Bloomberg News

Refusing to Watch Foley Video Avoids Exactly What?: Opening Line

August 21, 2014

James Foley

James Foley in 2011 in Sirte, Libya. Photographer: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

If you could find the video of James Foley’s beheading, would you watch it?

Maybe some of you already have. We haven’t, and don’t really want to, but we can’t shake the feeling that we should. We watched Nick Berg’s beheading. It so bothered us that, to this day, we swore we wouldn’t subject ourselves to any more. The Daniel Pearl video came and went. Now comes Foley.

We threw the question open to the global chatterbox. Most of the answers were in the negative, referring to the propaganda element or the notion of dignity for Foley, which we completely understand. Most came from seasoned journalists, who might have more reason than most for viewing it.

“Don’t dishonor Foley. He was a visual pawn in their game,” writes one old friend, a public-relations man.

“I don’t think it’s helpful for the public to watch it,” writes another, a veteran journalist from one of the world’s largest news organizations and their former White House correspondent. “Whatever Foley says is under duress, and the whole production is a propaganda exercise.” He said he tried to watch the Berg execution for professional reasons and “could not see it through.”

“No. I watched the Daniel Pearl video and it sickens me -- and fills me with regret that I did watch it -- to this day,” writes another, who has been in the news business for 35 years.

A reporter for another of the world’s largest news organizations who was embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq in 2003, writes, “I don’t watch grisly beheading videos anymore. I’ve seen war’s horrors up close. Guess what? The cliche is true: no sane person who witnesses war comes away unchanged.”

“Never,” was the response from an award-winning war photographer we’ve known for almost 30 years, a man who, like Foley, put himself in harm’s way, covering the Beirut War in the early 1980s for Newsweek, the Philadelphia Inquirer and others.

Pretty much all the replies were “no,” and many seemed like they were horrified even at the suggestion. Then we got this, in a private message off to the side:

“Honestly, I looked for it,” the woman said off to the side in a private message. Unlike the pros above, she makes her living as an artist.

“Why am I telling you that? Because I felt like I wanted to acknowledge his bravery -- not because of that moment, but everything leading up to it. Because I wanted to understand something.”

And this is what we’re getting at.

Foley and Pearl risked and lost their lives to tell us something bad is happening, and we still haven’t fixed it.

“They are not risking their lives for the thrill of confronting danger,” Mark Masse, a journalism professor at Ball State and author of “Trauma Journalism: On Deadline in Harm’s Way” (2011), said yesterday in a statement. “These rare individuals believe that as journalists they have a responsibility to put themselves at risk so that people will be informed and enlightened.”

Writing in New York magazine in May 2004, a New York City medical examiner -- repeat: medical examiner -- described the psychological damage he suffered after watching the Berg beheading.

It “unearthed emotions I had no desire to feel: fury, despair, the desire for revenge,” Jonathan Hayes wrote. “I no longer cared about the atrocities committed in Abu Ghraib, the images of which had outraged me the week before. I wanted every man in that little death club captured, torn from their families, and dragged into the darkest basement interrogation room.”

Is this a bad thing? Well, yeah. But then again, how else, in our SportsCenter cocoon, with social media sanitizing our exposure to reality, can we really, really come to terms with this?

Here’s what the New York Times wrote about the work of one war photographer: He “has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

He was the Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, and this was published in 1862.

***

U.S. economic indicators today include initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m., Bloomberg consumer comfort at 9:45 a.m., and Philly Fed, existing-home sales and LEI at 10 a.m.

U.S. earnings include Dollar Tree (newsy), Sears, Gap, GameStop and Aeropostale (also newsy).

