News Picks: Egypt and America’s duplicity, Obama and Reagan, Torres

Just a quick one this weekend…

Egypt

America’s duplicity in Egyptian crisis – Events in Egypt are moving very fast indeed. Last week we were being told that what had happened in Tunisia was unlikely to unfold in a similar way in Egypt. Yet here we are with thousands taking to the streets in defiance of curfews and President Hosni Mubarak’s regime looking decidely shaky.

Amidst it all America is playing a fine line between encouraging reform but not explicitly calling for the overthrowing of Mubarak. This is demonstrated beautifully by two stories that have come out this weekend.

One is about tear gas canisters, bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” being fired at protestors in Cairo whilst on the other hand the Daily Telegraph reports that the American government has secretly backed leading figures in the current uprising.

They speak for themselves.

US Politics

What Obama can learn from Reagan – President Barack Obama is learning a lot from an unlikely source, former two-term President Ronald Reagan. He took a biography of Reagan on holiday over Christmas and in trying to set the tone for the second half of his term in office, Obama sees “the Gipper” as a “point of reference.”

Torres

Sale won’t be popular but could be best for Liverpool – Liverpool fans are generally quite angry at the news of Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request following Chelsea’s rather cheeky bid for him last week. Liverpool rejected the bid and rejected the transfer request, being perfectly within their rights to do so.

However Sam Wallace in The Independent argues that the sale of the Spaniard may be in the best interests of the club as well as the player. He argues the tipping point has been reached in much the same way it had been with Cristiano Ronaldo at Manchester United and Thierry Henry at Arsenal.

Arguably, Torres can justify the decision. He has won nothing since moving to Anfield three years ago having left his hometown club to do exactly that. But the timing is awful and Chelsea, perhaps still laden with money, are an ageing team in need of a big restructuring whereas Liverpool’s has already begun with the impending arrival of Luis Suarez.

One thing is for certain is that Torres will probably get his way either by Monday or in the summer. Having being adored by all Liverpool fans since his arrival he has chosen a rather undignified way to end it all.

News Picks: Tunisia, Ireland, Chile

Tunisia

Events in Tunisia just the start? – The weekend’s news agenda has been dominated by events in Tunisia but what’s really interesting is not only what is happening there but what may now happen in other Arab countries of a similar political structure where people young and old are gaining hope from the uprising in Tunisia.

Brian Whitaker, The Guardian’s fantastic Middle East expert, writes about clashes in Libya which, although they may die down in the next few days, are unlikely to abate long term where Colonel Gadaffi still rules after nearly 42 years. Whitaker’s Al-Bab blog is generally an excellent resource for analysis on the Arab world.

A Wikileaks revolution? – Foreign policy magazine speculates whether the diplomatic cables released late last year that highlighted the mafia-esque rule of the former President Bin Ali were part of the reason why the people rose up against their leader, demanding change.

Ireland

Tight vote expected in Fianna Fail leadership contest – Events in Dublin also dominated the weekend news agenda with a leadership battle slightly more civilised than what is happening in Tunisia.

But that doesn’t mask the sheer anger of many in the country as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen announced his intention to remain as leader of his party Fianna Fail. However this is subject to a confidence vote in his leadership by the 71 TDs (MPs) in the party on Tuesday. Cowen will be confident of victory after reassurances last week from those within the party.

However, Foreign Minister Michael Martin will attempt to unseat Cowen, launching his own leadership bid at a late evening press conference in a swanky Dublin hotel on Sunday.

Martin is blitzing the Irish media over the next 24 hours or so in an attempt to shore up his position. Whilst junior ministers are lining up behind Martin, Cowen, inexplicably, commands a strong position despite desperate approval ratings which would make you question the very sanity of the 14% of people who apparently back him as leader of the country.

Events in the Republic will be extremely interesting to follow over the next day or two. I’d recommend TheJournal.ie for the up-to-date coverage of what happens.

Chile

Fuel price strikes trap tourists – We were all engrossed and utterly charmed by the story of the trapped Chilean Miners last year which sent President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings sky high as he was on hand to greet each of the 33 miners who emerged from the depths of the earth. Pinera revelled in the popularity as you would expect. However, there is now growing discontent in Chile with rising fuel prices, people taking to the streets and in some areas violent protests trapping tourists. Pinera’s approval ratings are down.

