Tag Archives: national security journalism

Political analyst Al From talks Democratic Party readiness for 2016

WASHINGTON — Democratic Leadership Council founder and Medill M.S.J. alum Al From turned a critical eye onto his own party during a March 12 visit to the Medill Washington newsroom.

During the talk with Medill undergraduates, From discussed the history of the contemporary Democratic party, political strategy and his analysis of the Democratic party’s prognosis in the battle for the White House in 2016. From’s book “The New Democrats and the Return to Power” serves as a historical guide to how the modern Democratic party came together, but he dedicated much of his current analysis to the party’s future and he pulled no punches.

From started off his evaluation of the Democrats’ current obstacles by calling out Democrats for prioritizing fancy campaign delivery mechanisms over a relatable platform.

“The truth is, despite all the talk about different ways to communicate, you know, no amount of money or technology or social media or campaign strategy or tactics can make up for a message that doesn’t connect with voters,” From said.

He went on to accuse Democrats of being too comfortable with their historic “demographic advantage” in presidential elections and not taking into account factors such as the potential flippability of the Hispanic vote and the recent Republican capture of the Asian vote. From emphasized the idea that “votes are not necessarily forever” and noted that President Barack Obama’s absence from the 2016 ballot could significantly impact the minority and youth votes for the worse.

From also underscored the importance of working to improve the economy vs. solely focusing on minimum wage. He cited an old friend’s success as a case study for this point, attributing the decrease in American equality observed under Bill Clinton’s presidential administration to national economic growth.

“The problem with the Democrats is you spend so much time worrying about the, uh, about passing out the golden eggs, you forget to worry about the health of the goose,” From explained.

Additionally, From said that members of his party must keep healthcare reinvention and modernization at the forefront of their considerations, since there is a correlation between the efficiency of federal services and the public’s faith in government.

“I learned at a very young age that government reform is not an advocation of liberal goals; it’s essential to achieving them,” he said. “Government is our vehicle for doing good things.”

Whistleblowing in the FBI: problems lie deeper than confusing legal boundaries

WASHINGTON — Former FBI agent Michael German thought the agency had the information it needed to see the 9/11 terrorist attacks coming. In the aftermath of the attack, German reported a cover-up of a failed counterterrorism investigation that infringed upon people’s civil liberties in unprecedented ways.

Yet when German raised these concerns, the Department of Justice inspector general failed to investigate, he said. He also said the IG Office failed to protect him from official retaliation within the FBI, including possible surveillance, resulting in the 16-year veteran resigning in 2004.

“I tried to challenge the system from within, but they don’t like that,” German said in an interview with the American Civil Liberties Union. “They made it very uncomfortable so I finally realized it was time to work on the outside.”

German’s case became one of the most visible examples of the challenges facing whistleblowers in the intelligence community. In addition to a legal framework that makes it incredibly difficult for whistleblowers to come forward, a more subtle influence lurks beneath the surface: a culture that views whistleblowers as traitors, not reformers.

A new report by the Government Accountability Office released last Thursday found that, despite recent efforts to extend whistleblower protections to FBI employees, they remain exposed to retaliation for reporting wrongdoing.

Under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, federal employees are generally protected from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing, entitling them to pursue legal recourse should they face retribution. However, FBI employees were excluded from these protections, and in 1998 the Department of Justice established separate guidelines that were meant to protect whistleblowers within the agency.

Yet the guidelines permitting FBI agents to disclose wrongdoing are unclear, according to the GAO report. For example, FBI employees must report wrongdoing only to a handful of designated officials. As a result, more than half of the 62 cases reviewed by the GAO were dismissed without review.

According Steven L. Katz, formerly counsel to the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs and an expert on federal whistleblowing law, those in the FBI face much deeper issues than simply unclear legal guidelines. Instead, intelligence agents are a part of a culture that targets whistleblowers and punishes their behavior.

“When someone raises concerns, do you throw them overboard, or do you sit down with them and thank them?” he said. “The FBI throws them overboard.”

Katz argued that the GAO report fails to reflect the human aspect of the FBI in making it difficult for whistleblowers to come forward, focusing instead solely on the regulations that govern whistleblowing activities.

“The agencies are full of people, not just processes,” Katz said. “It’s the people who screw up because the laws look perfect on the books.”

According to Katz, other government agencies have faced similar problems with whistleblower culture. Last year, a series of attempted break-ins at the White House prompted Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to resign. A report released after the incident found that the Secret Service was “too insular,” ignoring the warning signs made plain by the attacks.

“In the agencies where you have a law enforcement culture, where power is might, people tend to transfer that culture of enforcement that’s outward facing inwards,” he said.

In 2012, President Barack Obama released Presidential Policy Directive 19, which established whistleblowing protection for those in the intelligence community. Elements of the directive were codified under the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY2014, but the guidelines of the directive aren’t permanent and can be easily reversed by a different president.

