Saturday, February 20, 2010


How desperate must an American man be to fly a small airplane into an IRS building? What drove Joe Stack to make such a deadly statement to his fellow citizens last week? At the risk of being disrespectful to the deceased, I would posit that Stack’s desperate last move can be seen as merely a symptom of a much more pervasive crisis. Many American seem now consumed with a frantic powerlessness that increasingly shows itself in anti-government rage. How many Joe Stacks might there be out there? How many Americans are one more missed mortgage payment away from becoming a Joe Stack?

Stack, we learned after his fiery suicide, left a lengthy written explanation of his act. It revealed that his struggles with the IRS dated way back to the early 1980s, and that in the end, score one more for Big Brother:
ABC News summarized Stack’s frustration:

Stack’s story will resonate with many of his fellow citizens. Whether it is a battle with the bank to hold on to a home, or a plea to the State to extend unemployment payments, or a fight with an insurance company to cover a needed surgical procedure, many Americans are not concerned with their personal dignity as much as they are with simple survival. Some, like Stack simply run out of steam. The same day he flew into the IRS building, Stack had already burned his modest suburban house to the ground.

Because Stack’s violent move was so extreme, media was (and is) all over it. But what about Terry Hoskins of tiny Moscow, Ohio? The same week that Stack did himself in, Hoskins drove a bulldozer into his $350,000 home and leveled it. Nothing left. Just boards and roof tiles. Hoskins, who had never once missed a payment on his home, was another IRS target. The home was cross collateral for his business, which was in deep debt to the government. Instead of allowing the bank to foreclose, he destroyed it. Watch:

A little over a year ago, Ervin Lupoe went much further than Hoskins. Lupoe, in deep financial distress with the IRS and his mortgage holder, shot and killed his wife and five children,(below, right) and then himself. It is the brand of murder-suicide that makes no distinction among race, geographic location or prior socio-economic status. Desperation is desperation.

So, what is really going on here? In his suicide note, Stack mentions the need for a body count to affect change in America. As usual, the numbers tell the unbiased truth. Consider: More Americans have been unemployed for six months or more than at any time since 1948. One of the fastest growing population segments of unemployed are women between the ages of 45 and 64. More than 15 million Americans are officially unemployed, but that figure does not reflect thousands who are no longer looking for work because they gave up. And then there are the Catch-22 victims: There are Americans who are denied food stamps because they are deemed to be bringing in too much money on unemployment. There are others who would like to go to work even for minimum wage, but actually bring in more on unemployment than they would after their paycheck is taxed.

Was Joe Stack a domestic terrorist or spokesman for desperate Americans? Was he truly experiencing insanity, as many quickly claimed, or was he simply expressing his resignation after decades of trying to live? You be the judge. It is telling that a number of online groups have surfaced in support of Stack, who wrote this in his suicide message:
“I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand.
It has always been a myth that people have stopped dying for their
freedom in this country, and it isn’t limited to the blacks, and poor
immigrants. I know there have been countless before me and there are
sure to be as many after. But I also know that by not adding my body to
the count, I insure nothing will change. I choose to not keep looking
over my shoulder at “big brother” while he strips my carcass, I choose
not to ignore what is going on all around me, I choose not to pretend
that business as usual won’t continue; I have just had enough.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Is it just me or does it not seem there has been a whole lotta mixing going on lately? What’s that you say? What’s mixing? Oh, sorry…that’s where you take someone else’s words and use them as your own in something you are writing. We writers call that plagiarism. Oh no it’s not, says 17-year-old German novelist Helene Hegemann. It’s mixing. From the mouths of babes, huh?

Hegemann wrote a novel called “Axolotl Roadkill” that ascended the best seller list in Germany until it reached lofty number five. Pretty heady stuff, but wait, there’s more. Then she was nominated for a prestigious writing award in Germany that came with $20,000. Later, it seemed to outsiders like her fairy tale overnight success would all come crumbling down. It was revealed that some of the passages in her book were word-for-word the same as in another book, “Strobo,” by Airen. After that, more passages were found to have been lifted from other sources.

