A nobler resolve

Atlanta editors Ralph McGill (left) and Eugene Patterson (right) both won Pulitzer Prizes for distinguished editorial writing during a hate-filled era in the American South. 

A Sept. 16, 1963  column by Atlanta newspaper editor Eugene Patterson is still remembered as one of the finest responses to racial and religious hatred in history.   Along with fellow Atlanta editor Ralph McGill, Patterson won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing and was effective in turning the media away from hostility and  towards compassionate coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s.  The genius of their writing, the depth of their human feeling,  as evident in this column,  helped reach hearts that had been hardened by hate-spewing politicians.  Its a good lesson for the 21st century.   

A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham. In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child. We hold that shoe with her.

Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.   Continue reading

BBC Travel & Revolutions in Communication

There is an endless fascination with Johannes Gutenberg, the impact of the printing press, and the town of Mainz, Germany where he grew up and began the world’s first major printing operation in the 1450s. You see it in the crowds making something of a pilgrimage to the Gutenberg Museum there, and you see it in the thriving city itself — the flower stalls, the cathedral, the singing students pedaling the bicycle-powered beer wagons.

Madhvi Ramani of the BBC captures this in a May 8, 2018 article, How a German City Changed How We Read, and quotes from some of the ideas and insights that I’ve been fortunate enough to gather there.   

In his book, Revolutions in Communication: Media History from Gutenberg to the Digital Age, Dr Bill Kovarik, professor of communication at Radford University in the US state of Virginia, describes this capacity (for speeding up manuscript copying)  in terms of ‘monk power’, where ‘one monk’ equals a day’s work – about one page – for a manuscript copier. Gutenberg’s press amplified the power of a monk by 200 times.

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Saudi murder of journalist is depravity

Jamal Kashoggi, an exiled Saudi Arabian journalist, was apparently murdered during a visit to the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2, 2018.
Joel Simon, director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, wrote:

Journalists over the past two decades have encountered some terrible fates. American reporters Daniel Pearl, James Foley and Steven Sotloff were abducted and beheaded by Islamist terrorists. Investigative reporters Anna Politkovskaya from Russia, Javier Valdez from Mexico and Daphne Caruana Galizia from Malta were all victims of targeted assassination.

But if what is alleged about the disappearance on Oct. 2 of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi is true — that he was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, then murdered and dismembered by a team dispatched by the Saudi royal court — it would be in a category of depravity all its own.

What makes Khashoggi’s alleged murder so chilling is its sheer brazenness. 

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Fembots & gendered communication

Meet Lilmiquela and the other “fembots” of the web.   Amanda Hess and Shane O’Neill of the New York Time Aug. 10, 2018 video show how fembots track along with social anxieties — from women’s suffrage to the housewives revolt to the current wave of feminists.  Social media fembots play on the anxiety that,  somehow,  women are fake.

Revisiting the 1858 Mortara controversy

The Kidnapping of a six year old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara, by the Vatican, in 1858. The painting, by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, was made in 1862.

New information has surfaced about the Edgardo Mortara affair of the 19th century, which involved a young Jewish boy who was taken from his parents because he’d been secretly baptized by a servant. Pope Pius IX backed the order to take the child in 1858.

At the time, the press called it an  “outrage,” and Henry Raymond  of the New York Times wrote that it was a “violation of one of the most sacred natural rights of man.” Had the case occurred in another country, or had a Roman Catholic family been similarly treated in a Jewish or Protestant community, “the voice of civilization would have been just as loud in condemnation” (NY Times, December 4, 1858). Continue reading

Broadcasting has always been intertwined with politics

Father Charles Coughlin, American radio commentator and apologist for Nazi Germany.

By University of Maine,  Distributed by The Conversation 

Local television viewers around the United States were recently alerted to a “troubling trend” that’s “extremely dangerous to democracy.”  Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of America’s dominant television station owners, commanded its anchors to deliver a scripted commentary, warning audiences about “one sided news stories plaguing our country” and media outlets that publish “fake stories … that just aren’t true.”

So, is it time, as some commentators are suggesting, to restore the Fairness Doctrine… ?  I would argue that nostalgic calls for the restoration of a golden age of civil political discussion on America’s airwaves mistake what actually happened in those decades…

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Hitler’s Hollywood


How was the Holocaust possible? It’s the question often asked when considering genocidal crimes against humanity.  Was it something about German people? This was widely believed in the years following WWII, but not so much today. Alternately, do all people have destructive tendencies that may surface anywhere, at any time? If so, what are the conditions that breed genocide?

The usual historical examples note that in Germany in the 1930s,  newspapers like Dur Sturmer openly advocated extermination of Jewish people with some of the most virulent hate speech in world history.  For this,  Dur Sturmer editor Julius Streicher was executed  in 1946 under the Nuremberg principle that complicity in a crime against humanity is also a crime.  The same principle was applied to film makers like Leni Riefenstahl  and Fritz Hippler, who were were  imprisoned after the war.

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Heroes of democracy

David Brooks has started a series of columns in the New York Times that he called Heroes of Democracy.  The columns are biographical but also insights into the ideas that explained and sustained the democratic momentum of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Thomas Mann

He starts with Thomas Mann, Nobel Prize winning author of “Magic Mountain” and other novels, who fled the Nazis and came to America.  As Brooks said:

Democracy begins with one great truth, he argued: the infinite dignity of individual men and women. Man is made in God’s image. Unlike other animals, humans are morally responsible. Yes, humans do beastly things — Mann had just escaped the Nazis — but humans are the only creatures who can understand and seek justice, freedom and truth. This trinity “is a complex of an indivisible kind, freighted with spirituality and elementary dynamic force.”

Second in the series is John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher who argued for freedom of speech in service to democracy.  Brooks said that to Mill:

John Stuart Mill

Real citizenship is a life-transforming vocation. It involves, at base, cultivating the ability to discern good from evil, developing the intellectual virtues required to separate the rigorous from the sloppy, living an adventurous life so that you are rooting yourself among and serving those who are completely unlike yourself.

Students of history, and anyone who cares about democracy, may want to stay tuned to David Brooks.  We’re taking bets on the rest of the list in history class here at Radford University.

Gene Roberts reflects

Gene Roberts and crew celebrates one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s many Pulitzer Prizes. (From Nieman via “The Newspaperman” by Roberts.)

Legendary editor Gene Roberts reflects on a lifetime in journalism in this Nieman Storyboard article May 5, 2017 by Julie Schwietert Collazo.

Some of his observations:

BBC’s WWII truth blitz

When BBC’s German language service began in 1938, the policy that seemed to hold the most promise was to tell the unvarnished truth, according to research reported in the Guardian recently.

In practice, telling the truth would mean that British defeats in battle would be reported accurately throughout the war, without exaggeration,  says Dr Vike Martina Plock of the department of English at Exeter University.

Plock discovered BBC memos at the archive center in Caversham Park, Reading.  “It is fascinating to see how the BBC provided the German public with accurate information during the war and thereby began to re-educate individuals who had been living, willingly or unwillingly, with 12 years of Nazi propaganda,” she told the Guardian. Continue reading