In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. How the Guardian protects America’s national security:
Last week, the Guardian released another Edward Snowden-procured red-hot document—a “top secret,” 32-page National Security Agency training manual for a program initiated in 2008 called XKeyscore that purportedly allowed NSA analysts to vacuum up data on Internet browsing activity around the world.
That was quite a scoop, though I suppose I’m not alone in no longer being surprised at anything the NSA is snatching up. But what did surprise me was that as I scrolled through the electronic version of the document, four of the 32 pages were blacked out, because, according to the Guardian’s explanation: “This slide has been redacted as it reveals specific NSA operations.”
Really? How exactly are Greenwald and his editors making these decisions about what threatens and doesn’t threaten national security? The Washington Post, New York Times, and other news outlets that have published security secrets have explained in the past that they typically go to White House or security officials in advance, and listen to — and sometimes act on — concerns that some of what they plan to publish will pose a threat that far outweighs their news value. It’s an awkward conversation because the officials start with the premise that all of the material falls into that category, but it often results in material being withheld or delayed.
But the Guardian and Greenwald in particular have assumed a far more adversarial stance than those in the more mainstream media, whom Greenwald routinely dismisses as lackeys of the national security state.
So how is the Guardian’s redaction process handled? Do Greenwald and his editors just sit there and decide for themselves that something in the Snowden material is too dangerous to be revealed, even by their standards? (That’s got to be a pretty high bar.) Is Snowden helping them decide what needs to be withheld? Or have they, too, established a back channel to their NSA and other security apparatus adversaries? If so, I’d love to know what those conversations are like.
In its report on the new Guardian material, the Times simply said, “some of the pages were redacted by The Guardian.” There’s a better story here than that.
2. How not to be a valuable business publication:
This really comes under the heading of “stories I hate to see.”
Read these opening paragraphs from a lead story from Ad Age, the venerable ad industry trade publication:
When Vogue Editor Anna Wintour shows up this December in “The Fashion Fund,” she won’t appear on a high-profile network such as Bravo or A&E, but on the lesser-known art channel Ovation TV — a station that Time Warner Cable dropped earlier this year.
In “The Fashion Fund,” Ms. Wintour is one of several fashion bigwigs who select the 2013 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. The competition, now in its 10th year, pits 10 emerging designers against one another as they vie for a $300,000 grant. An earlier iteration of “The Fashion Fund,” which offers a behind the scenes look at the competition, ran on Hulu.com and Vogue.com in 2012. When the six-episode show moves to traditional TV, it will be on a network that appears in roughly 50 million homes nationwide, about half as many that receive Bravo and A&E. But the Conde Nast title selected Ovation in part because the network would celebrate fashion as an art form.
But Conde Nast Entertainment said Ovation is “the perfect home for the series.” Conde Nast Entertainment, Vogue and the CFDA, which stands for Council of Fashion Designers of America, worked with Break Thru Films to produce the series of six hour-long episodes.
Vogue certainly had its share of suitors for the show. Five other well-known TV networks were interested in “The Fashion Fund,” a person close to the company said. But the Conde Nast title selected Ovation — which had approached the magazine about the partnership — because it felt the network would celebrate fashion as an art form.
Okay, what’s wrong here? Well, what if I re-wrote the story and opened with this paragraph instead: