Category Archives: Flashbacks

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

River Crabs and May 35th


A sadly comic approach to circumventing Chinese censorship is seen in this version of the famous “Tank Man” photo of June, 1989.  Photo links to Asaf Uni’s article in Vocative.

Internet censors — known in China’s censorship circumventing code as “river crabs” — will be out in full force over the next few weeks. People will be arrested, protests will be thwarted,  and there may even be a few executions.

The mere mention of June 4, 1989 — sometimes called May 35th — brings on the censors and the police.

It is, of course, the 25th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Massacre, when the army attacked peaceful protesters in Beijing.

An official death toll has never been released, although estimates range from hundreds to thousands. Nor has there been any accounting whatsoever of the dozens who were executed following secret trials for taking part in the peaceful protests.

Continue reading

It was the End of the World as we Knew It

(Update: Nov. 2012 — ProPublica maps the ongoing scandal.

(Update: May 2015 — Editor Andy Coulson on trial for perjury.)


The sheer mad genius of the thing.

Journalists bribing security guards.  Tapping cell  phones. Hacking computers. Spying on emails.

And not just once in a while, like the Cincinnati newspaper’s  Chiquita banana episode in 1997, or the Chicago Mirage Bar sting of 1974.

But permanently, as part of an ongoing operation, with an A-list of  targets including British prime ministers, rock stars, crime victims, even the royal family. Like Watergate in reverse gear.

The unprecedented, unmitigated  gall of News Corp. and its cheesy tabloid:  To run a private spy agency and dress it up as a newsroom.

Continue reading

Threatening the media


“Ted” Kaczynski, who killed 3 people and injured 20 with his bombs, is featured as typical of someone who “believes” in global warming.

In the long history of public relations blunders, perhaps the strangest is the saga of the disintegrating Heartland Institute.

Most recently, its choice to link a terrorist with “belief” in climate change has eviscerated the Chicago based advocacy group.  But even before the May debacle, the signs of dangerous incompetence on the part of public relations practitioners were all there.

Continue reading

A Fleet Street relic strikes again

Scientists worldwide were alarmed  Jan. 29 when the London Daily Mail reported — inaccurately — that British Meteorological Office had released “temperature data showing the planet has not warmed for the past 15 years.”

The Met Office immediately issued a press release saying the article contained “numerous errors in the reporting.”

In other words, the Mail just seems to have just fabricated the data they attributed to the Met Office.  They just made it up. Invented it.  Pulled it out of the air.  Lied.  (Could it be any clearer?)

This would be outrageous for an actual NEWSpaper, but it’s standard procedure for the Daily Mail —  one of the grotesque and humble relics that once adorned Fleet Street the way gargoyles have graced Notre Dame cathedral.

Continue reading

Yes, Virginia, and Robin, there IS a Santa Claus

Thomas Nast 1892.

Chicago Fox news anchor Robin Robinson played the Grinch this week by advising parents to tell children the “truth” about Santa Claus.  (At about 3:30 on the video).

“Stop trying to convince your kids that Santa is Santa,” Robinson said on the air.  “That’s why they have these high expectations. They know you can’t afford it, so what do they do? Just ask some man in a red suit. There is no Santa. (Tell them) as soon as they can talk — There… Is … No … San… Ta …”

Outraged parents threatened to roast her like a chestnut if she didn’t rein it in.

Continue reading

In memory of Joseph Pulitzer and Charleston Bay

By Bill Kovarik

Years ago,  when I worked as a reporter at the Charleston SC News & Courier, I would often look out over the bay and think about Joseph Pulitzer.  

Out there, where the muddy Cooper River met the great blue Atlantic,  Pulitzer died 100 years ago this week ( Oct. 29,  1911).

He was hidden away on his yacht, as usual, suffering from an extreme hyper-sensitivity to sound.  According to biographers, even the sound of a person’s voice was painful, and his last words were to ask that an assistant reading to him speak more softly.

Pulitzer’s sickness is astonishing — for a journalist, at least.  Most editors and many reporters have the opposite problem. Their lack of sensitivity, in both physical and moral terms, approaches outright deafness.

Continue reading

Happy Wayzgoose

August 24th  is the traditional holiday for  printers, editors, reporters, engravers and others working at a newspaper or printing company.

The Wayzgoose printers holiday was August 24

The centuries-old holiday has largely been forgotten in the late 20th century, but it was still very much alive a generation or two ago among printing unions in the UK.

The holiday has its origins in the feast day for St. Bartholomew, the patron saint of scribes and, later, of printers and writers.

The odd name for the holiday, Wayzgoose, refers to the centerpiece of this holiday meal: a goose that had been fattened on stubble (or wayz) from a harvested field of grain.

Continue reading

So long, Father Beck

The pundits split along predictably political lines when Fox News announced in April 2011 that the Glenn Beck sh0w would be ending. 

“This has caused great joy among some uber-liberals who object to free speech,” said Bill O’Reilly.  Of course he had to leave, said John Stewart.  “Thirty percent of his viewers have abandoned him, his audience’s median age is now dead of natural causes.”

Beck has been called a lot of things in his two-year run on national television, but he is most often compared to Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest whose syndicated radio program reached 16 million listeners weekly at the height of his popularity in the 1930s.

Continue reading

Media incitement to violence in history

Questions about the impact of vitriolic political debate, including incitement to violence, are often found in media history.  Possibly the most infamous episode was William Randolph Hearst’s call for the assassination of President William McKinley in 1900. 

Historical perspective helps us understand the reaction to the  Jan. 8, 2011  attack on Arizona Congresswoman  Gabrielle Giffords, in which six people were killed and a dozen others, including the Congresswoman, were seriously injured.

Strong rhetoric during political campaigns, including calls for  “second amendment (gun rights) remedies,” along with graphics depicted Giffords district an a “target” of the “tea party,” were seen as inciting the perpetrator.

For example,  Fox News’ Glen Beck said this on June 9, 2010:

(American Democrats) believe in communism. They believe and have called for a revolution. You’re going to have to shoot them in the head. But warning, they may shoot you. They are dangerous because they believe. Karl Marx is their George Washington. You will never change their mind. And if they feel you have lied to them — they’re revolutionaries. Nancy Pelosi, those are the people you should be worried about. Continue reading