Authentic Journalism Review

Volume I, Issue 1

November 13, 2002

a publication of the...

Banner donated by David VandePanne

What if an Authentic Editor

Had Worked for CJR?

Columbia Journalism Review's shallow and error laden profile on Narco News and its publisher Al Giordano offers an excellent guide for our 350 student applicants to the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, and other journalists, as to how not to write or edit a story.

The print version of the magazine has been circulating for a week or more now, but the article has not yet been published on CJR's website. In the interests of the public's right to know, factual correction, fair use that is not for profit and strictly for educational purposes, and to stop various lies from traveling around the world before the truth can put its pants on, we've decided to publish it here, in full, uncensored, with additional comments and corrections to the text made after each paragraph.

The three-page CJR article, quoting only three sources, was clearly under-reported. It had no new factual information of any significance. The story basically recycled what many serious journalists wrote a year or more ago about Narco News, and added some ad hominem attacks. Ethical standards were breached. A rookie reporter suffered self-administered wounds to his career. A once respected Journalism Review hung itself - and its hidden agendas - out to dry. It will take CJR years, and perhaps some high level staff changes, to dig out of this one.

One of the most absurd statements in this article - repeatedly hostile to the very concept of Authentic Journalism - was: "Giordano wears his politics on his sleeve - that's what he means by 'authentic journalism.'"

The reporter reveals a cognitive dissonance in this statement. In the CJR article, he complains again and again about the length of Narco News stories. Maybe he was too lazy to read them, and resented the fact that to report this story professionally would have required him to do so. Had he done his homework, he would have found an entire textbook worth of material as to what the renaissance of Authentic Journalism "means" and what we mean by it. He would have read Giordano's Opening Remarks as president of a Journalism School, and there, below it, he would have found a literal online textbook - Authentic Journalism 101 - with more than three dozen essays on many aspects of what we mean by Authentic Journalism (most of them links to stories we published over the past three years.)

He would have found a dozen more chapters inside The Medium is the Middleman: For a Revolution Against the Media, on what this renaissance means for print media, for television, for radio, for Internet, for editors, for writers, for media owners, for readers and consumers, for Civil Society and others. Obviously, he either didn't read it, or he didn't understand it. To have dismissed the term Authentic Journalism as "wearing politics on one's sleeve" is not merely over-simplistic, but simply incorrect based on the materials made freely available to him.

An authentic editor would have helped this kid, and saved him from damaging his career. It's really sad what CJR did to this rookie by not asking him the right questions to help him write his story. That got us thinking, what if a real Authentic Journalist had edited this CJR story? What if I.F. Stone (1907 - 1989), or Andrew Kopkind (1935-1994), or, for that matter, Mario Menéndez, or our own publisher, had worked with freelancer Jay Cheshes before he embarrassed himself in print?

Students and faculty of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism, let's go through this CJR story, paragraph by paragraph, in some cases line by line, and role-play what an Authentic Editor would have asked the rookie reporter to help him to write a better story.

- the team at Salón Chingón

An Imaginary Editing

Session with I.F. Stone

By Al Giordano

College President

Izzy: Okay, kid, I've got your draft here. You don't mind if I call you, kid, do you? It's just that, in terms of deadline experience, you are quite wet behind the ears, especially in terms of hard news reporting, and this is a news story you've been assigned to write.

This is how we do things here at Izzy Stone's magazine: You can write what you want, but I'm going to ask you to put your opinions - as opposed to sourced factual information - into the first person. Don't hide behind the third person: that's cowardice. If you have a strong opinion, use the "I" word and be prepared to defend it as your opinion.

I'm also going to ask you to go back and do more research, interview more people, collect more facts. There are some serious gaps in your draft.

Let's go through each paragraph. I have some questions about the material. We took a big chance sending you to Latin America, especially since you don't speak Spanish.

If we publish this thing as you've written it, you and the magazine will both be legitimately criticized.

Ready, kid? Here goes...

You wrote:

Five Years ago, Al Giordano, a former protégé of Abbie Hoffman and a political reporter for The Boston Phoenix, disappeared into Latin America on a one-way ticket. He resurfaced months later with a dispatch in the Phoenix from "somewhere in the mountains of southeast Mexico," a phrase that echoes the signoff of the Zapatista rebel leader, Subcomandante Marcos, and he's been in Latin America ever since. He keeps his exact location secret, but his location on the World Wide Web - is not. From there he trumpets a strange mix of news and opinion, rant and fact, about the worlds of drugs, drug policy, and drug enforcement.

Izzy: This paragraph tells me nothing new about Giordano or Narco News. It uses the same stock information that so many other profiles on him had a year and more ago, when we at CJR missed the story. Since we're playing "catch up" with this piece, the last thing we need you to do is repeat the same information endlessly repeated elsewhere. That just reminds people that we missed the story in the first place!

Also, why do you say "strange" in referring to his "mix of news and opinion, rant and fact"? Your last story for CJR - the only other one you've penned here - also began with the word "strange." What is that about? Is the word "strange" a key to some kind of formula for writing mind-candy for glossy magazines? Do you make every subject you touch seem "strange" to make your piece seem more "interesting"?

Kid, some subjects are interesting on their own merits. They don't need your overused adjective to make them such.

Don't most publications have "a mix of news and opinion, of rant and fact?" We do rants in every issue of CJR. They're called "Darts & Laurels" and "Opener." And the way you've used the word "fact," you make it seem like there is something other than facts, as if there is something false. Is there anything in Narco News that's not based on facts? No? See, you're bollixing up the text in the first 'graph! Go back and write an original lead, please.

Now, moving on, you wrote:

Giordano, who's always been an activist first and a journalist second

Izzy: Whoa, kid! Is that a fact? An "activist first"? Does Giordano belong to organizations? No? Does he attend meetings of activist groups and participate in any way other than a reporter or invited panelist? No? Does he go on protest marches? What? He attends them as a reporter covering the story? Well, then, what are you really trying to say with this "activist" canard?

