Tag Archives: journalism

Hollywood shines its spotlight on journalism

There’s a long history of journalists on the silver screen, from classics “Citizen Kane,” and “All the King’s Men,” to satires such as “Network,” to broader comedies such as “Groundhog Day,” and “Bruce Almighty.” Rarer are depictions of newshounds as neither heroes nor empty suits.

In the past year, three films have offered takes on the profession that alternately recreate or subvert these archetypes, or do away with them entirely: critic’s darling “Birdman,” edgy “Nightcrawler” and the farcical “Interview.” How does each cast the media of today? 

A journalist abroad

The goofiest and most simplistic of the crop, “The Interview,” holds journalism in the highest esteem. True, stars Seth Rogen and James Franco play a lowly entertainment news team that makes its nut on celebrity gossip. In two early cameos, Eminem and Rob Lowe come out as gay and bald, respectively, on their talk show. But show-runner Aaron Rapoport (Rogen)’s dissatisfaction with this state of affairs is what pushes him, and his host, Dave Skylark (Franco), to take on an interview with Kim Jung-un.

Early on, Rapoport runs into an old Columbia Journalism School peer, now a “60 Minutes” employee, who jokes that he could never make it in the world of real news. His pride is wounded. Skylark also desires professional esteem. So this respect for legitimate journalism is actually the impetus for the film’s absurd events.

Late in the plot, when the bumbling stars are deep in North Korea and have ditched the CIA’s assassination plan, they instead decide to use Skylark’s emotional manipulation skills – those same that bring celebs to tears in one-on-ones – to make Kim Jung-un cry in front of his nation. They believe the media broadcast would have a truly revolutionary power. It would pull back the curtain on the supposed superhuman leader, instead of merely leading to another succession, as his assassination would.

This is faith in journalism as world-shaker, as mightier than the sword (and of course, the film had serious real-world repercussions in the Sony email hack and subsequent pull from theaters). While “The Interview” might seem to mock today’s vapid media, there is actually a kind of golden-age reverence below the surface.

Critically panned, “The Interview” actually bears some similarities to the lauded “Birdman.” Both feature popular stars low on credibility who seek legitimacy by impressing prestige media.

A journalist on Broadway

This year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, “Birdman,” looks at the conflicted, symbiotic relationship between the entertainment industry and the press. At the center of it, Michael Keaton’s Riggan Thompson, a former comic book movie star, attempts to stage a career revival. He stars in, directs and produces his own Broadway adaption of a Raymond Carver work. His fate lies with one reviewer, the New York Times’ prickly theater critic, who reviles what he represents. He doesn’t care much for critics, either.

In a telling detail, his dressing room mirror bears a notecard with the quote, “A thing is a thing not what is said of that thing [sic].”

But Thompson is in search of validation, and thinks it must come from the old-guard media. He checks the paper (the print version, no less) for reviews after each preview and ultimately, opening night. He gets in a fistfight with his preening co-star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who usurps his front page early in the film.

The media do not come off too well here. The Times critic threatens to kill his play before she’s even seen it. Likewise, at an early press conference held in Thompson’s dressing room, one scribe inquires if a ludicrous rumor – that he injects pig semen in his face – is true. They care little about the content of his production or its performances.

There are other sources of hollow validation, though, as the film reveals. Thompson’s daughter/assistant Sam, played by Emma Stone, gives the actors a younger outsider’s view. In one notable scene, Thompson gets locked out of the theater in his underwear during a performance and has to hightail back to the front entrance though throngs of New York pedestrians. Later, his daughter tells him his jaunt is trending on Twitter, gaining 350,000 views in under an hour. “Believe it or not, this is power,” she tells him. She realizes new media can undercut the gatekeeping role of old.

But the very next scene? Thompson has a nasty confrontation with the Times critic in a bar. “I’m gonna destroy your play,” she growls. “This is the theater. You don’t get to come in here and write, direct and star in your own propaganda piece without coming through me first.” She might as well have roared, “I am the gatekeeper.”

Reading her notepad, he says her criticisms are “just labels” – there’s nothing about technique or intention, no substance at all. “Just a bunch of crappy opinions.”

Thompson and his co-stars are wrapped up in the public’s adoration, though. While their future may hinge on the old, new media can instantly gratify them. In reference to a sort of excitement-induced wardrobe malfunction, Shiner shoots back at Thompson, mid-fight: “I’m a nobody? My massive hard-on got 50,000 views.”

“Birdman” is fascinated with the real-time interaction, or distraction, of social media in the characters’ lives. While its actors-playing-actors are somewhat self-aware of their adulation seeking – Shiner tells Thompson “popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige, my friend” – here validation is crunched down to numbers. Obsessed with enumeration, “Birdman” seems to be critiquing both the media’s and the public’s infatuation with views, shares and likes.

A broadside against journalists?

“Nightcrawler” is the most sustained look at the news media of the three, taking “If it bleeds, it leads” to an insane length. It’s a reflection on the sometimes ghoulish focus of local news – that is, its devotion to crime, accidents and fires. The audience’s desire for disaster is met by a perfect sociopath, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

Rather than seeking prestige, as is the case with Skylark and Thompson, he just wants a few dollars in his pocket. Nightcrawling, or stringing after police scanner incidents with camera in tow, is his means to that end.

