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The Dangerous Profession: Reporters and Bloggers in Iran and Cuidad Juarez

September 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

The frightening announcement came this week that Iran’s best known journalist/blogger
Hossein Derakhshan, who blogs under the name of “Hoder,” is likely going to be executed for his past criticism of the the Iranian government—or whatever charge his jailers have trumped up against him.

(The LA Times has more on Derakshan’s story here.)

The news cannot help but call to mind the other horror for journalists that continued to unfold, this week, in Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous place for reporters in the Americas.

Last week a second journalist from the newspaper El Diario was killed , 21-year-old photographer Luis Carlos Santiago. (In 2008, the police reporter for El Diario, Armando Rodríguez Carreón, was shot dead in front of his 8-year-old daughter.)

In reaction, this past Sunday El Dario’s editor ran an open letter to the leaders of organized crime on its front page. The message was devastating and chilling. It read in part:

“We want you to explain to us what you want from us. What are we supposed to publish or not publish, so we know what to abide by. You are at this time the de facto authorities in this city because the legal authorities have not been able to stop our colleagues from falling.

(More at the NY Times)

Journalists are not at all safe elsewhere in Mexico, as the AP reported late Thursday:

Imagen (is) a daily newspaper in the once-quiet state of Zacatecas where drug cartels have taken over in just the last few years. Then editor Patricia Mercado got a phone call ordering her to print a prepared article or she would be kidnapped.

Mercado ran the story — verbatim — of an innocent young man killed by the army, which was committing human rights abuse.

“If it’s a question of life or death, I have no trouble making a decision. The lives of my reporters are most important,” she said, after telling a group of Mexican journalists Thursday that traffickers from the Zetas cartel have “almost become the news editors.”

“All along the border,” writes the NY Times, “news organizations have silenced themselves out of fear and intimidation from drug trafficking organizations, but El Diario had a reputation for carrying on….”

Not any more.

Then on Wednesday another voice was muted when the editor of a leading online newspaper in Cuidad Juarez asked for and got asylum in the U.S. because of threats against his life.

On Thursday, Mexican President Felipe Calderon vowed to offer federal protection for reporters.

Let us hope and pray it does some good.

Photo by Alejandro Bringas / Reuters

Posted in international issues, International politics, media | No Comments »

Oscar Romero is Finally—Officially—Remembered

March 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Yesterday— 30 years ago—Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador,
was assassinated, sparking El Salvador’s 12-year civil war.

For the first time in all those 30 years, El Salvador has commemorated his murder—as the LA Times reports.

And for the first time, an El Salvadoran government leader-–in this case the president—apologized for the assassination. The WaPo has that part of the story.

(A SIDE NOTE: Romero, if you remember, was one of those objectionable characters whom the Texas textbook revisers recently scrubbed from the state’s school curriculum.)

Here is how Garrison Keillor writes about Romero’s importance for Writer’s Almanac.

Romero was appointed San Salvador’s archbishop three years before, in 1977, at a time when violence in El Salvador was rapidly escalating. The conflict was largely one of class warfare: the landed wealthy — who were aligned with the rightist government and paramilitary death squads — against the impoverished farm workers and other laborers who had begun to ally themselves with leftist guerilla groups looking to overthrow the government.

Romero had a reputation for being bookish, conservative, and even for discouraging priests from getting involved in political activism. But within weeks of becoming bishop, one of his good friends was killed by the death squads. His friend was an activist Jesuit priest named Rutilio Grande, who’d been devoted to educating peasants and trying to bring about economic reforms. He was gunned down on his way to a rural church, along with a young boy and elderly man he’d been traveling with. It was a clear moment of conversion for the previously apolitical Oscar Romero, who suddenly felt that he needed to take up the work his friend had been interrupted from doing.

Romero canceled Masses all around the country that week, and invited all to attend the funeral Mass on the steps of the National Cathedral, which he presided over along with 100 other priests. One hundred thousand people showed up at the cathedral for the funeral. He also broadcast his sermon over the radio, so that it could be heard throughout the country. He called for government investigation of the murders going on in rural areas, and he spoke of the reforms that needed to happen in El Salvador: an end to human rights violations, to the regime of terror, and to the huge disparity in wealth, with the landed classes getting rich from the labor of the poor. He announced to his congregation that he wanted to be a good pastor, but he needed everyone’s help to lead.

