My Nation column, “China Goes Dark,” is kind of about Apple’s labor exploitation and kind of about “Hard-hitting New York Times coverage has been journalism at its best—although the Chinese authorities apparently don't agree.” I suppose it’ll be behind a paywall for a few more days but it’s here, if you remember to click when it’s not.

In the meantime, there’s this: “Worse still is the continued employment of The Nation columnist Eric Alterman…"

Also, I have an ide for a new slogan for the ASA and the rest of the BDS mob: “BDS: More Palestinian than the Palestinians…”

The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis put together a sixteen piece band to play songs you did not know were jazz–incluing “Jingle Bells” “Little Drummer Boy” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” The songs were arranged by various members of the Orchestra and introduced with his unique aplomb and charm by Mr. Marsalis. The  highlights all involved the appearance of 23-year-old 2010 Thelonious Monk Competition winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, whose charms I do not believe were captured on her cd, and so I’ve resisted her but her versatility and pitch-perfect delivery –as the pr material says, her “ability to refract the styles of such iconic performers of that era as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Valaida Snow with 21st century freshness, expressivity, and soulfulness”–really shook up the place and made it a most memorable, if somewhat brief performance.  The schedule is here.

I’ve also been spending time with Mosaic Records’ “The Complete Clifford Jordan Strata-East Sessions” Jordan worked as a sideman with Mingus, Max Roach, Eric Dolphy, Horace Silver and Randy Weston sometimes eclipsed his own brilliance as a leader. He was also well-known in the jazz world as a discoverer of emerging artistry and as a talented producer. This package–which lives up to Mosaic’s unequaled reputation for both scholarly and acoustic excellence, documents every aspect of his under publicized career.   It’s a six cd set that includes his two best-known albums, 1969's In the World features Julian Priester, Wynton Kelly and Wilbur Ware, with Don Cherry and Albert 'Tootie' Heath alternating with Kenny Dorham, Ed Blackwell and Roy Haynes on two tracks each. Glass Bead Games (1973) features the fiery tenorman with two separate rhythm sections: Stanley Cowell, Bill Lee and Billy Higgins; and Cedar Walton, Sam Jones and Higgins. But we aslo get Zodiac: The Music of Cecil Payne,  accompanied by Dorham, Kelly, Ware and Heath, Charles Brackeen's Rhythm X (1968) with Cherry, Charlie Haden and Blackwell on four Brackeen originals. Cherry and Blackwell can also be heard on Wilbur Ware's Super Bass, with Jordan on tenor. Next comes Shades of Edward Blackwell,  available here for the very first time. Recorded in 1968, this was Blackwell's first recording as a and features Cherry, Ware and the under-recorded tenorman Luqman Lateef on two Blackwell originals. The second has Ornette Coleman alumni, Billy Higgins and Dennis Charles, along with Roger Blank, Huss Charles and Jordan again. Finally, we get Pharoah Sanders' 1969, Izipho Zam rounds out the set with its 30 minute title cult , with vocalist Leon Thomas, and joined on various cuts Sonny Fortune, Howard Johnson, Lonnie Liston Smith, Sonny Sharrock, Cecil McBee, Sirone, and a drum ensemble of Billy Hart, Majeed Shabazz, Chief Bey, Nat Bettis and Tony Wylie. An embarrassment of riches, really, and it’s only really imaginable from Mosaic. (Terrific liner notes too, of course, with photos.) More Mosaic here, (and check out the incredible Art Tatum….)

Now here’s Reed:

What the press should learn from the “Snowden effect”
by Reed Richardson

Everyone’s familiar with the old zen koan: If a tree falls in the forest but nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? In a way, the same existential question lies at the heart of our modern news profession: If a big story lands on the front page but nobody else notices, was it really journalism?