Not only is he focused on the grisly aspects of news – where, after all, he’s just responding to the wants of the system, and his news director – he is entirely amoral about attaining sensational video.

Bloom enters crime scene homes, moves injured bodies for better framing and withholds critical information from police to stage a shot of the murderers’ apprehension-turned-shootout and car chase. He literally has blood on his hands.

He is responding to the advice of his news director, Nina Romina (Renee Russo). “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” she tells him. “I’m a very quick learner,” he says at one point. So Bloom is quickly able to turn in the highest shock-value video in all of L.A. Romina in turn is responding to the marketplace. Her news station is last in ratings, and carnage, particularly brown-on-white crime, is a hit with the suburban audience.

There are only two characters with scruples in the film. One is a member of the news team, token producer Frank Kruse (Kevin Rahm) who repeatedly raises ethical objections to running Bloom’s footage. The other is Rick (Riz Ahmed), the poor young man Bloom recruits to be his “intern.” Rick eventually confronts Bloom about his inhumane practices.

But Bloom is nothing but successful. His determined, affectless approach yields ever-greater results. In the end, he introduces several new “interns” to his expanded news-gathering production company.

Spouting aphorisms about hard work to anyone who will listen, Bloom’s deeds are at times soundtracked by a subtly upbeat, inspirational score. The film is perhaps the darkest of comedies, then, if the viewer so chooses. It is also a compelling but sickening portrait of gratuitously graphic broadcast news, a satire mixing elements of “Wolf of Wall Street” and “Network.”

There’s little more to the film’s statement. We know tabloid journalism is grotesque, and that for-profit news leads to a perversion of the product. But “Nightcrawler” delves the depths of rubbernecking and ladder climbing to a new extreme. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.


Hollywood still casts the media in powerful roles, even while satirizing their tabloidization. Journalists in film are capable of bringing down regimes and crushing Broadway shows single-handedly. But changes to the news environment have not gone unnoticed. Social media competes side-by-side with the New York Times. It’s no coincidence sensationalism has seeped back on-screen, where celebrity gossip and gory crime often displace serious issues and ethics are seen as quaint.

While still incorporating our classic images of journalists, both heroes and fools, scriptwriters have updated Hollywood’s mirror to more accurately reflect today’s fragmented and sometimes troubling media landscape.

Greenwald’s Pulitzer deserves second thoughts

Editor’s note: the following is an opinion piece by Richard Dudman. Dudman, who lives in Ellsworth, Maine, is a former chief Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

The Pulitzer and Polk committees had little choice, as most commentators say. They felt that they had to give their 2013 prizes for public service to the publications and reporters who broke one of the biggest stories of the year, the broad surveillance operations of the National Security Agency. But their decisions deserve second thoughts.

Consequences figure in the committees’ thinking, and the disclosures have brought beneficial consequences by most estimates. President Obama has reacted by ordering a restructuring of the surveillance systems to limit reported abuses. And the press and public have learned much about what the U.S. government has been doing in secret.
But some other consequences have been clearly harmful. Among them is the outrage in Germany, a prime ally and trading partner of the United States, over the N.S.A.’s gathering of electronic data from its ordinary citizens and spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel. She said angrily that “snooping among friends, that just doesn’t work.”
The disclosures also have tipped off the terrorists that their emails and phone calls were being monitored. They have switched to other means of communication. Whether their new systems can be tapped is not and should not be publicly known.
The prizes, too, have brought harmful if unintended consequences. They have boosted the increasingly favorable reputation of Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, as a public spirited whistle blower rather than a treasonous violator of security laws and fugitive (temporarily in Russia) from U.S. criminal prosecution.
Above all, the prizes have practically put an end, for now, to the great debate that Mr. Obama called for, on privacy vs. security. Privacy has won, at least for the present. Among politicians, most of the media, and probably most of the public, transparency is seen as good and secrecy is seen as bad.
Yet secrecy continues to have an essential role in national security. So does surveillance, including  mass monitoring of senders and recipients of communications. Such a program might have detected the 9/11 terrorists as they plotted to arm themselves with box cutters, board commercial planes and destroy the World Trade Center and hit other targets. Surveillance holds the possibility of detecting present and future terrorist plotters before they strike. Of course it must be carried out secretly. 
Critics often think mistakenly that surveillance ought to target only people who are already under suspicion. Typically, a New York Times editorial published on June 10, 2013, asked, “Are calls and texts of ordinary Americans mined for patterns that might put innocent people under suspicion? Why is data from every phone call collected, and not just those made by people whom the government suspects off criminal activity?” That kind of thinking would rule out trying to ferret out terrorists still unknown and unsuspected, like the 9/11 gang before they struck. 
Even some of the supposed surveillance abuses have another side to consider. Think about Chancellor Merkel’s complaint. Most big nations probably “snoop” on each other, to get necessary information not readily volunteered. But such operations are wisely kept secret. The harm is done when someone like Mr. Snowden violates his trust and spills the beans.
Another facet of the Pulitzer-Polk-N.S.A. puzzle also needs second thoughts: the question of whether the Guardian or the Washington Post should have published the stolen information. Most commentators reject the notion that that they were accomplices or facilitators of an illegal act. And yet, it seems clear that Mr. Snowden could not have carried out his plan without getting the stolen secrets published. Publication was essential to his whistle-blowing scheme.
Was there a difference between publishing parts of Mr. Snowden’s trove and the Pentagon Papers? Yes, first because the Snowden stuff is current, while the Pentagon Papers were past history. Also, Mr. Snowden faces criminal prosecution, while charges against Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon papers, were dismissed. Finally, the Pentagon Papers helped Americans understand why the long war in Vietnam was heading toward the first American military defeat, while the value of public knowledge of the surveillance operations is highly debatable.
Yes, the prizes had to be awarded, but we may live to regret them.