Kid: "Activists" belong to organizations, they participate in meetings, they march with placards. It doesn't sound like he's an activist. Not that there's anything wrong with being an activist, but you gotta get your facts right, kid. In any case, if you still want to say that, you need to state a basis for the word. You haven't done that.

What? He was an activist in the past? How long ago? Prior to 1989? Thirteen years ago? What's he been doing since? Full time journalism? Did he work for the Boston Phoenix all those years? No? Your piece implies that he's only written for the Phoenix and The Nation. What more do you know about him? He also worked as a staff reporter for the Advocate newspapers covering cops, courts and politics? Why don't you ask him about his salad days in Springfield?

Why don't you ask him about the corrupt District Attorney he took down with his journalism? Why don't you ask him about the Sheriff - his former landlord at the County Jail - that he took down with his journalism? Why don't you ask him about that DEA agent busted with two suitcases full of cocaine in 1989 that he did that series on? Why don't you call his former editor at the Advocate?

There's an interesting story from the early 1990s, that he mentioned to you, but you weren't interested, were you? When he was at the Advocate, he walked into a criminal courtroom one morning and filed a motion to liberate some sealed documents. The prosecutor opposed him. The defense attorney opposed him. The judge looked down, said, "You're not a lawyer, what's your standing?" But he walked out of that courtroom with the documents, having won on the rule of law. You dismissed all of that, had no interest in it. Why not? You could have called up the former prosecutor, now he's Judge Judd Carhart, and the defense lawyer, Oliver Mitchell, now corporate counsel to Ford Motor Co., and gotten one hell of a vignette for your profile. Why didn't you?

Why don't you call some journalists who were around back then in Western Massachusetts, watched him develop as a journalist, and find out what Giordano did when he was your age, at the point that you are in your career. For heaven's sake, kid, you might actually learn something from it that will be useful to you!

What are you really trying to say here? That Giordano's not a real journalist? That won't wash: there's a long record that suggests he most certainly is one. I must ask you, because you will be asked: What qualifies you to suggest that Giordano isn't a real journo?

What other publications has Giordano written for? What? The Washington Post? Really! American Journalism Review? Oh, back when it was Washington Journalism Review? Ah, yes, I remember that piece, the cover story! It was in the January 1990 issue of WJR by Giordano, "The War on Drugs: Who Drafted the Press?" I hear Abe Rosenthal was really upset about that. Giordano gave old Abe a black eye for asking Michael Isikoff if he smoked pot. He called it Chemical McCarthyism. I know something about the dynamics of McCarthyism, but I digress... Ah, those were the days for Journalism Review mags… But even today, you're not going to get the cover of CJR with the thin gruel you've offered here.

Wasn't the editor of that WJR cover story Bill Monroe? Now, THERE was a real journalism review editor! Giordano had only a year in the business, and Monroe, an old school master, got a great piece out of him, so solid that he changed plans and gave Giordano the cover. Did you ask Giordano about working with Monroe? Why not? Go back and ask him. Look, kid, you haven't met one twentieth of the deadlines Giordano has met in this business of journalism. I think you will harm yourself, and our magazine, if you try to suggest he is less than a journalist. In any case, you can say it, but you've got to use the "I" word. You've got to put yourself on the line, and not hide cowardly behind the Third Person. You can say, "I think Giordano is more activist than journalist," and then explain why. What? You don't want to do that? Why not? Ah, yes, because you're afraid you'll be criticized. Well, you know what? You will. Because it's an absurd statement, coming from a rookie like you.

Anyway, let's keep going. You wrote down my questions, right? In your draft, you wrote:

he'd been arrested twenty-seven times by the time he was thirty - says he had intended to abandon journalism and enlist with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. But the rebels, he says, insisted that it was with pen and paper that he could best serve their struggle. "I'd go in and talk to the Zapatistas, and I'd say I'm not a journalist, I don't want to be a journalist, I don't like journalists," he says.

Izzy: Now, that's potentially interesting: a journalist who doesn't like journalists. Why not? Did you ask him why? Look, kid, you've got to ask the smart questions. You took six hours of tape with Giordano and you let him run the interview? We're a Journalism Review mag. If there's a journalist who doesn't like journalists, you've got to ask him why. The public doesn't like journalists either. Maybe he has some answers for our credibility problem with the masses. Go back and ask him!

Continuing on, you wrote:

"And they'd say, 'Yes you are, you are a journalist. Journalism is what you should do."

So Giordano began writing again, mostly about the intersection of drugs and political corruption, and for the last few years has been stirring up trouble from his new home. He agreed to lead me there recently, but only after I consented to keep its location secret. The secrecy is crucial, he says, because he has taken issue with some powerful and violent people in Latin America. Traffickers, he contends, are the least of his worries. "I've gotten threatening messages from Colombian paramilitaries," he says. "I m not a paranoid person, but why take a chance?"

Izzy: C'mon! The guy was sued by narco-bankers and he kicked their asses in Court. Where's that in the lead paragraph? Of course he'd be crazy send out his address! Jeez, I hope you're not trading that info with Embassy contacts! Then the blood would be on your hands, and on our magazine's too.

You wrote:

Giordano lives in a quiet place where in the summer the evening rain clings to the grass.

Izzy: What does that statement say? "The evening rain clings to the grass," is that supposed to be an attempt at literature? Is there evening rain that doesn't cling to the flora? What makes this evening rain so distinct? And what does that have to do with the story anyway? What? You think you're Hemingway? Oh, please, kid. Your prose is rote. I mean, what about the people where he lives? You can't interview blades of grass, but you can and should interview people!

