You are right: implied in that definition is that Emilio Palacio is not a journalist. When the going got tough, Palacio got going all the way to Miami, where he is presently requesting political asylum. He left it to others back home to carry his dirty water for him. The same reality applies to the three publishers of El Universo, Palacio’s newspaper, who also left Ecuador.
Since Palacio is no longer employed by El Universo, makes you wonder who is putting his hamburgers on the table. I spent a year in Coconut Grove, outside Miami. I can assure you, Dear Reader, you may do many things in life; living on no money in South Florida is not one of them.
I must note that President Correa recently dropped all charges against Palacio and the Universo owners. Over 70% of Ecuadorians support his decision.
Ernesto and Manolo, you want to know what gives me the right to talk about such things as journalism, urinalism and a willingness to take risks. Excellent question, especially in light of where you live.
Let’s look closer at the willingness to take risks.
Seven journalists have been killed in Syria since the recent violence began. It has been my experience that the general public regards them as either super courageous or incredibly foolish. Taking journalists as a group, I suspect the truth is neither.
In 1988-89 I was travelling in Latin America writing articles for the El Paso Times. First stop: Mexico, where a dubious presidential election had taken place.
The defrauded candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, and three researchers, José Barberán, Adriana Lopez Monjardín, and Jorge Zavala, wrote a pioneering study, Radiografía del fraude (Editorial Nuestro Tiempo, Mexico, 1988). I interviewed three of the authors, including Cárdenas. When I informed him I had looked all over town for Radiografia, he laughed -- “and you couldn’t find it anywhere.” He called the publisher who set aside a copy. It is an absorbing study; I read it in one sitting.
The atmosphere in Mexico City was -- to put it mildly -- tense. While I was there, one of Cárdenas’ political advisors was murdered. In those days, the danger came not from drug cartels but the government, in particular its terrifying servicio secreto apparatus which, among other things, had murdered countless students during the 1968 disturbances. The SS was later disbanded, however, it hooked up with other military personnel, and formed the Zeta cartel.
The proverbial knock on the door, the car filled with plainclothesmen pulling up beside you and telling you to get in: what goes through your head in such circumstances?
Going to and coming from the interviews, I never looked in the rearview mirror. The reason is that even if they were following me, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Same goes for phone taps in the hotel. I never checked my baggage in the room to see if it had been searched or if somebody with dark glasses was waiting in the lobby.
You are alert, but not afraid. Again, that state of mind -- very unique -- has nothing to do with courage or foolishness.
The simple fact of the matter is, if they are going to kill you, torture you or throw you in prison, you cannot stop them. So, you go ahead and do your work as if they did not exist; you don’t let them determine a damn thing. You do it anyway because you believe the story is worthwhile. And you believe it is worthwhile because you sense -- it is more a matter of intuition than thinking -- the truth is involved; it is a feeling and you either have it or you don’t.
I can tell you right now, Palacio and El Universo owners don’t have it. Down deep, when they turn off the lights, they didn’t believe what they said -- that President Correa ordered the troops to fire on a hospital. Otherwise, they would not have fled Ecuador. Even more condemning, they would not have offered to print an apology IF the president would do something in return. Sorry, gentlemen, your silly quid pro quo betrayed you; any journalist involved in the truth will tell you that no “deals” are possible -- ever. But, gentlemen, you can settle the matter easily, simply: submit to a lie detector test.
If you are a journalist, the truth is your job; taking risks is part of it. Same goes for miners, firemen. Nothing heroic or stupid involved. It is comparable to taking out the trash, somebody has to do it.
There is another problem with El Universo´s and Palacio’s claim to journalism. As indicated in the definition, journalists -- unlike the people aping them -- are not content with one side of the story. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas is on the left. As for the right, in 1989 I also interviewed Manuel Clouthier, head of the conservative PAN party, who was holding a hunger strike. He died not long thereafter in a mysterious car accident. (I suspect somebody thought he was getting too close to victory. Indeed, Clouthier’s successor, Vicente Fox, became president of Mexico.)
I asked for an interview with the president, but was turned down.
I should note that from Mexico I went to Nicaragua where the Sandinistas were in power. I interviewed Violeta Chamorro, head of La Prensa, a large opposition newspaper, as well as her son, head of La Barricada, the Sandinista newspaper. Violeta Chamorro, who subsequently was elected president, told me in her office, “They know you are here.” We did the only thing you can do in such a situation: laugh.
As for El Universo and Emilio Palacio, let’s look at another part of the urinalist definition: 4. Negative media stories that offer no fair opportunity for rebuttal. Gentlemen, did you offer a chance for the people you attacked to respond? President Correa noted of Palacio´s newly-minted American friends in the American press that not one, ever, tried to contact him and get his version of the controversy.
In 1989, Fraude author José Barberán wrote me that the truth “will eventually come out” about the Mexican presidential election. It did. Today, nobody -- not even the PRI party that committed the fraud -- disputes that Cárdenas was robbed.
Given the decrepit state of American scholarship and journalism -- both are limited cultural maximizers*-- George W. Bush need not fear the same outcome for the 2000 Florida election. For the same reason, neither should Palacio or El Universo fear that their actions will be seriously analyzed, much less criticized, by U.S. media.
