Friday, October 20, 2006
YouTube becomes political weapon
You've likely heard of YouTube. Well, rest assured, your representatives in Washington, D.C., most definitely have too.
That's because campaign operatives are starting to place negative images of the candidates they oppose on the video sharing site. The campaigns have camera-wielding staffers who go to the opposition's campaign events with the hopes of shooting something negative or embarrassing the candidate says and then putting it on YouTube.
The video of Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen referring to an opposition cameraman as "macaca"
is available for the world's viewing on YouTube.
One of the more active purveyors of YouTube video attacks is the campaign of Montana State Senate President John Tester, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate. Tester strongly supports the work of two members of his staff who record campaign appearances of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, a Republican running for his fourth term in the Senate.
On YouTube, you can see and hear Burns referring to "a nice little Guatemalan man
" who's doing some work for him. You can also view the senator referring to the war on terror as a battle against a faceless enemy who is "a taxi cab driver
in the daytime but a killer at night." And then there is the most viewed of the Burns' videos, where the senator appears to nod off
at an agriculture hearing in Montana.
We went out to Montana to talk to both candidates and the cameraman about this. I asked John Tester if some of this is unfair. For example, don't tired people sometimes nod off at meetings?
Tester told me Burns shouldn't be falling asleep at hearings so important to Montanans.
So I asked Burns what he thought about these tactics. Obviously, Burns' campaign workers aren't particularly pleased when their candidate is ridiculed on a Web site, but Burns seems to like Kevin O'Brien, the cameraman who works for the Tester campaign and goes by the name of "arrowhead77" on YouTube.
"We feed him at our luncheons and our picnics, because I don't think the Democrats are paying him very much," he said.
The polls show this race to be tight. We'll see if Senator Burns has the same sense of humor about all this after Election Day.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Why we aired the sniper video
Last night, we ran a controversial piece produced by our Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware. The backstory is that through intermediaries Michael had been communicating with Ibrahim Al-Shimary, a shadowy leader and spokesman for the Islamic Army. Michael had sent him a series of questions concerning the insurgency in Iraq and its motives. He was surprised when he received two videotapes in response. We aired portions of both last night.
One had Al-Shimary himself on camera -- his face electronically concealed -- responding to Michael's questions. The second tape surprised us even more. It documented 10 incidents of insurgent snipers attacking U.S. military personnel. To be clear, insurgents shot the tape themselves. This group has released similar tapes in the past. Indeed, you can find them on the Internet. But this tape uniquely included audio from the sniper team as they selected targets, waited for their opportunities and then praised Allah as they made their escapes.
We are assuming they included the sniper tape to prove the authenticity of the Al-Shimary interview tape and to establish their credibility. Of course, we also understood that some might conclude there is a public relations benefit for the insurgents if we aired the material, especially on CNN International. We also understood that this kind of footage is upsetting and disturbing for many viewers. But after getting beyond the emotional debate, we concluded the tape meets our criteria for newsworthiness.
Moreover, with 73 U.S. military casualties so far this month, October is already the third highest month for U.S. deaths in Iraq since the war began. In fact, many of them are victims of sniper attacks.
For those who did not see the piece, you can watch it here now: (Watch CNN's report on the insurgent video
You should know we dipped to black at the moment of actual impact of the rounds. A number of us felt airing that precise moment was simply too horrific. That decision, as well as the decision to build a piece around the sniper tape -- in fact, all the decisions about this story -- were subject to hours of intense editorial debate at the highest levels here at CNN.
You should also know we tried to put all of this in context. Our reporting included an interview with a current U.S. sniper in Iraq. He's been both under attack from insurgent snipers and he has himself operated as a sniper. We also heard from Major General William Caldwell, a coalition forces spokesman in Iraq, and CNN military analyst General David Grange, formerly with the Green Beret, Delta Force and Army Rangers.
Instantly, the piece received many strongly-worded responses from viewers.
Many viewers thought it inappropriate for us to air video of Americans being shot: "If I had a son or daughter over there serving, I would be outraged by what I feel is your aiding and comforting the enemy."
Some worried about kids who might have watched the program. (We clearly warned viewers the video was not appropriate for children before we aired it.)
Others praised us for showing the threats U.S. military personnel actually face: "Thanks for having the guts to show the sniper update and to show us the other side of the story. Please continue to give us the truth; I know the network is bound to be taking heat."
And still others thought by dipping to black and not showing the moment of impact of the sniper rounds we were sanitizing the horror of war: " ... I think the reason it took Americans so long to come around on this war is because they somehow did not think it was real because they never saw anyone hurt ... you guys need to show the unvarnished truth."
Whether or not you agree with us in this case, our goal, as always, is to present the unvarnished truth as best we can.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Is Iraq engaged in civil war?
