Atrophy

Since I started taking this class, I’ve noticed something about my writing, namely that I’m not doing enough of it. Sure, I’ve been writing for classes since I got here, but somehow, I think my work ethic may have actually gotten worse as time’s gone by. When I started with this class, I realized that I just wasn’t used to writing for long periods of time. It comes in fits and starts; bang out a paragraph, get distracted, come back to it later, etc. It’s not exactly the most efficient way to write anything, but the fact that I plan on going into journalism, i.e. “writing for a job, almost every day of my life” means that this might be a bit problematic.

On top of this, I realize that I’ve gotten pretty bad at sitting myself down and getting work done in general. Shamefully bad. Staying up all night to finish a few Econ questions because I spent my day reading TV Tropes bad. I’m unorganized, can barely focus, and on top of that have been writing only the bare minimum of what I should be doing. I don’t like that. I’m not proud of it, and I want to start changing it.

So here’s what’s going to happen. If I see something that piques my interest: news story, political thing, a cool movie/book/what have you, and if I can actually write about it, I’m going to post about it. At the very least, I want to start updating at least once a week. Not really for anything school related, but for myself. I have to get my self together. I have to start writing again, to really, truly work on my voice and my style and not just write to get my assignments over with. I want this to be something that helps me grow as a student and a jounalist. So here we are. Monday, October 17th. The day I start writing again.

Published in: |on October 17th, 2011 |No Comments »

What’s the ICC good for? As it turns out, quite a bit.

The Brandeis Center for Ethics screened “The Reckoning”, an account of the early years of the International Criminal Court, on Tuesday, with a discussion and commentary from Brandeis law professor Richard Gaskins, as well as students who had worked at the ICC through the “Brandeis at the Hague” program. The film screening was the first in a series of documentaries on human rights that the Ethics Center will be showing throughout October and November, leading up to their new symposium “Just Performance: Enacting Justice in the Wake of Violence” that will run through December first and second.

            Before the screening, Gaskins introduced the audience to students who had participated in “Brandeis in the Hague,” a semester long program where students work at the ICC, researching cases and doing work alongside judges, lawyers, and other members of the court. This program was described as Brandeis’s “window to the world” by Gaskins, connecting the school to an area of law that is still in its infancy, and is experiencing constant change.

            The Reckoning covered the founding of the International Criminal Court in 2002 and followed it throughout its first years. Gaskins referred to the film as “an introduction to an experiment taking place before our eyes.” The film followed Luis Moreno Ocampo, the court’s first prosecutor, as he investigated human rights violations. Ocampo, an Argentine, had first prosecuted war criminals who had been in charge of Argentina’s military junta during the 1980s, and was presented as a feverent believer in the power of the court to bring justice to places that have been affected by human rights violations. The court is presented as a “court of last resort”, to be used when a nation’s internal legal system is unable to bring the perpetrator to trial. The film shows Ocampo investigating claims in Uganda, the Congo, Columbia, and Somalia.

            The film shows just how much work the ICC must do in order to go through with a prosecution. The prosecutors and staff of the court must carry out investigations themselves, gathering evidence and testimony from all over the world in order to build their case. But once they’ve done that, there’s no guarantee that they can even bring a suspect to trial. The Court’s first trial, of Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord who was accused of kidnapping and training child soldiers, was almost thrown out when the defense claimed that the prosecution had violated Lubanga’s rights as a defendant by withholding evidence, as well as claiming that the prosecution had been given a larger budget. Despite being arrested in 2006, Lubanga’s trial didn’t actually begin until January of 2009. As of this writing, his trial is still ongoing.

            The logistics of having an international court was one of the points that Gaskins brought up at the screening. There have been twenty-six indictments by the Court, and twenty-four of those cases are still ongoing. The Court also has not secured a conviction yet; the two cases that were ended were due to the death of the defendant in one case and an acquittal in the other. Another talking point was what exactly the Court wants. Ocampo himself said that the Court’s main function is to bring justice to places where the national courts have failed, saying he wants to “end impunity.” Part of this aim is to make it so that every country in the world has laws on the books that would allow them to bring anyone to trial for crimes against humanity, even if that person is a current head of state. The ideal world, in Ocampo’s mind, was presented as one that “doesn’t need an International Court.” Although Gaskin’s dismissed Ocampo’s overarching goal as “hopelessly idealistic,” he does have hope for the Court. He says that there’s a “certain amount of reality setting in” at The Hague, and the people working in the Court are realizing that this will be a hard fight. At the same time, the students who were part of the “Brandeis in the Hague” program say they are optimistic for what the future holds in the court. Student Ben Stein (’13) said that “everyone in the room was clearly in favor of the International Criminal Court.” Gaskins also made sure to remind the audience that there would be other events like this in the weeks to come. The Ethics Center has planned to show documentaries on human rights problems in Peru, the U.S., Sierra Leone, and Rwanda before the final symposium in December.