Is there a market in his town? Did he take you to the market? Yes? He did? Do the people there know him? Do they say hi to him and chat with him in the market? What? They do? He speaks fluent Spanish, right? Wow, you're missing some good potential literary material here, a lot more useful than "rain clinging to the grass." Did you interview a single person in his town? No? Why not? Is he popular in his town? What do his neighbors say? Oh, I forgot, you don't speak Spanish. But you could have hired a translator. Or found some neighbor who spoke a little English. Did you get the sense that his neighbors know what he does? That they've protected him on occasion? God, what a great story THAT would have been!

Anyway, you wrote:

His spartan home is wired to the world through a phone line, an Internet connection, and a satellite dish that beams in music videos, sitcoms, and Larry King Live. When he's not traveling, he spends most of his time parked in front of a laptop computer chain-smoking filterless cigarettes while answering e-mail, translating articles from the Spanish-language press, or composing endless diatribes denouncing what he considers the moral bankruptcy of the American drug war.

Izzy: Is that all he does? Sit and smoke in front of a computer? What about that guitar that Rolling Stone mentioned, the one that he jokes that the narco-banker sued him for? Does he play well? Does he sing? What does he sing? Does he write songs? What? One of his friends told you he's a popular club performer, and that's how they met? Did you ask her what he sings? Does he sing in Spanish or English? Heh. No wonder he doesn't like journalists. What musician does? Did you talk to his old friend Pete Seeger, or any of his rock and roll pals? You make him seem so one-dimensional here. I hear he's a chess player, too. Is he any good? Hasn't he also read at the St. Mark's Poetry Project? The guy obviously has a life outside of journalism. Maybe you don't, I don't know. But he clearly does! I can't believe you missed that! You say you stayed at his house when you weren't at that expensive hotel, right? He was nice to you, wasn't he? He gave you the benefit of the doubt? He answered every question of yours openly and honestly? You were the first reporter he let into the famous Narco Newsroom to do a story? But you came back with nothing! Kid, you gotta learn to ask better questions.

You wrote:

Occasionally, Giordano files reports for the Phoenix or The Nation, but most of his writing is confined to the pages of the Web site he launched in the spring of 2000 after leaving Chiapas. He publishes a new "issue" of The Narco News Bulletin every few weeks, updating the site whenever something worth posting (or linking to) crosses his path. Issue #23, up in early fall, includes stories celebrating protests in Mexico that brought a new airport project to its knees, linking the Bush administration to Colombia s paramilitaries, and attacking the work of the New York Times South America correspondent Juan Forero, who is described on the site as a U.S. Embassy "Muppet."

Izzy: Oh, my. That's pretty harsh, Juan Forero is a "Muppet"? Why? Or why not? You can't publish a statement like that, from Giordano or anybody else, without explaining why Forero is or isn't a "Muppet." That's even unfair to Forero! Narco News always explains the facts behind its harsh characterizations. You make it seem like there's no basis to it.

What is that based on? Oh, I see… Giordano caught him not disclosing that he was letting US Embassy officials in Colombia monitor his interviews with mercenary contract pilots in the war there? And Forero didn't disclose that to the readers? How come he's still working at the Times? Oh, he's also a Muppet because he reported that Venezuela's president had "resigned" when in fact he'd been kidnapped at gunpoint? And Forero didn't source it? Sheesh, that's also interesting.

You've got to tell the reader if there is a basis or not. Sounds like there is. This is a problem of yours as a writer: You put these outrageous statements out there and don't explain where they come from, what is their basis? Giordano may be crazy, but he states his basis for every statement like that. You don't. This is why you're still a bottom-feeder and Giordano is, well... the subject of a three-page profile in Columbia Journalism Review.

I've talked to people he's interviewed. Giordano asks questions, a lot of questions. He tells the source what he thinks, too, and that gets more info out of the source in response. Your way of doing it is to turn on the tape recorder and be a passive little wallflower. Giordano, as an interviewer (did you ask him about his oft-stated admiration for Oriana Fallaci? Do you even know who Oriana Fallaci is? How she changed the art of the interview?), he provokes his sources to say all kinds of things they've never said to anyone!

But all you got out of Giordano was his stock speech. You let him control the interview. It's a good thing, kid, that you don't cover politics: those consultants would march all over you! Giordano was a consultant once, too, wasn't he? Didn't he work for John Kerry? For Boston's mayor? You say "activist," but he sounds more like a communications expert. Didn't he produce special effects with director Douglas Trumbull? As a political reporter in Boston, he parried with Carville, Matalin, Rosenblith, Rasky, Marsh, Jesser, Stone, Marttila, Kiley, Payne, Swope, Goldman, Whouley, Kaufman, Berman, Bell, Black... that town is a beehive for national political consultants! These are the people who are going to be running the 2004 presidential campaigns! And they all know his work intimately! Did you interview any of them? Hey, you got fired from Boston magazine, according to Brian McGrory. Don't you have any sources up there in Beantown that you could interview about the "wide swath" that the Boston Globe says Giordano cut through that town? Why didn't you interview them?

Did you interview his former bosses at the Phoenix? Former bosses are really good sources! There might be bad blood in some of those places: Imagine if we interviewed your former bosses about you! The Phoenix publisher, Mindich? The editor, Kadzis? Giordano's direct superiors, Kennedy and Garboden? What about his former co-worker Tim Sandler, now at Dateline NBC? No? Why not?

Kid, you only have three sources quoted in this story: Giordano, Sam Dillon and Ann Cooper. What? You're lazy? If you want to report news, kid, you gotta talk to everybody, to all sides. It doesn't matter how few words you have for the story! You have to develop a comprehensive understanding of every story before reporting it. We're giving you three pages, too! This is gonna be a major audition for you, your hour to make it or break it. If the story appears like this, you'll end up regretting it, and so will we. Get back out there and do some more reporting.

