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Mumbai Coverage: Gripping, but How Good?

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Thursday, November 27, 2008
The Age in Melbourne, Australia, Denver's Rocky Mountain News and the Calcutta Telegraph.








Worldwide Attention Reflects Concern Over Terrorism

"Breaking news on a holiday often offers the best look into a media organization. With many workers on holiday, you quickly see what kind of depth a news organization has - or doesn't have. And by their commitment - or lack of it - to coverage, you can gauge their priorities," media critic David Zurawik wrote on the Baltimore Sun Web site.

Coverage of the terrorist attack on Mumbai, India, gave viewers the ability to follow the story in real time and opportunities for interested parties as well as professionals to provide feedback. Some journalists who were unintentionally caught up in the story and nonresidents who had ties to the city added their contributions.

For its three days, it was the dominant news story worldwide, a reminder of terrorism's broad reach.

On Saturday morning in India (Friday night in the United States), CNN reported, "The last gunmen in a standoff at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai were killed early Saturday, the city's police chief told CNN sister station CNN-IBN, but another official said more attackers could be inside the hotel." The siege was, in fact, over.

The network reported earlier that the death toll had risen to 160 and that those killed included members of the Indian police and military, a rabbi, an American father and teen daughter and a British yacht magnate.

"The bodies of five hostages were found at the Chabad House Jewish center where commandos stormed the building through a hole blasted in the wall," CNN said.

". . . The death toll from attacks in nine locations [included] three Germans, an Italian, an Australian and one Chinese among the at least 15 foreigners killed - with a further 327 injured.

"Maharashtra state official Bhushan Gagrani said the death toll is expected to rise further and includes civilians, 16 police and two commandos. Eleven terrorists have also been killed."

In the United States, the South Asian Journalists Association took the lead in sharing information among journalists, staging webcasts reminiscent of news meetings, with interested parties and journalists sharing what they knew. Its Web site provided contact information for writers and experts on the story, and SAJA invited readers to contribute links to useful articles.

In a Friday morning webcast, for example, participants debated whether Western media were focusing too much on Western injuries and deaths. "This is an attack on India and Indians first and foremost," said Roy Wadia, Mumbai-based media consultant and former CNN International executive producer, reporting on the disgust he said was expressed by some in Mumbai watching the international networks.

Sree Sreenivasan, a SAJA founder who moderated the call, reminded Wadia that Indian networks focused on the few Indian casualties during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, saying that was just the way news organizations operated.

On the SAJA Web site, a writer identified as Anin wrote, "I doubt if this news piece would have gained all this attention if not for all the held up tourist hostages. When West is not at a victim of terrorist attacks, the attacks are usually portrayed as a mere human tragedy and none of the 'an attack on democracy and freedom' rhetoric. It is not clear who the perpetrators are yet, but I wish the media employs some of the same rhetoric and value of the freedom of Mumbaikars just as much as New Yorkers or Londoners."

In that interactive space, plaudits went to New York Times reporter Somini Sengupta, but the Times' lead headline Friday, "Indian Commandos Storm Jewish Center," was criticized during the Webcast as misleading because it didn't say that the reason was to free hostages.

"I was surprised at the way the media companies ignored VT (Train sation) attacks - a lot of innocent commuters from middle and lower income families were gunned down in cold blood but I guess the news companies did not find it news worthy enough when compared to the high profile Taj" hotel, poster Arjun Patel said.

The terrorism involved only a portion of Mumbai, some noted, though many headlines made it seem that the entire country was under siege.

There was also discussion of who was amateurish and who seemed clueless.

A poster dubbed "Peace Mountain" wrote of CNN, "Correspondents in Mumbai and Islamabad are pretty good. But the anchors and analysts are totally stupid. All speculation and BS. That Kyra Phillips apparently vacationed in India, did some yoga, and thinks everyone is a yogi there. She has no idea how regular political violence and terrorism is in India, though this is an unprecedented and horrific event. She kept on saying this is the country of Mahatma Gandhi and meditation. What a flake."