Social media firestorm surrounding Daily Egyptian decision catches administrators by surprise

The social media firestorm that surrounded the decision by Southern Illinois University’s board of trustees to put off voting on a media fee for the 98-year-old Daily Egyptian newspaper caught university administrators by surprise.

DE alumni from as far away as Iraq leaped to the paper’s defense, flooding social media, including the hashtag #savethede on Twitter.

Other examples included:

  • The DE staff stayed up the entire night after the board meeting producing a special 17-page online edition containing its reaction and the reaction of alums at http://dailyegyptian.com.
  • Well-placed DE supporters in the General Assembly arranged for a special $70,000 appropriation, earmarked for the DE, to be added to the SIU appropriation bill.
  • Jackie Spinner, former Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post, showed up at the state capital and was walking out of a Senate leadership offices as the university’s new president, Randy Dunn, was arriving.
  • Paul Pabst of the popular Dan Patrick sports program posted a YouTube video in support of the DE (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2dhyPNwStA&feature=youtu.be)

Dunn, who said his email account was being bombarded with messages from DE alums, responded to the social media storm by saying the DE “is not going to cease publishing on my watch as president of the university.” He added that he hadn’t had time since taking office May 1 to study the fee proposal.

Dunn told William Freivogel, director of the School of Journalism, that he could take the media fee back to the executive committee of the Board of Trustees in June, in time to get the fee in place for the fall.

Dunn has asked Freivogel to put together a working group of media professionals to take another look at the need for a fee. A second group of DE alums also will review the proposal. All of this will occur in time for Dunn to return to the board committee by late June.

In a statement, Freivogel said he had vetted the fee last fall with a group of media professionals, including DE alums. That review had led to the development of the fee proposal, which was approved by Undergraduate Student Government, SIU’s chancellor, Rita Cheng, and the university’s outgoing president, Glenn Poshard.

In the statement, Freivogel said that “even though I believed we had thoroughly researched the fee proposal, I would form the group (Dunn) requested. I told him I would also want to run that group’s findings past the devoted DE alums, whose support has been so heartening in recent days.”

The $9 fee per student per semester fee for the four-day-a-week DE compares to a $7.80 fee already in place at Carbondale’s sister campus in Edwardsville for its weekly paper. The fee for the DE would raise about $260,000 a year, which is the projected deficit for the DE.

The DE’s ad revenue is about 50 percent of what it was in 2006, a trend similar to those reported at other student papers.

The trouble at the Daily Egyptian comes at a time when other college papers in the region are having trouble. The University of Missouri St. Louis recently refused to re-impose a student fee. At Webster University, Eric Rothenbuhler, dean of the School of Communications, cut the money going to the school newspaper. Details can be found online at http://gatewayjr.org/2014/04/04/student-paper-at-webster-university-faces-cuts.

In addition, Eastern Illinois University announced it would not publish a print edition this summer because of financial problems.

Students pay price for taking ethical stance


Editor’s note: This is an opinion column by Tom Eveslage.

Imagine, a resident of your community complaining to the city council that her free-speech rights were violated when the local newspaper edited her letter to the editor. If that’s not preposterous enough, how likely is it that the council would pass an ordinance forbidding the newspaper from editing any further letters without first getting permission from the city council?

These are just fairy tales, at least when the professional media are involved. But student journalists at Neshaminy High School in suburban Philadelphia are fighting just such an unprecedented battle. And unless “government” officials in that public school come to their senses soon, a judge will be asked to intercede.

You might think this battle of wills is about a student editor’s fight to publish a story embarrassing to the school. You’d be wrong. It concerns a sports mascot, one shared by football teams in Washington, D.C., and Langhorne, Pa. Both teams bear the controversial moniker of “Redskins.” Some Washington sports fans (and reporters) find the term offensive, but journalists there still use the name of the NFL team.

But not so at Neshaminy High School. Last October, the editorial board of the Playwickian voted 14-7 to no longer use “Redskin” in the newspaper when referring to the school’s students or sports teams. Acknowledging that most community members and students want to keep the nickname, the editors said they found the word Redskin “offensive” and “racist.” They told their readers, “The change is not being encouraged for the sake of political correctness itself, but for the sake of being respectful and fair to an entire race.” The student journalists did not call for a change in the school’s mascot, nor did they refuse to report on their sports teams. They just believed it was right to stop publishing that word.

Rather than permit a conversation or debate on this decision, school administrators chose to flex their muscles. They said that the newspaper could not remove the word “Redskin” from any article or ad submitted to the newspaper. Their reasoning was that such editing would infringe on the rights of other students who might want to use that word in a story or ad.

Despite an outcry from student-speech advocates nationwide, plus news stories and editorials criticizing the school district’s “compelled speech” policy, administrators said they would follow this policy pending action by the board of school directors.