You wrote:

Giordano is a staunch proponent of drug legalization and receives much of his operating capital from like-minded supporters, including John Gilmore, a California civil libertarian software entrepreneur and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who has paid most of his bills since June 2001. Recently, Giordano got an influx of cash when the Tides Foundation approved a $30,000 grant to Narco News. He's earmarked some of that money for scholarships that in February will bring in six "beginning" journalists from both the U.S. and Latin America for a ten-day seminar in southern Mexico, enrolled in what Giordano calls his "school of authentic journalism."

Izzy: Only six students? Oof, you're missing a big story there, too. Did you talk to his faculty members? They're saying there may be more than a dozen students, maybe as many as two dozen. I hear he might be giving out free laptops to some of his students! You just read his press releases and snoozed through the job. You're not going to get ahead in this business that way, kid. You gotta dig!

Now, this next statement by you is simply not credible. You wrote:

Giordano wears his politics on his sleeve - that's what he means by "authentic journalism."

Izzy: Is that all that he means by Authentic Journalism? Why do you need to put it in quotation marks, anyway? Choking on the words? Giordano always capitalizes it. If you put it in quotations, you have to capitalize the words, kid. If you don't capitalize it, then don't put quotation marks around it. Didn't they teach you this in journalism classes? Did you ask him? What? He wrote a long manifesto about the roots of it called The Medium is the Middleman? It was all online before your deadline? Did he spend 21 pages saying just that Authentic Journalism is wearing politics on one's sleeve? What? There are chapters there on TV, on radio, on print media, on cyberspace… there's a whole chapter about editors? Don't you think our readers - the editors who subscribe to the Journalism Review mags - would be interested in a journalist who writes an entire chapter about the editing process? What did he say? How do you miss this stuff? We spent real money to fly you off to Latin America, put you up in a fancy hotel, and this is all you come back with?

You wrote:

He's a rabble-rouser, printing letters and articles from activists and crackpots, along with unedited communiqués from the Zapatistas and the FARC, the left-wing Colombian rebels whose violence has cost them support even among the Latin American left (he claims FARC once promised him safe passage through their territory).

Izzy: Crackpots? For example, who? And what makes them crackpots? That's an insulting word. This is another example of how you don't back up your claims with facts. Do you mean the former White House drug office press secretary who writes letters to Narco News? Do you mean all those health professionals and university professors who wrote letters responding to the Ambassador's speech against drug legalization? Are they crackpots? Doesn't he also publish works by establishment types? Doesn't he, really, publish everyone? Didn't he publish a thirty-page letter to the editor from a Colombian company the DEA accused of narco-trafficking? Aren't some of the crackpots writing against what Giordano writes? Does Giordano publish letters by people who disagree with him? If they're the crackpots, explain why. What makes a letter writer a crackpot?

Are there newspapers that don't print letters by crackpots? I thought we all did that! That's what letters pages are for! To give everyone a voice! If his letters page is different from others, show the reader why.

Now, here's another of your most ridiculous and unsourced phrases. You wrote:

Most of Giordano's output makes mainstream reporters cringe.

Izzy: You haven't mentioned a single "mainstream reporter" here - except for Sam Dillon, who obviously speaks from sour grapes over what he thinks Giordano did to him - to back up that claim. All I've seen from mainstream reporters is strong praise for Narco News. Didn't you see his Media Critics page? There are lots of them. None of those people "cringed." They praised his work! And who are you to speak for mainstream reporters? You've never been one yourself!

And look at how you go overboard here. You wrote:

His contributors include many of the sweethearts of what might he called the "conspiracy theory" milieu, including the former High Times editor-in-chief Peter Gorman and Catherine Austin Fitts, a former HUD official from the first Bush administration, who has become an outspoken critic of the drug war and a popular speaker on college campuses.

Izzy: Catherine Austin Fitts? Wasn't she managing director of Dillon Read, that huge financial giant? Wasn't she an assistant U.S. cabinet secretary? I mean, Fitts has gravitas. Kid, you gotta learn about gravitas. What did Fitts and Gorman write? You tag them with a McCarthyist "conspiracy theory" brush but you don't say why. You throw these inflammatory words out there, but you don't back them up. Have you ever thought that maybe you're in the wrong profession?

We just got a letter to the editor in here from Fitts about your article. I wonder if the powers that be here at CJR will have the intellectual honesty to publish it in full. She points out three easily identifiable factual errors in your piece: a date you botched, a name you got wrong, the fact that she's only spoken on one college campus in recent years... Now do you see what I mean by gravitas: she got you, kid, and us too... Oh, I see she CCed it to some bigfeet media critics, too! Your article is becoming a disaster for our magazine. Oh, my, this is not good. I have a bad feeling that her letter was only the first shoe to drop on our heads!

Did you talk to Fitts to confirm your inventions of fact? Did you try? She says you didn't. Why not? Did you talk to Gorman? Yes? But you didn't interview him about Narco News or your characterizations of him? He's gotten some major scoops out of the Amazon for 18 years! He was breaking news before you ever got laid, kid! Have you ever gotten a single hard news scoop, by the way? So what did you talk to Gorman about? What? You wanted to line him up for a profile on him in some Outward Bound type magazine? But you didn't get quotes for this story? You're a fool. You think he's gonna help you with your camping magazine story now, after you took that cheap shot at him?

Now, look hard at this statement, kid, and tell me what your problem is. You wrote:

And his appearance - ratty clothes and crooked teeth - only adds to his renegade image.

