Top executives at major U.S. businesses last year made as much money in one day of work on the job as the average worker made over the entire year, according to a report released on Wednesday...Thanks, Jim.
The top 386 CEOs in the study took in perks, such as housing allowances and travel benefits, worth on average $438,342 in 2006. It would take a minimum wage worker 36 years to earn the equivalent of what CEOs averaged in just perks alone.
The 20 highest-paid individuals at publicly traded corporations last year took home, on average, $36.4 million. That's 38 times more than the 20 highest-paid leaders in the non-profit sector and 204 times more than the 20 highest-paid generals in the U.S. military.
Since then he's been searching for that gratifying overlap as a National Fellow for the Center for Independent Media, writing for Minnesota Monitor and the CIM's other sites, and at a beta blog of his own that he's been testing for several weeks. Up to speed and with glitches ironed out, he officially launched Eric Black Ink earlier this week.
Black says he hopes the site will be noticeably guided by ideals of fairness and intellectual honesty, but he's doing away with some of the rigid tenets acquired over 30 years as a newspaperman. In the "creed" he's writing for the new site, Black states, "the objectivity paradigm, as evolved and practiced by mainstream journalism, is a spent force" and needs to be jettisoned. "One of the things I think simply doesn't work anymore in mainstream journalism is the idea that you can have this huge wall between facts and opinion," he said Wednesday, "or the idea that it's somehow helpful to the reader and helpful to the reporter's
credibility to not answer basic questions the readers have in their mind about where the reporter is coming from, ideologically, let's say. That's very liberating under the new medium."
At his new home, that freedom has given birth to an array of diverse discussions,
from a piece marking last week's anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debate (with a comparison, complete with Neil Postman reference, to today's abbreviated brand of public dialogue) to a query into whether Bush's is the "most politicized administration in history" to an essay entitled, "Question: Are most journalists liberals? Answer: Yes."
The founder of the Star Tribune's blog The Big Question, Black is accustomed to prolific and dedicated commenters and the major-league traffic a top-30 newspaper website can garner (his Big Question post on Rep. Michele Bachmann's assertion that she knew of a plan to divide up Iraq into distinct states attracted more than 200,000 unique visitors in a day).
He realizes his one-man enterprise might not initially have that kind of draw.
"This is a pretty scary for someone like me, who for more than 30 years had a claim on an audience I hadn't earned myself," he said. "Just having a story in the newspaper got me quite a large number of readers, many who didn't have a particular interest in the topics I was addressing but were just people who read through the newspaper. With a one-person blog, you won't get very many accidental readers."
But he revels in the complete independence of it. "It would be easy to overstate how much I was told what I could and couldn't do at the paper, but there were a lot of rules that apply to the whole enterprise of writing for a newspaper. They're almost all gone now. I suppose the exciting -- and scary -- thing is that I have to take complete responsibility for what I write, because I can't claim somebody made me do it," he said. "On the other hand, if I have something to say that I think is worth saying, nobody can stop me from saying it."
Paul Schmelzer: You're launching the site in an interesting media climate. Do you expect there'll be a lot of good will for what you’re doing because of all the bad feelings over what’s happened at the local papers -- all the buyouts, layoffs and firings?
Joel Kramer: I think so. A lot of the dailies are struggling. Their business model is very difficult right now with declining advertising. They still have a lot of readers, but they have a situation where the high costs are not in line with shrinking revenues. In addition, I do run across a lot of people who lament or complain that coverage is not as serious or ambitious as it used to be. I think the opportunity there is good. Of course, the other part of that opportunity is that more than 100 journalists left those papers, and a lot of good people left City Pages... I think there’s goodwill for what we’re doing, but of course, we’ll have to deliver.
PS: You have 25 journalists listed, from former Strib D.C. intern Brady Averill to former Strib political reporter Bob Whereatt. Are they all staffers or freelancers?
JK: Contract contributors. Many of these people will be on regular contracts. Some want to just write front-page stories for us, but many of the people on the list will be posters – reporter/bloggers – and those people will also be on regular contracts. They can also write front-page stories and get paid additional.
PS: How long will front-page stories be?