According to the New York Times young Ms. Hegemann (below, right) was unfazed. She nonchalantly offered, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” She went on to explain that she’s part of a new generation that freely “samples” material from one place to another.

Hegemann is 17 years old in a literary world that made the rules long, long before her parents made her. Not so long ago, Germany formally subscribed to the European Copyright Law. Without boring you with the details, here’s the juicy part: Authors own their material for their entire lives plus 70 years after their deaths. So, since Airen is alive and well, it would seem that Ms. Hegemann has blatantly broken the copyright law. No sweat, says Hegemann: "I myself don't feel it is stealing,” she told a German newspaper, “because I put all the material into a completely different and unique context and from the outset consistently promoted the fact that none of that is actually by me." Spoken like a true 17 year old.

Too little, too late, say the critics worldwide. Ms. Hegemann, in the real world, we do call it stealing and we have a very special vocabulary word just for this… “plagiarism.”

Who would know better than one Gerald Posner, (left) who until last week was chief investigative reporter for The Daily Beast. That was until he resigned amid plagiarism allegations. It seems the Miami-based author was lifting entire passages directly from The Miami Herald newspaper and virtually cutting and pasting them into his online reports. Here is an example of Posner’s “mixing.”
Posner’s July 29 piece in the Daily Beast:
The new law, passed nearly unanimously in the legislature, requires doctors and pharmacists to record patient prescriptions for most drugs in a state-controlled database.
The Miami Herald, June 19:
The new law, passed nearly unanimously in the Legislature, will require doctors and pharmacists to record patient prescriptions for most drugs in a state-controlled database.
If you want to see more examples, check out Jack Shaffer’s Feb 8 piece on

Just as the media world was reeling from Posner’s stupidity came word that New York Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe is being cut from the paper because of his own plagiaristic transgressions. Kouwe apparently lifted exact passages from the Wall Street Journal and Reuters and published them in his Times reports. And who wouldn’t love this response from the young reporter? “As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, 'Man what an idiot. What I was thinking?'" Kouwe told the New York Observer. "I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there. I think that's what probably happened."

While Helene Hegemann would dismiss Kouwe’s “fuckups” simply as a new generation writing its own rules on ownership and use of intellectual property, the powers that be at the Times think otherwise. Here is what they had to say on their corrections page after Kouwe’s “mixing” came to light:
“Copying language directly from other news organizations without providing attribution — even if the facts are independently verified — is a serious violation of Times policy and basic journalistic standards. It should not have occurred. The matter remains under investigation by The Times, which will take appropriate action consistent with our standards to protect the integrity of our journalism.”
So, what is really going on here? Is it simply that there is such a massive amount of information out there in the blogosphere and elsewhere on the Web that writers convince themselves that no one will notice if they lift a few passages here and there from previously published material? Is it that Hegemann is actually stating the prevailing (albeit twisted) mindset of her generation? Or is it simply true that each of the three writers in this piece are guilty of plain old school plagiarism? And if so, have the copyright laws in the U.S. and the European Union simply not caught up with the technology that enables writers to cut and paste other writers' stuff into their own work?

I am discouraged that people like Hegemann say things such as, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway…” I find it disheartening that that Kouwe, a guy with a master’s degree in journalism who got a job at arguably the most important newspaper in the world, would cavalierly write off his violation of the paper’s honor code as a “fuck up.” And for his part, Gerald Posner said, “The core of my problem was in shifting from that of a book writer – with two years or more on a project – to what I describe as the “warp speed of the net.”

I would like to respond to each. To Hegemann: If you believe there is no such thing as originality, then you have chosen the wrong path. Art might sometimes be derivative, but it is not to be duplicated. To Kouwe: Everything is not disposable, including a golden opportunity to write for the New York Times. As a guy in your early 30s, you come from a generation that somehow sees such an opportunity as “just a job,” where you simply “fucked up.” Someday, I predict, you will look back on this event in your life as pivotal, and be amazed at what an avoidable loss this was. And to Posner: We writers all had to adapt to a faster information pace when we decided to shift our efforts to online journalism. When you agreed with Tina Brown’s decision to hire you, you made a choice to keep up with that new pace. When you found you could not do so, your real responsibility (moral and industrial) was to resign. Lifting material from a daily newspaper was not an option. And you knew that all along, each time you consciously decided to do it.

