attention and started this radio project.  In that PBS interview, Daisey claimed  that his work is “non-fiction.”

Part of the tragedy of this story is that you might not now believe anything that Daisey said. In fact, an awful lot of what he reported to be true, is true.

Here is a piece that ABC News Nightline filed in February 2012.

Something to keep in mind:
A lot of people hear This American Life on public radio station stations affiliated with National Public Radio.  This American Life is produced by PRI, Public Radio International.  Marketplace is a program produced by American Public Media. They are all public radio networks and you hear their programming on stations affiliated with NPR, but they are not the same.

Newsroom Has to Make Tough Ethics Call About one of its Own

A Newsroom Battles With  a Tough Ethics Call

You don’t HAVE to read any of the links on this page but if you want to know more you can. Here are the facts of the case unfolding in at the Seattle Oregonian newspaper this week:

-the editorial page editor, a beloved man, died of a heart attack

-the paper ran a piece befitting such a fine man and his service


-subsequently, the paper learned the editor didn’t died while in his car, he died in an apartment with a 23 year old with whom he had a running affair and provides her with money.  She says it was not buying sex but he did give her money.

Bob Caldwell, editor of The Oregonian‘s editorial pages, was in the Tigard apartment of a 23-year-old woman when he went into cardiac arrest Saturday afternoon.

The woman called 9-1-1 at 4:43 p.m. to report that Caldwell, 63, was coughing and then unresponsive after a sex act. Washington County sheriff’s officers and medical personnel responded and transported him to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, where he later was pronounced dead.

The woman told deputies she met Caldwell about a year ago at Portland Community College. Caldwell, she said, knew she didn’t have much money, so he provided her cash for books and other things for school in exchange for sex acts at her apartment.

Caldwell had not given her money Saturday, she told deputies. They decided against pursuing prostitution charges. Deputies notified Caldwell’s family of his death Saturday evening.

-the paper felt it HAD to set the record straight even though the man had a wife and kids (Oddly enough, when Caldwell was arrested for a drinking and driving two years ago—an actual crime—his paper didn’t report the story. )

-the paper learned one of it’s staffers who provided false information about the first version of the story knew better but was trying to protect her lifelong friend and his family.  The paper fired her.

She write on her Facebook page:

Some of the public accuse the paper of a cover-up and some say they are unnecessarily harming a man’s reputation and harming his family.

Is this what disclosure and transparency requires?  The only reason they are reporting the details of the affair is because the paper screwed up the original report. Why should the family suffer this indignity caused by the paper’s reporting error?

QUESTION: Why should the public know this about a man who holds no office and is not known to 99% of the population (I made that number up.)  How important is it that he was the editorial page editor, in effect the gatekeeper of standards for the paper?

QUESTION: Should they identify the woman? Why or why not?

Here is the official 1200 word explainer by the paper’s editor http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2012/03/peter_bhatia_misinformation_no.html

19 Year old Works on a Cure for Cancer

When I teach college and high school aged writers, they love to see stories about people who are their age.  So here is a really nice piece by CBS’ Steve Hartman and my buddy photojournalist Les Rose.  It is a simple no frills kind of piece that has some very nice teaching points that I will list at the bottom of the photo below:


-Steve does not get hung up in the girl’s ethnicity. It is not about her “Chinese-ness” it is about her drive.

-The bookending of her lust for shoes makes her human and normal

-Steve is the ”everyday guy” in the story, not pretending to know more than any of the rest of us about medicine or science.  It makes the subject’s expertise even more impressive.

-The story does not overstate the probability that this will work a as a cure. These kinds of things are never as simple as that. So the piece is honest.