JK: There’s no specific length, but the front-page stories are meant to be in-depth, serious stories. Many of them might be 1000 words or more. The real difference is how thoroughly they’re reported out. Reporter/blogger types – what we’re calling "posts" -- will write something based on one good source and some thoughts about it, and maybe another phone call, but it’s not at the length and depth and time invested as an enterprise news story.
PS: How will these posts be different from what I see occasionally at Buzz.mn or The Big Question, which feel like entries in a reporter’s notebook?
JK: We’ll spend the next couple of months experimenting with what the form will actually be like, and a lot of it will depend on how the writers react to it and how they innovate out of the form. It may resemble some of what’s being done in some places already. The guidance is that it’s reporters having more of an informal discussion with the readers. But one difference is these are not going to be discussions by reporters who are also writing in the newspaper. We expect their reporting to come through in these discussions. They’re not going to be talking about stories they’ve already written, for example, because in most cases this will be their way of talking to the readers. The guidance is that it’s more informal and more immediate than the longer stories. For example they could be posted at any time of the day. They could ask readers for feedback. There are examples out there that may resemble it.
PS: A line in the press release struck me as odd:
MinnPost.com will offer exclusive front-page news stories as well as “posts,” a new format in which professional journalists engage in an informal conversation with readers about what they're learning and what to make of it. Posts will be a bit like blogs, but unlike many blogs, they will be built around original reporting – not just opinions or links to other people’s work.It suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of blogs, because a blog is merely an application where you can publish scrolling, time-stamped, authored stories that allow comments. It seems you’re confusing posts, an item within a blog, with an entire blog. Also, a blog is simply an application, so it can be used for reporting or opinion alike.
JK: OK. Not all blogs are like that but many blogs are. We’ve actually done focus groups with the news-intense readers we’re interested in, and many of them have a negative view of blogs because they think of them as primarily just commentary. Not all blogs are, but many are. We’re saying the posts – I’m not saying they’re unique, but they’ll be limited to the kind of blogging that’s based on real reporting.
PS: Are there models you’ve looked to? On the left there’s Talking Points Memo…
JK: What you and Brian [Lambert] do are good examples of what we’re talking about. You do real reporting. I’ve looked around to find those kinds of blogs in town and there really aren't that many who really start their day by trying to report. That’s our model – people who start their day saying, "What can I find out that’s new, and then how can I engage with the readers about it?"
PS: Why a nonprofit?
JK:We started out looking at a for-profit model, because a big goal of mine was to create something sustainable that would not be dependent on foundation soft money for the long term, and therefore we thought a for-profit model would be great. There are two reasons why it didn’t work out. One of them was we found that the model -- to be successful -- really needs money from advertisers or sponsors. And the subscription model, of getting money from readers to buy exclusive content is not working on the web for general news. So the conclusion from that is if we want a significant component of the revenue to come from readers, it needs to be a voluntary membership model that’s basically a nonprofit model. The other thing is as we talked to investors most of them told us that the mission we were describing was a public-service mission and they felt very comfortable donating the money, not investing it.
PS: Considering the sale of the Strib last winter and how it demonstrated that the needs of corporate stakeholders and the needs of a community are sometimes at cross-purposes, could you talk about the philosophy behind this? You're contracting with arts writers, an architecture critic, political reporters -- all areas that are seeing lower levels of coverage in the dailies. Is MinnPost a critique of the way your old paper is running things?
JK: It's not a critique of anybody, but it is an opportunity created by the challenges the other media face. Clearly the newspaper model is deteriorating. It used to be that newspapers had strong pricing power for their advertising, and that enabled them to do, frankly, what other media didn’t do, which was invest a lot of money in news. Historically, it’s always been the newspapers that put the most money into news. They’re losing their ability to do that and as a result a lot of good people are leaving. Our goal in attracting a wide range of people is: this is not just for political junkies or policy junkies, by any means. It’s about, for example, what you might expect to see on the cover of the New York Times. The Times does a lot of government coverage and a lot of political coverage, but it also covers science, health, the arts, culture, popular culture, on occasion, when it has an interesting way of looking at it. That’s our goal: to cover the whole range of human experience with writers who have had a long time developing their contacts, their understanding, and who know what’s going on.
PS: What’s the learning curve been like for you? You’ve got a lot of experience editing and publishing, but… can you teach an old dog new tricks (no offense).
