Wednesday Night #2003 with Lisa Napoli

Written by  //  August 5, 2020  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

We have been anxiously following the devastating news of Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut  Our dear friend and Wednesday Nighter, Joumane Chahine Buchanan has been seriously injured. John is flying to Beirut on Friday.
Political analyst Faysal Itani writes in Lebanon’s Mushroom Cloud of Incompetence
“By all appearances the port disaster did not involve the usual suspects — Hezbollah, Israel, jihadist terrorism or the government of neighboring Syria. The truth seems to be both duller and more disturbing: Decades of rot at every level of Lebanon’s institutions destroyed Beirut’s port, much of the city, and far too many lives. It is precisely the banality behind the explosion that captures the particular punishment and humiliation heaped on Lebanon.”
A Russian ship’s cargo of dangerous ammonium nitrate was stranded in Beirut port for years
(CNN) As Lebanon’s investigation into the devastating blast in Beirut continues, officials have pointed to a possible cause: A massive shipment of agricultural fertilizer that authorities say was stored in the port of Beirut without safety precautions for years — despite warnings by local officials.

We are grateful to Sandy Wolofsky for bringing Lisa Napoli to this Wednesday Night. Lisa, like Sandy, is an alumna of Hampshire College, that small cradle of a remarkable number of talented changemakers, and is the author of the recently published Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN, and the Birth of 24-Hour News. As best we can judge, it is meticulously researched;  it is wonderfully well written and engaging. It certainly kept me Up All Night!

Coincidentally, Reese Schonfeld, CNN’s founding president, died last week.
Schonfeld, a brash newsman from Newark, New Jersey, teamed up with Ted Turner in 1979 to create CNN, which launched on June 1, 1980. “Reese laid the entire foundation for CNN,” said Lisa Napoli, author of a recent book about the network’s founding. “It was Ted’s money but entirely Reese’s vision.”
Napoli …said Schonfeld was “dazzled by news” from a young age, beginning with his first job in the newsreel business.
“Reese dreamt about accelerating the speed with which it travelled,” Napoli said. “He also wanted to bust the entrenched triopoly of the networks, who had a stranglehold on broadcast news.”

I have also immensely enjoyed Lisa’s first book, Radio Shangri-La, in which she describes the impact of media culture on the mysterious Kingdom of Bhutan, where she was invited to help start a radio station at the dawn of democratic rule.

Media
Jonathan Swan’s stunning interview with Trump for Axios has generated huge interest at least among the chattering classes of political junkies. We found it hard to watch in one sitting — just too infuriating —  but the headline of the WaPo’s Greg Sargent piece How to interview a serial liar and narcissist who is unfit to be president says it all. Axios and the opinion pages of the WaPo are not generally frequented by the general public. so we were pleased to see the CNN interview with Jonathan Swan which will appeal to a broader public.

How the Media Could Get the Election Story Wrong reminds us that we may not know the results for days, and maybe weeks. So it’s time to rethink “election night.”
This all presumes that mail-in balloting proceeds smoothly, but we, along with many others, are increasingly concerned that Trump and his henchmen (henchpersons?) are doing everything to interrupt the process, with current focus on disruption of the US postal system. See The vital role of the U.S. Postal Service in American elections. Please note that Trump’s attack on mail-in balloting is a bit confusing: “We all agree that absentee voting is good. Mail-in ballots will lead to the greatest fraud.”

To engender further loss of sleep, read David Frum’s piece Where the System May Break
in which he describes an intense war-game exercise simulating the 2020 election that unmasked some key vulnerabilities. None of the scenarios offered an optimistic solution.

A Newsroom at the Edge of Autocracy
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is arguably the world’s most important newspaper—for what it tells us about media freedoms as China’s power grows. It is also my favorite source for China and much Asia news, however, the Atlantic piece gives one pause. Still, SCMP is far better than any other source; perhaps take with a grain of salt – or add a spice or two.

