The week (March 30th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

With a tip of the fedora to Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

JOURNALIST DANIEL PEARL’S MURDER in Pakistan will be the focus of an investigative journalism seminar being planned by Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies, which the school says in a press release “will search for clues to what really happened” when Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in Karachi in 2002.

The seminar, dubbed The Pearl Project, will be led by Barbara Feinman Todd, associate dean of journalism, and former Wall Street Journal reporter Asra Q. Nomani, a one-time colleague of Pearl’s. Nomani is quoted as saying: “For the five years since Danny was killed, I have wanted to find out the full truth behind Danny’s kidnapping and murder.”

Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, (also known as Sheikh Omar), a British-born Islamic militant, was convicted of Pearl’s murder and sentenced to death in 2002. Three other men were sentenced to life sentences. Sheikh Omar is now appealing his conviction, pointing to the confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, that he had beheaded Pearl.

One the unanswered questions about the Pearl murder includes what links there might be between elements in the Pakistani intelligence agency (Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI) and Omar Sheikh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Al Qaeda.

How far will The Pearl Project get towards answering any of the unresolved questions? A key will be the level of cooperation and access offered by Pakistan’s government.

OPRAH WINFREY’s CHOICE OF Cormac McCarthy’s novel ”The Road” as her latest book club selection has come as a bit of a surprise, because the TV celebrity usually chooses less weighty fare. Winfrey said McCarthy’s novel, the story of father and son and their journey in a post-apocalyptic America, was “haunting and inspiring.”

A better choice to expose Oprah’s millions to McCarthy’s considerable talents would have been his novel “All the Pretty Horses”; I found “The Road” to be a somewhat derivative and predictable foray into science fiction.

I’LL BE ROOTING FOR GEORGETOWN’S basketball team in the NCAA’s Final Four tournament chiefly because of the Hoyas’ brilliant young coach, John Thompson III, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father, John Thompson, and lead the Jesuit school to a national championship. John Thompson III calls his squad the “son of” team because it includes the sons of former NBA players Patrick Ewing (Patrick Ewing Jr) and Doc Rivers (Jeremiah Rivers).

IT IS WELCOME NEWS FOR ADVOCATES OF JOURNALISTIC TRANSPARENCY THAT the New York Times has decided to continue the newspaper’s practice of employing a public editor (an ombudsman meant to act as the paper’s “readers’ representative.”) Editor Bill Keller will replace Byron Calame, whose tenure as public editor is ending in May.

The ombudsman role, resisted by the Times for decades but then adopted after the Jayson Blair scandal, does allow for some public scrutiny of editorial decision-making. The public editor, by design, looks into journalistic controversies after the fact.

More important to the practice of objective-means journalism at the Times is whether the standards editor, Craig Whitney, can effectively address any breakdowns in the daily practices of the newsroom. Is there proper oversight of reporters? Are there adequate checks-and-balances in the editing process? Are conflicts-of-interest, or problems with bias (vide Linda Greenhouse’s lapse into partisanship) surfaced and dealt with?

OBAMA AND BLUE COLLARS: DO THEY FIT?” is the title of Ronald Brownstein’s piece in the Los Angeles Times where the veteran national affairs columnist focuses on whether Presidential hopeful Barack Obama can move beyond his appeal to the college-educated (the “wine track”).

Brownstein characterises Obama as a “brainy liberal” with a “cool, detached persona,” like Eugene McCarthy, Gary Hart, Paul Tsongas and Bill Bradley. He sees Hillary Clinton as having more appeal to working class Democrats. Brownstein notes:

Since the 1960s, Democratic nominating contests regularly have come down to a struggle between a candidate who draws support primarily from upscale, economically comfortable voters liberal on social and foreign policy issues, and a rival who relies mostly on downscale, financially strained voters drawn to populist economics and somewhat more conservative views on cultural and national security issues.

Those Democratic candidates—like Bill Clinton or, to a certain extent, Robert F. Kennedy—who can reach out to both groups, Brownstein argues, can fashion a winning coalition. Can Obama achieve this? That will be the deciding factor in the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination race.

THE WORDS FOR THE WEEK FROM PATRICK HENRY, the fiery Virginia patriot of the 18th century: “The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.”


Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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