Category Archives: journalism

The Media and Michael Jackson: Welcome to the Jackson School of Law, Public Health and Race

I had to stop watching. The orgy over Michael Jackson was deserved to a point, and then with 24-hour cable channels pumping out to a “Thriller” beat, it just got embarrassing with the media practically pandering to the mass audience the story is attracting.

Leave it to the Wall Street Journal to put things in perspective. Wednesday’s front page featured above the fold horizontal photos of Uighurs and Hans!  (The Uighars? Did they sing a cover of “I Want You Back”? )  Where was Jackson in the new hip Journal? MJ was in a small box, a photo of his coffin and a caption  on the left under the masthead.

A triumph of journalistic restraint!

The story now unfolds like any other emotion-filled  mega-story before it , i.e., the O.J. trial. that’s when the news became our de facto public school of law.  O.J  was our criminal law class.   MJ is our our  family law and probate class.

As we learn of the details of Jackson’s life,  you’ll be asking yourself if you have a will or an estate plan. You can count on that. You wouldn’t want to end up in the mess the courts are about to untangle.

So the news will become part law school, part business school case study , and potentially a seminar in the Jackson  school of public health; that is,  if we ever during the course of the next few months discover what killed Jackson, what tormented  him, and what he was running away to or from.

We have lots to look forward to!

Notice I have avoided taking the contrary approach like  one blogger on Alternet which called Jackson an icon of mediocrity who wasn’t a good dancer, singer, musician. Like what’s the fuss?  That’s an elitist approach, to which I’ll confess to using it in the past.  But save that tack for denigrating mass love shown for Donny Osmond. Or at the passing of one of the Monkees.

Jackson was far too complex and gifted.  And troubled.

His most complicated role that’s worth examining may well be the psychological toll race had on his psyche.

Jackson wanted to transcend race as if he were music and the dance, the universal forms that made him the King of Pop.

He couldn’t do that as a person, no matter how he tried. Jackson didn’t survive his fight against race and identity, no matter how he tried to transform himself.

But his music triumphed and that shall live forever.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the new face of U.S./North Korean Impasse

Forget about Kim Jong Il’s bad hair days, and images of the dictator as an Asian Dr. Strangelove.

Today, my heart goes out to fellow Asian American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee.

They are now the human face of  the North Korea/U.S. impasse.

The U.S. and North Korea have no diplomatic relations. Apparently, someone in Pyongyang thinks Ling and Lee may help force the issue.

North Korea has sentenced the two women to 12 years of hard labor, according to KCNA, the North’s official news agency.

The two were arrested in March while doing stories for Current TV about North Korean families desperate migration for food along the Chinese border.

Yesterday, in a closed session, the Central Court, the highest in North Korea, convicted the journalists for “committing hostilities against the Korean nation and illegal entry.”

Their exact crime is irrelevant. Ling and Lee were simply too good and too convenient for the North Koreans to pass up. They’re now in place as the perfect tools to help solve the non-diplomatic “diplomacy that exists between the U.S. and North Korea.

Everything in this story is tea-leaf reading, with Ling and Lee up to their eyeballs in the muck.

It’s all rather surreal, where things aren’t always what they appear.

The State Department and Hillary Clinton have issued public statements condemning the convictions and say all that can be done is being done. Whatever that means.

Meanwhile, North Korea has been banging a loud drum, firing off nuclear tests in the past two months. The country wants to be accepted as a nuclear power and doesn’t mind alienating friends and foes alike. The U.S. response to the testing has been predictable. Beyond a perfunctory public condemnation, the world has been waiting to see a more forceful response from the U.S. to punish North Korea.

Pyongyang complicates matters by dangling Ling and Lee.

Pyongyang has put bait on the hook. Does the U.S. send an envoy? Does it lead to at least the beginning of the end of the long diplomatic impasse?

These issues take time, unfortunately. But the harsh sentence to Ling and Lee indicate the North Koreans mean business.

Roxana Saberi’s free, but mistreatment of journalists continues world-wide

It’s a good week that begins with the release  of Roxana Saberi, an Asian American freelance journalist held in an Iranian prison since March for espionage.

Reports source her lawyer who said the Court of Appeal in Teheran has ruled to reduce her sentence from eight to two years, creating the possibility for a suspended sentence for Saberi, born in the U.S. to an Iranian father and Japanese mother.

Saberi’s arrest and her subsequent espionage conviction has been a baffler.  Saberi was there to do a book on Iranian pop culture and was unlikely a “spy” in the George Bush-CIA-traditional sense, but as our envoy providing  real information about a country where the truth is intentionally layered, shrouded and buried.

She was doing the work of a journalist– the most dangerous and threatening job imaginable to individuals, institutions, and governments that would rather control the truth to their liking.

I’m happy for Saberi’s release. It’s not easy being a journalist without a big news organization backing your search for the truth. But the treatment toward Saberi is not isolated. There are at least five other Iranian journalists imprisoned in Iran, according to the most recent census by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Unlike Saberi, there is little hue and cry over their imprisonment.

Indeed, journalists worldwide have met fates far worse than prison. The CPJ puts the number of journalists who have been killed in the last 17 years at 734.

One of them was my buddy Chauncey Bailey who was killed in 2007 in  Oakland.

Normally, they don’t kill journalists in America.

But in many countries, journalists , including bloggers,  have been killed.  In Burma and China, bloggers disappear after writing their on-line stories. In the Philippines more than 24 journalists have been murdered mysteriously in the last decade, their cases go unsolved. The record makes the Philippines’ the deadliest peacetime democracy where one can practice journalism.

That’s what happens when journalism is about life and death.

Here in America, they don’t bother killing the journalists. Just their newspapers.

More State of Play: Minority Journalists on the sinking ship

One thing more thing on the Russell Crowe movie: It does have plenty of minorities sprinkled in the newsroom, except of course in the lead roles. There’s the black city editor who hounds Cal. There’s a few black writers seen at their desks. And an Asian guy who could be an editor or the legal guy.

And they’re all working in a place that looks like a fire hazard.

I didn’t hear  my kids say, “Gee, Dad, I want to work there.”

It must have seemed to them  like a white collar coal mine.

Still, the lack of diversity in journalism may actually be a good thing now. Maybe minority journalists are lucky that we’re not the lead rats on the sinking ship.

I suppose that depends if journalism is LIFO (last in, first out) or FIFO (first in, first out).

In survival mode,  the state of journalism makes it impossible to sustain  any kind of racial equity.  And retention rates for talented minorities were low even before the decline of the industry. If anything, media companies will need better affirmative action programs to make sure journalism and the media business doesn’t stay all-white for another 100 years.

As both a former TV and newspaper reporter, I did note how in the journalism movie, convention has turned the glamorous TV reporter into the dramatic chorus. Formerly, a director would simply flash a newspaper headline, filling the movie screen  in bold type to emphasize a plot point.

So old school.  But soon even an anchor or a breathless reporter summing up the plot will seem outdated.

In the future, we’ll all just get twittered.