Pew Research Center: Americans Who Mainly Get Their News on Social Media Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable
Those who rely on social media for news are less likely to get the facts right about the coronavirus and politics and more likely to hear some unproven claims.

In other news …
TikTok has replaced Huawei in the headlines since Trump has given Microsoft a 45-day deadline to finalize an acquisition of TikTok’s U.S. operations from the app’s parent company, ByteDance. Much of the coverage is almost hysterical, but we recommend Jordan Schneider’s piece in Lawfare, The U.S. Is Right to Worry About TikTok.
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas react to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ warning that The world is facing a “generational catastrophe” due to ongoing school closures, and calling the coronavirus pandemic “the largest disruption of education ever.” The implications worldwide of closures are many, but the impact on inequity is drastic – the wealthy have options unavailable to the middle class and poor; they can hire tutors, form small home study groups and fund similar initiatives. Compared to the U.S. where there is no national strategy and individual states have a plethora of approaches, Canada is in good shape; Jeremy is confident that the BC plan is workable and that other provinces will follow suit.
Andrew Caddell‘s weekly column [Link to follow] examines the recent report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction that suggested the hit to Canadian productivity from the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs was $46-billion annually. “A conversation this week on the impact of substance abuse with Dr. Tim Stockwell of the affiliated Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research was a revelation. Dr. Stockwell, who is winding up a 45-year career in the field in Victoria, B.C. this week, had some stark warnings about the impact of substance abuse on our lives.”
C. Uday Bhaskar addresses the question of the South China Sea dilemma: how can the US-led movement persuade China to act fairly?
“Amid anxiety about China’s bullying and US commitment, Asean and Quad nations could issue a joint statement calling out Beijing for its ‘unlawful’ activities and demanding a course correction. How China responds would be instructive.”
David Kilgour writes that Canada’s lost Security Council bid could be a blessing and affords Canada time to focus on pursuing international goals that matter to Canadians and the world. That way, the next time we seek a seat, we can be proud of what we stand for, win or lose.

Developments in the U.S. have almost banished other news from the front pages of North American media
Particularly worrisome is the Trump war on mail-in voting detailed by New York’s Matt Steib in Trump Says He Has the ‘Right’ to Block Expansion of Mail-in Voting.

Canadians’ preoccupation with the WE/Trudeau/Morneau story is fading away, after a flurry of interest when Trudeau, Bill Morneau and Katie Telford, failed to distinguish themselves in their appearance before House of Commons Finance Committee. Not surprisingly, a survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies suggests the WE controversy has taken a bite out of Trudeau’s popularity, as well as that of the federal Liberal party.
Covid-19 again dominates Canadian coverage, with much concern over the judiciousness of varied approaches to ‘reopening of the economy’.  On Tuesday, Dr. Theresa Tam warned against unrealistic expectations about the speed and effectiveness of a vaccine. She reiterated the importance of physical distancing, proper hand hygiene and mask-wearing, and attempted to dissuade any notion that a vaccine will make life go back to the way it was in a couple of months.
Jennifer Welsh, the Canada 150 research chair in global governance and security at McGill, explores Meeting the Challenge of Security Cooperation in a COVID-19 World, and the UN Security Council’s abdication of its responsibility in addressing global insecurity.

A rare piece of good news — the signature of the Great American Outdoors Act the bipartisan bill that directs $3 billion to conservation projects. Although the Act was introduced by the late John Lewis, Trump made no mention of him and no Democrats were invited to the signing ceremony.
During the signing ceremony, Trump’s mispronunciation (twice!) of  Yosemite gave rise to a number of comic reactions. West Wing actor, Bradley Whitford: led the pack with “Yo Semites!  Wassup???” We are surprised that Trump navigated his way successfully through ‘sequoias’.

More good news is that Netflix will soon have West Wing – this just might be our ticket to enduring the next months until November – or whenever the election result is finally decided.

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