Hey, if it sounds judgmental, so be it.

I still like the old rules. They have kept most of us on the straight and narrow for a long time. Let’s not fix what ain’t broke.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


You may recall when the webisodes Rielle Hunter shot of John Edwards campaign became public. If you have not seen them, now is the time to watch them. Now that we are on the entire other end of John Edwards’ distasteful journey, it is fascinating to listen to the now-broken man speak when he was at the height of his personal and political power. Edwards will long be remembered as a sleaze monger disguised a do-gooder.

Hunter’s brief glimpses into Edwards’ life are ironically set to a background of Boyd Tinsley’s song, “True Reflections.” The lyrics:
“When you look into a mirror
Do you like what‘s looking at you?
Now that you see your true reflection
What on earth are you gonna do?”
Here is Webisode #1:

You can see the other webisodes on Youtube. The running themes seem to be Edward’s dedication to the common man and his efforts at international humanitarianism. You will see him in Uganda deep into a refugee camp. And all of it is delivered with his trademark Southern charm and great hair. Now that we are able to see Edwards for the person he really is, these videos, shot by the woman who would ultimately bear his child while he was still married to Elizabeth Edwards, are revelatory in the extreme.

Edwards was more actor than public servant, and certainly more manipulative than authentic in his quest for the Presidency. It is probably his adept approach to deception in his public and private life that made him such a skilled trial lawyer back in the day. In 2007, for example, he renewed his wedding vows with Elizabeth, at the same time he was carrying on his affair with Hunter. Sociopath? Watch the webisodes and you be the judge.

Listen, if you’re a writer/reporter like me, John Edwards is the gift that just keeps giving. Just in the past couple of weeks, all of the following reports have surfaced: that the FBI has a copy of the alleged sex tape between Edwards and hunter – for what, nobody knows; that Elizabeth Edwards (left) is threatening to sue Edwards’ former assistant, Andrew Young, for “alienation of affection,” claiming he contributed to the problems in her marriage to John; that John allegedly struck Elizabeth in the final argument that led to their legal separation; that John has allegedly proposed to Rielle Hunter; that Rielle Hunter allegedly had an affair with actor Jeff Goldblum while she was having an affair with Edwards, and told Goldblum the baby could be his. Oy.

So, as I’ve written here in the past, we voters need to know more about our candidates’ personal lives. Edwards' proclivity for dishonesty, deception and manipulation certainly would have come into play in his presidency, had things gone that far. Elizabeth Edwards reported temper would certainly have affected staffers in the White House, had she become first lady. Edwards’ arrogance in believing he could carry on the affair with Hunter (right) right under the collective nose of the American people would not bode well for other self-serving scams he may have pulled at our expense.

I have heard enough about how media pries too deeply into the personal lives of political candidates and elected officials. If you still believe that, let me just present the following words for your consideration: Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, William Jefferson, David Vitter, David Paterson, Newt Gingrich.

I rest my case.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


To understand how monumental the Saints Super Bowl victory was Sunday night, you have to truly “get it” that this was not really about football. This was about many New Orleanians taking their first full breath in five years, and experiencing that much-elusive feeling of joy that has been sorely missing in one of the most joyous cities on earth. When Tracy Porter intercepted the pass from Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and immediately pushed the score to 31-17, Hurricane Katrina finally took its rightful place in the history of New Orleans. Until that moment, we all still saw Katrina in present tense. Today we do not.

The night before the Super Bowl, less than an hour after the polls closed, LA Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu claimed victory in the New Orleans mayoral race. That once and for all informed us that the Ray Nagin era is thankfully over. We voters made one of the city’s biggest mistakes ever when we allowed Nagin a second term. During the second term, Nagin accomplished virtually nothing and progress in rebuilding our city almost came to a halt. Landrieu not only has a reputation as an aggressive leader, but he also has connections to Washington, and a sister who is a U.S. Senator. To say we are hopeful is an understatement.