Izzy: Crooked teeth? Did you ask him about that? No? Why hasn't he fixed them with all that money you claim he's making? Is it because his project and his students are more important to him than his vanity? Did you do an Internet search? Okay, let's do one… Maybe he's talked about it before… Bingo! He does talk about his teeth. Here's a 1995 story he wrote for the Phoenix He's at rocker Patti Smith's house for Thanksgiving meal - oh, this is good stuff - and notes that she told him "Don't ever fix your teeth." How do you miss this stuff? It's right here, on the Internet! Don't tell the readers, show them! And it says here not that his teeth are crooked, but that they are chipped. How did he chip them? How old was he at the time? What happened? Is it that he couldn't afford to fix them? That he doesn't want to? How did you miss the obvious metaphor about how he's got a bite to match his bark? Careful, kid, he's gonna take bite out of you if you publish this superficial crap without backing it up. I mean, he can still fix his teeth, but you can't fix your dimwitted brain so easily. There are some things money can't fix.

You wrote:

"Narco News skews young. That's my intent," Giordano told me as he clicked through the site, which at the time featured a massive essay crowning the rapper Eminem "journalist of the year." "The very things people think alienate me from certain important audiences are the same things that connect me with the youth. My articles don't speak to the decision-makers, they speak to the people the decision-makers are afraid of."

Izzy: Now, that's the first decent paragraph of your piece, the first and only time you got something new out of Giordano. And from the Journalism Review perspective, it's really interesting. There's this whole polemic on Romenesko's Media News about Chicago dailies starting newspapers for the young readers, and basically making asses of themselves trying to sound hip. The newspaper industry is dying because it's irrelevant to the youth. Think about that...

And here comes Narco News and it's got youngsters excited about journalism! Maybe that's why he started a J-School! Maybe he's meeting a demand that we've all missed! Maybe Narco News is the future and Columbia Journalism Review is the past. Ever think of that, kid? I mean, I call you kid, but you're, what, 30? 32? You're already over the hill. Meanwhile, Giordano is talking to an army of kids half your age that will be gunning for your freelance gigs soon! Ha! So what will your new profession be when they arrive to take your place?

You wrote:

Yet some pieces on his site, though long-winded and larded with rhetoric, contain solid and incisive reporting.

Izzy: What's with your long-winded obsession? You upset that we cut your word count for this piece? Jealous? Giordano is in journalist heaven! He writes what he wants, as long as he wants, and the people read it! Many people study it! There are graduate theses being done on his work! He's paid his dues in this industry, so he no longer has middlemen to come between him and his readers. We've got a long piece in this issue of CJR, praising long-form journalism. If you're going to attack it, explain why. And you've buried the lead: "solid and incisive reporting" on the Internet! If people are reading it, what's the problem with a long news story? He certainly does the reporting work to justify them. If you'd done more reporting, I might have given you more space!

I thought everyone was lamenting the end of long-form journalism, and here comes Narco News to prove them wrong. I mean, are you still reading my long-winded remarks here? Doesn't that disprove your apparent adherence to the dominant theory that everything has to be dumbed-down and cut into bite-sized pieces? My, you are a dense one, kid.

You wrote:

In the first issue, packed mostly with translated articles and accompanying commentary, Giordano posted a story reporting that a Mexican radio journalist gunned down in the border town of Juarez had in fact been on the police payroll. The piece put him on the radar in the U.S. when Jim Romenesko posted a link to it on his MediaNews site, and other mainstream media folks have begun paying attention to Giordano's work.

Izzy: Oh, right. Blame it on Romenesko! He's more relevant than our rag, too! These Internet journos have pulled the rug out from under us.

Did you try to interview Romenesko or other Internet journos about Giordano's work? Did you interview Ken Layne, the king of bloggers? Danny Schechter? What? Giordano gave you a list of 20 major journos familiar with his work, including a New York Times reporter, and you didn't call them? Who DID you interview other than the disgraced Sam Dillon and Ann Cooper? Why didn't you quote anyone else? How many people did you interview? What about Howard Kurtz or Mark Jurkowitz, giants of media criticism, who've said interesting things about Giordano's work? What did Cotts say? Did you interview any Latin American journalists at all? Why not? A lot of them speak English, you know. Kid, when you report a story, you have to beat the bushes! You have to look under rocks, get into the insides of things, solve puzzles... Maybe at Mike Hoyt's Columbia Journalism Review they preferred hack writers and ham-and-eggers, but not at Izzy Stone's!

You wrote:

The publicity he's churned up by assuming a watchdog role among journalists in Latin America and his recent involvement in a landmark libel case have further raised his profile.

Last summer, after traveling to Venezuela following that country s failed coup, he took on the Committee to Protect Journalists, blasting the organization for what he characterized as its failure to stand up for embattled community journalists who'd defended president Hugo Chavez and been violently attacked for it. "Do you represent journalists? Or, the media industry?" he wrote in an open letter to CPJ sent in late July, an endless document that accuses the group of defending only mainstream reporters - in particular those who'd lined up against Chavez.

CPJ's Ann Cooper says she found his letter to be less about opening a dialogue and more about "Al Giordano and his policy statements," adding, "A lot of the questions he asked reminded me of the 'when did you stop beating your wife kinds of questions.'"

Izzy: Wait: Doesn't Ann Cooper and her committee claim to protect journalists in other countries? Journalists like Giordano? Why is her nose so bent out of joint? She try to turn it up too high? Why does she feel threatened by questions, even loaded questions? Doesn't she know that when something is titled as an "Open Letter" that it's written for the readers, too? Does Ann Cooper have a wife to beat? Her reasoning is incoherent, isn't it. She's clearly upset. Why is she upset? Did you read that letter? Did you think it didn't have legitimate questions? Shouldn't CPJ answer those questions? Get to the root of it, kid! That's your job.