Flash back three years to the summer of 2010, when the Washington Post published its breathtakingly detailed, two years in the making  “Top Secret America” project. In it, reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin portrayed a vast, metastasizing national security state obsessed with classifying secrets, broadening its power, and increasingly reliant on private contractors. The front-page stories ran on three consecutive days in July. But by September, updates to the Post’s specially created “TSA” blog stopped coming. A fourth and final story installment—presciently titled “Monitoring America”—arrived somewhat inexplicably in late December, just days before Christmas. Almost nine months later, Frontline broadcast an hour-long documentary to complement the pair’s reporting, timed to run with the publication of a book about “Top Secret America.” Nevertheless, the White House, Congress, and the national security establishment all pretty much shrugged off the whole thing. But it was outstanding journalism. Or was it?

Then there was Reuters, which published last month the second half of a piercing two-part exposé about rampant waste in the Defense Dept. budget. If you missed it, or the first installment, which ran back in July, you weren’t alone. Despite the numerous examples of outrageous conduct unearthed, there’s been no concomitant public debate or calls for a governmental investigation into how much our nation really spends on the military and what we get (or, more to the point, don’t get) for our money. In fact, the Ryan-Murray budget deal that just passed Congress restored almost every DoD dollar cut by the sequester. Still, excellent journalism, right? Right?

My point here is not to diminish the journalism and journalists above as much as it is to offer up those examples as cautionary tales. In-depth accountability journalism doesn’t always make an impact (for reasons I’ll get to later.) Which is why the ongoing blowback of the NSA spying revelations leaked by Edward Snowden—the“Snowden effect”—are so remarkable. Whether or not you classify Snowden as a hero or a traitor, or something in between, one can’t deny his actions have sparked a debate about the intersection of national security and individual privacy that we weren’t having six months ago, but should have been. That, in a democracy dependent upon consent of the governed and oversight of their duly elected representatives, can’t help but be a positive development. Likewise, to witness an original author of the Patriot Act, a seminal piece of government overreach if ever there was one, change course and advocate legislation rolling back the NSA’s power is still hard to fathom. And to have predicted, back in June, that by the end of the year, both a federal judge—appointed by George W. Bush, no less—and a White House-appointed review panel would offer a sweeping, excoriating rebuke to the intelligence community status quo would have been laughable.

It is still too soon to say what real, lasting impact on intelligence and privacy policy the “Snowden effect” will have, of course. On matters involving the national security state, it always pays to be skeptical of any promises of broad reform. Judge Richard Leon’s powerful decision on Monday, for example, was self-sabotaged by his choice to immediately stay the ruling and limit its scope to the two plaintiffs who brought the case. (One of whom, Larry Klayman, it should be noted, is a certifiable right-wing conspiracy nut who has advocated for a military coup to overthrow President Obama.) Moreover, while the NSA review panel’s 300-page report was laudably released weeks ahead of schedule—and not as part of a late-Friday-before-Christmas news dump—the timing coincidentally works in favor of a White House looking to quell even more privacy lawsuits and possibly blunt the momentum of the Sensenbrenner-Leahy USA FREEDOM Act. That’s before pointing out that the panel’s 46 recommendations are just that, recommendations, and that Obama has already rejected one of the report's most important proposals.

However, the Snowden revelations and their subsequent publication haven’t just had an impact on issues of privacy and national security. They’ve also occasioned a re-awakening of a debate about the role of journalism (and journalists) in a democracy and its relationship to authority. As the lead reporter whom Snowden has entrusted with his massive trove of stolen secrets, former Guardian columnist/reporter Glenn Greenwald has come to personify this new breed of independent-minded, advocacy journalist. He’s endured some clumsysmear attempts as well as a share of fair criticism of his reporting, but it’s hard to quantify how fully his lightning-rod persona has become fused to the larger discussion of the merits of “objective” versus “advocacy” journalism. On Twitter, as is often the case, these discussions have unfortunately devolved further into competing “teams,” either pro- or anti-Greenwald. Set aside all the hashtag vitriol, though, and you find that the Snowden effect precipitated this bracing debate between Greenwald and former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller that every journalist should read and think about, no matter what side you come down on.