Published in: |on October 9th, 2011 |No Comments »

CNN: Leaving it there and the future of objectivity

While it’s true that I’ve only been reading  James Rosen’s blog for the past week or so, I’m beginning to realize that Rosen, and the other media blogs I’ve been turned to, actually express thoughts about journalism and its future that I’d been kicking around in my head for a little while now. Of course, Rosen is a professional journalist who’s dedicated quite a bit of his life to studying this field, while I’m a third year college student who writes about movies and cartoons for his school’s paper.

            But all that aside, his post on CNN’s habit of “leaving it there” got me thinking about just where objectivity is supposed to fit into not only the 24 hour news channels, but also journalism in general, especially with the rise of openly partisan blogs and news aggregators. Objectivity has been something of a uniquely American goal in journalism. In Europe at least, almost every media outlet has some sort of bias. Readers of The Guardian know that they’re getting news from a left leaning perspective, and people reading The Daily Telegraph know that they’re getting their news from a conservative viewpoint. Yet they’re fine with this. News outlets in Britain are open about their biases, and as far as I’ve seen, the people of the U.K. are able to participate in a functioning democratic government. But in the U.S., open partisanship has been seen as a very bad thing. Even Fox News, a station that doesn’t really do much to hide its conservatism, spent years with the motto “Fair and Balanced.” But with the rise of the Internet, I’m seeing objectivity becoming less and less important for many news outlets. Talking Points Memo  advertises itself as coming from a “politically left perspective.” Likewise, sites like Drudge Report make no effort to hide their conservative leanings. Objectivity is becoming less and less important to people, and if it isn’t handled right, it could very well slide into irrelevance. Which brings us to CNN.

            For the past few years, CNN has prided itself on being the most objective of the 24 hour news networks. MSNBC might be liberal, and Fox News might be conservative, but CNN was different. According to Rosen, how CNN goes about being “different” is exactly the problem. They don’t cut through spin, or even really check the facts. Instead, they did something far more damaging, to both themselves and their audience.

According to Rosen:

“on-air hosts for the network will let someone from one side of a dispute describe the world their way, then let the other side describe the world their way, and when the two worlds, so described, turn out to be incommensurate or even polar opposites, what happens?… CNN leaves it there. Viewers are left stranded and helpless. The network appears to inform them that there is no truth, only partisan bull. Is that real journalism? No. But it is tantalizingly close to the opposite of real journalism. Repeat it enough, and this pattern threatens to become the network’s brand”

               It should go without saying that this isn’t very helpful for the viewer, but it’s even worse for the network. CNN has been lagging behind Fox and MSNBC for years, and with an image like that, it’s obvious why. Stations like MSNBC might be biased, and use their reporting to their ideological advantage, but at least their doing reporting. One metaphor I had in my head for CNN’s type of journalism is that of a stenographer: someone whose work consists of taking down someone else’s words, not contributing anything to the conversation. But then I realized even that’s giving them too much credit. At least a stenographer does the copying. CNN acts more like a P.A. system for whoever they happen to have as a guest, with the anchor there mostly to tell them when it’s time to go to a commercial.

            Of course, Rosen’s piece isn’t just about trashing CNN. He reports that Mark Whitaker, the channels new managing editor and executive VP, is trying to turn CNN towards objective reporting that entails reporting. Cutting through the opinions and getting to the facts, not letting two pundits talk at each other for 15 minutes. Rosen ends his post on a somewhat hopeful note: CNN realizes things have to change, and is finally taking action. I think that whether or not they succeed is going to be important for objectivity down the line. If they do turn things around, then there might finally be some semblance of objectivity on cable news again, which might actually help bring that standard back into style. But if they don’t, then I’ll be waiting to see where things go. Americans are still adjusting to the partisan news of the Web, but if Europe is any indication, I don’t think the end of objectivity would necessarily mean the end of the world.

Published in: |on September 15th, 2011 |No Comments »

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