Re: Sanford J. Ungar’s article “Unnecessary Secrets: Opening government, from Ellsberg to Manning” (CJR, March/April). At the risk of sounding like an intelligence-community apologist, it strikes me that discussions of the FOIA and WikiLeaks tend to miss elements that would provide a better picture of what’s in play. It’s probably a safe bet to assume that, more often than not, the reason government documents are routinely classified is not because of the documents’ factual content, but because revealing such information would provide insight into how the information was gathered, and the capabilities of those who gather it. A difference between process and product. The fact, for example, that Qaddafi prefers blond nurses doesn’t really matter; how that becomes known does.
A separate issue is that if the government’s allegations are true, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have done the metaphorical equivalent of walking up and kicking a sleeping bear. What seems curious is the current widespread surprise and outrage because the bear woke up, and reacted by doing what bears do. It also makes you wonder: if the bear doesn’t react, what does it say about the bear?
San Francisco, Calif.
A Rare Man of Courage
As Percy Crosby’s daughter, court-appointed administrator of his estate, and president of Skippy, Inc., I found David Hajdu’s article interesting (“Not for Laughs: A pathbreaking look at the dark comic genius behind Skippy,” CJR, March/April). However, I question his reliance on Jerry Robinson’s 1978 biography (Skippy and Percy Crosby), whose license I granted and rescinded for legal reasons, and on Robinson’s professed expertise on my father’s life and career. Why Robinson refused to recognize my role in seeking redress against Skippy infringers who wanted my father silenced is known only to him. Robinson’s allegations that Percy Crosby was “mentally ill” and that “he proceeded to undo everything he had accomplished” (in the 1930s) is a malicious rumor that benefits those who conspired to steal Percy Crosby’s Skippy business and destroy his career. What is unknown is my father’s courageous crusade against the behemoth of organized crime during the Great Depression and Prohibition—he used his Skippy comic strip to satirize Al Capone’s rackets and ties to Wall Street and paid a high price for the cruel vendetta that ensued.
In the recently published book I wrote, Skippy vs. The Mob, I used many examples of Crosby art that should dispel the false portrayal of my father as “mentally ill” and other denigrating comments about his failed career. The truth is my father was a maverick and a rare man of courage during the dark history of the Capone era.
Joan Crosby Tibbetts
President, Skippy, Inc.
Altamonte Springs, Fla.
David Hajdu responds: I share Joan Crosby Tibbetts’s admiration for Percy Crosby as a maverick and a man of rare courage. I referred in my piece to Crosby having been “plagued by mental illness” (my actual phrase), and the record of facts that led to his prolonged hospitalization for psychiatric treatment make that clear. To acknowledge mental illness is not an act of malice, nor is it a form of denigration.
In your March/April editorial (“Members Only: Two cheers for high-cost subscription journalism”), you make the mistaken, idealistic, and naive assumption that these news organizations are, or want to be, reporting “in the public interest.” I’m far more pessimistic, and history shows I’ll probably be proved right. Beltway reporters from Politico and National Journal are already bed partners of the political power brokers of Washington, and working yet more closely with lobbyists, politicians, and social-network mavens, without any competition from outsiders, can only ensure further corruption. I imagine they’ll more resemble Wall Street and business journalists—captured by their sources and enthralled by the money and power and the thrill of being “inside the loop.” There is no way that an independent journalist can escape that corruption.
Comment posted on CJR.org
Mind Your NGOs
Karen Rothmyer’s article, “Hiding the Real Africa: Why NGOs prefer bad news” (CJR, March/April), says many things right and long overdue. People who have lived in Africa for many years and have experience with NGOs tend to agree with Rothmyer’s views. Many thanks to Rothmyer and CJR for helping to broaden the dialogue.
Victor de la Torre Sans
Advocacy and Projects’ Director
Africa Siglo 21
Sincere thanks to Karen Rothmyer for her piece, “Hiding the Real Africa.” As a veteran communicator for a large NGO, I agree that NGOs feed that “media beast” when they respond to large disasters and other sources of bad news. I’m circulating the piece amongst the growing number of concerned insiders in our organization, which, hopefully, will lead to some change.