JK: The learning curve has been intense. I’ve only been at this about six months. I’ve spent a lot of time reading on the web, Googling, and experts and so forth, and also talking to lots of people and attracting people who know more than I do to help us. Yes, it’s a different world, both in the business model and in how you present information and how readers get information. But one interesting thing about the learning is that once you start you learn fast and you get feedback from readers and learn a lot that way. That part is exciting, because it defines how nimble you are in responding to that. But one thing I want to emphasis -- and I think it’s part of the intellectual challenge of it -- is that while the web is a different world and many things can be done there that cannot be done in news and need to be done differently, we expect a large part of our audience to be people who are not focused on the fact that this is a web thing. These are people who just want high-quality news, and they’d be perfectly happy if it was in print. They just feel there isn’t as much as there used to be and there isn’t as much as the community needs, and they want it, and they understand we need to provide it in this medium because that’s where the economics are. Therefore we have to keep them in mind, too, and not just be focused on the latest dazzling thing that can be done just because this is on the web. That’s going to be tricky.
The site will publish original news and culture features daily, plus an abbreviated version, MinnPost in Print, that readers can print out at home. "MinnPost.com is all about substantive news for Minnesotans who are intensely interested in the world around them and want more insight and analysis than they're getting from their media choices today," said Kramer. "It will combine the best of traditional journalism with new forms of newsgathering and storytelling made possible by the Internet."
While the site will publish "front-page news stories," it takes its name from what the press release calls "a new format in which professional journalists engage in an informal conversation with readers about what they're learning and what to make of it." These "posts" will "be a bit like blogs, but unlike many blogs, they will be built around original reporting - not just opinions or links to other people's work."
Site funding will come mostly from five parties, four local couples and a foundation. It has received $850,000 in startup funds from Sage and John Cowles, Vicki and David Cox, Laurie and Joel Kramer, and Terry Saario and Lee Lynch, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has announced it'll kick in $250,000. Kramer says he'll look for additional foundation support in the future.
The site also invites donations from readers, similar to the membership model at Minnesota Public Radio. With a nod to its traditional media roots, the giving categories -- which run from $50 to $5000 or more -- refer to old-school news roles, from Cub Reporter to Media Mogul.
Look for my interview with Joel Kramer later this morning.
Her deed? Working at the city's emergency center after the collapse, the release stated, "she was the first to respond to an unsolicited call from a Connecticut company offering to contribute a shipment of [...] a new, alcohol-free hand sanitizer, for emergency workers at the disaster scene." Metzger writes that Bleskachek approved the opportunistic press release and that Berkman said he'd Googled Bleskachek to learn of the controversy. "I'm very familiar with what you see and what you read and what you hear [in the media] is always not what is necessarily the truth, in all due respect. It gets taken out of context," he said. "If the things that she had done were as terrible as portrayed, one would think she would've been summarily fired... They didn't fire her."
Read the rest...
It was only four years ago that Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) and Walter Jones (R-NC) announced the official name change in Congressional cafeteries from French fries and French toast to Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast. "This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," said Ney at the time.
My, how les temps have changed!Now ex-Rep Ney is serving 30 months jail time, Jones has become a fierce war critic, and lo and behold, the French may be coming to the rescue in Iraq.
Justin sends along this new take on luggage tags, aimed at making the TSA's job easier. He writes:
My mother gave me these luggage tags. She found them at Target on clearance for $1.98.
They're originally made by the folks at knockknock.biz, though I can't find them on their site anymore.
I'm pretty sure if you actually used these, it'd be a great way to guarantee that your luggage was searched and/or lost.
Paul Schmelzer: What is it and how will it be different from City Pages and all the other local news sites running or in the works in the Twin Cities?
Steve Perry: It'll be great! There's maybe a dozen people directly or indirectly involved in this project so far, and most of them have already reported experiencing better sex and shinier hair.
It's a Web-only local publication. Daily. Blogs- and multimedia-based, so the writing will
usually be short and a lot of the content won't revolve around writing. We'll build to a pretty high posting volume, but there won't be any feature-length writing, at least initially. There will be original reporting and news analysis, and local arts-and-scenes coverage, and we'll do a lot of filtering of the most interesting events and conversations around town and in other media. I also want to experiment with using non-expository content like annotated maps and infographics as ways of telling complete stories, not just as illustration/accompaniment to longer pieces of newswriting.
