This is what it’s like to be an investigative reporter in Honduras.
In recent years, the 50,000 people who live in the neighborhood have been terrorized by the maras. It’s a lawless place where entering means risk—especially for a journalist. But that’s my job, so I went to Chamelecón to try to bring this world to my readers at the Diario la Prensa, the newspaper I’ve worked at for the past 10 years in San Pedro Sula, a city that some experts consider to be the most dangerousin the world.
I always go out reporting with a photographer and a driver, and this story was no different. On our way there, we passed through a bunch of the barrios and colonias controlled by the gangsters. People told us not to go beyond the school, because no one would be able to protect us there. But that didn’t stop us. Our mission was to take photos, get a better look at these abandoned streets, and explain how the gang bangers dominate turf and change the lives of thousands of families there.
It was two in the afternoon, and when we arrived a few teens on bikes, and some more hanging out on the street corners, sounded the alarm. Immediately one grabbed his cell. He was a bandera—that’s what they call the kids who tell the gang leaders that there are strangers present. My photographer was taking some shots from inside the vehicle when, just a few minutes later, one of the banderas approached. “What are you looking for?” he asked. We tried to explain our work, but he didn’t give us time to say anything. “You’d better leave, or there will be problems.”
Investigative journalist Will Potter is the only reporter who has been inside a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, within a US prison. These units were opened secretly, and radically alter how prisoners are treated — even preventing them from hugging their children. Potter, a TED Fellow, shows us who is imprisoned here, and how the government is trying to keep them hidden. “The message was clear,” he says. “Don’t talk about this place.” Find sources for this talk at willpotter.com/cmu
It’s time for Turkey to free Rasool. VICE founder and CEO Shane Smith joins VICE News colleagues in calling for the release of journalist Mohammed Rasool, who continues to be detained by Turkish authorities on baseless allegations of assisting a terrorist organization while reporting for VICE News.
Spread the word: Write to your members of congress and parliament, and continue using the hashtag #FreeRasool.
Read “US urges Turkey to uphold due process in journalist case” – http://bit.ly/1QPP94r
VICE News filmmaker Medyan Dairieh gains exclusive access to the Syrian branch of al Qaeda, al Nusra, a jihadist group fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the Islamic State (IS).
Spending more than a month with al Nusra and exploring their expanding territory, Dairieh meets the highest-ranking members of the organization, who reveal their identity on screen for the first time and discuss their military doctrine.
Al Nusra, which swore allegiance to al Qaeda two years ago and is now emerging as a powerful force to rival IS in Syria, has seized several strategic towns in the northwestern province of Idlib. While it supplies water, electricity, and food to the local population, a school run by al Nusra is also grooming young boys to become the next generation of al Qaeda and preparing them for jihad.
VICE News also secures exclusive access to the frontlines of the battle for Abu Al-Duhur airport in Idlib, a major airbase held by Assad’s forces, besieged by al Nusra for two years. Aided by dust storms during the attack, the airport was the last remaining government stronghold in the region. Dozens of government soldiers were subsequently executed, according to the monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Watch “The Islamic State (Full Length)” – http://bit.ly/1IwDeVY
By now, we all know that there’s been another school shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in southern Oregon. But for what seemed like a very long time this afternoon, that was all we knew. Further details were hard to come by, which posed a challenge to the many journalists who were tasked with reporting on what had—and hadn’t—happened. If you, like me, were toggling between the three main cable news networks this afternoon as they struggled to report the story in a virtual information void, you saw three different and distinct journalistic strategies at work: circumspection, observation, and pontification. Here’s what I glimpsed, and here’s where I saw it.
Shepard Smith anchors Fox News’ coverage of the story this afternoon, and he and Fox correspondent Trace Gallagher are doing their best to refrain from spreading rumors and falsehoods in the absence of any verified information. “We have confirmed the shooter is no longer an active threat. We don’t know if he’s the only shooter,” says Gallagher, who proceeds to note that, in the absence of reliable casualty data from the police, it would be irresponsible to speculate on the number of victims. This is good work from Fox here.
At this point Fox evidently knows very little. The network has no cameras on the scene and no access to other stations’ live feeds, so it’s forced to go low-tech. A breaking-news article from a newspaper called The Union is called up on a big screen, and Smith is literally reading the article out loud, following along with his finger as the camera zooms in on the text. Once this grows tiresome, Smith walks to the other side of the studio, where a map of the Umpqua Community College campus has been magnified to fill an entire wall. “So the best info that we have at this moment, just about an hour after the first reports came in, is that it started here at Snyder Hall and move on to the Science building,” says Smith as he points at the map, which looks like it was hastily downloaded from the UCC website. “This is about the extent of the information we have at this point.” He lingers on Snyder Hall, as if grabbing for something solid to anchor himself in a torrent. Soon, there’s some new information: “Our information specialist says that [the Umpqua Community College] website is down at the moment.”
After the second prime-time Republican presidential debate on Sept. 16, The New York Times published an astonishing editorial. It said the candidates must be “no longer living in a fact-based world” and described what they said as “a collection of assertions so untrue, so bizarre that they form a vision as surreal as the Ronald Reagan jet looming behind the candidates’ lecterns.”
It was about time that someone as authoritative as The New York Times editorial board said it as bluntly as that.
One of the things that made the editorial so striking is that the news coverage of the same events, in the same paper as well as in the rest of the media, treated what the candidates said as almost entirely unremarkable.
That prompts interesting questions. Why was this only an editorial? Why wasn’t it in the news? Shouldn’t it be newsworthy that the leading contenders for the Republican nomination are “no longer living in a fact-based world” and that what they say is “untrue … bizarre … surreal”?
A political problem
It may have been hearing it all in a chorus that so excited the Times editorial board. But no candidates on that stage said anything much different from what they and their colleagues in the Senate, the House and state governments say every day.
Normally the news takes what a person in authority says at face value. Then the media publish or broadcast it, usually without question or challenge. Quoted statements are certainly not described as lunatic assertions, however much they might be.
The news then becomes part of a political and social problem: By reiterating and repeating such assertions, they normalize the surreal. If it happens enough without challenge, lunacy becomes reality.
Consider the false stories about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction leaked by Vice President Dick Cheney’s associates to New York Times reporter Judith Miller. After she got the misinformation published, Cheney and his team quoted the Times to prove that the falsehoods must be true.
Or consider the example of tax-cut plans described as pro-growth. Anytime tax reform is described as pro-growth, it is proposing tax cuts for the rich. There are several more accurate tags that could be hung on them: greater inequality tax plan, “them that’s got shall get” tax reform and bubble and crash economics.
Is it possible for journalists to move from objective journalism, as practiced, to the more difficult task of reporting objective reality?