To say, as his critics do, Greenwald merely got lucky that Snowden chose him for what might the biggest leak of all time is a mistake, though. Just as it is a mistake for those who might have legitimate critiques of a journalist’s portrayal of intelligence operations to lapse into old-fashioned, insider-y rank-pulling instead of honest engagement. Greenwald’s reputation as someone with an unabashed adversarial approach to covering government no doubt fit the profile Snowden sought for someone who would distill, curate, and aggressively report the secrets he’d taken. It was no coincidence, then, that Snowden—and, before him, Pfc. Chelsea Manning—choose to leak everything he had to Greenwald instead of a major U.S. news organization, many of whom have on numerous occasions been too easily talked out of publishing stories by our government.

We’ll never know for sure how, say, the Times or the Post might have handled being the sole guardian of Snowden’s secrets. The enormous size and egregious nature of his revelations might well have led us to the same point we are at today, regardless of whose byline and masthead ran above them. I’m a bit skeptical, though. The multi-faceted, transnational nature of Snowden’s leaks seem to have necessitated exactly the kind of steady stream of multi-platform reports and foreign news partnerships that Greenwald has forged. Would an establishment media company like the Times have been as willing to undertake a similar journalistic outreach and share its exclusive information so as to ensure maximum policy impact? 

Color me doubtful. These days, the establishment media all too often adopts an indifferent attitude toward how the public connects with what it publishes, content to merely be conveyors of information rather than providers of context, chroniclers of the powerful instead of champions of the powerless. That no doubt contributes to why the public mistrusts the press so much.

Of course, the not-so dirty little secret about objective journalism is that does have agenda, it just won’t admit to having one honestly and transparently. In fact, the mainstream media advocates on behalf of politics and policiesall the time. Most of the time it's in service of the status quo, but not always. Take again, for example, the Post’s Dana Priest. In 2007, she produced world-class reporting on the horrid conditions for wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed hospital. Couched as objective, this was in fact advocacy reporting at its best, uncovering wrongdoing, challenging the status quo, and shaming our military into fixing a broken system. Though she won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, what made her journalism stand out was that it applied a steady adversarial pressure to get results. In contrast to the intermittent nature of her “Top Secret America” series, Priest published 10 separate stories on Walter Reed over the course of 10 months. 

That, to me, is the higher gear that journalism rarely engages but that our democracy demands. It’s also the primary takeaway from the past few months of the “Snowden effect.” That truly free societies depend upon a free press that does more than just finds the facts and tells the stories and calls it a day. They demand a larger commitment from journalists and journalism, a willingness to make the stories matter. To not just make a sound, but to be heard.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

The mail:
Ryan Scott

Portland, Oregon
Good afternoon Dr. Alterman,

I am belatedly following up on a promise I made to give you my opinion of the latest John Eddie CD after I'd listened to it awhile.  I'm pretty certain your recommendation was the reason I'd bought his 2003 CD, Who the Hell is John Eddie?

His latest CD, Same Old Brand New Me, is a lot less angry, but no less disillusioned.  No parental advisories on this one.  The CD returns repeatedly to the themes of disappointment and failure, but it frequently does so in clever, funny ways.  I have a couple of weaknesses that not everyone would share.  The first involves lyrics which turn a cliche inside out.  Eddie does this successfully on a number of songs, including "If Only They Could See Me Then," and "Don't Stop Me (If You've Heard This One Before."  Both songs convincingly create a picture of someone whose best days were twenty or thirty years ago, but who is unconvincingly going through the motions, hilariously in the latter song, mournfully in the former.  The inability to change either one's self or one's trajectory can also be found in the title song and "I'm Still Drunk."

My other weakness not everyone would share would encompass the juvenile puns of "Real Big Deck."

Anyway, if you haven't heard it yet, and I'm remembering right that you liked his earlier CD, I'd recommend it.  The love songs are fine, but the songs which rock are the ones I've found myself returning to.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.