But is limited the right word?
* * *
George Orwell, author of 1984 and fearless foe of totalitarianism, wrote that the “chief danger to freedom of thought and speech” does not come from “any official body”:
“If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion…intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalists has to face…Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban.” (George Orwell, “The Freedom of The Press.” (http.//orwellru/library/novels/animal_farm/English/efp_go)
The above excerpt is from Orwell’s “Proposed Preface to Animal Farm.” Proposed because it was not published until 1972 in the Times Literary Supplement. True to form, the original publisher had… suppressed it.
Also true to form…
As mentioned, after our interview I gave Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas a copy of what I had written. When I returned to the United States, I read what the El Paso Times had printed. So did José Barberán and the other authors of Radiografia; he expressed their dismay at how “little respect” the Times had displayed toward my work; the editors had made serious, ah, “alterations.”
As for the Nicaragua interviews, the El Paso Times did no publish them. Furious, I did the unprecedented: I called them and asked why. Must have been too much advertising that week was their answer. My response: “If I update the interviews, will you print them?” Yes.
I resubmitted them. Again, nothing happened.
The reason is simple: Violeta Chamorro´s newspaper La Prensa did not fit the American totalitarian model in which no opposition press exists. (The American government had characterized the Sandinistas as totalitarian and was arming Contra military forces opposing them.)
After seeing what the El Paso Times had done and did not do, I could only wonder what I was doing working with them. Hegel defined a perfect world as one in which intentions = consequences. Such is decidedly not the case in our imperfect world where journalism can morph -- unnoticed, undetected and quickly -- into urinalism.
I came to certain conclusions, dropped the El Paso Times and stop being a journalist.
No point looking further. In two words George Orwell summed up the secret inner essence of the American media: Intellectual cowardice. They censor more in two months than all governments put together censor in twenty years.
Ernesto S., Patty J. and Manolo G., I hope that answers your questions.
Our post of February 12 concluded of the Washington Post:
“The Post is a tool of the American government. Obama, Bush, JFK, Pol Pot, Hitler, Hoover, Lenin, Reagan, Elvis: it makes no difference who is in power, the Post does his bidding in exchange for…well, what, exactly? Money? Hot tips? Free Redskins tickets? Gotcha’ sex rumors and phony confidences? Dinner with 200 other attendees? A Rose Garden interview with softball questions? An invitation to the White House Christmas party?”
A month later, we got an answer: hot tips.
Post columnist David Ignatius wrote on March 16 that bin Laden wanted to kill Obama and General Petraeus:
“The scheme is described in one of the documents taken from bin Laden’s compound by U.S. forces on May 2, the night he was killed. I was given an exclusive look at some of these remarkable documents by a senior administration official.”
Exclusive look. Senior administration official: Boy, are we impressed! Let´s see now: U.S. forces break into bin Laden`s compound, kill him and take papers. Question: those papers are now in the hands of what government agency? If you have trouble with this one, ask the nearest seventh grader; he or she will be happy to set you straight.
In case a teenager isn`t handy, we´ll go ahead and phrase the matter this way: don´t look now, Ignatius and Post, but your C.I.A. minders are showing.
We have dealt with Ignatius before. The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion noted that, in America, the Official Explanation of terrorism is that Islam is the source of terrorism. Patently absurd, it must be kept off camera, implied, insinuated, denied if mentioned directly. Unable to sustain their position with facts -- there aren´t any -- adherents of The Official Expanation are doomed to become erstwhile practitioners of the Blivet Trick, i.e., try to shove 10 pounds of horse shit into a 5 pound bag. Ignatius is a textbook case. The Source of Terrorism concluded of another Ignatius article in which, Blivet-like, he confirmed The Official Explanation by denying it:
"The Official Explanation, reasserts itself in spite of Ignatius’ direct claim to the contrary: if the painful transition to modernism and not the grievances of Islam is the source of terrorism, we need to ask: transition from what? Ignatius declares ´it is certainly true that Islam has yet to find an easy co-existence with the freedom and secularism of modern [sic] societies.´ Islam it is, then. Ultimately, Islam is the source of terrorism." (p. 24)
Ignatius, in short, is a cultural maximizer par excellence. He doesn´t just play ball with the system; he is the system. As for the quality of the hot tip, you don`t have to have read The Source of Terrorism to know a "bin Laden wanted to kill Obama" story is not newsworthy. Or, in the peripatetic phrasing of a seventh grader who looked over Ignatius´ scoop: “No shit, Sherlock. Where did you find the clue?”
In the end, the Washington Post got what the bird left on the limb. Which leaves us with this question. Washington Post, what, exactly, did you trade off for exactly nothing in return?
*“All great cultures, and those moving in the direction of greatness, have an elite which might be called the cultural maximizers whose function is to maintain or push further the culture’s greatness and integration…The functions of a cultural maximizer include organization (i.e., maintaining the level of integration of the culture as it is) and contributing certain qualitative features necessary to the continuance of the cultural life. His function is never to alter the culture radically. He may help to give more intense expression to features that already exist, but he never wants to bring about a fundamental change. Thus, those who have the capacity to maximize culture in this sense are among the elite in all highly developed civilizations.” Jules Henry, Culture Against Man, Random House, 1963, p. 31.