So it's a professional journalism site, but it's just as importantly conceived to be a community-and-conversations site. I love the idea of building a forum that wantonly blurs the lines between "professional" and "amateur" voices wherever appropriate. After we started blogging extensively at City Pages, I was struck by how much I learned from the comments and correspondence it generated.
I didn't just get a better sense of who the readers were; many of them made tangible contributions that helped me do my job better. But this all happened in the background, more or less. Since that time, what I've really wanted to do was a site that integrated, and more regularly foregrounded, what readers and users had to contribute. This area in particular seems so ripe for it. The degree of public engagement with media here has always been pretty incredible. And there's a great web climate. Minneapolis/St. Paul never gets mentioned near the top in lists of "most wired cities" anymore, but it has the fifth-highest local Web penetration of any U.S. Top 15 market.
Lately I have learned many such fun facts.
PS: The local online media scene has its players, and they all seem to serve specific niches: MNspeak for a community message board, The Rake's online look at culture and dining, videoblogging from Chuck Olsen and The Uptake, community news and aggregation from the Daily Planet, original reporting from yours truly and my capable colleagues at Minnesota Monitor, and blogs by the mainstream magazines, radio stations, and newspapers. And Joel Kramer is starting up his enterprise later this year. Yours seems... different. A combination of some of the above and something new. What sites inspired different features you're considering?
SP: All the local sites you mentioned are ones I've learned things by watching. Creatively, they and a few others have been trailblazers in working out interesting ways to do local web content. Especially Chuck Olsen.
I think The Stranger in Seattle does an amazing job with its Web content, and they have great, robust, funny community interaction happening all over the site. They're definitely kindred spirits in my eyes. I like Gothamist and its affiliated sites in other cities. They capture part of the equation.
And the Gawker blogs are a very useful model for anybody setting out to do professional blogging, because nobody studies the factors that drive traffic -- packaging, item lengths and formats, posting times, posting frequency -- as doggedly as they do. I think Adrian Holovaty's work is always interesting, even though the Backfence project went toes up a couple of months ago. And there's an intriguing Web-only publication called Crosscut, which is also in Seattle, but it's much more an online newspaper than this project will be.
Content-wise, there aren't a lot of models for what we're hoping to do here. It's a mash-up of elements. The site tools and features, and the navigational architecture, will be very simple. The goal is a site whose content and tool-set will scratch Web-savvy users where they itch, but at the same time make it transparently easy for technology-shy people to jump in and participate.
PS: Given the hybrid nature of what you’re working on, it doesn’t sound like you really have direct competition. There is no Minneapolist or GawkerMN or anything comparable. But Joel Kramer’s site, which (unlike yours) I’ve heard will be non-profit and follow somewhat of a newspaper model, seems to be the closest thing. He’s got some good staff -- Roger Buoen of the Strib (and current Minnesota Monitor editorial mentor), former Pioneer Press editor Don Effenberger, City Pages’ Corey Anderson as Web editor, plus ties to lots of bought-out Stribbers -- and a lot of funding. Do you see him as competition? How will you be funded? And finally, you told me once that a big-name national culture writer will be on board. Can you share who that is?
SP: I know a little about Joel Kramer's site, and it sounds exciting. He and I have talked about it, and we talked in passing about the possibility of working together on certain aspects of what we're doing. We'll see. I'm confident the sites will be pretty distinct from each other, but of course there will be competition for local Web ad dollars. There already is. The new factor is that you've got Web-only publications entering the picture. My feeling, as I told Kramer when we talked, is that we have more in common as new-media sites looking to put across our stories in the local Web ad market than we have separating us as potential competitors.
I don't know when his site will formally launch -- the buzz now seems to be October or November -- but frankly I don't know when our site will move from beta to hard launch, either. I made the decision early on to put off meeting with potential investors until I had not only a fully developed business plan but a site prototype built as well. So I've spent my own money on the latter, and secured some initial investment for the start-up, but I'm really just beginning to have the money conversations. And obviously they have an impact on the timing of the rollout.