Little changed between November and April 29, when the district released a nine-page document recommended unanimously by the board’s four-member policy committee. The new policy detailed rigid regulations for the student newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine, electronic publications and social media. The final policy item stated that “the term ‘Redskins’ when referring to the School District mascot” is not a racial or ethnic slur, and no student, school official or employee can prohibit the published use of the term.

Neshaminy’s proposed board policy set off an immediate firestorm of anger and disbelief. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, called the proposal “not so much a ‘policy’ as … a public tantrum. It is a purposeful, premeditated attempt to inflict harm on children.” He called it “legally and educationally unsound” and in defiance of the Pennsylvania Public School Code protecting student expression.

Within days, five national journalism education organizations issued a joint statement of “vigorous opposition” to the proposed policy. Echoing LoMonte’s criticisms, the national educators found offensive the policymakers’ professed willingness to let the newspaper staff “determine the content,” only to add the caveat that school officials could censor any material they “reasonably believe should be prohibited.”

The policy’s language is chilling enough to freeze the blood of anyone who believes schools should educate the young to be active citizens. The Neshaminy document screams of “control” and “power” that belongs to administrators and school board members as “government officials.” It offers no specific guidelines for how students can express themselves, but instead 17 ways they can’t via social media and 19 prohibitions via written expression. The board’s proposed policy inexplicably equates editing with censoring, gives administrators the authority to “edit” all student copy, and prevents students from “censoring” students who want to use the word “Redskins” in the newspaper.

It’s not surprising that many of the district’s sports fans and community members see no harm in the word sparking this controversy. When the Bucks County Courier Times, the community’s local daily, reported that the students have legal counsel and are ready to fight in court for their speech rights, readers who posted comments were divided in support of students or school officials.

Ironically, that newspaper and its sister papers, the Intelligencer and Burlington County Times, forbid use of “Redskins” in their papers, online or in video reports. The editorial boards of those papers approved the ban soon after Neshaminy’s student newspaper decided not to print the “R” word.

What’s next? The board of school directors was to discuss the proposed policy at its May 6 work session. The deluge of feedback in days following release of the proposed policy led the Board to move the policy item to the agenda of the Board’s May 21 meeting, shortly before the school year ends.


Thomas E. Eveslage is an emeritus professor of journalism who taught media law and ethics at Temple University. For almost 20 years, he was on the Student Press Law Center’s board of directors and the Pennsylvania School Press Association’s executive board. He has advised high school and university newspapers and serves on the Quill & Scroll Foundation’s board of directors.

First Amendment is no refuge for Clippers owner’s remarks

Editor’s note: This is an opinion article from William H. Freivogel, publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review.

Whether viewed from a legal, moral or ethical vantage point, the lifetime ban that NBA commissioner Adam Silver imposed on racist Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was just and correct.

After Silver announced the punishment, the Twittersphere exploded with claims that the NBA had violated Sterling’s First Amendment right to free speech.

The problem with that argument is the first word of the First Amendment: Congress. “Congress shall make no law” means the government can’t punish people for their speech. It doesn’t mean a corporation or private groups can’t fire people for saying something stupid and hateful.

Ethicists, who fancy having a corner on the truth, may disagree. Al Tompkins, from the Poynter Institute, was quoted on NPR this week asking, “When does newsworthiness trump privacy?”

There is an easy answer to this naïve rhetorical question: At least since Bill Clinton, and arguably since Justice Louis Brandeis and his law partner Samuel Warren came up with the right to privacy more than a century ago because they were offended by gossip columns about the lavish blue-blood parties thrown by the Warrens.

And all that was long before social media and gossip sites such as TMZ demolished the boundary between private and public. As Silver pointed out, even if Sterling made the comment in a private phone call to his girlfriend, the views are his and are public. And remember, Sterling is a public figure who must realize he sacrifices some of his privacy for his celebrity.

Still, Tompkins asks, “Doesn’t he have the right to say what he believes no matter how reprehensible without fear of someone recording it and putting it online?”

Sure, he has the right to say it. So, too, does the NBA have a right to kick him out for saying it.

Building an ethical argument in favor of protecting Sterling’s privacy is ultimately self-defeating and offensive. In a country tarnished by slavery, segregation and bigotry, can it be possible that ethics requires society to protect a racist behaving like a 21st century plantation owner?

Sterling might be able to assemble some legal arguments challenging the NBA’s attempt to force him to sell the team. But those efforts are likely to be fruitless, because the NBA’s constitution seems to say the league’s decision is final and owners have waived their right to challenge it in court.

The telephone conversation with V. Stiviano may have been recorded illegally if Sterling didn’t consent.

But just as news organizations print documents illegally leaked by Snowden and Assange, they also print newsworthy recordings that may have been illegally taped. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled there is a First Amendment right to broadcast illegally recorded conversations.

But does this gossip qualify as news, especially when Russia is seizing eastern Ukraine and people are dying in Syria?

The question answers itself. The Sterling comments have been the most-commented-upon news story of the week.

The nation’s ugly racial history has determined that America’s is destined to struggle with race – even if the Supreme Court’s affirmative action decisions show it is tired of the struggle.

One encouraging sign is that society exacted the maximum punishment on Sterling as an automatic reflex, just as it had last week when Nevada rancher and Tea Party “hero” Cliven Bundy started talking about blacks being better off when they were slaves picking cotton.