He was called to Rome. The Vatican didn’t approve of his activism.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in international issues, International politics, social justice | No Comments »

Should Children Be Tried for War Crimes?

February 10th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Omar Khadr is the youngest detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He was 15 when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a U.S. Special Forces medic in Afghanistan.

Wednesday’s Washington Post has the story:

…The struggle against al-Qaeda has thrown up few detainees with as baleful and unlikely a background as Khadr’s — a father who moved his family to Afghanistan and inside Osama bin Laden’s circle of intimates when Omar was 10; a mother and sister who said the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were deserved; and a brother, the black sheep of the clan, who said he became a CIA asset after his capture in Afghanistan.

This background has convinced U.N. officials, human rights advocates and defense lawyers that Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was an indoctrinated child soldier and, in line with international practice in other conflicts, should be rehabilitated, not prosecuted.

Here also is a 2007 60 Minutes segment on Omar Khadr, who Bob Simon reminds is us theonly person in modern history to be charged for war crimes he allegedly committed while a minor.

This is a no brainer. What is Eric Holder thinking?

Posted in international issues, International politics, juvenile justice, Pakistan | 11 Comments »

Bill Did It. Kim Jong-il pardons Euna Lee & Laura Ling -UPDATED

August 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Here’s the LA Times.

Here’s the NY Times.

And my smart pal Kevin Roderick already has a full, link-filled chronology of Lee and Ling’s ordeal up on LA Observed.

This is wonderful news!

Good slideshow at Huff Post.

(Is it me, or does Lil’ Kim look bizarrely ‘shopped, as my techie son would put it, into all but one of the photos? Oh, nevermind. Go, Bill!!!)



It is about 3 a.m. Wednesday. Laura Ling and Euna Lee are scheduled to arrive at Hangar 25 at the Bob Hope Airport in about an hour.

This morning’s New York Times details how both Clintons
—Hillary and Bill—had a role in the women’s release.

They also say that, out of a list of possible negotiators, that the Koreans picked Bill. Clinton had been slated to go to North Korea before the end of his own presidency, but other international issues pressed, and he never made it. Therefore this trip was looked on as a sort of completion of that interrupted presidential visit.

According to the Washington Post, Bill was not the Obama administration’s first choice for the job.

North Korea rejected the administration’s first choice for the trip — former vice president Al Gore, who co-founded the television channel that employs the journalists — and Bill Clinton left the United States only after North Korea provided assurances that the reporters would be released, the sources said.

The WaPo also had an interesting insight about how the White House managed to give the trip a sort of back door official status, which would please the North Koreans, while simultaneously truthfully denying that the trip had official status.

No government officials appeared to be aboard Clinton’s plane, but the nature of the delegation gave the mission a quasi-official status. It included John Podesta, Clinton’s White House chief of staff, who served as chief of Obama’s transition team and is president of the Center for American Progress. Also seen in photos released by the Korean media were David Straub, a former head of the Korea desk at the State Department who is now at Stanford University; longtime Clinton aide Douglas J. Band; and Justin Cooper, who has worked with the William J. Clinton Foundation.

Listen. Whatever worked. I think we’re all just glad that our local girls are nearly home. (And will be home by the time most of you wake up, have your coffee, and read this.)

Statements made by Lee and Ling’s very relieved and happy family members are posted at


Photo by Zhang Binyang/Xinhua, via Reuters

Posted in international issues, International politics, journalism | 47 Comments »

Obama, Truth-Telling & Gaza

January 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


As you’ll note, this time all the Sunday/Monday Must Reads (and a must see) are on the same topic:


As 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon pointed out in a segment on Sunday night, the situation in Gaza and the West Bank is so high up on Barack Obama’s To Do list that his first foreign calls on his first day in office were to Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

A day or two later, Obama reaffirmed his sense of urgency by appointing former senator George Mitchell, respected for his work in brokering peace in Northern Ireland, as the new administration’s special Middle East envoy.