And kid, let me give you a clue: This polemic over "who is a journalist" and "who is not a journalist" has consequences of life and death for independent journos abroad. That's why Giordano hit CPJ so hard on the Venezuela thing: The Committee to Protect Journalists had placed journalists' lives in danger in Venezuela through its "selective enforcement." And some say that irony is dead? When you suggest that a journalist in Latin America is not a journalist, you are putting his and her life in jeopardy. For example, the Medellin Cartel stopped going after journalists in 1993, but still assassinated others. Likewise, when you suggest that a journalist in the United States is not a journalist unless he and she works for a major commercial media outlet, you show your ignorance of, and your contempt for, the First Amendment protections that Narco News won for us all.

If you read Giordano's "endless" work on the subject, a theme emerges: Commercial journalists who try to suggest that non-mercenary journalists are not journalists are, in Giordano's view, traitors to journalism itself. You just positioned yourself in that line-up. Giordano is fomenting a class solidarity among working journalists. Why didn't you write about that? You can certainly see how, in your ineptitude, you're playing with life and death, can't you? You're toying with realities that are way over your head, kid.

Continuing with this CPJ thing, you wrote:

Ten days after he posted his letter, CPJ released its report, which Cooper says had been assigned back in May, with a small section on the plight of the pro-Chavez community journalists. Giordano lauded the organization for its good work and then took credit for inspiring it.

Izzy: Did Giordano present you with any evidence that CPJ's subsequent report was a response to his work? Really, he did? What was it? He showed you an email written by a CPJ staffer to a source? What did it say? It said CPJ was working on its "response" to Giordano's letter? And the response came out days later? That sounds like a smoking gun to me! Why, knowing that, did you let Cooper deny that Narco News influenced CPJ? You had evidence that she was lying and you just printed the lie! Why did you even leave it an open question? It sounds to me like you're auditioning for a job with one of the media outlets Giordano has pissed off. You're taking cheap shots right and left, but worse, you're not documenting them. And your failure to report exculpatory material is what the courts have called "reckless disregard for the truth." That puts our magazine in jeopardy, too, kid!

You wrote:

His October 2000 conflict-of-interest story on the lobbying work of AP's correspondent in Bolivia led to that reporter's resignation. And he's devoted thousands of words to lambasting American reporters, in particular those of The New York Times.

Izzy: Is Narco News really so unfair to the New York Times? Or is it that the Times' Latin American reporters - in particular, Forero and Rohter, and Dillon and Preston and Kraus before them - are worse than others? You asked him about Dillon and Preston's replacements - Ginger Thompson and Tim Weiner - and he said they were "okay," didn't he? Hasn't he praised Timesman Christopher Marquis' LatAm work on occasion? You make it sound like he's indiscriminate. The record shows that he's not.

Does Giordano have any particular axe to grind with that newspaper, other than his being a native New Yorker? Have they written anything negative on him? No? What? They published not one, but two puff pieces praising him, one in 1980 and another in 1998? Where's the motive, then, for what you're implying? Did Giordano ever apply for a job there? No? Did he ever submit a freelance query or article there? No? Maybe he's not out to get them. Maybe it's that their Latin American reporting really is that bad. Ever think of that, kid? Are you even capable of thinking of that, kid? Or is your ambition to work for that newspaper? Is this article of yours really an audition to suck up to 43rd street and get a job there by trying to take Giordano out of the game? Well, you didn't, not with this piece, not even close. But if your byline suddenly shows up in the City Section or the Times magazine, many reasonable people will think there was a quid pro quo. It certainly wouldn't be based on your merits as a writer. Wake up, kid.

You wrote:

In the first postings on Narco News, Giordano fired the opening salvos in what would become a protracted and often bitter war with Sam Dillon, the Pulitzer Prize winner who until two years ago was the Times bureau chief in Mexico City. Giordano challenged the merits of his Pulitzer work

Izzy: So what is this "protracted and often bitter war" based on? Isn't there a sworn affidavit on file in the New York Supreme Court that says Dillon called Giordano and threatened him not to do "the Banamex story"? Why didn't you mention that? Reporters threatening other reporters not to report? That sounds like a very interesting theme for a Journalism Review magazine! Why didn't you touch it? You afraid, kid? There's a Court document that says it! It's our duty to publish these kinds of things!

And wasn't it Carlos Ramírez of the Mexican press, not Giordano, who first published the facts that demonstrated that Dillon and the Times had been dishonest with the Pulitzer committee? That they withheld exculpatory information of the kind you've withheld here? Did you mention that part of the problem is that the Pulitzer has no post-award review process for cases like this one? In any case, that report didn't come from Giordano. That came from one of Mexico's giants of journalism! Did you interview Ramírez? Why not?

And you wrote:

and, when the paper announced Dillon's imminent departure from the capital, led with a piece titled TIMES DUMPS DILLON that was picked tip by several Mexican outlets. "The guy became like a stalker," Dillon told me over the phone from Mexico City, where he was putting the finishing touches on a book he's been writing about Mexican democracy.

Izzy: Okay, this is a charge of criminal behavior, "stalking." Did you do any investigation before repeating that per se libelous charge? No? You didn't? Did Giordano physically follow Dillon? No? Did he harass him with phone calls? No? Did he run around posting Dillon's home address on lampposts? No? What, then, did Giordano do that was like the crime of stalking? Nothing? Why didn't you print the other side of the story? What? You didn't ask him? What? He asked for a chance to respond to Dillon and you told him - in writing? - that Dillon didn't say anything new worth responding too? And then you put this "stalking" accusation out there?

Are you simply gambling that Giordano is so ethical that he wouldn't sue anyone for libel, even if he was libeled? Bad gamble, kid. Our publisher is a billionaire. Giordano's lawyers are velociraptors. And Giordano hasn't done so bad in Court himself, pro se (that means "representing himself," kid).

