letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our July/August issue
September 3, 2013

Power of the punchline

Thanks for your article, Dannagal G. Young (“Lighten up,” CJR, July/August). One thing you fail to mention: Satire actually gets political results. Congress passed the 9/11 firefighters/police health bill thanks to the efforts of Daily Show outrage. Over several days, Jon Stewart and staff hammered at the topic, and the legislation soon got passed.

I also find the Stewart/O’Reilly conversations to be not only entertaining but enlightening. Stewart does not pull punches with O’Reilly, nor does O’Reilly fail to take on Stewart. True political discourse of political differences.

Comment posted on cjr.org

Voice of America?

It is disappointing that CJR would publish Gary Thomas’ commentary on the Voice of America (“Mission impossible,” CJR, July/August), which contains multiple errors, and calls for changes that are either unrealistic or have already been proposed by the very organization Thomas maligns.

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VOA’s website demonstrates we are a hard-hitting and effective international multimedia news organization. Our audience numbers have never been higher. They are based on VOA’s credibility as an independent news organization. In Africa, we are big on radio and mobile. In Iran, one in five adults watch us every week on TV. There is nothing “schizophrenic” about what we do.

VOA produces dozens of television programs, has nearly 50 separate websites and a wide range of mobile platforms, in addition to radio, podcasts, and social media. Audiences look to VOA for accurate and balanced news they cannot get on state-controlled media in many countries, and we provide that in more than 40 languages.

Kyle King
Director, VOA Public Relations
Washington, DC

I worked at VOA longer than Gary Thomas–35 years–and I agree with him 100 percent. Thomas made one small error: Sanford Ungar came before David Jackson, not after him. From the time I started in 1971 until Jackson became director in 2002, the news division was protected from higher-ups and allowed to write under the VOA Charter–accurate, objective, and comprehensive. We covered Watergate, Iran-Contra, the Clinton impeachment and other controversial issues fully and fairly because we were not the Voice of the Executive Branch; we were the Voice of the American people. I produced Opinion Roundups, and I went out of my way to find comments critical of American policy as well as comments in agreement. It never occurred to me to do anything else–because I was a VOA professional. A friend of mine was the news division chief under Jackson and he finally resigned rather than accept Jackson’s attempts to censor and manipulate the news product. Under USIA, VOA correspondents abroad did not answer to the local US ambassador. Their copy went straight to Washington for editing. The Broadcasting Board of Governors was, is, and will be the instrument for the destruction of a precious national resource. I know good people who risked their lives to cover the news for VOA. I knew good people who died on the job. Their tradition of public service means nothing to those now in charge. I wish someone with the power to change things at VOA gave a damn.

Anthony C. Collins
Reston, VA

While I may not agree with every proposal of Gary Thomas (though many are on point), I am appalled as a member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors over the arrogant refusal of VOA to answer Thomas’s questions. It is so contrary to the purpose of VOA in bringing different views on issues to the public. The response seems similar to what repressive regimes say when VOA or other news groups ask for comments.

As one governor, I apologize. I ask David Ensor, head of VOA, to respond how this has happened. He is a former journalist and surely he was unaware that this has happened. His challenge is preventing another episode like this.

Victor Ashe
Knoxville, TN

Cris de coeur

Francesca Borri, I’m so impressed with your article “Woman’s work” (CJR, July/August). Even though, through my work and constant follow-up, I am quite well informed about the situation in Syria, your personal view and experiences of the war have really touched me. It even made me cry! I really wish you will stay safe, and I do wish the same to those poor people in Syria, most of whom have no way to get out and no other place to go! You are so close to us in Jerusalem and yet so far away . . . Wishing you good luck and a better editor–if there are any!

Annika Khano
Jerusalem, Israel

As an Italian freelancer, I offer all my support to Francesca. I suppose she works for the same newspaper I write for, and I can confirm her every word. When I was detained in Pakistan, I didn’t get any support, not even an email from colleagues; they wrote an article about the story three days later and only because other media were covering the story. Eventually, I got out of trouble just because the editor in chief of Limes (an Italian review of geopolitics) did everything in his power to get me the hell out of there. And yes, nobody is forcing us to do this job: But it is our job; we love it, and we try to do it at its best and with all the intellectual honesty we can.