But if Obama is to have even a ghost of a chance of brokering a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians—he will have to start from the facts as they really are, which has not exactly been the habit for the last two administrations when it came to the Middle East.

To that end, Barack would do well to begin by reading the article in this week’s London Review of books by Henry Siegman.

Siegman is the former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, as well as the the current director of the US Middle East Project in New York. His piece is authoritative, well-sourced and harsh—and this week’s number 1 must read for anyone with an interest in the region.

Here’s how it opens:

Western governments and most of the Western media have accepted a number of Israeli claims justifying the military assault on Gaza: that Hamas consistently violated the six-month truce that Israel observed and then refused to extend it; that Israel therefore had no choice but to destroy Hamas’s capacity to launch missiles into Israeli towns; that Hamas is a terrorist organization, part of a global jihadi network; and that Israel has acted not only in its own defense but on behalf of an international struggle by Western democracies against this network.

I am not aware of a single major American newspaper, radio station or TV channel whose coverage of the assault on Gaza questions this version of events. Criticism of Israel’s actions, if any (and there has been none from the Bush administration), has focused instead on whether the IDF’s carnage is proportional to the threat it sought to counter, and whether it is taking adequate measures to prevent civilian casualties.

Middle East peacemaking has been smothered in deceptive euphemisms, so let me state bluntly that each of these claims is a lie. Israel, not Hamas, violated the truce: Hamas undertook to stop firing rockets into Israel; in return, Israel was to ease its throttlehold on Gaza. In fact, during the truce, it tightened it further. This was confirmed not only by every neutral international observer and NGO on the scene but by Brigadier General (Res.) Shmuel Zakai, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division…

As a follow-up, read Sunday’s Scott Macleod’s essay for Time Magazine in which he talks about why Obama is the last American president who might be able to help broker a two state solution. If he doesn’t manage it, the window will be gone.

And then watch the aforementioned 60 Minutes segment in which Bob Simon talks about how, for many on both sides of the conflict, the two-state solution may be already impossible.

Posted in international issues, International politics, Middle East, Obama | 8 Comments »

MUMBAI ONLINE: the Eyes and Ears for Millions

November 29th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Although I am still in the midst of a Tryptophanic haze,
I want to again link to some of the remarkable citizen journalists (and in some cases professional journalists using unconventional means) who have been eyes and ears for the rest of us who wanted to understand the human dimension of the events that unfolded with deadly force in Mumbai over the past three days.

There was for example Dina Meta , an ethnographer and social media consultant whose Twitter feed can be found here.

And then there are the harrowing accounts from Aran Shanbhag who lives near the Hotel Taj Mahal. (Scroll down to find his first post.) In words and photos, he talks about his best friend’s brother being killed, about the blood from a dead waiter he sees on the pavement in front of the barbershop where he gets his hair cut every week, about the shock at seeing a landmark that had known all his life becoming a flaming palace of death.

NPR did a wonderful story on an Indian journalist named Sreenath Sreenivasanwho is the dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York. Within an hour of the attacks, Sreenivasan set up a call in radio show to aggregate and curate the observations of his fellow journalists who were on the ground in Mumbai and related areas.

“It was technology allowing us to do things we could never have done even a year ago…” he said.

Here’s a link to the first of the series of broadcasts he did as news of the situation was just beginning to filter out. (And here is the link to subsequent broadcasts.) It makes for remarkable listening.

And, of course, there are the collective Twitter feeds, with #MUMBAI the biggest one

Instead of conventional linear journalism, suddenly we had an Einsteinian explosion of reporting in which many pieces came together to form an dynamically-evolving whole.


(Photo of school children in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad taking part in a vigil for the victims of the Mumbai attacks, by Amit Dave for REUTERS)

Posted in India, international issues, International politics, Pakistan, South Asia | 15 Comments »

Mumbai and the Rise of Social Network-Driven Citizen Media

November 27th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


While the cable television networks, radio and newspapers struggled to stay on top of
the fast unfolding terrorist horror in Mumbai, the social networks suddenly came of age as second-by-second sources of reporting.

