I, Issue 1
November 13, 2002
What if an Authentic Editor
Had Worked for CJR?
Columbia Journalism Review's
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:
his politics on his sleeve - that's what he means by 'authentic
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
with I.F. Stone
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
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
Ready, kid? Here goes...
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 - narconews.com
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
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
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?
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
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
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?"
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.
Giordano lives in a quiet place where
in the summer the evening rain clings to the grass.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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?
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).
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
Now, here's another of
your most ridiculous and unsourced phrases. You wrote:
Most of Giordano's output makes mainstream
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
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.
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.
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
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.
"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."
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?
Yet some pieces on his site, though long-winded
and larded with rhetoric, contain solid and incisive reporting.
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
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.
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.
right. Blame it on Romenesko! He's more relevant than our rag,
too! These Internet journos have pulled the rug out from under
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!
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
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
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.'"
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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."
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,
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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"
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?
the Related Web Page:
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
the truth, to defend the weak
against the strong,
to fight for justice."
- Isador Feinstein