In England, Roy Greenslade of the Guardian made it obvious how much the definition of "media" has expanded. "Twitter saw intense activity yesterday. Within five seconds (at 07.48 GMT), 80 messages were posted. Posts included offers of help for the media and updates on the situation," he wrote of the microblogging technology.

"Some bloggers provided running descriptions and commentaries from near the action, while others vented emotions. 'I've been tweeting almost all night . . . Upset and angry and bereft,' wrote Dina Mehta. She has hugely detailed information on her blog."

The Guardian reported separately on how news agencies covered the story, identifying journalists who flirted with danger. Two journalists were injured, reported.

Viewers could see the peril for themselves.

On CNN, Sara Sidner, reporting from in front of the Taj, as the hotel is called, noted that in other countries reporters would not be permitted so close to ongoing police action. As she spoke, gunfire and other explosions went off and other journalists ducked.

Shaili Chopra of India's NDTV reported from inside the hotel: "We lie on the floor. Our hands have mikes, theirs have guns." provided continuous coverage from the scene.

The family of a New Delhi-based journalist, Sabina Sehgal Saikia, was still searching for her. "A consulting editor and the resident food critic with the Times of India, Saikia was in Mumbai's Taj Mahal Hotel when it was stormed by terrorists late Wednesday evening," the Indian Express told readers. [On Saturday, she was found dead after the hotel was cleared, the Press Trust of India reported.]

Parizaad Khan, a reporter for the Mint newspaper and Web site, based in New Delhi, wrote a first-person account of being trapped in the hotel, "How a wedding reception turned into a life lesson."

Some American publications, even those of modest circulation, turned to journalists with Indian connections. In the Herald-Courier in Bristol, Va., a former copy editor for the newspaper wrote of her impressions. "I was born in Mumbai but grew up in the United States, so Wednesday night's attack on Americans by Indians in my birth city was particularly wrenching, since I felt like I was straddling both sides of the conflict," Devika Patel said.

Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria, a Mumbai native, answered a q-and-a on Newsweek's Web site. "I think one of the misconceptions we're seeing so far is the assumption that these attacks were aimed primarily at foreigners," he began.

For Americans making do with cable news coverage, viewers had stark choices, Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun wrote:

"The Fox News channel does not have anywhere near the worldwide on-staff resources that CNN International does, but it plugged into NDTV (New Delhi Television) for some excellent coverage and images of the early and ongoing attacks," he said of Wednesday's coverage. "Don't get too excited about Fox's performance, though, by 10 p.m. it was airing a rerun of Greta Van Susteren's softball interview with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"CNN was all over the story, and you could feel its strength build as staffers came back to work and joined in. CNN International had much help in terms of imagery from sister channel IBN (India Broadcast News). CNN stayed on the case throughout the night.

"But on MSNBC, no real coverage - nothing except a brief mention and discussion at the anchor desk in New York. Isn't this a great way to cut reporting costs - just stop doing it."

By Seconds, NPR Iraqi Team Escapes Assassination

"An NPR correspondent and three members of NPR's Iraqi staff narrowly survived an apparent assassination attempt in Baghdad on Sunday after a hidden 'sticky' bomb exploded underneath their parked, armored BMW," the National Public Radio correspondent, Ivan Watson, reported on Sunday.

"The car exploded in a pillar of flame and was totally destroyed. No one was injured in the attack.

"The bombing took place during a brief NPR reporting trip to western Baghdad's battle-scarred Rabiye Street.

"NPR correspondent Ivan Watson, Iraqi producer and translator Ali Hamdani, and two Iraqi drivers who do not want to be named for security reasons had stopped to conduct interviews in a kebab shop, just a few yards from an Iraqi army checkpoint.

"They spent about 45 minutes there, eating lunch and conducting interviews with the shop's two owners. The armored BMW and a second NPR 'chase car' were parked in the street out front.

"At the end of the meal, the NPR team was headed back to its vehicles but stopped for a moment when kebab shop owner Athir Abdul El Mawjood began showing the bullet holes that still pockmark the front of his business.

"Suddenly, Iraqi soldiers ran up screaming 'bomb' in Arabic and pointing at the parked BMW. They blocked oncoming traffic, and an Iraqi officer named Lt.  Mohamed Jabbour physically pulled one of NPR's drivers away from the parked car.

