where the writers are
Where's the web 2.0 freedom of information (and Al Gore) for the journalists captured in North Korea?

I know we're enmeshed in the drama of newspaper necropsy lately, with friends who are also valuable professional contributors to the fabric of society walking out the door of newsrooms. But we must have at least enough gumption left over for some collective journalistic interest, concern and howling over the two Al Gore-TV reporters snatched by North Korea.

When the Chronicle's BALCO watchdogs, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, were facing 18 months in jail each for refusing to hand over confidential sources to the government, the paper's owner, Hearst, spent two years and I'm guessing around a million dollars, both to keep them out of the slammer and fight the larger battle between the press and the ravenous, prying Bush Justice Department over our ability to do our job.

And that was home town hard time involved, not the prospect of dungeons in one of the most dysfunctional, isolated and irrational places on earth.

Internationally, when reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped in Iraq a few years ago, not only her employer, the Christian Science Monitor, but her family and just about everyone else participated in a campaign for her release. Before she did ultimately get freed, there were giant posters of her on Rome's city hall, white balloons released in Paris, 25 organizations calling for her to be let go and front page newspaper banners in Baghdad saying, "She loves Iraq. Now she needs your help."

In between spasms of international adoption and rescuing the rest of the world, even some celebrities gave their time to the cause.

So where's the love for U.S. citizens Laura Ling and Euna Lee, arrested two weeks ago by North Korea? Except for a few short, fact-sparse stories in the media about the Current TV correspondents, there's been barely a ripple. Even after officials in Pyongyang announced the women would be tried for "hostile acts." That's 10 years, hard labor.

I take it back. Gawker wrote a piece saying they sure wouldn't want the former Vice President or his "everybody report now" TV operation covering their asses if they were in a similar situation (which will never happen, no matter how sassy they are.)

And State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, did say authoritatively that "of course we would like to see our citizens released and returned home." Wow. I'm not sure what good that's going to do, Mr. Duguid, master of the obvious.

I know in the nine years I covered conflicts in other countries, we all understood that if we got in trouble doing journalism, it was like "Mission Impossible": hope for a hand but don't count on being acknowledged for your good intentions, never mind rescued. It was a lonely feeling then but, in today's world of video decapitations, it has to be terrifying.

Where is Mr. Gore, Nobel winner and formerly the second most powerful person in the world in all this? How about anything from SF-based Current TV, say maybe even just a public expression of concern? At the moment I wrote this, the big story on their web site is, "Top 10 Sexting Acronyms For Adults." A call to their chief flack, Brent Marcus, went unreturned. What Current VC2 "pod" does this one fit into?

That silence has raised the notion that perhaps old liberals just sit back and let the young impressionables do their dirty work. Prison is hard.

Seeking out the story, SF Weekly glimpsed the security guard hired by Current TV to keep the media out, and Gawker is still on the case. Bless their snide, slapping, snappy sense of style, which gave them another opening. They came back after that first post and seem to have busted Current for actually censoring stories about the incident. The blackout of information has not gone unnoticed.

But all that still leaves the women out on their own.

Is this what happens when information becomes more democratic? No one's willing to step up? If you work for a viewer-supplied TV cable network, does that mean no one has your back?

This does not help the argument that the value of large news organizations is dwindling to nothing in favor of small entrepreneurs. There's no encouragement for 2.0 reporting when its practitioners can disappear into the gulag with no one to fight for them.

Maybe there are furious back door efforts going on and these two reporters aren't just pawns in the overarching political drama of North Korea's imminent launch of a long-range missile. CNN, where wikipedia says Ms. Ling's sister works as a reporter, and other news outlets report that a Swedish diplomat is hot on the case.

But that shouldn't stop some public uproar. Do we have to ask Google to go in there and flex a little muscle on behalf of the free flow of information?

5 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Journalists have to be respected and protected

i have to believe that back door negotiations are going on or I will start screaming in frustration.
It seems illogical to assume that timing the rocket launch and the arrest of the journalists are simply coincidental. n. korea is looking for some engagement, diplomatic, i presume.

I suggest bringing in Bill Richardson to deal with the n. korean government, he has just the right touch to make diplomatic progress with that group.

employers of journalists and the state department need to come up with serious plans for the protection of their journalists.

which govt department will look after the domestic journalists? they are too often fair game for arrest while covering protests at home!

Comment Bubble Tip


post, and excellent questions. Thanks!

Comment Bubble Tip

I'm hoping the relative

I'm hoping the relative silence about this situation is due to someone in the know deciding this is the best way to keep those women safe and alive.

If there were a lot of brouhaha about the reporters, perhaps that would indicate to the North Koreans that they are in possession of extremely high value people and embolden them to ask for the sun, the moon, and the stars to release them.

With Al Gore on the board of Current TV and Lisa Ling having so many media contacts, I'm inclined to believe--in the absence of better information--that there is a lot of back room maneuvering going on.

Comment Bubble Tip

Glass houses

The free flow of information was an issue that Writers-at-Large, the writers advocacy group I founded back in 2005 with some funding from the California Arts Council, dealt with.

When I was approached by then CAC director, Juan Carrillo, to organize California writers, I suggested that the council might not want to back me when they heard what I had in mind. Apart from setting up a network of journalists, editors, and lovers of a free press to show up whenever a colleague was hauled off to jail for refusing to compromise the confidentiality of a source, I mentioned "the free flow of information." Juan laughed, and said that he didn't think I'd get many people inspired by a phrase like that, and he was right.

Now, more than four years later with the collapse of major newspapers nationwide, the word "free" takes on a whole new meaning.

Along with asking what Mr. Gore is doing at Current, we might also ask what the senior editors of major national newspapers being brought to their knees are doing about the attempt by newspaper publishers to bust the union with threats of shutting down the operation unless workers accede to their demands.

Glass houses are not immune from stones.

Comment Bubble Tip

free flow of info

why weren't people inspired by "the free flow of information"? did it have to do with free as in 'no profits' or free as in 'free speech'?

i've been living in Greece since 2000 so i don't have a feel for some of the attitudes that may seem obvious in the states.