My Archives: March 2003

Friday, March 28, 2003

I came across an interesting story yesterday while surfing the San Jose Mercury News. The story is about a Web site. Sounds boring, but there's a twist. This Web site belongs to an ordinary guy who lives in Baghdad, where having an Internet connection is illegal. He's set up a blog so he can offer day-by-day blows of the events there. The Mercury News story, however, questions whether or not "Salam Pax," the blogger's online pseudonym, is authentic. Is he really an ordinary Iraqi, or some kid in surburban Cleveland who managed to hijack an Internet address? This site is a time toilet and is quite fascinating, especially when you think it might just be real. Thought I'd pass it on.

I'm working on a number of story assignments right now, including three feature articles and some smaller news bits. I'll try to post some details soon.

Posted by Chris @ 02:01 PM EST [Link]

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Oh. My. God.
That's all I can say about this memo going around one movie studio, where execs are proposing to send a film crew that's credentialed as media into real-life combat situations in Iraq to solve the company's "budget vs. production value problems." As the memo's author notes: "In the best case scenario we can also get one or two of our leads over there in costume to do a scene with the mayhem of real war as a backdrop. Failing this, we can have the war as a back plate to use with blue screen of our actors or to add CGI on. We'll be the only movie with a multi billion dollar effects budget."
War is all fun and games until an actor loses an eye.


Posted by Chris @ 11:49 AM EST [Link]

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

In a world that seems to get more surreal by the day, MTV has banned music videos on its European station that contain combat scenes. These videos include Billy Idol's "Hot in the City" and every song by the 80s rock group The B-52s. The New York Stock Exchange, meanwhile, has banned indefinitely reporters from the Al-Jazeera Network, stating that only "responsible" networks are allowed on the trading floor, while the Pentagon wonders how to handle soldiers who are keeping their own battlefield blogs. And the Oscars saw its lowest viewership since the Nielsens started keeping track of ratings in 1974.

Posted by Chris @ 02:41 PM EST [Link]

Friday, March 21, 2003

To say the United States' relationship with the Arab world isn't very good is the understatement of the year, so what better way to revive U.S.-Arab relations than with a State Department-produced, U.S. taxpayer-funded magazine aimed at the 18-to-35 demographic in the Arab world? Yes, a magazine called "Hi" is in production at a five-year cost of around $20 million. The edit/design costs are estimated at about $8 million, including $775,000 for the first year, when four issues of 50,000 circulation will be produced. The State Department hopes circulation will go even "higher" (sorry, can't help myself) and reach 300,000. The magazine's content will focus on the "U.S. lifestyle," minus coverage of religious and political topics. Will "Hi" be the U.S. Government's version of Britain's Hello Magazine?

And guess who won the Wednesday night ratings war? Hint: reality TV served as an escape from reality.

Posted by Chris @ 12:16 PM EST [Link]

Thursday, March 20, 2003

We're now at war, oil fields are burning, the Turks might send troops into Northern Iraq to quell the Kurds and President Bush says this military effort may take longer than expected. But never fear: Monica Lewinsky is back as the host of her own FOX reality show called "Mr. Personality," where "average-looking" men will be "masked with color-coded and latex plastic" (?) as they "court beautiful women." It debuts in April.

Back to the war: I notice how the cable news channels keep saying it's "the middle of the night" in Baghdad when it's really 7 p.m. If reporters at these stations can't note the correct time, what else are they getting wrong? Just an observation.

Also, Reuters has just announced that it will offer Web surfers access to free raw video footage of the war over its site. And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is upset with the Pentagon's decision to "embed" a select group of reporters (i.e., let reporters accompany battalions) into the fields of Iraq because, as Rumsfeld says, reporters tend to look at worst-case scenarios and make the public nervous. Finally, this piece by media critic Tom Shales points out "how riveting television can be even when it doesn't show you what in the hell is going on."