"Seconds later, the BMW exploded and burst into flames some 15 feet from the NPR journalists."

Loren Jenkins, NPR's foreign editor, issued a statement saying, "Despite Sunday's attack, and the continued danger and difficulty of reporting from Iraq, even as the violence levels there fall, NPR remains committed to full and complete coverage of this important story." [Added Nov. 30]

Actor Sean Penn describes interviewing Venezuela's Hugo Ch?°vez and Cuba's Raul Castro.

The Nation Runs Sean Penn Interview With Raul Castro

"In the cover story of this week's Nation Magazine, actor/filmmaker Sean Penn questions Cuban President Raul Castro in his first-ever interview with the foreign press. In the wide-ranging, seven-hour conversation, Castro discusses his views of President-elect Barack Obama, reflects on his role during the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, and shares details of the secret but ongoing military relationship between the Pentagon and Cuba over Guantanamo," the Nation announced this week.

"Penn, making his second trip to Cuba, spoke to Castro at the Presidential Palace in Havana with the knowledge of Castro's brother Fidel. In the interview, Castro:

  • "Expands on the secret military relationship between the Pentagon and Cuba, detailing a remarkably structured series of monthly meetings, formal response plans to crises on the base, and even a hotline and collaborative emergency response exercises held jointly between the two militaries. This cooperation belies the popular image of two antagonistic nations on the brink of conflict.
  • "Offered his prediction about the (then) upcoming U.S. Presidential election. 'If he is not murdered before November 4,' he says of Obama, 'he will be your next President.'
  • "Describes the drama and unheard details about the Cuban missile crisis and the Bay of Pigs invasion.
  • "Responds forcefully to allegations of human rights violations and suppression of free speech, and defends criticism of Cuba as a haven for the drug trade.
  • "Extends a surprising olive branch to the United States, proposing a summit with President-elect Barack Obama."

"'No country is 100 percent free of human rights abuses,' Castro tells me," Penn writes. "But, he insists, 'reports in the US media are highly exaggerated and hypocritical.'

"Indeed, even high-profile Cuban dissidents, such as Eloy Guti?©rrez Menoyo, acknowledge the manipulations, accusing the US Interests Section of gaining dissident testimony through cash payoffs. Ironically, in 1992 and '94, Human Rights Watch also described lawlessness and intimidation by anti-Castro groups in Miami as what author/journalist Reese Erlich termed 'violations normally associated with Latin American dictatorships.'

"Having said that, I'm a proud American and infinitely aware that if I were a Cuban citizen and were to write an article such as this about the Cuban leadership, I could be jailed."

Cable Group Opposes Johnson's Bid for New Network

"Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson's recently filed FCC petition to force cable and satellite distributors to carry his new urban-targeted television network under 'share time' licenses . . . should be rejected, according to the National Cable Television Association," R. Thomas Umstead reported Wednesday for Multichannel News.

Cable association spokesman Brian Dietz said Johnson's proposal is nothing more than a request for rights to require stations to carry the new network — a principle called "must carry" — that the FCC has already rejected for such arrangements.

As reported on Tuesday, Johnson is joined in his application by Ion Media Networks, Inc., proposing that a new Urban Television network share the frequencies allocated to 42 Ion stations. With digital television, viewers could  choose between the two networks, even though both would be on the same frequency.

"Johnson and Ion contend that the share-time license would entitle the Urban channel to must carry in all markets," Harry Jessell wrote for TV Newsday.

Dietz responded, "Broadcasters with compelling content can, and do, obtain carriage for multicast programming but mandating carriage of those signals should again be rejected."

Malcolm Confidant Disputes Al-Qaeda on "House Negro"

"The uproar caused by the statements attributed to Al-Qaeda's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, in which he labeled President-elect Barack Obama and former and current secretaries of states Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, 'house Negroes' is fascinating to those of us who consider ourselves Malcolmites," journalist A. Peter Bailey, a Malcolm X confidant, wrote this week.

In a column distributed by the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, Bailey said, "Ayman al-Zawahiri was correct in saying that Brother Malcolm X used that name to describe 'Negroes' whom he considered to be basically allies of white power. While working with him as editor of the Organization of Afro-American Unity's (OAAU) newsletter, I heard him, scornfully, use the term.