Look at what that trio did to Citigroup-Banamex! Our publisher, Columbia University, has a massive endowment, billions of dollars! Imagine: Giordano could end up owning the University, the J-School, the Pulitzers, and Columbia Journalism Review! Don't you think he'd like that? Then he'd have 200 freshman journalism students every year instead of six or 12 or 24? And he would make someone like Izzy Stone editor of this rag! Well... that would save our magazine, anyway.

Your - and our - only saving grace, legally, kid, is that the way your article discredits you and us, Giordano probably won't suffer any damage to his rep. But if, by chance, he does, oof!, we might be calling him "dean" soon!

Okay, you continue quoting the disgraced Sam Dillon here:

"Every chance he got he'd write something nasty about me. He said I'd been fired. He just made it up. The guy's a worm, he has absolutely no credibility."

Izzy: A worm? What does that mean? Elaborate, kid, elaborate: that's what journalism is about. A worm in the sense of an ecologist creature that picks the bones of the cadavers of inauthentic journalists that he runs down like road-kill on the information highway? A worm like a Klez-worm, a computer virus, already in our systems and under our skins? You missed some damn good metaphors there: a worm, maybe, in the sense that he's made fertile soil out of Sam Dillon's journalistic lapses? And, soon, out of yours? A worm in that you took the bait, and you're on the hook now, thrashing on the other end of the fishing line? Again, you can use a word like "worm" but you gotta explain what it means.

And, kid, if you're going to repeat accusations that a journalist "makes things up," you had better be prepared to back it up with examples. Catherine Austin Fitts' letter to us proves that you made up the cannard about her being on the campus lecture circuit. That's what I mean by a good example! True or false: The New York Times did remove Sam Dillon from the Mexico City bureau? It happens to be true. Does Dillon deny that? Of course not! What did Giordano "make up"? Nothing! Don't you think, in retrospect, that in your zeal to whack your subject that you overplayed your hand, and recklessly so? In any case, a real journalist would have looked to the accused for a response.

You wrote:

The feud began in January 1999 - more than a year before the birth of Narco News - when both Dillon and Giordano traveled to the Yucatán, near Cancun, where president Bill Clinton and President Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico had convened for a drug summit.

Izzy: Uh, kid? Do some basic research: the Clinton-Zedillo "anti-drug" summit at the narco-banker's Yucatán hacienda - four hours from Cancún - was not held in January 1999. It was held February 14 and 15 of that year, as is documented all over Narco News, the Boston Phoenix - even the NY Times got the date right! Well, as I always liked to say, "The great thing about The New York Times and The Washington Post is that you never know where you'll find a front page story." Don't you check your facts? How can you get something so basic as the date of a major presidential summit wrong?

You wrote:

Both reporters noticed an incendiary story on the front page of ¡Por Esto!, the upstart local daily, which alleged that the summit's host, the billionaire banker Roberto Hernandez - head of Banamex, the country's largest bank was also a drug trafficker. Giordano, who took the piece seriously, was disturbed to discover that none of its allegations made their way into Dillon's story.

Izzy: You've gotten various dates all wrong, kid. Dillon claims he'd already investigated the story in 1998, months before the Clinton-Zedillo summit. He talked to Renán Castro, one of Por Esto!'s journalists in Cancún who broke the story. Castro is one of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism faculty members, and he´s the dominant newspaper editor in the state of Quintana Roo. He turned down a bribe offer of $300,000 US dollars to renounce his own story, telling the messenger, "I don't take money from narcos." Did you interview Renán Castro? You didn't? Why not?

The strange thing is, kid, (I know how you like that word, "strange"), that the Narco News stories documenting this episode with Dillon were precisely the ones vindicated by the New York Supreme Court decision! Didn't you read the information freely available to you? And if not, why not?

Then Dillon went to Mérida - all of this is reported on Narco News! Didn't you even read the publication you're reporting on? - where he met with narco-banker Roberto Hernández's sister, and refused to meet with Mario Menéndez. Is that what Dillon calls investigating a story? Dillon had unreported meetings - that's what he told Giordano - with a billionaire's sister, but not with the man who was front and center to the story? What's that about?

And what about the threat that the court affidavit says Dillon made against Giordano? Do you think, possibly, that being threatened "disturbed" Giordano more than whatever Dillon wrote or didn't write in the Times? Did Giordano tell you about the threat? Yes? He did? Why do you withhold that information from our readers? It's too explosive? Hey, it's in a Court document, a sworn affidavit, under the penalties and pains of perjury. You can report that. Kid, you let the big fish get away! Why? Do you think it's ethical to withhold facts of a story at a magazine to try to get a job at a newspaper? Is that what you did? Do you think you would ever be able to withstand any scrutiny in this profession ever again, kid, after committing that ethical lapse?

You go on and on about Dillon's embittered accusations without giving Giordano or Menendez a chance to respond. That's really unforgivable, kid. Go back and get response? What are you afraid of?

You wrote:

Dillon says the reason is that the story didn't hold up. "As the correspondent for the Times in Mexico, I'd get three or four detailed accusations a week about public officials, faxed or phoned into my office, calling major Mexican figures narcotics traffickers," Dillon says. "I read this story, by a disreputable newspaper, and thought it was all trash. There wasn't a shred of evidence."

Izzy: Kid, you're repeating charges that a newspaper and a journalist are "disreputable" and that its reports are "trash." Have you read the newspaper in question? What's your opinion? Did you call the accused party? Why not? What? Giordano offered, in writing, specifically to set up the interview with Mario Menendez to refute Dillon's charges? Why didn't you do the legwork, kid? How lazy are you? When you repeat the statement "there wasn't a shred of evidence," why don't you then report on the known evidence - 45 photos, extensive journalistic reports, eyewitnesses - that has already been published?

