American Pie 04.02.05

Another
case of misreporting is rocking the US press. This time it is the
prestigious The Washington Post that is the victim.Eighteen
months ago the Post reported a harrowing tale by an Iraqi woman who
claimed she had been abducted by Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday, held
prisoner for two years and repeatedly raped and tortured. The final
indignity, she claimed, was when her husband’s body was handed over to
her at the prison’s gates after he had been tortured to death. Her
story resulted in a wave of sympathy and the woman, Jumana Michael
Hanna and her children plus her mother, were offered refuge in the US.
Now it turns out that the whole tale was a fabrication. A writer,
planning a book on the family’s tribulations, discovered the woman’s
husband is still alive.The fake story was reported in this month’s
Esquire , to the discomfort of The Washington Post. The paper said it
regretted being duped. US officials at the time said her story seemed
credible. Mrs Hanna and her family are still in the US – but have gone
to ground.

The declining prestige of the US press in the wake of
the whole series of reporting scandals can only be remedied if editors
impose strict control over reporters and writers, the editor-in-chief
of Time Inc, Norman Pearlstine, suggested at an awards ceremony in New
York. Accepting his nomination to the Editors’ Hall of Fame, Pearlstine
– who started in newspapers and worked as a correspondent in Europe and
the Far East, most notably for the Wall Street Journal , but now heads
a magazine empire that ranges from Fortune and Time to People and
Entertainment Weekly – warned that the public, as polls have lately
shown, are losing confidence in the way news is reported. Although
elected to the Hall of Fame, Pearlstine has never edited a magazine
which can, he admits, be slightly embarrassing. But he does oversee the
biggest magazine publishing empire in the US. At the same ceremony,
veteran editor Dick Stolley, who recently celebrated his 50th year at
Time Inc, and was the founding editor of People magazine, shared some
sage words about magazine development. There are, he said, six stages:
first, it’s exultation; then disenchantment ; thirdly confusion;
fourthly, search for the guilty; fifthly, punishment of the innocent;
and finally, distinction for the uninvolved.Presumably his boss, Norman, did not disagree.

Latest
magazine due to hit the market here is called $pread . Yes, the dollar
sign is part of the title. It’s for workers in the sex industry. It’s
not promoting prostitution, but in its first issue it does have a
serious story about the spread of AIDS in Asia, the effect of the
anti-trafficking laws on European prostitution and a feature about
women of colour in pornography. There is also a fashion feature for
women who work in massage parlours!

News
organisations here are having a hard time persuading reporters to
accept assignments in Iraq. “Those who have had experience there are
exhausted,” says Marjorie Miller, foreign editor of the LA Times . More
significantly, she adds, they fear for their lives. Tim McNulty, who
runs the foreign desk of the Chicago Tribune, agrees. Those who have
done their time there are not eager to go back. There are now 162
journalists embedded with military units – that’s down from 650 at the
height of the war. Most papers now limit the time their men (or women)
stay in Iraq. At The Washington Post it’s a maximum of six weeks. At
the same time the Post has had trouble filling the job of Baghdad
bureau chief. Most papers, however, feel that while 150,000 US troops
are in Iraq, they can’t pull out.

Should movie reviewers give
away an off-beat twist that is likely to put off some movie-goers? The
question has come up over the Oscar nomination of the Clint Eastwood
boxing movie, Million Dollar Baby . There is an end twist to the story
that some say puts it in the category of political propaganda, like
Fahrenheit 911. Most reviewers have not revealed the twist. Those who
did have been castigated by the movie industry, However, one critic who
revealed the pay-off responded by saying that Million Dollar Baby is
nothing more than a multi-million-dollar political fraud.

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