***

- A rescue attempt for James Foley failed, and a ransom attempt did, too. - Things got quieter as Eric Holder, and a giant metaphor, arrived in Ferguson, Missouri. - More civilians than soldiers died in Ukraine fighting in the roughly past 24 hours. - Liberian slum sealed off by forces moving to contain Ebola. - Landslides in Hiroshima have killed at least 39, with seven missing. - New York Times reporter expelled from Afghanistan. Probably not a bad move right now. - Hertz shareholders, now joined by Carl Icahn, are coming together against CEO Mark Frissora and may have a candidate in mind. - Berkshire Hathaway was fined $900,000 for violating reporting requirement in acquiring USG Corp. (USG:US) shares. That’s gotta hurt. - China has been caught hacking Malaysian authorities involved in investigating MH370’s disappearance from day one. - Canadian-Egyptian Al Jazeera journalist jailed in Cairo files last-ditch appeal. - Alain Juppé, the former French prime minister, enters race for UMP’s presidential nomination. - A Palestinian flag was tied to Manhattan Bridge. Is this a thing now, bridges and flags? - The father of the “affluenza” teen has been arrested in Texas for playing cop. - Aquarium in Atlanta just wants to protect the 18 beluga whales it captured in Russia and doesn’t understand why the court won’t just hand them over. - French tourists served “apocalyptic” vomiting bug at five-star Greek resort. - Serves them right for sleeping on the job. - There goes the weekend.

***

Time magazine got lots of attention -- and no shortage of flak -- for its “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis” list compiled in 2009. The roster, as many pointed out, was a curious mix of insiders (Jimmy Cayne), bystanders (Christopher Cox), easy targets (Bernie Madoff), mega-names (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush) and one loose aggregation, “American consumers.”

Depending on your point of view, only 10 or fewer of the individuals named to the list had been actively involved in (as opposed to cheerleaders for, or enablers of) the subprime mortgage lending and asset-backed securitizing that led to the 2008 crisis. Within that subgroup, a few blamees, such as former Lehman Brothers head Dick Fuld and former AIG executive Joe Cassano, lost jobs and saw their reputations take a hit.

Five years on, though, it’s clear that one name on Time’s list has gotten the lion’s share of attention from law enforcement: Angelo Mozilo.

The co-founder of Countrywide Financial reached a $67.5 million accord with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010 to resolve allegations that he misled Countrywide investors. Prosecutors looked into criminal charges before dropping their probe in early 2011, Bloomberg News reported.

Now, according to Keri Geiger, Tom Schoenberg and Greg Farrell, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles is preparing a civil lawsuit against Mozilo and as many as 10 other former Countrywide employees. The prosecutors plan to sue under a law passed in 1989 in response to the S&L scandal.

Mozilo’s lawyer, David Siegel, points out that his client “stands virtually alone among banking and mortgage executives to actually have been pursued by this government before.” Mozilo may have kept himself in the government’s bulls-eye by declining, on repeated occasions, to express regret for his or Countrywide’s role in the financial crisis. Then there was Countrywide’s “Friends of Angelo” initiative, which gave loans to VIPs such as U.S. senators.

And then there’s the many shareholders of Bank of America, who continue to suffer from that company’s disastrous purchase of Countrywide in 2008. Bank of America’s penalty, put at $17 billion, to clean up Countrywide’s mess could come as soon as today.

***

Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois, full of raw political skills and mostly free of baggage, when political consultant David Plouffe began working with him in 2003. Look at where that collaboration went.

In his latest project, Plouffe may miss beginning with a blank slate.

As the newly named senior vice president of policy and strategy at taxi-service innovator Uber, Plouffe joins a company that has enraged its competitors and some of its customers even as it has soared to a $17 billion valuation. Uber has drawn protests by cabbies in Europe and elsewhere, is challenging regulatory hurdles in Berlin and faces competition from rival Lyft, Mark Milian and Pui-Wing Tam reported yesterday.

Uber should at least have the taxi-hailing public on its side. But as New Yorker staff writer James Surowiecki explains in a piece for MIT Technology review, the company has stumbled with its introduction and defenses of “surge pricing,” a crucial innovation that puts more drivers on the road when passengers most want them.

During an ice storm in New York last December, Uber users were no doubt delighted to have an alternative to fighting for scarce yellow cabs on the slushy streets. When they saw their bills -- $100 or more -- many were outraged. In line with Uber’s pricing algorithms, some fares were almost eight times what they normally would have been, according to Surowiecki.

He says Uber has given a good idea -- dynamic pricing, which changes based on supply and demand -- a bad rep through bad marketing.

“(E)arly on, Uber’s pricing was not especially transparent, so customers occasionally found themselves stuck with fares that were much higher than they expected,” he writes. “The fact that some of the most high-profile examples of surge pricing have been the result of big storms also matters, since it taps into people’s visceral dislike of price gouging.”

A public-relations problem demands a public-relations solution. It won’t be easy -- but then again, neither was getting a state senator elected president of the United States.