Ay, kid, the evidence is in public documents at the New York Supreme Court! All the Por Esto! reports are translated into English in that file. Did you go there to get the file? No? Why not? That's what a tenant pays rent for on this island: to be close to the Court Clerk's office! It's all on file a short subway ride from you! What? We didn't give you the dollar-and-a-half for a token? Couldn't get a receipt from the Transit Authority and so you blew it off?

That evidence, including those photos, has been reviewed by the New York Supreme Court and came up clean. Not only that, on 17 different occasions, Mexican Courts reviewed it, and ruled against Banamex. A judge concluded that Por Esto!'s reports were "based on the facts." Why did Sam Dillon try to protect a billionaire narco-banker? Why did he threaten Giordano and attempt to intimidate him into backing off the story? Didn't you ask these questions, kid?

On and on with the disgraced Dillon you go... You wrote:

Giordano subsequently flogged the Hernandez story on Narco News, hoping mainstream American outlets might pick it up. In the spring of 2001, they began to take notice; Banamex had filed a libel suit in New York state court the previous summer against Giordano and the man who had run the original stories in Mexico, the newspaper publisher Mario Menéndez.

Giordano, who claims he didn't find out about the lawsuit until many months after it was filed, says the media attention cast a spotlight on the Hernandez stories Banamex had hoped to squash. "I think the fact that they included me in their case," Giordano says, "turned out to be their worst nightmare."

The suit pitted the powerhouse New York firm Aiken Gump Hauer & Feld

Izzy: Ahem, kid! Don't you spell-check names and titles? Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld - that's Akin, not Aiken, and there's a Strauss in there too! - is the tenth largest law firm in the U.S. and the third largest lobbying firm on earth. While it has satellite offices in New York and other cities, its main office is in Washington DC, and its second most important office is in Texas. And how did you miss former Democratic Party National Chairman Robert Strauss' name in the title of the law firm? He was an Ambassador, and you love ambassadors, right? Don't you check these things on the Internet? Giordano even started an "Akin Gump Data Dump Museum" on that firm's dealings, like when a Congressman used the phrase "narco-lobbyists" to discuss the kind of work Akin Gump does. (And he can say that without any worry of lawsuit by Akin Gump, because it's true, it's in the Congressional Record, and based on documented facts.)

So you got the law firm's name wrong, and its location wrong. Boneheaded, kid. You call yourself a journalist? And you think you are qualified to suggest that Giordano is not?

Continuing, you wrote:

against Giordano's mostly volunteer lawyers among them the free speech icon Martin Garbus (who represented Lenny Bruce and Timothy Leary ) and Giordano's longtime lawyer from Massachusetts, Tom Lesser.

Izzy: Kid, did you read any of the court documents, the bare minimum requirement to report this story? Garbus represented Menéndez. Lesser represented Narco News. And Giordano represented himself. And they kicked Akin Gump and Banamex-Citigroup's assets. And, kid, why didn't you mention that, during the lawsuit, Citigroup bought Banamex for $12.5 billion dollars? Or is that something we cut here on the editor's side? Is Citibank or any of its affiliates a contributor to the endowment of our publisher, Columbia University? Check that one out, kid. Might be a story there!

You wrote:

The case drew the attention of several publications, from Rolling Stone to Wired to The Christian Science Monitor, and led to a large increase in traffic to Narco News (Giordano claims more that 18 million hits since Narco News began).

On December 13, 2001, Giordano and Menendez won their case in a landmark decision that extended the press protections laid out in New York Times v. Sullivan to the online media. At the time, The Christian Science Monitor wrote that a win for Banamex would have created an "enormous chill," deterring "journalists from reporting online about important issues in their countries."

Giordano savored the victory for a few sweet moments, and then jumped back into the fray, posting stories attacking the American ambassador to Bolivia, the DEA, and the new president of Colombia.

Izzy: That's how you end your article, kid? That's it? Oy, you botched the last paragraph as badly as you botched the first. The Court decision was on December 5th, 2001. The "new president of Colombia" was elected in April 2002. Kid: did Giordano's "few sweet moments" of savoring his victory last five months? Or did you get your "who, what, when, where, why, and, how" wrong again?

What Giordano was reporting when he won his Court victory was the evidence of the assassination of a labor leader in Bolivia. That's where the CJR staged monkey photo was taken, in the Amazon. He also took photos of the crime scene, interviewed the eyewitnesses - dozens of them - visited victims in the hospital, covered the memorial service, and paid his respects at Casimiro Huanca's grave. Are those the things that a "worm" does? Giordano's scoop - one in a series of regular, reliable and numerous scoops, not "occasional" as our corrupted magazine claims - was later borne out by Embassy internal documents unearthed through the Freedom of Information Act by Authentic Journalist Jeremy Bigwood (another of those damn Authentic Journalism School faculty members that is storming our gates). But Narco News had the story nailed just days after the assassination: Official US-funded complicity in a political assassination.

Kid, I hate to ask, but do you even know what a "scoop" is?

Is that why you say he was "attacking" the Ambassador? Or was he defending the Ambassador's victims? Did you miss that, too, kid? So maybe you're overly-protective of diplomats. What's that about? We'll remember that the next time someone thinks about sending you into a foreign country to report on a story in which US Embassies have a stake. You'll never have any credibility writing about such things ever again.

In any case, kid, if this journalism thing doesn't work out for you any better in the future than it has so far, don't worry. After this fiasco, you can always get a job at... well... ever think of working for Banamex?

Read the Related Web Page:

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Darts & Laurels

Publisher's Postscript, November 27: Columbia Journalism Review finally posted this disaster of an article to its website. Executive Simulator Mike Hoyt was so proud of it, he waited until the day before Thanksgiving to publish it online! Precisely when the fewest people would see it! Way to go, Mike! Sometimes people are transparent even when they try not to be.

For more Narco News, click here

"To write the truth, to defend the weak

against the strong, to fight for justice."

- Isador Feinstein Stone