"If Brother Malcolm was still with us today, I believe he would use it to describe those 'Negroes' who are constantly called upon by white television and radio talk show hosts, journalists and academicians who are looking for a 'house Negro' to attack black folks whom they consider insufficiently grateful for 'all the good whites have done for them.'

" . . . Notable examples of such 'house Negroes' are Ward Connerly, Jesse Lee Peterson, Clarence Thomas and their cohorts in the political, journalistic and academic arenas.

"Though Brother Malcolm, based on his speeches and writings, would strenuously disagree with many of the positions of Obama, Powell and Rice on issues of importance to the empowerment of black folks, I don't believe he would put them in the same category as Connerly, Peterson and Thomas."

Bailey was an original member of Malcolm X's Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) and was editor of the OAAU news organ Blacklash. He was present when Malcolm was killed in 1965, was a pallbearer at his funeral and has lectured and written about the black nationalist icon.

Back in January, reader ZSun-nee Matema took issue in this space with the disparaging of "house Negroes."

"The folks up at the 'Big House' were more often than not the ones who planned and executed plantation resistance movements," she wrote.

Some "Obsessed" With Obama's Biracial Identity

"I have never seen white America so obsessed with what a bi-racial person calls himself or herself," David Squires, columnist for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., wrote on Thursday.

"It seems that some people woke up on Nov. 5 — or when reality set in a few days later — and could not fathom the notion of a black man in the White House.

"Some people have asked me quite boldly, and others have e-mailed asking why Obama calls himself black when his mother is white.

". . . I am proud that a bi-racial person is in the White House. He represents the best in all of us. Bi-racial people will be the saviors of our society because they can look racial myths, stereotypes and outright lies in the eye and repudiate them forever.

"But why deny this man's blackness? Why deny the heritage from the young and old African-Americans on whom Obama has eloquently acknowledged he has made an impact.

"Why can't some people move their lips to say the president is a black man?

"What do they think he's going to do? Throw wild parties in the Oval Office or become the pimp of Pennsylvania Avenue? The 42nd president, a.k.a. William Jefferson Clinton, already covered that territory."

Economic Glass Ceiling for Chinese Americans

"An economic glass ceiling may still exist for many Chinese Americans who are climbing the income ladder, according to a broad-based social and economic study published this month by the Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA)," Rex Feng wrote Nov. 21 for AsianWeek.

"Although Chinese Americans are more educated — the proportion of Chinese Americans 25 years and older who have earned a college degree (51.7 percent) dwarfs that of the general population (27 percent) — and the median household income for Chinese American families also outpaces that of the general population ($62,705 in 2006 inflation-adjusted dollars compared to $48,451), Chinese Americans consistently trail behind their non-Hispanic white counterparts in every pay grade category. For example, among workers who have earned a bachelor's degree, the median income for Chinese Americans was $55,571, compared to $62,185 for non-Hispanic whites.

". . . Other interesting findings were that Chinese Americans accounted for 24.3 percent of Asian Americans in the United States, making them the largest ethnic subgroup; 59.5 percent claim mainland China as their country of origin, with 15.9 percent from Taiwan, 15.3 percent from the Chinese diaspora and 9.4 percent from Hong Kong; an estimated 70.2 percent of Chinese Americans are U.S. citizens."

NABJ Holding Conference on Health Disparities

The National Association of Black Journalists is presenting a Conference on Health Disparities on Jan. 30-31 at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, the association announced on Tuesday.

"This is the first time NABJ is committing to programming that deals solely with the health of the black community," said NABJ President Barbara Ciara in the release. "It is our responsibility as journalists of color to bring stories of awareness, prevention and recovery to our newsrooms."

Issues to be covered include the disparate representation of communities of color in clinical trials, the low rate of mental health treatment in African Americans and the high rate of obesity, heart disease and strokes, the association said.

Health news is the eighth-biggest subject in the national news, comprising 3.6 percent of all coverage, according to an analysis of coverage of health in 48 different news outlets, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported this week.