Posted by Chris @ 11:06 AM EST [Link]

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

As if the line between journalism and entertainment isn't smudged beyond all recognition, ClearChannel, the nation's largest radio conglomorate with more than 1,200 stations in 50 states, has decided to sponsor large anti-war rallies in major U.S. cities. Media critics are questioning the involvement of a big, publicly regulated broadcasting company in public demonstrations, arguing that ClearChannel is creating skewed news in its coverage of such events. ClearChannel defends the move. It's well within its rights these days with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which used to require journalistic outlets to create "balanced" news stories and cover the controversial side of issues.

Meanwhile, Ted Turner has been turned down after asking to be a war correspondent for CNN in Baghdad. Evidently, CNN management informed Turner that he's unqualified to be a reporter. Maybe he didn't have the right hair for the job?

And a poll reveals that 40% of Americans think the media shouldn't be able to criticize the U.S. military in stories.

Posted by Chris @ 12:40 PM EST [Link]

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

World events are too troubling, making me feel compelled to post something fun. Well, I found this war document of sorts online. May the force be with you -- and may you laugh, too.

Posted by Chris @ 08:49 PM EST [Link]

Monday, March 17, 2003

Now that it looks inevitable that U.S. troops will be storming into Iraq, I can't help but think about the weather conditions they will face within a matter of weeks, when Iraq's temperatures will soar to more than 100 degrees every day. Dust storms that shred tents and wallop soldiers with 70-mile-an-hour gusts are picking up, reducing visibility to zero, forcing soldiers to cough up sand lodged in their lungs and threatening to delay flying missions. In fact, Iraq's intense wind and dust storms are at their worst now until July, according to a NOAA report. Iraq's temperatures will average 120 degrees by mid-summer.

How will the typical U.S. soldier adapt, particularly if they're suited up heavily for potential chemical warfare? Evidently, the U.S. is planning to beat the heat with a night war, saying the fighting will be over in a matter of weeks, if not days. The Iraqis, meanwhile, are preparing for urban warfare, hoping to force U.S. soldiers into the streets for some mano-a-mano combat. U.S. troops "will come here from the north and my task is to stop them," says one civilian Iraqi. "I have a Kalashnikov in my home and God on my side. And the party promised to give me more guns and ammunition once the fighting begins."

Posted by Chris @ 10:35 AM EST [Link]

Friday, March 14, 2003

Are you as tired as I am of celebrities who take up precious airtime and space in publications to vent their often ill-informed views on politics and other issues? If so, check out this piece by media critic Howard Rosenberg. Awhile ago, I saw something akin to this, but even worse, on ABC: a reporter interviewing the lead actor from the cancelled show "Gideon's Crossing." This actor played a doctor on the TV show, and the reporter was interviewing him for a story about healthcare issues *as if he was a real doctor*. He wore a doctor's overcoat and a stethoscope while answering her questions about the problems facing the healthcare industry. I don't know what to call this odd mix of reporting and marketing, but it's definitely not journalism.

Posted by Chris @ 01:52 PM EST [Link]

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Welcome to the theater of war, or war as theater: The Pentagon has just hired a Hollywood set designer to build a $200,000 set for U.S. military officers to use as a backdrop as they relay military updates. It's part of an overall $1 million expenditure to beautify a hangar in Qatar that will be used for the military's media/PR purposes.

Meanwhile, freelance war reporters working in the deserts of the Middle East have been warned. The Pentagon has apparently indicated that it will tell U.S. soldiers to fire on independent journalists and their equipment. Members of the British press are complaining.

And finally, I just have to comment on the decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to change the name of the French fries served in its cafeteria to "freedom fries." This is a way of thumbing our nose at the French because they're not going along with the United States' war plans. But I bet we're only making the French very happy by taking the "French" out of our foods. There are few things worse in the eyes of a French person than American dishes with a French name. Our act of deleting "French" from French toast, French fries and French dressing is a dream come true for them. And by the way, "French" fries are a Belgian creation. Does this mean we'll be changing Belgian waffles to Belgian freedom breakfast?

Posted by Chris @ 10:45 AM EST [Link]

Monday, March 10, 2003

On Saturday, Washington politicos and journalists had their annual Gridiron Club dinner. The Gridiron Club consists of 60 Washington newspaper bureau chiefs, columnists, reporters, cartoonists and editors. Their main event features skits of politicians and political issues. One skit this weekend had journalists singing jazzily, "Yakety yak, attack Iraq."

