Ferguson: Who’s who?

Fascinating piece on how the photographers of the St Louis Post-Dispatch are dealing with the biggest story on their patch in years. It’s well worth a read. And I particularly like a comment by a Mr Forbes, one of the paper’s photographers, who gets to the nub of the problem with coverage of the past couple of nights….

Of course, with Ferguson in papers and on sites across the nation and around the world, a new problem has emerged. “There are so many more press people now,” says Forbes. “Any time a protester raises his voice, there are 30 guys getting around him to take his picture. It’s getting really ridiculous, to the point that the press is actually more of a problem.”

The number of demonstrators has dwindled in the past couple of nights – after dark in particular. But you wouldn’t know it from some of the pics or video. It means the tiny number of people intent on trouble get a disproportionate amount of coverage. Which is a shame. 

It also raises a real problem for the police, who have to work out who’s who. And there’s a very fine line between a lot of the citizen journalists out there and the demonstrators. I’m not surprised the police have struggled to make the right call. They’re doing a tough job in difficult circumstances.

Why Ferguson?

After decades of relative calm and stability, the apartments have become a tinderbox for crime. Canfield Green Apartments and the nearby Oakmont and Northwinds complexes are a study of the slow encroachment of poverty and social distress into what had been suburban escapes.

Good piece in The St Louis Post Dispatch about why Ferguson…

Whatever you think about intervention, there’s no alternative in Iraq. Today. This minute

I was in Benghazi  on the morning when Gadaffi troops stormed its streets in 2011. Shells bracketed through the city, almost street by street . The place was in fear, aware that as the cradle of the revolution its residents would not be spared. Mosques boomed “Allahu Akhbar” from their minarets – part warning, part farewell.

All day I stood with civilians staring at the sky, wondering when Nato planes would arrive to save the city.

They arrived day later, pulverising Gaddafi’s war machine as it slept just outside Benghazi.

These past weeks have brought a string of questions about whether the intervention in Libya was the right thing to do. The country is in chaos. British diplomats have followed their American and French counterparts home. Was it worth it, cry the non-interventionists. Aren’t we responsible for creating the vacuum now filled by militias intent on doing their worst?

Let’s leave aside the questions about Gaddafi’s fear-fuelled murder. We’ve been over that ground already.

Instead the situation unfolding in Iraq, where forces of the Islamic State are threatening a genocide of religious minorities, shows us that whatever we might think of the earlier invasion of the country, the mayhem in Libya, or the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, we cannot stand by and let innocent men, women and children die. Just as in Benghazi, so northern Iraq today.

It is all very well for the anti-interventionists to tell us in a decade’s time that we got it all wrong. The simple fact is that today – right now, this minute, as thousands of people huddle on a mountainside wondering what their fate will be – they have no alternative plan.

Insider attacks and the Taliban

It is still unclear what happened at the Afghan National Defence University on Tuesday. What we do know is that a man in Afghan army uniform opened fire killing Maj Gen Harold Greene, the highest ranking US officer killed overseas since Vietnam, and wounding many more. Inevitably those with an axe to grind have seized on the episode to show how Barack Obama is getting it wrong…


“The Taliban’s recent campaign of high-profile attacks is calculated to accompany a global PR strategy highlighting the fact that U.S. and coalition forces will soon be leaving Afghanistan and abandoning its weak and ineffective government. The Taliban wants everyone to know it will soon dominate all aspects of life in Afghanistan once again,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement.

“I have told the president privately and publicly that my biggest concern is that America will end its mission in Afghanistan just short of the goal line. … So let me reiterate: if the president decides to re-think his strategy, including withdrawals, deadlines, and policy restraints, particularly on certain associated terrorist networks, he will have my support.”

There’s plenty more in this vein. But as I write here, such insider attacks are rarely a reflection of Taliban strength – although they do suggest that building trust with Afghan forces remains a problem.

Basic misperceptions about polio

Very useful preliminary study from the Harvard School of Public Health on attitudes to polio and its vaccine in Nigeria and Pakistan. Tends to suggest some very basic messages are not getting through.

In Pakistan and Nigeria, Parents’ Misperceptions Could Erode Demand in Future

Although parental demand has reached very high levels, poll results suggest there are some misperceptions about polio and OPV that could erode demand in the future, if not addressed. For example, a sizable share of parents in Borno (37%) as well as parents in lower-conflict areas of Nigeria (24%) and Pakistan (30%) believe that the paralysis from polio would be curable if their child got sick. Further, across both countries, between a fifth and a third of parents were not aware that OPV must be taken every time it is offered to maximize protection against the disease (37% in FATA, 19% in lower-conflict areas of Pakistan, 35% in Borno, and 29% in lower-conflict areas of Nigeria).

The PDF is here

Journalism of detachment

Fascinating post by Charlie Beckett, of the LSE’s Polis think tank, on whether journalists should allow themselves to become emotionally involved in their reporting of a story. He is writing with reference to Gaza and Jon Snow’s heartfelt monologue about the issue. And I tend to agree with this point:

It’s impossible to make cast-iron rules about this sort of thing. Journalism is a craft not a science. Personally, I think that the best TV reporters actually under-write and let the images and victims’ own voices speak for themselves.


Homeland does Pakistan

Thrilled to hear that Carrie is headed to Pakistan for the next season of Homeland, at least according to the trailer. Excited to find out whether her experiences here tally with mine. I imagine the opening going something like this:

A phone rings.

Carrie: Hello, Istanbul Station.

Raymondo Davieso (senior CIA figure in Langley): Hello Carrie, how are you settling in?

C: OK. Istanbul is….

R: Great. Excellent. Never mind that. We need a full report on what the Pakistani military is up to, how it is backing the Taliban and suchlike.

C: But I’m in Istanbul.

R. Exactly. Fast as you can.

C: I know nothing about Pakistan.

R: Er imagine the people you are writing the report for know nothing about it either. And we’ve sent you a disguise.

Cut to a figure draped in a blue burqa sitting in a smart Islamabad restaurant eating sushi, awkwardly, being stared at by every other customer wondering why she’s wearing a burqa.

Episode 2

ISI chief arrives at CIA station, Islamabad. With a welcome gift of a box of mangoes. Prompting panic and confusion.

Episode 3

Carrie chases down key Taliban figure. Is plied with samosas, milk tea and chicken haandi, rendering her rather sleepy and unable to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon.

Episode 4

Carrie tracks down feared alleged terror leader in Lahore by calling his press officer. Has dinner with him but is asked not to report back to Langley that he uses Heinz Tomato Ketchup. Carrie complains of indigestion.

Episode 5

Carrie intercepts key militant handler as he arrives at US embassy to check progress of his visa application. Carrie explains that she can’t help with that sort of thing. It’s a different department. He takes her to Peshawar because you can get better lamb there.

Episode 6

Carrie is helicoptered out after medics diagnose the early stages of diabetes.

Episode 7

CIA gives up. Resorts to drones again.

NB: I will watch every episode, completely gripped, while complaining about deficiencies in the plot and the poor depiction of Pakistan.