We sometimes forget how little time separates us from our institutionally racist past. Those now retiring went to kindergarten at the time Brown v. Board of Education was just desegregating the schools. We lived through segregation and remember that most white parents then disapproved of interracial dating and marriage.

It was only 50 years ago that the Civil Right Act forced restaurants and pools and employers to admit blacks. It may take another 50 years – or more – before we can escape the ghosts of Sterling and Bundy.

Embattled L.A. Clippers owner has a right to privacy, too

Editor’s note: This is an opinion article from William A. Babcock, editor of Gateway Journalism Review.

For anyone spending the past few days in a cave, the person in the eye of the latest media storm is Donald Sterling, owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers.

Sterling ignited the race card, and the media suddenly have diverted their eyes from the Ukraine, a missing airplane and a South Korean ferry. Race is America’s trump card. It’s the nation’s third rail: touch it and you die.

Sterling’s racist comments recently were recorded by his girlfriend, V. Stiviano, and released by TMZ on Saturday. Three days later, NBA commissioner Adam Silver called for NBA owners to force Sterling to sell the Clippers, banned him for life from any association with the league and fined him $2.5 million.

Now Sterling’s remarks were inappropriate, racist, odious, vulgar and hurtful. But they were made in the privacy of his own home, and recorded without his knowledge or consent. So go ahead and throw the first stone. Everyone who has never said something stupid and hurtful in the privacy of his or her own home – everyone who would be comfortable having any and all of his or her utterances broadcast publically in this new-tech world – please stand up.

A truly strange assortment of voices already has been heard on this subject – many speaking out against sanctions against Sterling – and more likely will hit blogs, tweets, newspapers and radio waves in coming days. Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Libertarians, members of the American Civil Liberties Union from the Skokie-march days and a number of First Amendment free-speech advocates all have offered their commentaries. What strange bedfellows they are.

The public and members of the media should speak out against, and chastise, a public figure’s insensitive, unethical remarks, even though such remarks were made in private. But do remarks uttered in private justify Silver leveling such a punishment?

As former African-American NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote earlier this week: “Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media? Didn’t we just call to task the NSA for intruding into American citizens’ privacy in such an un-American way?”

Jeff Jacoby, writing recently in the Boston Globe, pointed out it’s illegal in California to secretly record a private conversation. In a free society, he wrote, “private lives and private thoughts aren’t supposed to be everyone’s business.” But, as Jacoby adds, such intrusions, made possible by modern technology, are eroding this value, and the presumption that what people say in their personal lives will stay personal, is all but gone.

In the 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, William O. Douglas wrote about a “penumbra” right of privacy. Justices Hugo Black and Potter Stewart countered that the Constitution contains no such right.

Today, some notable First Amendment activists who usually side with Douglas on issues of privacy are comfortable supporting the commissioner’s punitive sanctions against Sterling, even though such sanctions would not have been leveled had his privacy not been violated.

Privacy, new technology and the U.S. race card; what a toxic brew. It’s regrettable Silver has drunk so deeply from this draught.

Two wrongs were made: Sterling said something ugly, and these comments were broadcast by the media. But two wrongs don’t mean professional basketball’s commissioner was right in leveling sanctions against the Clippers’ owner. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

When the ends are seen to justify the means, media ethics and media law both suffer. And race once again is able to rear its ugly head.

Journalism’s infatuation with Glenn Greenwald

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column by William H. Freivogel.

The journalism world’s embrace of Glenn Greenwald and his advocacy reporting is now complete with the award of the Pulitzer Prize to the Guardian for Greenwald’s disclosure of Edward Snowden’s National Security Agency secrets.

As with many youthful infatuations, the journalism world has rushed headlong into this relationship without listening to the alarms that surely went off in the heads of veteran journalists. Some journalists may be ambivalent about Greenwald’s ethics, but not ambivalent enough to withhold journalism’s top prize – or even to publicly debate whether it should have been awarded to his former newspaper.

The Pulitzer’s rules are broad. They require adherence to “the highest journalistic principles,” which are explained as “values such as honesty, accuracy and fairness.”

Did Greenwald live up to the highest journalists principles?

The Society for Professional Journalists’ code of ethics requires that journalists “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.” The Association Press Managing Editors state that “the newspaper should strive for impartial treatment of issues and dispassionate handling of controversial subjects.” The American Society of Newspaper Editors demands “impartiality” and states that “every effort must be made to assure that the news content is accurate, free from bias and in context, and that all sides are presently fairly.” National Public Radio demands its reporters adhere to “impartiality as citizens and public figures. … We are not advocates.”

Yet Greenwald is unabashedly and proudly an advocate who ridicules traditional journalistic ethics, as well as those, such as Bill Keller, the former New York Times editor who espouse those ethics.

As Greenwald put it so very elegantly: “If the U.S. government said you shouldn’t publish this, and you shouldn’t publish that, and you shouldn’t publish this other thing, because to do so will endanger national security, Bill Keller proudly said the New York Times didn’t publish it. He was … beaming, like a third-grader that had just gotten a gold star from his teacher.”

In addition to ridiculing Keller, Greenwald said he was fundamentally dishonest and “deceitful” for trying to be impartial. Greenwald calls instead for “a looser, more passionate form of new media reporting.”

He is passionate.

At the time his first stories were published a year ago, Greenwald made overblown claims about what he had found. He maintained that the NSA could “monitor every single conversation and every single form of human behavior anywhere in the world.” He also stated that “the claim that current NSA spying is legal is dubious in the extreme.”