Meanwhile, Iraqi children are preparing for war. One-half of Iraq's population of 24 million is under 14 years of age, and groups such as Save the Children are predicting catastrophic damage to Iraq's young people, especially given that 23 percent of them are already seriously malnourished due to economic sanctions.

Posted by Chris @ 01:09 PM EST [Link]

Friday, March 7, 2003

So how much will the war in Iraq cost? And how long will it take to rebuild and stabilize the region? These are questions that remain unanswered, for the most part. Here are some musings from "Scud Stud" and Afghanistan expert Arthur Kent on the subject.

Posted by Chris @ 04:54 PM EST [Link]

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Bill Clinton and Bob Dole have agreed to do a series of "point-counterpoint" segments on "60 Minutes" that harken back to a similar format the show did in the 1970s (which I vaguely remember). Gosh, I love that show even more now. Can't wait to see these debates. No word yet on a start date.

Meanwhile, more stories are coming out about the internal conflict at MSNBC over the heart and soul of Phil Donahue's cancelled show. While the show was still on the air, MSNBC's management was already plotting its demise beind the scenes. As one network exec remarked in an email, a war with Iraq would be a chance for the struggling network to "reinvent itself" and "take advantage" of a larger audience during wartime. Evidently, Donahue wasn't going to help the network "cross-pollinate its programming," whatever that means.

And did you hear about the lawyer who was arrested at Crossgates Mall in Albany, New York yesterday for wearing an anti-war t-shirt that said, "Give Peace a Chance"? Even better, he bought the shirt at that mall. Here's a link. Now the mall says it wants to drop the charges. Are we living in the the USA or China? Geez.

Posted by Chris @ 11:13 AM EST [Link]

Wednesday, March 5, 2003


By now, everyone knows the Bush administration is finding it a challenge to build international support for an invasion of Iraq. What everyone may not know is that the United States is evidently applying pressure on the dissenting nations on Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan by spying on their UN delegations in New York City. The goal: to glean a "whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises," according to this story. And in other news, FCC Chairman Michael Powell says he's a big fan of TiVo. Well, I hope he's not watching a lot of questionable programming (see my post on March 3).

Posted by Chris @ 04:27 PM EST [Link]

It turns out that the nude war protesters I mentioned in my post yesterday weren't completely reduced to their natural state. This is the South, after all. And it *was* only 50 degrees yesterday --- a bit chilly to be truly radical, I guess.

BTW, if any PR people are reading this, I'm looking for an entrepreneur who is working to create a sense of long-term loyalty in the company's employees.

More later today...


Posted by Chris @ 12:45 PM EST [Link]

Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Don't get on Michael Jackson's bad side, or he might put a voodoo curse on you. Maybe he ought to do a remake of Credence Clearwater Revival's "I Put a Spell on You"?
In other news, one of our local network news affiliates is breaking a story that there's a group of nude war protesters making their way up the streets of our fair city, Chapel Hill. They're surrounded by police carrying clubs and could be arrested for indecent exposure. How come I'm always on the other side of town when newsworthy stuff happens?
Finally, if you get a chance, check out Seattlesucks.com, a humorous (well, mostly humorous) site dedicated to trashing the city of Seattle. I lived there for awhile, so I can see the need for the locals to vent. (Sorry, Seattle.)

Posted by Chris @ 05:06 PM EST [Link]

Monday, March 3, 2003

In a post-9/11 world, it's pretty obvious that emails are being monitored. But if you're a satellite TV or TiVo afficianado, do you realize that the government may be monitoring your viewing habits, too? Under the new rules of the USA Patriot Act, the government can now force noncable TV operators to reveal everything you're watching on TV. Even better (for the government), satellite and TiVo viewers don't have to be under current investigation and the service provider is prohibited from letting viewers know the government requested and obtained records of their viewing habits. Will government agents abuse this power? How are they using it right now? And how does someone's fascination with "Everybody Loves Raymond" or some other TV show relate to the war on terrorism? Evidently, John Ashcroft sees the connection.

Posted by Chris @ 12:23 PM EST [Link]

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