The rumble seems to be growing louder by the week here in Washington, D.C. More and more political, military and international affairs analysts are saying civil war is already underway, or at least on the way, in Iraq.
Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, they say, are girding themselves for a great battle for control of the country when and if coalition forces pull out. They are ready to shoot it out over old disputes, ethic rivalries, and the oil revenues that could make all of them, or perhaps only the winners, rich. What else can you call that, these analysts say, except civil war?
The White House, of course, sees it differently, and with reason. For starters, coalition troops, even while under constant fire, have in large part kept the various factions from massing large numbers of troops, gathering large quantities of big weapons, and launching broad offenses against each other, the hallmarks of a classic civil war.
In addition, there are political and security reasons to avoid any such admission. If full-scale, open civil war erupts and fractures the fledgling democracy, it will certainly be seen as a major defeat for the United States and Iraq would turn into a long-term staging ground for terrorism.
No matter what it is called, the situation is perilous for the U.S. military, for the Iraqis, for the future of the region. My question is this: Based on your reading of events, do you think Iraq is in a full-fledged civil war or is that term inappropriate?
Monday, October 16, 2006
Should kids be taught in Spanish?
As America's population nears 300 million, the number of people living here who speak little or no English increases nearly every day. Right now, for example, English is a second language for nearly 5.5 million schoolchildren, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
So what are public schools to do when students come in and only speak one language and that language is not English?
Well, most schools give those children intensive instruction in English with the hopes they learn the language quickly. But we visited a school district in Texas that, along with some other districts in the Lone Star State, has a different idea.
Officials in Bryan, Texas, offer a program in some classrooms in which Spanish is used for up to 90 percent of the day. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are taught for the most part in Spanish.
The theory is that too many non-English speaking kids get lost when they start learning all their subjects in a language they don't know. They quickly fall behind other students; some of them never catch up.
Officials in Bryan took us into classrooms to see how their program works. We saw one crowded classroom with enthusiastic children playing computer games in Spanish. We also saw a class doing the Pledge of Allegiance in English and Spanish. The officials tell us the program is so popular that there are waiting lists to get in; and the waiting lists include native English speakers.
As it turns out, roughly half the kids in the classes were born and raised in the United States and have parents who want them to be fluent in Spanish.
So the question we pose in our story that airs on "360" is this: Is there an issue with American taxpayers footing the bill for public school education taught primarily in Spanish?
We interview the head of the English First organization who says bilingual education "has never worked." He adds that children who can't speak English should get more intensive English instruction to get them caught up. Meanwhile, officials in Bryan are considering expanding their offerings in Spanish.
America's Latinization: Shakira, salsa and Ugly Betty
I feel like I keep doing this same story every year, telling the tale of how the booming Latino population is changing the United States, how the U.S. media business needs to take note of this vast and demanding market. I'm Latina and in the media, so I cop to having a special interest here.
But, as the U.S. population approaches 300 million people, the story has finally changed. I've written for years about how Latino content -- in Spanish and English -- is growing so much that it's going to transform American media. Now it seems to have actually happened.
It's not just that People Magazine also publishes People en Espanol or that CNN has a Spanish-language channel called CNN en Espanol. All U.S. media is changing its content to reflect the fact that Latinos have become the nation's largest minority group and that the rest of the country is feeling their own culture become Latinized.
You can see it in supermarket snack aisles, where tortilla chips and salsa outsell most everything around them. You can hear it on the radio and on MTV, where Spanish music and music with a Spanish beat are everywhere. Hello, Shakira! I flipped through childrens channels the other morning with my 15-month old daughter and there was Handy Manny talking to his toolbelt in Spanish, Dora exploring the world with her amigos and Diego talking to some birds in Spanish. By the time my little girl is my age, it is likely that one in five school children will be Spanish dominant. Our country is changing, fast.
Just a few years ago my relatives in Peru told me not to call them when Betty La Fea was on because they wouldn't pick up the phone. I remember visiting them and TV reporters were on air around Latin America doing live shots to show how empty the streets were during the broadcast. The show was a major telenovela phenomena. Everyone watched, every time. When ABC announced it would produce a U.S. version in English, I figured this would be a true test of whether the U.S. audience, Latinos and non-Latinos, would embrace something so quintessentially Latin American. Well, question answered. Ugly Betty has become the most-watched new series this season.
The show is funny, with crisp writing and a compelling story line. It is also very much a Latino show. Yet the numbers speak for themselves. It's not the nation's Latinos watching; it's everybody.
After years of watching Spanish-language shows and news broadcasts in the U.S. attract Neilson ratings that were the envy of U.S. broadcasters, it's heartening to see something Latino holding its own in English. It means there has been a coming together, a melting in the melting pot. That's the thing that makes the United States a special place for immigrants. That it welcomes and assumes their culture. That it goes out of it's way to welcome the millions of Bettys out there into their home.