Francesca Marino
Rome, Italy

Your piece was shattering. Glenn Greenwald and Amy Goodman have spoken highly of a reader-supported model, and I would pay you for your more indepth pieces that try to understand the situation in Syria. I imagine that is true for the other people sending you a “dozen emails” that ask for understanding instead of blood. This may not be enough to buy you a fixer, but I wonder if it may help you get out the kinds of stories you want. Stay alive, stay sane(ish).

Ben Simpson
Cambridge, NY

I just read your shocking piece on freelancing in war-zone Syria. I’ve been working as a freelancer for 32 years; I worked as a political correspondent in a normal country, with no wars, no serious problems, etc. And every single word you write about being treated so poorly by editors who show little interest is a déjà vu. I would never have believed that editors would react with just as much ignorance, egotism, ruthlessness, to you in a war zone as they would to those of us who report from the comfort of a peaceful city in a peaceful country.

I wrote about Marie Colvin when it happened, and am acquainted with Paul Conroy, the photographer who survived badly injured. You all have my deepest respect for what you do.

Your piece is brilliant and incredibly vital to opening the eyes of people who romanticize war-zone reporting. You’re very courageous to publish this. I sincerely thank you for your bravery and will promote it as much as I can to my international readers.

Wishing you safety foremost,

Jens M. Lucke
Grasberg, Germany

Francesca, thank you for your piece. I am not a journalist, just a reader. But hopefully one of the bright ones, wanting simplicity, but not oversimplification, analysis rather than emotion. There is a dearth of credible and intelligent work, indeed, on what is happening in Syria. What I see in the news is simplistic and panders to readers’ fears and stereotypes. I do not know how to change a broken market for mass media, unfortunately. I wish you a lot of success and luck in your daily work.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

People like Francesca make this world a little more understandable and people like you editors make that journalism work closer to ours, the readers. Thank you very much for publishing it, and I really hope that I can read more articles of true criticism toward an issue that affects us all. Good job!

J. Bernie Reyes
Mexico City, Mexico

Francesca, your story “Woman’s work” was the clearest description I’ve ever read of what a war zone is like. Part of the clarity for me, I’m sure, is knowing that a woman wrote it and being able to see through your eyes instead through a man’s. Thank you. So much of what we see in the media here in the States is so dumbed down and sanitized that it’s like looking at something through frosted glass: There’s something there, but we can’t quite see the real shape and size. I’ve been reading a lot about the human need for stories as a way of communicating and connecting, relatable stories in which you can picture yourself as part of the narrative. Your piece put me in the streets next to you and made me see it in a personal way instead of as an abstract concept. Thank you! Stay safe.

Shawna Job
Portland, OR

My ex-husband sent this article to me with the words read this. I have, and am now in tears with my first cup of coffee. I am feeling frustration, angst, fear, and overwhelming empathy. I used to say that if I could touch just one person with my photographs to make them want to know more, then I’ve done my job. Now, at those dinner parties, having limped in feeling every old injury, I usually, by the end, tell someone I don’t know why I bothered–they couldn’t give a damn.

Carlee Keppler-Carson
Palmer Lake, CO

A Fox in the henhouse

Jim Sleeper’s commentary on Zev Chafets’s book about Roger Ailes (CJR, July/August) repeats the legend that the Fox News president “crafted” the notorious “Willie Horton” ad. However, as Martin Schram wrote in The New Republic (“The Making of Willie Horton,” May 28, 1990), the honors go to Larry McCarthy, a former Ailes Communications executive, who by then worked for a pac called Americans for Bush and who devised the media campaign that included the Horton ad. Not only was Ailes not involved, by law AFB could not contact or coordinate with the Bush campaign.

Schram’s article details how McCarthy conceived the ad, even selecting the mug shot, and worked his way around the network censors, then snookered the talk shows to pick up the story as well. Given that McCarthy’s role in negative campaigning during the Bush (and subsequent) presidential race has been discussed as recently as a 2012 New Yorker article (Jane Mayer, “Attack Dog,” February 13, 2012), one has to wonder about the accuracy of the rest of Chafets’s reporting.

Mike Buetow
Amesbury, MA


In Sabra Ayres’ story “Future tense,” (CJR, July/August), we wrote that Afghanistan’s “illiteracy rates hover around 39 percent for men and 13 percent for women.” We meant “literacy rates.”

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.