I have lived in New Orleans for 25 years, and I feel confident in saying that life here is unique in the United States. There is a sense of community here that almost makes us feel separate from the rest of the South, in a good way. It is not a perfect place. The racial divide here is all pervasive, and it certainly holds us back from being as powerful a city as we could be. The poverty rate is an embarrassment for rich and poor alike here, and it holds individual citizens back from being who they could be in the world. The crime has been extreme for the last decade, and it does cause us to look over our shoulders a bit more than we would like. Still, if you asked those racially angry or outrageously poor or somewhat fearful citizens what they feel for the city, they will always use the word “love.” We love this place in a deep way. And we rarely leave for long. I tried to leave once in 1989, but I was back by 1991. I longed for it the whole time I was gone. New Orleans has a way of getting under your skin, and if you’re like me, and you were not fortunate enough to be born here, before you know it you’ve been here for a quarter of a century.

Within 10 minutes of the Saints Super Bowl victory, I was on Bourbon Street, along with tens of thousands of others. There was no violence; there was no racial divide; it didn’t matter what your socio-economic status was; there was just sheer, unadulterated joy. Brass bands seemed to appear out of nowhere; people made up extemporaneous raps about the Saints; drag queens posed under streetlights; bikers danced with each other; strangers hugged and kissed; out-of-towners were dazzled, locals were unified as a real community and we all knew it was a moment unlike any other. New Orleans was back on the map, and every single one of us who stayed after the 2005 hurricanes knew that we helped put it there.

If you live in New Orleans, keep your head held high. If you’re anywhere other than New Orleans, come on down and see what all the fuss is really about.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Say something really stupid in America this morning and the whole country will know about it before lunchtime. Oh gosh, I should have mentioned that to five guys who said some truly stupid things this week. It’s way past lunchtime, but in the unlikely event you didn’t hear about these guys yet, here they are in descending order of stupidity:

1. Paul Shirley: Here we have a professional basketball player who has played for no fewer than 11 teams in 9 years. That should tell us something, right? On some blog that he maintains Shirley told his readers he has not donated any money to Haiti. And then he threw in this letter to the Haitian people:
“Dear Haitians –
First of all, kudos on developing the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Your commitment to human rights, infrastructure, and birth control should be applauded.
As we prepare to assist you in this difficult time, a polite request: If it’s possible, could you not re-build your island home in the image of its predecessor? Could you not resort to the creation of flimsy shanty- and shack-towns? And could some of you maybe use a condom once in a while?
The Rest of the World”
Shirley’s bitter attempt at humor got him fired from his writing job at ESPN this week.

2. Donny Deutsche: The CNBC talk show host and mega-zillionaire advertising titan appeared the other day on Larry King to say that he does not understand why a gay dating service would want to advertise during the Superbowl. Deutsche’s position is that the dating service can’t reach its target audience (gay males) during a football game, apparently implying gays don’t like football. Watch:

3. Ray LaHood: In response to the massive Toyota recall, Transportation Secretary LaHood said at a Congressional Hearing that individuals who own one of the auto models in question should “stop driving them.” Everybody immediately pounced on him from legislators to media talking heads to Toyota owners. Did LaHood forget that the few Americans who still have jobs can’t get there without driving their cars? Did he forget that American commerce is already in dire straits, and when a person in his position says something so irresponsible and thoughtless, he puts a major manufacturer at further risk of losing its customer base? It took a media firestorm to bounce him back in to reality, and later that same day, LaHood said, “"What I said in there was obviously a misstatement. What I meant to say ... was if you own one of these cars or if you're in doubt, take it to the dealer and they're going to fix it."
Hmmm…Dear Ray, Too little, too late. Love, Toyota Motor Company.