***

And so it begins.

The Atlantic hurricane season is now entering prime time, and there are already a couple areas of intrigue stirring out there, Brian Sullivan writes today.

They’re not much yet, but they’re not nothing either -- the forecast models are designed to track real storms, not possible ones, he writes. One of them has the makings of becoming Tropical Storm Cristobal and entering the Gulf of Mexico next week.

When hurricane season arrives, we get hives, because the bureau here is surrounded by a vertical minefield. Ironically, the one time one of these giant trees did try to fall on the house was on a sunny, calm July day. It just keeled over -- and was miraculously stopped by the loving arms of another one of our giants, a beech, to which we now regularly make burnt offerings.

And we still don’t have the generator installed yet.

***

We were just about to crack the seal on the second 8-ball of the night (well, morning by that time) when we got a call from the office.

It would have been smarter to let the call ring through to voicemail. Our heart was trying pound its way out of our chest so fiercely that we were short of breath and worried the caller would hear it in our voice.

Not only that, but the room full of sweaty party people we’d dragged home with us from the after-hours club were starting to -- “starting,” ha -- starting to get a little wild. But when the office calls at 5:30 on a Sunday morning, you figure you’d better answer it. We ducked into another room.

“Uh, hello?”

“Mr. Line, this is Donald at Corporate Liabilities -- down at the office?”

Oh, crap. Here we go. Ever since we got shackled by our employer’s Liability-Activity Reporter (LIAR), we knew this day would come.

***

Let’s face it: Cable television network FXX’s airing of “The Simpsons” -- 552 television episodes plus one movie, running continuously for 12 days, starting this morning -- is, for many of us, the most grueling marathon we’ll ever attempt.

Carbo-loading and water breaks won’t suffice, leading some outlets to suggest strategies for selective watching.

Either way, the 12-day stream of the longest-running scripted show in television history doesn’t need to be a distraction from work. For those interested in a TV MBA, there are lessons to be learned from the adventures of Homer Simpson, that paragon of American labor, and C. Montgomery Burns, the creaking chief executive whose quest for more and more wealth would probably make even the 1 percent cringe.

Simpsonsarchive.com, a prodigious collection of fan-generated reportage and commentary, offers this sampling of finance-related exchanges from the inhabitants of Springfield:

Homer: I invested in something called “News Corp.” Lisa Simpson: Dad, that’s Fox! Homer: [shrieks] Undo! Undo! -- “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” first aired May 16, 1999.

Burns: Here, tell me how my stocks did yesterday. Homer: Uh, they all won. Burns: What about my options? Homer: Well, you can either get up or go back to sleep. -- “Homer the Smithers,” Feb. 25, 1996

Broker: Homer, you knuckle-beak, I told you a hundred times: you’ve got to sell your pumpkin futures before Halloween! Before! Homer: All right, let’s not panic: I’ll make the money back by selling one of my livers. I can get by with one. -- “Homer vs. Patty and Selma,” Feb. 26, 1995

Homer: You know, Mr. Burns, you’re the richest guy I know. Way richer than Lenny. Burns: Oh, yes. But I’d trade it all for a little more.

-- “Mountain of Madness” Feb. 2, 1997

As Steven Keslowitz points out in “The Simpsons and Society: An Analysis of Our Favorite Family and Its Influence in Contemporary Society” (2003), mounds of money don’t buy Monty Burns friends, or love, or happiness. It does, however, get him to roughly 100 years old, which isn’t bad for someone running a leaky nuclear power plant.

***

The curse of the Sports Illustrated cover lives.

On the day her cover issue hit newsstands, the pixie dust finally wore off for pitcher Mo’ne Davis and the Mid-Atlantic region’s Taney Dragons, who got roughed up last night by Nevada’s team, 8-1, in the Little League World Series.

It started early for Nevada’s Mountain Ridge nine, representing the West region, and the Philly kids were never really in the game, although they mounted threats in several innings. Davis was chased in the third inning, while remaining in the game in other positions.

The Pennsylvanians play the Chicago kids from Jackie Robinson West tonight, while the Nevada team awaits the winner for the U.S. championship game on Saturday.

To contact the reporters on this story: C. Thompson in Wilmington at cthompson1@bloomberg.net; Laurence Arnold in Washington at larnold4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Marty Schenker at mschenker@bloomberg.net


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