The writer you alluded to is Greil Marcus, but I don't want to give the impression he'll have a blog of his own there or anything. He's agreed to be an occasional contributor to our national media-culture blog. I'm thrilled to have him as a contributor, and although I wish I could say it was the sterling content plan that won his heart, the fact my wife is a) an important part of this project and b) his daughter may have tilted things a smidge.
There are some other national bylines that may find their way into that space as well, but it's misleading in a way to talk about nationally known bylines -- the site overall will be very much local.
PS: Got a name yet?
SP: Yes, but I'd rather hold off on disclosing it until the design work's done and I can show as well as tell. Actually, the whole site's under construction as we speak. I've got a great IT partner in the Clockwork web firm, and we're on schedule to have it up in a limited, by-invitation beta next month.
PS: Give us a hint about the name. Will it be more straightforward, like Minnesota Monitor, or along the cryptic-poetic lines of The Rake?
SP: I always thought a publication called The Hoe would make a nice companion to The Rake -- no disrespect intended to The Rake, but the name conjured visions of an entire empire of niche publications named for garden tools.
But that's not it. I couldn't have gotten the URL anyway. The name we chose is sort of eccentric, and we hope memorable. Playful but with resonances we liked. The word "Daily" is in the name. Let's call it the Daily X for now.
Perry is looking for 100 beta-testers for the new site. To be invited, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Crossposted at Minnesota Monitor.
• 34 percent of conservatives have not read a book within the past year, compared with 22 percent of liberals and moderates.
• Among those who had read at least one book, conservatives “typically read eight” books in the past year. Liberals read nine, moderates five.
• “By slightly wider margins, Democrats tended to read more books than Republicans and independents. There were no differences by political party in the percentage of those who said they had not read at least one book.”
Several legal experts said that by redefining the meaning of “electronic surveillance,” the new law narrows the types of communications covered in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, known as FISA, by indirectly giving the government the power to use intelligence collection methods far beyond wiretapping that previously required court approval if conducted inside the United States.
These new powers include the collection of business records, physical searches and so-called “trap and trace” operations, analyzing specific calling patterns...
...In effect, [civil rights advocates] say, the legislation significantly relaxes the restrictions on how the government can conduct spying operations aimed at foreigners at the same time that it allows authorities to sweep up information about Americans.
Update: Someone with a BBC IP changed George W. Bush's Wikipedia to call him George Wanker -- not Walker -- Bush... although the edit was made in 2005 and didn't last on the site long.
1. Dick Cheney gives an interview in 1994 about why the US didn't go into Baghdad in the first Gulf War, saying that to do so, alone, would've landed us in a "quagmire" and wouldn't have been worth the potential loss of human lives.
2. C-Span revives the footage in 2007 on its website and in broadcasts. The world fails to pay attention.
3. Then YouTube user GrandTheftCountry posts it, it gets more than 430,000 hits, and...
4. Now CNN is covering it.
The local angle: Steve Perry, former editor of City Pages, picked up on Cheney's now-and-then contradiction in a 2003 blog post. He found an earlier speech -- at the Soref Symposium in 1991 -- in which Cheney said White House discussions about invading Baghdad were met with a "resounding 'no'." He said that it "would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq" and asked, "How many casualties should the United States accept in that effort to create clarity and stability in a situation that is inherently unstable?" (Download the speech here.)
The GrandTheftCountry video:
CNN's coverage of it:
There's something to be said here about citizen media's power in shaping the media landscape.
The story has riled readers at MNspeak, including one who wonders if Franken's opponent, Sen. Norm Coleman, will get such unflattering treatment in an upcoming issue. City Pages editor Kevin Hoffman commented at the site, stating that the piece is "a lighthearted story not meant to be a huge expose." Reached by email later, he said, "I thought the story was newsworthy because Al Franken is running for a major public office. If George W. Bush liked to gnaw on a sweaty towel and growl like a dog while running on the treadmill, don't you think it would be worth publishing?"
Lest we get too touchy-feely about China's environmental awareness, Roy notes this irony: "The government will also be working to stop rain from spoiling the games, utilizing a number of experimental chemical treatments to make the rain clouds disappear."
He told Reuters, “I’ve already forgotten about it. I turn down all the demands to have photographs with it. I’m not interested. I would feel ashamed if I just designed something for glamour or to show some kind of fake image”.