The result adds up to a climate that, while improving in some key ways, remains hostile to the act of whistleblowing. In an organization that possesses some of the nation’s most important classified information, the threat to the success of the FBI is intimately tied to the future of the country itself, as the 9/11 attacks demonstrated.

“You want the FBI to be effective, and so to help them be more effective you’d expect them to have better protection against retaliation from reporting problems,” said David Maurer, director for GAO’s homeland security and justice department. “It’s ironic that they have less whistleblower protection than the rest of the government.”

Could Academic/Pro Collaborations Rejuvenate Embedded War Reporting?

DENVER – As budget cuts have decimated national security journalism, one of the first things to go has been the kind of deep and prolonged embedded reporting that keeps the public abreast of what is happening in the two wars that the United States is waging, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The University of Oklahoma and veteran broadcast reporter Mike Boettcher have come up with an intriguing model for how to help sustain that kind of journalism, while also using it as a tool for teaching the next generation of national security journalists.

Boettcher , a visiting professor at OU’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, will work with students to produce multimedia content based on his reports from Afghanistan, for ABC News platforms including ABCNews.com, starting Sept. 1. The school and ABC will divvy up the costs, making it more affordable for both, Boettcher said in an interview here at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

This is AEJMC’s 94th annual conference (it runs through Aug. 7), and more than 1,600 educators are spending their days and nights figuring how they – and their students – can best adapt to the cataclysmic changes in the media landscape.

A full day of pre-conference workshops Aug. 3 focused on how university journalism programs can help fill the gaps left by the cuts at mainstream media outlets. Many schools, including Medill, have established programs through which student journalists are working in cooperation with their professional counterparts on groundbreaking projects.

Under the auspices of the OU-ABC partnership, Boettcher and his son Carlos will spend a year embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, recording footage and interviewing people involved at the front lines of that conflict. Multimedia material will be transmitted to Norman, Okla., where undergraduate and graduate students will prepare it for ABCNews.com and other ABC outlets.

Sarkeys Foundation, which is based in Norman, is funding the project.

Boettcher, who reported from Afghanistan for ABC News last summer, spent many years with NBC News after starting his career with CNN in 1980. He said that he plans to deliver lectures to students from the front lines, via Skype.

“I want to tell the personal stories of the men and women that are fighting this war,’’ said Boettcher. “This project will let me do that and still work with the great students at OU.’’

Charles Self, an OU journalism faculty member and past president of AEJMC, said in an interview that such partnerships are a tremendous boon to students, who get to work with a world-class journalist, even as he reports from the front line of the war in Afghanistan. But he said it could ultimately prove to be a model that could “save’’ foreign reporting, especially long-term embeds in war zones and other conflict areas.

“We know it works because we’ve done it,’’ said Self, referring to a recent pilot project in which Boettcher did a similar reporting/teaching effort in Iraq. “It’s a bargain for us because we don’t have to pay Mike’s entire salary, and it’s a bargain for the news agency because they don’t have to either.’’

10 McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarships Awarded

From Wendy Leopold and the Northwestern University Newscenter:

EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism has selected 10 McCormick National Security Journalism Scholarship recipients to participate in an innovative 11-week reporting program in fall 2010. Their work in Medill’s Washington bureau will culminate in an investigative project on national security issues.

The winners of these new graduate student scholarships will work under the supervision of Josh Meyer, a 20-year veteran of the Los Angeles Times who joined the Medill faculty this year to help establish the school’s National Security Journalism Initiative (NSJI). He began covering national security and terrorism in early 2001 and, before 9/11, wrote several investigative stories about the increase in Al Qaeda activity.

“At a time of shrinking ambitions by major media outlets, we’re planning to think big with our project and deliver a series of stories of real importance to the American public,” said Meyer, NSJI director for education and outreach.

The reporting project will focus on the national security implications of environmental change. Top U.S. military and intelligence officials now say they consider the destabilizing effects of intensifying climate change and other environmental changes to be among their top national security concerns.

The fifth quarter specialization program in national security reporting is part of Medill’s larger National Security Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the McCormick Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.

The NSJI aims to find the best ways to practice national security reporting in the new media ecosystem, according to Ellen Shearer, William F. Thomas Professor of Journalism at Northwestern and Medill’s Washington, D.C. program director. Meyer and Shearer, who also is NSJI co-director, selected the McCormick scholarship winners.

Shearer, who will be part of the reporting project, said she is “thrilled by the possibilities for great reporting and storytelling that this terrific group of students affords us. Finding new ways to engage and reach audiences on topics of national security has never been more important.”

The graduate student recipients of the McCormick scholarships are Jessica Binsch, Lauren Bohn, Sarah Chacko, Sonya Elmquist, Emily Marie Huetteman, Charlie Mead, Malathi Nayak, Jacquelyn Ryan, Heather Somerville and Ann Snider. Alternates are Jessica Chen, Corinne Letsch and Nicole V. Rohr.