Noteworthy: media on my mind

 It’s been a helluva year so far in the media world, which began with the slaughter of 12 people, including 10 journalists, outside the office of Charlie Hebdo in January, as part of a wider attack by extremists in Paris.

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

David Carr, speaking in Canada in 2013. Photo by Ian Linkletter via Wikimedia

Journalism lost its most articulate and fiercest champion Thursday night, with the death of David Carr of the New York Times. Carr, 58, collapsed in the  newsroom late in the evening, following an event hosted by the Times.

Carr brought extraordinary life experience to journalism, and heart alongside intellect. A former drug addict who turned his life around and rose to the top of his craft, Carr wrote in his 2008 memoir, The Night of the Gun: “I now inhabit a life I don’t deserve … but we all walk this earth feeling we are frauds. The trick is to be grateful and hope the caper doesn’t end any time soon.”

“He was the best media writer of his generation, he really was,” Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet told  Lloyd Grove of The Daily Beast. “We loved him. He was a terrific human being and important to us. Just a truly unique talent.”

Related and recommended:

David Carr, Times Critic and Champion of Media, Dies at 58. by Bruce Weber and Ashley Southall, New York Times 
David Carr, a Journalist at the Center of the Sweet Spot, by A. O. Scott, New York Times
The Quotable David Carr, a  Times compilation of quotes
Farewell to my Friend David Carr – Journalism’s True North. By Sasha Stone, a blog post
His Dark Material. A book review of David Carr’s The Night of the Gun, by Bruce Hardy, New York Times, 2008

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This week also saw the deaths of “pioneering” Canadian sports journalist Alison Gordon, one of the first women to cover professional baseball, and American CBS 60 Minutes journalist Bob Simon, who died in a car crash.

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Meantime Al-Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were released on bail in Egypt, pending their next hearing later this month. Earlier this month Egypt deported their colleague Peter Greste to his native Australia. The three men had been in custody since December, 2013, related to controversial charges involving Al Jazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their case has become a cause celebre for global press rights.

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Elsewhere in journalism Jon Stewart, AKA “America’s most trusted fake news anchor,” announced that he would step down this year, age 52, at the height of his career, as host of the Daily Show on Comedy Central. Ok, ok, yes, I know. Stewart is not a journalist. But as countless others have pointed out, Stewart committed arguably more ethical and more accurate actual journalism than many of his counterparts in America’s television-land shows labelled “news.”

Related and recommended:

Jon Stewart on Criminal Justice — The jester takes a bow. A selection of some of his best criminal justice spots by The Marshall Project. 
Stewart’s announcement on the Daily Show:

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Famously, American television anchor Brian Williams was handed a six-month suspension this week by his network, NBC, after admitting, “I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago.” For 12 years Williams regaled audiences with his tale of being inside a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq. This month, when challenged by soldiers who were on the helicopter, he said he remembered he’d been on a different helicopter far behind the stricken machine. “I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

People I know, who know Williams, say he’s decent folk. It’s human to err. His fall from grace is just sad. Plus who are we to judge? It’s risky for journalists to slam other journalists when all of us live in glass houses.

But in my books, Williams’ fantasy of derring-do discredited not only him and his news organization, but journalism and journalists. Our craft rests entirely on reputation and trust. Reporting of facts to the best of our ability is a sacred trust. Williams’ mis-rememberance is akin to a pilot mistaking a runway for a river, or a surgeon cutting off her patient’s wrong leg, then not only getting away with it but boasting for years.

To dismiss Williams’ lapse as minor is to dismiss the role of journalism — especially in the context. It was a time when journalism utterly failed to reveal the lies about weapons of mass destruction on which the invasion of Iraq was based, leading to the loss of countless lives and trillions in treasure.

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In Canada on Friday Sun News television fell silent. Some 150-200 media jobs are affected, reported CBCSun (which I dubbed “Faux News North” for its partisan positions and courting of controversies in line with America’s Fox News) said it had been plagued by low ratings, financial losses, and the refusal of Canada’s regulator to force consumers to buy it with basic cable packages. Sun was in my opinion a blight on civil discourse and journalism — perhaps exemplified in this ruling that its most visible host had displayed “ill will” and “reckless disregard for the truth,” or here in its apology to Canada’s Liberal Leader for a rant slamming his mother. But as comedian Rick Mercer, who once lauded said host, might agree, Sun also exemplified the admirably wide range of expression in Canada. Regrettably for them, it also employed several serious and very good journalists who are now silenced.

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Last but not least, Reporters Without Borders/Reporters sans Frontieres released its 2014 World Press Freedom Index. The country ranked as having the most press freedom is, for the fifth year in a row, Finland. Following among the top ten are: Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, Austria, Canada, Jamaica and Estonia. Least free are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. France is 38th, the United States 49th, Russia 152nd, Iran 173rd and China 176th.

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