We first saw the phenomenon of the Twitter feed as reportig entity when it was used here in Los Angeles the weekend of the LA fires when #LAFIRE had constant street updates that far outpaced the networks for speed and often, frankly, for accuracy. Photographers also uploaded their photos to Flickr and bloggers typed in real time.

The way it works is that anyone posting to Twitter simply uses a code as part of their “tweet.” Thus, in addition to its conventional appearance in it’s usual place on Twitter, the post also appears on a central thread that is keyed to the subject at hand. In the case of the fires in LA County, the key was: #LAFIRE.

To contribute to the primary Twitter feed that exploded online in the hours after the blast at the Hotel Taj Mahal, one had to tag one’s tweets with: #mumbai.

And here is what those tags produced second by second, ahead of the news.

Wikipedia was also remarkable in its speed of evolving an accurate picture of what had happened, and continued to do so as the day wore on.

But the awful day belonged mostly to Twitter as citizen observers posted harrowing details from their cell phones second after second after second.

Yet, as more details true and false, spilled out, some of the conversaton on Twitter turned vicious and posters began to caution each other not to encite the terrorists who were suspected to be tracking he Twitter feed too.

Posted in international issues, International politics | No Comments »

The Anna Politkovskaya Murder Trial

November 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times has a welcome editorial
that calls for openness and transparency in the trial of three men accused of being part of a plot to murder Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a remarkable woman whose death on October 7 2006, shocked writers and others across the world. (The shooter, captured on videotape, has never been caught.)

Here’s the backstory on Anna and the murder of this woman whom many called the conscience of Russia.

Posted in crime and punishment, international issues, International politics, journalism, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Blogging (and Hacking) Georgia

August 13th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Critics tell us the Internet takes us away from each other.
While that may be partly true, it also brings us closer—particularly during a war.

When martial law was declared in Pakistan and Pakistanis were prevented by a media blackout from watching the TV news, Musharraf left the web alone, it was strangely bracing to read the words of the fearless Pakistani bloggers who posted up-to-the-second news frome the street using their Blackberrys and cell phones.

Now, with the conflict continuing between Russia and Georgia, we can monitor bloggers who post from the towns where the bombs are dropping.

The group Global Voices has been doing an excellent job in coordinating posts that relate to the South Ossetia crisis.

Here, for example, they’ve gathered some posts by bloggers in Tbilisi, Georgia.

But cyberspace has a flip side.
And on Monday, the Georgian government accused Russia of engaging in “cyber warfare” by “disabling Georgian Websites.”

In response, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had established alternate websites.

The Ministry folks made the announcement on their blog, of course.

At the Ministry’s website you can also find a running timeline of the conflict including such entries as this one from 6 pm last night telling that “Village Tkotsa Khashuri district 4 bombes were droped. None of them exploded.”

(The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to start using its spellcheck.)

With its own websites compromised, the Georgian Ministry has resorted to using blogspot to get its information out. (This means the Ministry’s URL that is nearly identical in structure that of a zillion American college student with blogs—namely:

In many ways more than watching the television news, the Ministry’s blog and others bring us closer to the vulnerability felt by the the Georgians.

For instance, as I write this,
a new blog post says that there are..”acts of aggression committed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet…” However, as yet, there is nothing about this on the news….

Blog on, comrades.

Posted in international issues, International politics | No Comments »


August 11th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon


Okay, Russia is bombing Georgia,
(and in so doing wounding and killing grandmotherly-looking women who should be baking lovely, fragrant breads from scratch for their grandbabies instead of lying in the rubble of their apartment buildings).

Isaac Hayes, Bernie Mack, and poet, Mahmoud Darwish have each died way too early this past weekend.

So given all that and other news, what are the best possible Must Reads from the Saturday, Sunday and Monday papers? Perhaps the intriguing Matt Bai article in the New York Times Magazine that discussed the effect of the Obama candidacy on traditional Black politics? Or the well-researched Wa Po story on the meaning of recently concluded Hamden military tribunal?