4. Brian Johnson: Here’s what AC/DC singer Johnson had to say about U2’s Bono:
"When I was a working man I didn't want to go to a concert for some bastard to talk down to me that I should be thinking of some kid in Africa. I'm sorry mate, do it yourself, spend some of your own money and get it done. It just makes me angry. I become all tyrannical…Do a charity gig, fair enough, but not on worldwide television…I do it myself, I don't tell everybody I'm doing it. I don't tell everybody they should give money - they can't afford it."
Not to Brian: The entire reason Bono has been able to raise the awareness and the funds that he has is because of his high profile and notoriety in the music world. Duh.

5. Mel Gibson: And finally, America’s favorite anti-Semite, misogynist, actor (?), this week called an interviewer an asshole when asked whether he felt the public would forgive him enough for his transgressions to support his new movie. Watch:

Mel...dude...temper, temper now. Remember Malibu.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Last week a couple of guys dressed as telephone repairmen entered Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu’s office in a New Orleans Federal building (below, left). Here is what we know for sure: They had to have entered the building under false pretenses. They videotaped their experience in Landrieu’s office using a cell phone and a camera hidden in one of the men’s helmets. Landrieu’s staff was suspicious and contacted security, who called the police. Four men were arrested, including one James O’Keefe. O’Keefe, some readers will recall, is the young man who disguised himself as a pimp in 2008, and accompanied by a woman disguised as a prostitute (header photo), entered several ACORN offices inquiring about how to start an illegal business of smuggling underage girls from El Salvador, with the intent of using them in a sex-related business. Those encounters were also videotaped, resulting in funding and support being cut off nationwide for ACORN.

James O’Keefe spent the night in jail, or 28 hours to be exact, and allegedly was denied the right to contact an attorney. This has not been substantiated yet. Federal prosecutors report that each alleged perpetrator now faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for "entering federal property under false pretenses for the purpose of committing a felony.” During the 28 hours O’Keefe was incarcerated, mainstream media reported the incident and some outlets suggested O’Keefe was in Landrieu’s office to bug her phones. The reported reason for this was that Landrieu had secured a $300 million payout for the state of Louisiana, after agreeing to vote in favor of moving the healthcare issue into the debate stage, back in November, 2009. Landrieu was the subject of slings and arrows from all quarters of the U.S. Some said simply that her vote was bought and paid for. Others went so far as to call her a prostitute or to say she whored herself and her state and sold her vote once the bid got high enough. For the record, here’s what Landrieu had to say about her decision to vote yes for the healthcare debate:

O’Keefe now says his aim was to uncover the truth as to why Landrieu’s office was not accepting phone inquiries about her vote. Apparently, some constituents and others were having trouble for up to three weeks getting their calls into Landrieu’s office. How O’Keefe & Co. were going to expose the truth is not known.

Here is what O’Keefe had to say to Sean Hannity on FOX News following his release:

Now, you may draw your own conclusions about what Landrieu did or did not do, the legitimacy of her decision and the effect the incident may have on future efforts to secure Senate votes. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to explore O'Keefe’s dangerous “journalistic” tactics.

Notice in his interview with O’Keefe in one passing comment he refers to “New Age Journalism.” Prior to using that term he alludes to mainstream media investigative journalism techniques that employ the use of deception to get their story. He refers to the Food Lion incident in 1997, when ABC used hidden cameras to prove that the grocery chain was using unsanitary food handling procedures, including bleaching outdated pork with Clorox, repackaging it and selling it. He also referred to NBC’s “Dateline” as a prime example of the use of deception in journalism.