News Picks: Wikileaks, UK election?, Election 2012, Wikipedia, Israel

Wikileaks

US journalists back away from Assange The Miami Herald reports that more and more US journalists are shunning the Wikilkeaks founder Julian Assange amid concern about the organisation’s methods of dumping documents “willy-nilly” as investigative journalist Bob Woodward put it. There are also questions as to whether Assange is actually a journalist. An interesting read.

Election 2011?

Cameron considering a snap election? – Labour MP Tom Watson speculates (some would say wildly) that the Prime Minister may call a snap election in May. Watson cites a weary Nick Clegg, an unfulfilled David Cameron and the belief by some that the Tories could win an outright majority if they called an election given the Lib Dems’ appalling poll numbers. It’s all gossip but it’s well written and thought provoking. It also hints that embattled No. 10 communications director Andy Coulsen will be gone by the end of the month.

Election 2012

The activist Republican candidates court – An interesting piece in the LA Times about the Iowa based activist whom Republicans running for the party’s presidential nomination will all court in the build up to that state’s all important caucuses that kick off the nominee race at the beginning of next year. Joni Scotter is 69, and, it seems, very important to the likes of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich but she has voted Democrat before.

Wikipedia

Wikipedia at 10, a pioneer of global civility – Timothy Garton Ash has some words of praise for Wikipedia which turns 10-years-old this weekend. Unlike Facebook, this internet success story is not worth billions but is a fine example of a non profit organisation that “still breathes the utopian idealism of the internet’s heroic early days.”

Israel

The rise of fanatical ‘Israeli ayatollahs’ – We all know about fanaticism in the Muslim world but what of the ultra orthodox Jewish rabbis who are becoming increasingly controversial and divise in Israel. They were even involved in the recent tragic death of ex-Liverpool defender Avi Cohen.

News Picks: Wikileaks, Health, US, Obama, O’Reilly, Howard

Wikileaks

The Man Who Spilled The Secrets – In case you missed it, Vanity Fair’s frankly brilliant account of the volatile relationship between The Guardian and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange during the before and during the release of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs and the Diplomatic cables. Best thing I’ve read all week.

State Department team works to warn people – Elsewhere in Wikileaks news, the US State Department has a designated team of people warning human rights activists, business people and foreign government officials of potential threats to their safety following the release of around 2,700 of the estimated 250,000 diplomatch cables held by Wikileaks and media organisations.

Ireland

Health insurance rise hits families Families in Ireland face a price hike of up to €1000 per year for their private health insurance. With the state of Ireland’s public health service also in disarray, many are asking where on earth is Health Minister Mary Harney whose under increasing pressure to step down at the upcoming general election or sooner.

US

Gibbs forced out by Daley?Suggestions in Washington that new White House Chief of Staff William Daley effectively ended Press Secretary Robert Gibbs time in the Obama administration. Daley’s arrival could also spell the end for White House advisor Valerie Jarrett. The guy is making early waves.

Obama v O’Reilly on Super Bowl Sunday – This should be good. Fox News firebrand Bill O’Reilly will interview the President on Super Bowl Sunday, maintaining the tradition of a presidential interview with the network broadcasting the game.

Mystery surrounds Obama novelStaying with the President and mystery surrounds the identity of the author of an upcoming novel about Obama’s White House. “O: A Presidential Novel”  by Anonymous is said to be similar to Joe Klein’s 1996 book “Primary Colours” which was loosely based on Bill Clinton’s run for the White House which later became a pretty good film starring John Travolta as Clinton.

Media

Robert Harris eulogises the late, great Anthony Howard – Worth a read for any journalist or anyone interested in a truly remarkable man who was truly brilliant at his trade, as he liked to refer to it (in other words he did not consider journalism a profession). It was delivered by the great author Robert Harris, himself once a journalist.

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That’s it have a great weekend. I’ll do a weekend edition if I can.

Wikileaks diplomatic files not as shocking as we’re being told

We may have been shocked by the revelations of the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs and the brutality of war that was laid before us in a way we’ve never seen before.

But the initial revelations of Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables are not as shocking as many in the media are having us believe. Embarrassing for sure but not shocking.