In fact, the NSA program primarily collected metadata, not the content of telephone calls – a distinction many critics missed – and it had been approved by Congress, the president and most courts.

Don’t misunderstand. The Washington Post’s Pulitzer was well-deserved. The Snowden revelations printed in the Washington Post and the Guardian were clearly the biggest news story of the year. And that’s what the Pulitzer is supposed to reward.

The Snowden disclosures are more important than the Pentagon Papers. Disclosure of current abuses of privacy is more significant than a multiple-volume history of the Vietnam War.

The Snowden leaks forced President Obama to admit that the data collection had not been as effective as claimed in stopping terrorist incidents. And it has forced the president to call for reforms – although having phone companies hold onto metadata instead of the government may be insignificant.

All of these are strong reasons to justify giving the Public Service Pulitzer to the Post – and possibly the Guardian.

Nor have many Greenwald critics provided good reasons for denying the Pulitzer to the Guardian. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called Snowden a “traitor” and Greenwald an “accomplice,” for example.

Snowden is not a traitor, and Greenwald is not an accomplice. Snowden probably violated the World War I-era Espionage Act by disclosing government secrets he was sworn to protect. But that’s not treason. And Greenwald’s reporting of the government secrets is exactly what the press is supposed to do when it comes upon secret government practices that the American people should know about. In some ways, Greenwald harkens back to such icons as I.F. Stone, the legendary leftist critic of the American military. But Stone never won a Pulitzer for news reporting.

Greenwald, by turning his Rio residence into a repository for Snowden’s documents and parceling them out to news outlets, has skated close to the line of accomplice. But he has taken care to play a journalistic role in connection with the stories based on the documents he was distributing.

Nor have ad hominem attacks on Greenwald been persuasive. Some critics pointed out that he spoke to Socialist groups and took anti-Israeli positions. Tom Hicks, the Pulitzer-Prize winning national security reporter, tweeted recently, “Glenn, any comments from you or Edward Snowden on the recent round of media shutdowns in Russia?” This may be clever, but it has nothing to do with the substance of the disclosures.

What matters is whether the journalism community, in its crush on Greenwald and Snowden, has forgotten first principles.

Greenwald’s call for more transparent, passionate reporting has more emotional appeal than traditional journalism’s call for objectivity, impartiality and disinterested observation. Greenwald’s are hot words; traditional journalists are stuck with cold ones. He and his fellow advocates, such as Jeremy Scahill and Amy Goodman, may be winning the debate.

But Keller had some good advice for Greenwald last year.

“Humility is as dear as passion,” he wrote. “So my advice is: Learn to say, ‘We were wrong.’ ”

Journalists, like everyone else, are in dangerous territory when they believe they have a monopoly on the truth.

The factoring of race into Stand Your Ground legislation

Editor’s note: This is an analysis by Evette Dionne.

Several prominent Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are raising questions about how the American media are covering race and intimate-partner violence.

Michael Giles, a former Air Force member, who is black, shot and wounded three patrons outside a nightclub on Feb 6, 2010. Marissa Alexander, 34, a black mother of three, fired a warning shot at her husband on Aug. 3, 2010. George Zimmerman, a white Hispanic volunteer neighborhood watchman, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 21, 2012. Michael Dunn, a white male, shot and killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis on Nov. 23, 2012.

These four cases serve as flashpoints for examining Stand Your Ground legislation, and, more specifically, how media are covering these cases.

In 2005, Florida became the first of 22 states to enact a Stand Your Ground law, an extension of the “castle doctrine.” The law states that deadly force is justifiable when an individual believes he or she’s in danger. Initially, this justifiable force was reserved for private property, but the law extended the “castle” to include public spaces, like sidewalks.

Mother Jones, a liberal magazine, published a study that finds most Stand Your Ground laws have been adopted in the Southern and Midwestern States. Mother Jones attributes the rise of Stand Your Ground laws to the first election of President Barack Obama.

Dr. Sabrina Strings, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, agrees. In an article for Truthout, Strings writes that “the discourse among politicians in many of these states, like Florida and Texas, was that Obama’s election would lead to explosive growth of “entitlements” (a curious linguistic inversion) for the poor and elderly. Ultimately, the fear that the various institutions of the government simply could not or would not effectively protect the (imagined potential) white victims and their property was an impetus behind the adoption of these new laws.”

Liberal publications and writers contextualized Stand Your Ground legislation as a political and a racial issue, making the media coverage of the Giles, Alexander, Zimmerman and Dunn cases particularly worthy of mining.

George Zimmerman and Michael Dunn

Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis shared much in common. Both were 17-year-old Floridians who were unarmed when they were killed. Both of their shooters were indicted and tried for killing them. Both of their killers were acquitted on their actual murders. Lastly, both of their deaths received massive media coverage.

When Zimmerman shot and killed Martin on Feb. 21, 2012, he invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law in his defense. The Sanford, Fla. police did not detain or charge Zimmerman with Martin’s death until swarming media pressure forced action, according to three researchers at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Multiple media outlets devoted entire sections of newspapers and websites to Martin’s shooting and Zimmerman’s case. ABC’s central Florida affiliate, WFTV 9, Fox’s Orlando affiliate Fox 35, CBS News, the Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times and others began covering the incident since it happened more than two years ago.