The designer’s personal experience includes being raised in a labour camp after his father, regarded as one of China’s finest modern poets, was purged in the 1950’s after being denounced as “an enemy of the state and a rightist”.
Ai said, “I spent five years with him at a labour camp where he cleaned toilets, but these stories become so catchy today. I have my own problems”.
Ai reportedly likened China’s embrace of the Olympics as “pretend smile”. He said it was “kind of fake smile which is disgusting…so I hate this”.
Ai said the 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest remained a beautiful, if regretful, commission. “I did it because I love design and the idea of how it would be looked at by others”.
In the interview excerpted below, recorded on Wednesday, Shirley Phelps-Roper decries the poor treatment she and her family say they got when visiting Minneapolis in the past. It's bizarre to hear a woman complain about the "aggressive violent rhetoric" in Minneapolis and hear my neighbors described as "unabashedly breathing out threatening and slaughter" -- especially when the woman lodging such complaints sent out a news release announcing she'd picket the funerals "of those whom God drop-kicked of the Bridge and into Hell."
On why members of Westboro Baptist Church didn't show up, as they'd announced, to picket two funerals this week for victims of the 35W collapse:
Don’t be short-sighted, hon. You have not just those five that they fished out, but you've got a passel of other people in the water. What we've got is 17 years standing on the streets -- the mean streets of doomed America -- we've got enough experience to know that when the scripture says that you will drink from the cup of God's fury when we put it to your lips (which we did, when we sent out that news release) -- put it to your lips and make you drink it... We’ve been warning this nation for 17 years and you keep insisting -- doggedly insisting -- in going the way of Sodom and you're going to suffer her fate. Now this nation is receiving that condemnation. This is the time of the visitation of doomed America. This nation is heading to a swift destruction. And all these events that are coming on quicker and quicker and more horrendous are just harbingers of that coming event...
We have personal first-hand experience looking in the face of Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota, and we know that from the first time we set foot in that city, that place is probably one of the most violent places in this nation. We have never gone into that city, but we were set upon. Sometimes it was a question who was going to be more inappropriate, the citizens or the police.
So we wait. While you guys work that out of your system -- all that aggressive violent rhetoric that we first got, where the phone rings off the hook day and night and the emails come in by the hundreds and thousands. The point I'm making to you is: you guys are all about worshipping the dead in doomed America, so when those other bodies come out of that water, there will be more memorial services and there will be more funerals and along the way we will pick some of them off.
Last week when I learned of this thing that happened in your city, I was standing at the memorial service of those five bimbos in New York that were killed when they were texting...
At the beginning of each week, we have intentions to go a lot of places and as the week fleshes out, and depending on where the dead soldiers are, that’s how it falls. When we have to divert a group because there’s something we need to get to more importantly, or we divert the group because we see the location where we’re headed is so filled with rage that the gloves are off – they’re unabashedly breathing out threatening and slaughter -- then we won't come. We’ve got all the time in the world. You’re going to be fishing bodies out of there for weeks.
On Westboro's media strategy of calling for protests, then not showing up:
It’s not a strategy… What we put in place was a mechanism to deliver the word of God to a doomed nation. The strategy, that goes back 16 or 17 years ago, is to get out on the street with signs…. We know that our job is to get out with these words – and we have the Internet and of course the news releases. It used to be we had to change all of it because we used to have a tidy way to do it. We’d see an event down the road… and we would send out our news releases and we would have a group of people and it was so orderly. But then all of a sudden, we realized the place we have to be when god is repaying this nation to their face for what they’ve done, we’ve got to be. He said, I’ll drag you into a war you cannot win, and I will dash your children to pieces. Now how are we gonna connect that dot, if we don’t get to those dead soldiers’ funerals? And you know the nature of funerals, you don’t get very much notice.
We’ve got – oh my goodness – five groups that’ll be traveling between Friday and Sunday covering places that cover places from the East Coast to the West Coast and all points in between. You’ve got to understand: there are only 70 of us. We can only do so much of this. You’re gonna see us. Absolutely.
Fred Phelps is coming!
Fred Phelps... didn't come.