What you really need to read is four articles on various permutations of the John Edwards affair. (No, I’m not kidding. Look: you can’t just sit around watching Michael Phelps swim his way to gold medals all the time.)

The big four are:


On Saturday, the LA Times’ Rutten belatedly said what we all should have said a week or two ago (I include myself among the grievously guilty)—namely that the country’s newspapers were prissily engaged in a blackout when it came to covering the growing likelihood that John Edwards had indeed had an affair with new age aphorism-spouting party girl turned “filmmaker,” Raille Hunter. The excuse was that they couldn’t even mention the story (or the Enquirer’s story about the story) until they’d conclusively substantiated that there was definitely an affair—-nevermind that the NY Times felt no such reticence back in February when it published its front page rumors and innuendos about John McCain’s maybe, possible, might-be dalliance.

Here are a few clips from Rutten’s column:

From the start, the Edwards scandal has belonged entirely to the alternative and new media. The tabloid National Enquirer has done all the significant reporting on it [NOTE: Huff Post’s Sam Stein was also in on it] — reporting that turns out to be largely correct — and bloggers and online commentators have refused to let the story sputter into oblivion.

Slate’s Mickey Kaus has been foremost among the latter, alternately analyzing and speculating on the Enquirer’s reporting and ridiculing the mainstream media for a fastidiousness that has seemed, from the start, wholly absurd.


But what’s really significant here is the cone of silence the nation’s major newspapers — including The Times — and the cable and broadcast networks dropped over this story when it first appeared in the tabloid during the presidential primary campaign. Next, the Enquirer reported that the unmarried Hunter was pregnant. Still no mainstream media interest.

Indeed, never in recent journalistic history have so many tough reporters so closely resembled sheep as those members of the campaign press corps who meekly accepted Edwards’ categorical dismissal of the Enquirer’s allegations.

Read the rest. And good for Rutten for calling it. I wish I had done the same, only much earlier.


In this morning’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz offers his own very thoughtful version of why his paper and others didn’t report on the growing Edwards story, and why, in his humble opinion they could have, and should have. Here are a couple of the important ‘graphs:

As the political fallout came to be openly debated in the North Carolina papers, I pursued the matter with my colleague Lois Romano and was struck by Edwards’s refusal to talk about whether he had a relationship with Rielle Hunter, his former campaign aide, or to even issue a statement. Edwards’s actions did not seem to be those of a man with nothing to hide. I came to believe that we should publish a story. But I don’t get paid to make those decisions.

Only Edwards’s belated confession Friday to ABC’s Bob Woodruff allowed news organizations to jump on what most people already knew.


The fact that big newspapers, magazines and networks have standards — that is, they refuse to print every stray rumor just because it’s “out there” — is one of their strengths. But in the latter stages of this case, it made them look clueless. Perhaps there is a middle ground where media outlets can report on a burgeoning controversy without vouching for the underlying allegations, being candid with readers and viewers about what they know and don’t know.


Also in the LA Times, but Sunday, writer Sarah Miller pens a funny-ish account of her run-ins with Raille Hunter after Ms. Hunter rented the Benedict Canyon room that Miller had formerly been renting. The Op Ed is written an an amusing gossipy tone, yet it is uncomfortably relevant because the ditzy bimbette portrayed here doesn’t suggest anything very nice about the good senator’s judgment (what there was of it) in choosing a partner for his ill-considered aventure amoureuse, while his wife did or didn’t (depending upon what timeline turns out to be true) battle terminal cancer.


I realize this is the second week in a row that I’ve recommended that you read Maureen Dowd. (Maybe it’s the heat.) But, after watching John Edward’s Nightline performance, Dowd’s Sunday bitchiness seemed clarifying and appropriate.

I have spent significant time in the last couple of days arguing with extremely smart, soulful guys whom I adore and respect about whether or not John Edwards has behaved (and still is behaving) like an understandibly fallible man (read: the affair is no big deal)—or if he’s acted like an irresponsible, unattractively judgment-free weenie.

I was the one arguing for the weenie designation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Elections '08, International politics, Los Angeles Times, media, National politics, Presidential race | 21 Comments »

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