Channeled through those doyens of investigative journalism The Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times the leaks reveal a lot of honest and forthright views of mainly US diplomats about their foreign counterparts.

But looking at the BBC’s useful breakdown of the main “revelations” there’s nothing truly groundbreaking. Instead much of the releases so far confirm what any of us who have an interest in international affairs probably already expected was going on.

The US has many concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear activity and the level to which they may be exposed to nuclear terrorism. Whilst on the other side Pakistan is reluctant to allow the US to establish any more interest in their domestic affairs than it already holds for fear of a backlash from their own people. This has been widely reported for many years.

The Chinese government engages in computer hacking…as if we haven’t heard that before.

The US looks to tap the sensitive biometric details of those within the UN. Not specifically something reported before but allies spying on allies and involving the Americans is nothing new.

There are also a selection of strong and honest views about various world leaders.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described as “Hitler” by one diplomat. Given Ahmadinejad’s views on Judaism it is hardly an extraordinary leap to associate the two.

Italian president Silvio Berlusconi described as a “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader”. As if we didn’t know that already given the string of embarrassing revelations in recent years.

Russian president Dmirty Medvedev a “Robin” to Vladimir Putin’s “Batman”. Many analysts said as much when Medvedev was “elected” in 2008.

And Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe,  a “crazy old man”. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the plight of the Zimbabwean people.

So there is little that shocks as much as Wikileaks most explosive leak to date – Collateral Murder

But needless to say it’s embarrassing for the US and all the other countries implicated. And the news coverage over the next few days will remind us of that as well as discussing the wrongs and rights of Wikileaks releasing such material. Simon Jenkins in The Guardian puts that argument to bed in my view.

Perhaps the real story here is not the sheer quantity and seriousness of some of the information released but the extraordinary story of a 22-year-old US army private from Oklahoma, Bradley Manning, who has changed forever the way in which wars and diplomatic relations are conducted.

Wikileaks’ Afghan War Logs are a boost for print media

Plenty will be written about the content of Wikileaks’ Afghan War logs and the ramifications for the war itself. But the main findings from the documents reveal little that we didn’t already know or suspect was happening in Afghanistan.

There is an increasing use of IEDs with deadly effects, an increasing number of civilian casualties as a result, there’s a growing use of drones by US forces, a tacit involvement of elements of the Pakistani intelligence services, and a total inability of Afghan central government and security forces to get a handle on any of it, beset by corruption and incompetency in equal measure.

Of course with the amount of content made available today some interesting individual stories have emerged.The story of Combat Outpost Keating uncovered by the New York Times’ own investigation of the documents caught my eye as a tragic example of the difficulties faced by allied forces in the region.

But what’s interesting from a journalism point of view about the war logs is the fact that Wikileaks, an increasingly prominent whistle blowing website, chose to collaborate with The Guardian, The New York Times and German weekly Der Spiegel, forgoing their usual practice of putting whatever leaked material has come into their possession straight up on their own web servers.

Wikileaks founder and editor Julian Assange, recognised that they needed the help and investigative expertise of these three renowned publications to extract the real stories from the 90,000 or so documents, leaked by US army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning and probably others.

Assange described the three publications as “the best newspapers in the world for investigative research.” It shows that print media is still highly valued in the modern media environment despite the seemingly endless stream of negative stories about the decline of newspapers, mainly with cutbacks and job losses at a regional level.

On top of this the emergence of websites such as Wikileaks were seen as another nail in the coffin of print journalism. No longer would a whistleblower with sensitive information contact an investigative newspaper journalist but he would instead make contact with websites such as Assange’s who would then publish the information in its entirety online.

While local newspapers are perhaps hitting a terminal decline, today’s revelations show that at a national level the best investigative journalists, perhaps the bests journalists still ply their trade for newspapers and magazines. For an insight into how it all came about Nick Davies gives an excellent account of the story behind the story as part of The Guardian‘s coverage today.

Clearly whilst all three of the publications have made use of their online presence to present the war logs in an interesting and engaging way, their print editions will be most memorable.

Proof of that can be seen in Assange holding aloft a copy of today’s Guardian at his press conference this afternoon to show the world the results of the biggest leak in intelligence history.

On this evidence, the newspaper remains the first draft of history.

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