Network evening news viewers were the most likely to find health news in their programming, more than twice the coverage of health in any other news genre except newspapers, it said.

"Cable news, on the other hand, found very little room for health news, just 1.4% of programming studied. When the overall coverage of health was broken down, specific diseases such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease received the most coverage at 41.7%. Public health issues such as food contamination, tainted vaccines, and binge drinking garnered the next most attention, accounting for nearly a third (30.9%) of all health coverage. News about health policy or the U.S. health care system was not far behind, at 27.4% of the coverage."

Short Takes

  • "A potential government bailout of the struggling U.S. auto industry has been making headlines for days, but for media buyers and planners the really important numbers are those issued by Nielsen Monitor-Plus yesterday, tracking first-half spending by automakers," Diego Vasquez wrote last week for Media Life Magazine. "They were, as you'd expect, pretty bad. Auto industry ad spending is off 10 percent versus last year through the first half of the year, to $5.3 billion. The Big Three American manufacturers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, were all down from last year. Ford and Chrysler each dipped 22 percent, to $953.5 million and $592.6 million, respectively. GM, the biggest advertiser in any category, was off 6 percent, to $1.25 billion. Spending increases by several foreign automakers helped keep the category from dipping further."
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists raised $1.25 million Tuesday at a benefit dinner that honored five journalists with its 2008 International Press Freedom Awards, the organization said. The evening featured the first public comments from awardee Bilal Hussein, an Associated Press Andrew Mwenda, left, Farida Nekzad, Beatrice Metetwa and Danish Karokhel advanced the cause of press freedom (Credit: Committee to Protect Journalists).photographer who was detained for more than two years by the U.S. military in Iraq. "A journalist is like a candle that burns to light up the way for others. A journalist suffers tragedies in order to brighten the course toward the truth." he said. "If I had to go through this again I would not hesitate if it is to get the truth out, because I know I will not be alone." Also honored were Beatrice Metetwa, a Zimbabwean media lawyer who has successfully defended numerous journalists facing prison, Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad, director and deputy director of Pajhwok Afghan News, H?©ctor Maseda Guti?©rrez, who is imprisoned in Cuba, and as previously reported, Ugandan editor Andrew Mwenda. While Mwenda was accepting his award, police in Uganda issued him a summons for questioning.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists said¬†it was deeply concerned about the safety of four journalists who were reported kidnapped Wednesday in the port city of Bossasso in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland. "Colin Freeman, a reporter for London's Daily Telegraph, Spanish freelance photographer Jos?© Cend??n, and Somali freelancers Awale Jama and Muktar Said were seized by unknown assailants around mid-day, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists and the Puntland Journalist Club."
  • In Britain, Somalian journalist Abdullahi Farah, "who risked his life to provide unique TV pictures of his country's descent into chaos was among the winning Channel 4 News team to jointly pick up the top journalist of the year prize at the Foreign Press Association Awards" in London, Dominic Ponsford reported¬†Wednesday for Britain's Press-Gazette.
  • Anas Aremeyaw Anas, a Ghanaian undercover reporter who uncovered an intricate case of human trafficking, and Nicholas Schmidle, a U.S. freelancer who was deported from Pakistan, are this year's winners of the Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism," the Institute for War & Peace Reporting announced¬†from London. The awards celebrate the life and work of Schork, a former freelance reporter who was killed eight years ago in Sierra Leone while on assignment for Reuters.
  • Jackie Jones, the veteran journalist who had hoped to meet the father of the child she adopted 29 years ago, will have to try again. "Big Tony," the biological father of her son, sportswriter Tony Jones, changed his plans and was not at Jones' Washington home for Thanksgiving, she said. She wrote¬†Monday about her expectations.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Obama's racial identity

Ted Diadiun, the ombudsman at the Cleveland Plain Dealer got similar emails about Obama's racial identity. Diadiun's column inspired this posting on my blog.

Another good example of why America is not "post-racial"

The problems with diversity in the DC press corps, documented by UNITY Journalists in 2004 (, is another example of how Obama's election as President is more the result of one exceptional person's achievement rather than a meaningful change in structural race issues in this country. We're not in "post-racial" America.

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