American Pie 22.07.05

If you write anything about America these days, it can end up on a
new website in the US, regardless of in which publication it
appears. WatchingAmerica.com has been set up by British writer
Robin Koerner and US journalist Will Kern, a former copy editor on the
International Herald Tribune. Every day they scour scores of
publications around the world; anything that mentions the US ends up on
the website. In just one day, for example, it ran stories from the
Tehran Times, the Hong Kong Standard, The Japanese Times, The Guardian,
The Korean News, Le Figaro, the Daily Star in Bangladesh and Iraq’s
Azzaman, which suggested Christopher Columbus made the biggest mistake
in history when he discovered America. Koerner thinks it’s important
that Americans know what the rest of the world is saying and thinking
about the US. The site is drawing about 6,000 visitors a day – but it’s
growing rapidly as word spreads. Among the regular daily visitors are
the US State Department and the CIA.

Alistair Cook’s ashes were
scattered in New York’s Central Park. The flamboyant US journalist
Hunter “Gonzo” Thompson is going one better – his remains are to be
scattered in space. A 150ft tower has been erected in the backyard of
the farmhouse home in Colorado where the ailing 67-year-old writer
committed suicide in February. On the six-month anniversary of his
death, a peyote-shaped flare containing his cremated remains will be
fired from the tower, to explode in the sky over Aspen. “It’s what he
wanted,” says Johnny Depp, the Hollywood actor and Thompson’s friend,
who is making the arrangements.

In the aftermath of the
controversy over the use of anonymous sources and the jailing of New
York Times reporter Judith Miller, left, there is an escalating demand
here for a national “shield law” to protect journalists. There are
bills before the US Congress, but even its proponents admit passing
such a law would probably take years. Would such a law have saved
Miller from going to jail? Possibly not, since she was being questioned
in connection with a possible federal crime – naming a secret CIA
operative. Supporters say a distinction needs to be made between a
source who discloses information for the public good and someone
committing a crime. Meanwhile, many papers, following the example of
the Los Angeles Times, are ordering staff not to identify anonymous
sources in computer files and emails in the hope that it will avoid
them being subpoenaed. Other papers are cutting back on their use
of anonymous sources – to the extent, like the Cleveland Plain Dealer
(Press Gazette, 15 July), of not even running stories based on
confidential documents. Many editors report a reluctance among
officials to talk to reporters on or off the record. As one editorial
in the NY Times put it: “The business of journalism is getting tougher.”

Although
the original date had to be postponed because of technical problems,
the revival of the US space programme attracted more journalists than
any other news event lately – even the trial of Michael Jackson. A
total of 2,650 reporters, photographers and TV crews applied for
accreditation to record the blast-off of the shuttle Discovery, left,
from Cape Canaveral. About a quarter were from as far away as
South Korea and New Zealand. One reason, of course, was the mixed crew,
which includes a Japanese astronaut and an Australian. By contrast,
only about 200 journalists were at the Kennedy Space Centre for the
launch of Columbia, the shuttle that broke up on its return from space
three years ago – and a live conference with the crew while Columbia
was in orbit attracted a mere four reporters.

Janice Min, who has
just signed a new contract as editor of Us, obviously believes in
keeping her staff happy. She has persuaded chairman Jann Wenner to
purchase 30 expensive mobile phones and email gadgets for her editorial
team so they can keep in aroundthe- clock contact. Of course, Janice
herself is doing pretty well. Her contract gives her a basic salary of
$1.2million.

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