Friday, June 29, 2012


These pictures were taken for an assignment asking students to take shots emphasizing different photographic principles. In order, the principles were: portraiture (capturing a human moment in a portrait); a strong foreground with a contributing background; layering; leading lines; light and shadow; and the rule of thirds. The subject was Petko, a Northwestern graduate who works at the school's library. Click below for the rest of the series:

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Erin Burnett's team chooses not to comment on torture story

I wanted to follow up briefly on my June 4th post concerning Erin Burnett's report on the use of music at Guantanamo Bay. I wrote that, in my opinion, Ms. Burnett had both misrepresented the story on factual grounds, and had chosen to turn a story about accusations of torture into a joke, which I objected to on moral grounds.

I attempted to contact Ms. Burnett's public relations official, Neel Khairzada, before the post went up. It was a Friday, and I learned that she was out of the office until the following Monday, so I posted the piece. When she returned, I was able to reach her by phone and email. I sent her what I had written, and asked for her thoughts. In my first email to her, I wrote:

I'm writing as a journalism student, and as such, I'm very interested to learn why producers and journalists make the decisions they make. I'm hoping to speak with someone from CNN about this segment. I'd like to discuss how the piece came together, and whether OutFront stands behind its content and presentation. I'd also like to know if OutFront thinks my analysis is wrong or unfair.
I followed this with another email and a phone call. When I reached Ms. Khairzada, she was very polite, and told me she had been busy catching up on other assignments. She said she would review my emails as soon as possible. When she wrote back, however, she stated simply that, "We’re not going to comment." I emailed her again asking for further clarification:
I'm a regular watcher of Ms. Burnett's program. I was surprised to see her report on a very serious story - arguably one of the most serious of the last decade - in a way that I found to be factually incorrect and ethically questionable. I immediately reached out to the program because I am convinced that those who work for OutFront prize the integrity of their work and wish to defend it - and I'm eager to hear and publish the conversation that would come from that defense.

Can you tell me why the show isn't going to comment? Is it because my criticism is viewed as baseless? Is it a matter of policy that you don't generally comment on critiques of your work? I'd be very curious to know, especially because I hope to keep engaging CNN in the future.

Ms. Khairzada did not respond to this email.

I would assume that CNN receives many calls for comment on its stories every day. Undoubtedly, it has to pick and choose who to respond to, and I don't think I'm someone deserving of special attention. That said, I think it's disappointing that the show chose not to offer any comment at all on this subject. I believe I raised legitimate concerns concerning the factual accuracy and ethical content of a report Ms. Burnett delivered. If Ms. Burnett and her producers do indeed stand behind the content of that report, I think they should be able to, at the very least, state so publicly when challenged - even if that just means offering a single sentence in defense of their work. Their decision not to comment raises, I believe, questions as to whether or not they stand by that work.

Again, I understand a major market show cannot offer a comment to everyone who contacts them. But I think journalists should make a priority of addressing critiques that challenge their factual accuracy. This is what Glenn Greenwald did not long ago when he publicly acknowledged a factual error in one of his articles which I had brought to his attention. In his response to me, he also entirely disagreed with a second, interpretive point of mine - and I think his argument was correct. That's the kind of public discussion I believe raises the quality of journalism. I would have liked to have had the chance to engage in such a dialogue with Ms. Burnett's team.

I sent this post to Ms. Khairzada, and I'll update it with any response I receive.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Click below for more photos, and click any photo to start a slideshow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

CNN's Erin Burnett jokes about torture at Guantanamo Bay

On Thursday, May 31, OutFront, the CNN show hosted by Erin Burnett, ran the latest installment of a periodic segment called "Seriously?!" examining what the program considers to be unusual news stories. This particular edition focused on the reported use of children's songs at Guantanamo Bay.

"The Pentagon confirmed today something many of us have suspected for years," Ms. Burnett began. "According to the Defense Department's John Kirby, music is regularly used to punish prisoners at Guantanamo Bay."

She then played a clip from the press conference Mr. Kirby led on May 31st. The relevant portion is below:
Q: On the report this morning that some of the detainees in Guantanamo Bay have been subjected to hearing songs from Sesame Street, first of all, can you comment on that? And second, if it's true, what would you say about the characterization of some who call this torture?
CAPT. KIRBY: Well, look, there's been several investigations done about the use of interrogation techniques down there at Guantanamo Bay, and particularly the use of music as incentives or disincentives between 2004, 2008, that time frame. And universally, the -- these investigations have shown and leadership has revealed that music can be used as both an incentive and a disincentive. It depends on how you use it. I don't know. I can't say with any specificity what type of music has been used in the past or is even being used now. But we -- I will reiterate that we don't mistreat detainees. That's the policy. We rigorously follow that policy. We do not torture, and we do not abuse our detainees at all. We subscribe to the law and to humane treatment. So it -- but yes, music is used, again, both in a -- in a positive way and as a disincentive. But I wouldn't get into characterizing exactly what type of music is being used.
Q: But are you --
CAPT. KIRBY: But we do not -- we do not torture.
Q: Music from the Barney show, if not Sesame Street?
CAPT. KIRBY: I don't know what the playlist is.
Q: Can you tell me how to get -- how to get to Sesame Street? (Laughter.)
CAPT. KIRBY: Next question, please.
Ms. Burnett returned to camera while repressing a laugh. "That's right," she said. "It is believed the Pentagon forced prisoners at Gitmo to listen to Barney for 24 straight hours. According to a U.S. service member involved in psychological operations, quote, 'your brain and body functions start to slide, your train of thought slows down and your will is broken.'" She continued: "That sounds intense. I mean, these are songs meant for children, right? But after a quick listen, I'm sure you'll agree, the estimation isn't very far off."

Ms. Burnett then played a clip of Barney singing, followed by an audio and video loop of his laughter. Ms. Burnett did an impression of the laughter herself. "Yeah, that's Barney," she said. "The Pentagon says, that's not torture. But seriously, you drop that laugh on me for a few hours and I'd confess to just about anything, whether I did it or not. Seriously."