In their study titled “The Battle for ‘Trayvon Martin’: Mapping a Media Controversy Online and Offline,” researchers Erhardt Graeff, Matt Stempeck and Ethan Zuckerman trace the Martin case through five specific phases. The second phase of media coverage in the Zimmerman case was sponsored by “race-based media” and activist outlets, including Global Grind, Color of Change and the Black Youth Project.

The third phase was a reaction from the political left. The researchers note that conservative news outlets suddenly were “putting Martin on trial.” On March 25, 2012, Dan Linehan, lead blogger at conservative site Wagist, referred to Martin as a drug dealer. According to Graeff, Stempeck and Zuckerman, “this reframing of Trayvon as dangerous, not innocent, was then amplified by a number of right wing blogs.”

Mainstream news outlets followed Wagist, leading to the Miami Herald publishing a story on Martin’s school records, which included a suspension for carrying a bag of marijuana.

In shifting the focus from Zimmerman to Martin, media reframed the narrative. The same trend is seen in coverage of Dunn’s case. Media’s coverage of Davis’ shooting and Dunn’s trial echoes that of Martin’s killing as Davis also was subjected to being examined as the catalyst for his own death.

According to court records, when Dunn approached Davis and three of his friends, they were listening to rap music in a car. In his testimony at his trial, Dunn claimed that he asked Davis to turn down the music, and felt threatened when Davis refused.

“My eardrums were vibrating,” Dunn said when asked about the music during trial. “I mean, this was ridiculously loud music.”

News outlets such ABC’s Good Morning America, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, Fox News, CNN and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution referred to the Dunn trial as the “loud music trial.”

The editorial decision to focus on the music Davis and his friends were listening to instead of Dunn’s decision to shoot him “trivialized the case,” according to Jedd Legum, the editor-in-chief of the Center for American Progress’ ThinkProgress blog. Cultural critic Alyssa Rosenberg, previously of ThinkProgress, agreed.

In a blog post dated Feb. 19, Rosenberg wrote, “The fact that Jordan Davis and his friends were listening to hip-hop, specifically to Lil Reese’s ‘Beef,’ seems to have predisposed Dunn to look at the boys in the car as dangerous in a way he might not have had they happened to be bumping country, or dance music, or the Rolling Stones.”

Jurors in the Dunn trial affirmed Legum’s claim. In an interview with ABC News, a juror, identified only as Valerie, said she believed Dunn was guilty of murder because he conflated musical preference with violent tendencies.

When asked about Dunn’s characterization of hip-hop music as “thug” music, Valerie replied, “That was a big deal for me, because he testified he wouldn’t say or use the words ‘thug,’ but he said he would use the words ‘rap crap.’ However, in his interview, he did say ‘thug’ a few times.”

White victimhood is a common thread between the Dunn and Zimmerman trials as well, according to NBC’s theGrio. Writer John Nolte amplified theGrio’s claim in a blog post for Breitbart.com, a conservative web site.

“As you will see below, by hook and crook, the mainstream media did everything in its still-potent power to not only push for the prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman (the police originally chose not to charge him) but also to gin up racial tensions where none needed to exist,” Nolte wrote.

Other ideological outlets were extreme in their coverage as well. Doug Spero, an op-ed columnist for the Christian Science Monitor, reported that Fox News aired Zimmerman interviews while MSNBC averaged six hours of coverage of the case per night, even after Zimmerman was acquitted.

Using the deaths of Martin and Davis as ideological rallying cries can lead to a failure to highlight important issues, such as  the role of intimate-partner violence in the Marissa Alexander case.

Marissa Alexander

Court documents state that on Aug. 3, 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a warning shot into the ceiling of her Jacksonville, Fla., home during an argument with her husband, Rico Gray.

Gray, who was 36 at the time of the incident, told digital news site Politic365 that “Marissa is not portraying herself as she is.”

He added, “I was begging for my life while my kids were holding on to my side, the gun was pointed at me.”

Alexander, then 31, was arrested and charged with three counts of aggravated assault. Alexander attempted to enact Stand Your Ground as a defense, but the judge dismissed it, citing that her decision to leave the home and then return with a weapon didn’t show justifiable fear for her life.

Additionally, both Gray and Alexander had been arrested for domestic battery against each other before this incident, according to Jacksonville.com.

In an unrelated 2010 hearing, Gray said, “I got five baby mamas and I put my hand on every last one of them except one. The way I was with women, they was like they had to walk on eggshells around me. You know, they never knew what I was thinking … or what I might do … hit them, push them.”

As with the Davis and the Martin killings, there was a clear split in the national news media’s coverage of Alexander’s case.

Traditional outlets such as the Associated Press, CBS News and ABC News reported the case without departing from the facts.

In juxtaposition, digital-first outlets with progressive leanings, such as Gawker, Slate and BuzzFeed, questioned whether the justice system served or harmed Alexander – and if her case was a complete reversal of what happened in the Zimmerman trial.

In an article dated April 23, 2012, Connor Adams Sheets, a reporter at the International Business Times, compared the Zimmerman and Alexander cases. In the concluding paragraph, Sheets wrote that the Florida justice system’s treatment of the Alexander and Zimmerman cases proved that Stand Your Ground statutes are “unevenly-applied.”

Sheets’ statement was echoed in other articles at the Center for American Progress’ blog ThinkProgress and MSNBC.com among others.