After the collapse of Interstate 35W, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., dashed off a pair of news releases announcing members of its congregation would come to the Twin Cities to protest at the memorial services of some of the victims. For the past 17 years members of the church -- most, if not all, of its current 70 members are relatives of its pastor, Rev. Fred Phelps -- have picketed funerals of gay men who've died from HIV/AIDS and, more recently, soldiers killed in Iraq. The sin they see in those who perished when 35W fell? Living in the "land of the Sodomite damned," an area that tolerates homosexuality -- and where the Phelps clan was met with resistance on their last visit.
But church members didn't end up making the drive, as planned, and their news releases failed to drum up a single like-minded supporter to disrupt the funerals on Wednesday and Thursday.
Which raises the question: Does media coverage of the church's vitriol, including Minnesota Monitor's, serve the community -- or does it serve the Phelps family and their peculiarly zealous brand of intolerance?
Matt Felling, writing for the CBS News blog The Public Eye suggests the story should be off-limits. "The media need to stop empowering and validating these hatemongers with publicity," he said, citing stories on the planned Minneapolis protests by the Chicago Tribune and the Twin Cities Daily Planet, which reran Minnesota Monitor's story by Eric Black. "It's a bad enough that they're saying these things, but what makes things worse is the fact that their message was picked up and disseminated by two different publications."
Black and I discussed this story before he posted it. We agreed it was a "good story" and that the community service aspect -- alerting locals to the protest so they could choose, as the Patriot Guard often does, to show up in solidarity with the families -- had to be weighed against the spike in publicity we'd be providing to people intent on injecting pain into an already grieving community. Then there's the fact that the Westboro clan is notorious for no-shows in such cases.
Jason DeRusha, a WCCO reporter, told me he thinks journalists should be cautious about giving publicity to a group with less than perfect attendance at its own demonstrations. While he questions reporting on a Phelps visit before it actually happens, he said, "I think it was appropriate for you guys to run a story, but it would have been troublesome for WCCO to run a story."
Coverage of news on the internet is less limited by time or space, and the format allows for audience feedback and discussion. Plus there's not the captive-audience effect. "On the internet, people can choose to click on the story, or they can choose to not click on it," he said in an email. "People who read Eric's story, chose to read it. On television, we're linear, and I think there's more of a responsibility to be cautious about a story like this one.
If he were news director, DeRusha adds, he would've sent a crew to a memorial service, but he wouldn't have run a piece on the Phelps visit in advance or if no conflict arose because of their presence.
Would we run such a piece again? Definitely. This opinion was reinforced on Thursday when I called Westboro Baptist Church to ask why the family hadn't shown up as threatened. Among Shirley Phelps-Roper's explanations was the belief that people in the Twin Cities are too darn mean: "When we have to divert a group because there's something we need to get to more importantly, or we divert the group because we see the location where we're headed to is so filled with rage that the gloves are off -- they're unabashedly breathing out threatening and slaughter -- then we won't come."
The more important work they were tending too, she said, was picketing a military funeral of a soldier killed in Iraq. The war is proof that God is punishing the United States for immoral ways, she said, citing scripture. "[God] said, 'I'll drag you into a war you cannot win, and I will dash your children to pieces.' Now how are we gonna connect that dot, if we don't get to those dead soldiers' funerals?"
She said five groups from Westboro Baptist will be on the road this weekend heading to destinations on both coasts and "all points in between" to demonstrate against Americans who "keep insisting -- doggedly insisting -- in going the way of Sodom."
Concluding our call, she said, "We've got all the time in the world. You're going to be fishing bodies out of there for weeks. There will be more memorial services and there will be more funerals, and along the way we will pick some of them off."
"You're gonna see us," she promised. "Absolutely."
[Photo: Westboro church member protesting a 2007 Pride Week event at Kansas University.]
In a column about the collapse of Interstate 35W here in Minneapolis, he implies the suffering caused by the bridge collapse is of the same magnitude as paying taxes:
Ironically, I began to understand how censorship worked in so-called free societies when I reported from totalitarian societies. During the 1970s I filmed secretly in Czechoslovakia, then a Stalinist dictatorship. I interviewed members of the dissident group Charter 77, including the novelist Zdener Urbanek, and this is what he told me. "In dictatorships we are more fortunate that you in the West in one respect. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and nothing of what we watch on television, because we know its propaganda and lies. Unlike you in the West. We've learned to look behind the propaganda and to read between the lines, and unlike you, we know that the real truth is always subversive."