My ears perked up when I heard this, because I teach media ethics, and one of the main topics we cover is the use of deception in gathering information for a story. Author/ethicist Louis Alvin Day, in his book “Ethics in Media Communications” cites four criteria for the use of deception in journalism, which I happen to support. Day contends deception might be used in reporting:
1. If the reporter is convinced the information is of compelling public importance.
What did O’Keefe see as a matter of compelling public importance – that Landrieu finagled $300 million for Louisiana, or that her staff was allegedly not taking calls? If it was the former, Landrieu has been totally forthcoming about the amount and her reasons for doing it. You may not agree with her reasons, but she said it out loud in the Senate and on national television.
2. If the reporter has considered all alternatives to the use of deception.
What did O’Keefe and his cronies do before they entered a Federal building under false pretenses? Did they try to meet with Landrieu? Did they contact her chief of staff? Did they research what she said about the $300 million to determine if there was truly any cause for alarm or action? Did they enter Landrieu’s office in street clothes and ask to meet with someone about the fact that they were unable to reach the staff by phone? So far, O’Keefe has not revealed anything legitimate that he did to gather information.
3. If the reporter is convinced the benefit outweighs the harm to the parties involved.
Regardless of what type of information O’Keefe may have secured in this caper, the fact is he entered a Federal building and a government office under false pretenses, impersonating a utility technician. What does this say to us, the citizens about the security of our Federal buildings? Does anyone remember the Murrah Federal building bombing, Oklahoma City in 1995, (above, left) or is that just a footnote in the history books now? If O’Keefe wanted to truly gather information of compelling public importance, perhaps he could have used his extreme escapade to uncover security flaws in these buildings. But that was not his intention. Did the benefit outweigh the harm here? The evidence revealed so far would say not.
4. If the reporter discloses to the audience the nature of the deception and the reason it was used.
As of now, we have no way of knowing if O’Keefe was going to disclose what he did, and if the public would be better off for his actions.

What worries me more than anything is his reference to “New Age Journalism.” If O’Keefe sees the transitions traditional journalism has made in the past decade or so as carte blanche to employ any techniques necessary to gather information, he is severely misinterpreting the discipline of journalism. I did a little digging into his background. He earned a philosophy degree from Rutgers University, and while there he started a conservative newspaper called The Centurion, which still exists today. The first issue reveals the publication’s socio-political stance, albeit with some questionable writing and reporting. The early editions of The Centurion smack of the old Andy Rooney/Judy Garland movies where the iconic phrase became, “Hey kids, let’s put on a show.” O’Keefe, it appears from this vantage point, needs some good journalistic training, and certainly some mentoring in investigative journalism. His founding of the Centurion was certainly in the Rooney/Garland genre. If he is going to try to uncover truths he feels the public needs to know, he first must learn how to do it without breaking the law and certainly without getting arrested. Apparently, he has not considered that.

Further, at the ripe old age of 26, O’Keefe has become something of a college conservative media god to his successors. Here is what Rutgers student and Centurion writer Stephanie Jablonsky wrote in the December, 2009 edition of The Centurion:
“On Wednesday, October 28, the steps of Brower Common were graced by the presence of the most notorious conservative activist in the nation, legendary Centurion founder and Rutgers grad, ACORN infiltrator…James O’Freaking Keefe. When he arrived as the College Republicans’ main guest speaker for their campus Tea Party, babies cried, acorns cracked, and the stench of Rutgers’ progressive self-righteousness and hypocrisy was removed from the air –at least for a little while. James O’Keefe was home.”
You may view that over-the-top passage as simply that of a star-struck college co-ed, but that’s exactly the point. If O’Keefe is going to position himself as a new age version of the late William F. Buckley,(left, with President Ronald Reagan) perhaps he needs to get himself back in school, study public policy and journalism, and then try to change the world. You have to give him props for his chutzpah, but real activism comes from a place of strength, and that strength lies in knowledge and experience. The experience at 26 usually and necessarily has to be somebody else’s, but even that can light the way. O’Keefe’s bumbling turn as a pimp and his recent arrest are clear indications that he should not be positioning himself as a role model for young conservatives. Oh, and if you need further convincing that O’Keefe is the anti-journalist, watch this video of one of his lesser-known stunts in which heterosexual O’Keefe and his heterosexual friend trying to take out a marriage license in Massachusetts:

I realize how condescending this sounds, even before I write it, but I’m writing it anyway: O’Keefe is a very young guy. He’s trying to find his footing in the world. Like any other young guy, he will stumble along the way, but he has chosen to do it publicly. My sense of it is that the theatrics he uses today will someday make him cringe, especially the pimp suit. Apparently Magistrate Judge Louis Moore agrees with me on the youth angle. After O’Keefe’s unlawful entry in to the New Orleans Federal building, Judge Moore ordered O’Keefe to reside in the state of New Jersey until the next hearing – with his parents.