However, most mainstream and digital publications overlooked the impact of intimate-partner violence on women of color, particularly black women, and how this factors into the Alexander case.

The Violence Policy Center, a nonprofit organization that researches gun violence, found black women are disproportionately slain by their male partners. The Violence Policy Center concluded that 2.61 per 100,000 black female victims are killed in single-offender incidents, and that 94 percent of black women are killed by someone they’re familiar with.

Few news outlets examined intimate partner violence. MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris Perry” show devoted two segments to the role of intimate-partner violence in Alexander’s case. Irin Carmon, a reporter at MSNBC.com, detailed how Stand Your Ground, politics and intimate-partner violence are related.

In an article published March 20 of this year, Carmon used data from the Urban Institute, a nonprofit organization that collects data on America’s social issues, to prove that women can’t stand their ground if their target is male.

The Urban Institute found that just 5.7 percent of black women who kill black men are found to be justified, while 13.5 percent of white women who killed black men are found to be justified.

The Tampa Bay Times conducted similar research and found that Stand Your Ground was enacted in 14 Florida cases involving a female killer. Of those 14 cases, eight were found to be justified. Carmon noted that of those six cases that were tried, several of the women were victims of rape or physical abuse – and in most of the cases, the victim was a white male.

The lack of national reporting on intimate-partner violence as it relates to Alexander and Stand Your Ground is a critical oversight that is only reinforced when both the victim and the shooter are black males, as in the case of Michael Giles.

Michael Giles

Giles was stationed in Tampa, Fla., as an active-duty member of the Air Force. He was at a Tallahassee nightclub with friends when an argument escalated into a fight between 30 to 40 men, according to theGrio. Giles was not involved in the fight, but went to his vehicle to retrieve his gun.

He alleged that he was attacked, punched and knocked to the ground. Giles pulled his weapon out of his pants and fired at his attacker. In total, three men were wounded. Giles was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.

Like Alexander, Giles attempted to evoke Stand Your Ground, but also was denied. In August 2011, Giles was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

No mainstream news outlet covered Giles’ case, and overall print and broadcast coverage is scarce. Niche publications and civil rights organizations have rallied for Giles. NBC’s theGrio, UPTOWN Magazine, PolicyMic, News One, VICE and the New York Amsterdam News have all published articles about the Giles case.

Most publications mirrored PolicyMic’s coverage. In an article dated Dec. 27 of last year, PolicyMic writer Rachel Kleinman asked, “Why did Giles lose his case?”

The other news outlets that covered Giles’ case asked similar questions. NBC’s theGrio interviewed Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Florida democrat, about the Giles’ case.

Bullard pointed to Florida Gov. Rick Scott as an impedance to justice, as it relates to Stand Your Ground cases that involve black shooters.

“His lack of intervention on behalf of Marissa Alexander and lack of compassion for the killings of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis have not gone unnoticed by Black Floridians – and all Floridians,” Bullard said.

“So it comes as no surprise that he has been noticeably absent in the case of Michael Giles. Nonetheless I will continue pressing his office and others to take notice of cases like Mr. Giles, Ms. Alexander and others.”

The same statement can be extended to the overall media, which has failed to cover Giles case as heavily as the deaths of Zimmerman and Dunn.

In his closing arguments, Giles’ defense attorney, Don Pumphrey, again used the terminology of Stand Your Ground.

“He doesn’t have to think he’s going to get killed, even though people looking in from the outside thought someone could get killed,” Pumphrey said. “If the defendant was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, where he had a right to stand, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.”

So what went wrong?

Some media outlets have attributed the disproportionate (and sometimes unfair) coverage of the Zimmerman and Dunn trials to a need to protect white-identified males.

In her research, Dr. Strings, connects Stand Your Ground to law professor Cheryl Harris’ article, “Whiteness as Property.”

As Strings explained, “Through an historical analysis of legislation that has been enacted over the past 200 years, Professor Harris demonstrated how the law has protected the rights of white citizens. This effectively made whiteness itself a right to be defended. The law has, moreover, ‘legitimized benefits that accrued to citizens just because they’re white.”

Given this analysis, String concluded that Stand Your Ground is similar to lynching, as it serves as a way to “safeguard whiteness against all presumed threats.”

Critical analyses of race as it relates to Stand Your Ground haven’t been prevalent in national news outlets, but smaller Florida papers have tackled the issue.

The Panama City News Herald commissioned research on Stand Your Ground statistics based on the race of the shooter and the victim. Researchers found that 44 African-Americans have used the Stand Your Ground defense in Florida. Twenty-four of those defendants have been successful, while 11 of the 44 were found guilty.

John Roman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, connects these statistics to the perceived lack of victimhood available to black men.

“In any situation where a black male is perceived as being the aggressor, you are much more likely to have the homicide considered justifiable,” Roman said to MSNBC.com. “If they’re involved in a homicide, the finding is likely going to go against them.”

These Stand Your Ground cases in Florida are helping reinforce the idea that American post-racialism is a fallacy. These four separate Stand Your Ground cases reveal that news coverage shifts when the shooter is a person of color, or a woman. Though this feeds partisan posturing, it also leads to the under-reporting or exclusion of systemic social issues, such as intimate-partner violence. It also leaves Alexander, Davis, Giles, and Martin without justice.