The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., plans to stage protests at funerals of victims of the 35W bridge collapse to state that God made the bridge fall because he hates America, and especially Minnesota, because of its tolerance of homosexuality.
The church and its pastor, Rev. Fred Phelps have become notorious over recent years for their claim that the attack of 9/11 was an act of God's vengeance and their determination to make that case at the funderals of U.S. soldiers who died in Iraq.
In a press release issued the day after the bridge collapse, the Church called for the protests at the funerals and outlined its feelings about the relationship between God's plan and the sins of Minneapolis and Minesota, which it calls the "land of the Sodomite damned."
Reached at the church, Shirley Phelps Roper, who is both the daughter of the pastor and one of the attorneys for the church, said that America, and Minnesota especially, have alienated God by its tolerance for homosexuality, and that the bridge collapse was an act of God's vengeance. She said:
"The bridge stood place by the word of God and it fell by the word of God...Each of these little events is just a harbinger of the coming destruction of this American experiment. We are delivering the final call of the doomed nation."She said, as they have done for years, members of the church would stand "lawfully and peacefully on the public right of way" near the funerals and "put in the air words of praying and instruction and warning."
The signs that the protesters will wave will read:
"God cast down the bridge... Thank God for 9/11... America is doomed... God hates fags... God hates fag enablers... God hates Minnesota."
Breaking News!Photo District News (PDN), calling the release "unseemly," writes: "A total of five exclamation points. People died, many are injured. Doesn't decorum demand a two-exclamation-point limit?"
EXCLUSIVE IMAGE! Freeway bridge collapses into Mississippi River during rush hour in Minneapolis, with at least six people are dead, dozens more are injured, some critically. The Interstate 35 bridge, under repair between St. Paul and Minneapolis, breaks into several huge sections and falls into the water with vehicles. An estimated 50 vehicles plunged into the water and onto the land below. RESTRICTIONS: USA Tabloid RIGHTS OUT! Mags and TV Call 949.481.3747 For Price !!
Update: Down the Backstretch reports that the man in the wheelchair is Marcelo Ordaz-Cruz, who placed sixth in the wheelchair division of the 2005 Twin Cities Marathon. CNN and the Star Tribune have more.
Sadiya Sahal was returning to her home in St. Paul Wednesday afternoon when she made a phone call to her relative in Minneapolis a half hour before the Interstate 35W bridge collapsed. The relative didn't answer that call, but now he wishes he did.Read more.
No one has heard from the 23-year-old mother since then. Her 19-month-old daughter, Hana Mohamed, was with her in the family's Toyota Highlander.
Sahal, who is five months pregnant, is a refugee from Somalia...
Minnesota currently has more than 3,300 bridges older than the I-35W bridge that collapsed Wednesday.Star Tribune photo via Norwegianity.
Minnesota has 1,500 bridges listed as either structurally deficient or obsolete. (via Poynter)AP image via Norwegianity.
According to the Star Tribune, there are currently four dead, 79 injured and 20 missing in this catastrophe.
There have been eight famous bridge collapses in the last 100 years, including this memorable film of "Galloping Gertie." (See here for more bridge disasters.)
I arrived at the scene at around 6:55, approaching the buckled highway from the St. Anthony Main side. Clearly visible were a pair of boxcars crushed by the heaved roadway. As we neared, a woman suppressing tears raced past, her cellphone to her ear. Police in Minneapolis and Maple Grove uniforms and other officers politely asked crowds -- seemingly thousands -- to back away as they expanded their perimeter with police tape.
I stopped to ask a resident of the Stone Arch Apartments, Mary Ferkingstad, how she learned of the collapse. "I was in my apartment and I felt the whole building shake. I thought it was an earthquake or a bomb," she said. "I ran outside, saw the bridge collapse. I ran down to the river to see if I could help. I saw a bunch of cars trapped underneath the bridge. Police had just gotten there, trying to get to the people who are trapped under the bridge. I saw them start to pull out bodies, and there were a couple of chaplains that went down there to assist."
Even as we left, hundreds -- many with cellphones to their ears, digital cameras and movie cameras at their eyes -- remained on the Stone Arch Bridge, watching the scene, half horrified, half fascinated, it seemed.