Saturday, October 20, 2018

Jennifer Egan: Why PEN America is Suing Donald Trump

"Trump's vitriol against reporters has made political journalism a more dangerous practice."

On Tuesday, PEN America, of which I am president, filed suit against President Trump for using his presidential powers to attempt to silence and punish journalists and news outlets whose coverage displeases him. PEN America is a literary nonprofit comprised of writers, journalists, editors and translators—all united around the goal of celebrating writing and defending the freedoms that make it possible. We believe (along with our legal representatives, Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Clinic) that President Trump’s threats and punitive actions infringe upon the First Amendment Rights of our members. Worse, they imperil our free press—one of the cornerstones of a healthy democracy.
President Trump is famously prone to captious bluster—a fact that endears him to fans and appalls detractors. He hurls insults blithely, instinctively, and the press is only one of his myriad targets. This is not to say that routine public denigration by the President of the United States has no impact; on the contrary, Trump’s repeated cries of “fake news” have eroded faith in the press and smudged the distinction between truth and propaganda. His vitriol against reporters has made political journalism a more dangerous practice, with journalists receiving death threats and requiring bodyguards at political rallies.
None of that is why we’re suing. Trump’s speech—like that of every American—is protected by the First Amendment. But the president has done more than vent against the press: he has threatened to use his presidential powers to stymie reporters and news organizations, and has followed through on those threats—by barring from the Rose Garden a reporter whose question he disliked; by ordering the Postal Service to investigate Amazon’s shipping rates in retaliation for negative coverage by the WASHINGTON POST (both are owned by Jeff Bezos); by legally challenging an unremarkable vertical merger between AT&T and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, as punishment for negative coverage. Trump’s threats and actions impede the First Amendment rights of journalists and news organizations, and are therefore illegal. We are suing to make him to stop.
PEN America is a non-partisan organization. Founded nearly a hundred years ago in England between the Wars, it was built on a belief in the power of writers, and literary values, to help solve the world’s problems. At the first dinner of its American chapter, held in 1922, a letter was read aloud from John Galsworthy, PEN International’s first president, who wrote to the assembled members:  “We writers are in some sort trustees for human nature; if we are narrow and prejudiced we harm the human race. And the better we know each other . . . the greater the chance for human happiness in a world not, as yet, too happy.”
“Few would dispute that the suppression of writers presages deep and ominous problems in a society.”
These sentiments may sound quaint to contemporary ears; even the most optimistic among us is unlikely to hold that geopolitical conflicts can be solved through writerly camaraderie. But few would dispute that the suppression of writers presages deep and ominous problems in a society. 

PEN America has spent decades fighting for writers jailed by governments around the world who deemed their voices threatening and wanted them silenced: in China, Russia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, and scores of other countries. Our successes, when they come, are testament to the power of writers united in support of other writers against oppressive regimes.
President Trump’s frank admiration for authoritarian rulers makes his efforts to hobble a free press here in America all the more alarming. His actions conform to what some call an “authoritarian playbook” for modern tyrants, in which the curtailing of free speech occurs subtly and gradually through a system of governmental rewards and punishments that encourage cooperation and gradually chill opposing voices. 

While American journalists have thus far responded bravely and vigorously in their reporting on the Trump Administration, a recent survey of PEN America members suggests that journalists are aware of the possibility of reprisals when they write negatively about the president. 

That should never happen in America, where free speech was conceived of, according to Ben Franklin, as the “principal pillar” of democracy. A leader with “the power to punish for words,” Franklin wrote, “would be armed with a weapon the most destructive and terrible.”
Words are powerful weapons too—as Trump’s efforts to quash them attest. In keeping with PEN America’s founding mission, we mean to stand together and show our strength.

Friday, October 19, 2018


I try from time to time to stop buying The New York Times every day. I tried this week. Like the other attempts, it lasted a day. No matter that you can get the late night game scores and stories online and you can't get them in the morning paper, getting the Times makes for a better day. Isn't that the idea?

Thursday, October 18, 2018

from yesterday's Times:

Craig Newmark, Newspaper Villain, Is Working to Save Journalism

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, has been giving millions of dollars to media organizations to help journalism.

SAN FRANCISCO — Craig Newmark, so often accused of destroying journalism, is now doing his best to revive it.
In the late 1990s, Mr. Newmark, a former IBM programmer, built a service that allowed people to find apartments, jobs, computer parts, sexual partners, rides out of town and all sorts of other things through the newfangled consumer internet.

Craigslist was fast, free and popular, which means you could be pretty sure of getting what you wanted or getting rid of what you didn’t want.

Newspaper income from classifieds, which had provided up to 40 percent of the industry’s revenue, immediately plummeted. Researchers eventually estimated that Craigslist had drained $5 billion from American newspapers over a seven-year period. In the Bay Area, the media was especially hard hit.

Mr. Newmark is trying to stop the bleeding — although not here. He is among a gaggle of West Coast technology moguls who are riding to the rescue of the beleaguered East Coast media.

On Wednesday, New York Public Radio announced a $2.5 million gift from Mr. Newmark to expand its newsroom. That brings his total philanthropic efforts involving media in the last year to $50 million, much of it centered on New York.

A month earlier, Marc Benioff, another San Francisco tech mogul, bought Time magazine for $190 million. Mr. Benioff characterized his purchase as an investment. For Mr. Newmark, the situation is more political and more urgent.
“A trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy,” Mr. Newmark said. “Like we say in Jersey” — he hails from Morristown, N.J. — “you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is.”

That mouth is something that is often on Mr. Newmark’s mind these days. As he moves onto a national media stage, he is trying out personas, hoping for the right blend of sincerity and humor.
Mr. Newmark in 2004 with Jim Buckmaster, who has run Craigslist since 2000. “He won’t call you back,” Mr. Newmark said. Mr. Buckmaster didn’t.

“I’m not as articulate as I need to be,” he said. “I might not be the nerd people really need, but I’m the nerd they’ve got.”
Pause. “Is that quotable? I kind of like that,” he said.

Mr. Newmark’s media-giving spree began in June, with a $20 million gift to the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, which put his name on the door. This met with some criticism. Felix Salmon, a correspondent for Axios, tweeted that “it’s utterly bizarre to name a journalism school after the man who almost single-handedly destroyed local newspapers.”

Mr. Newmark followed that up last month with another $20 million gift to The Markup, a new site dedicated to investigating technology. He also gave to a new nonprofit effort called The City.

His media ventures differ from those of his peers — not only Mr. Benioff but also Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, who bought The Washington Post, and Laurene Powell Jobs, who is the widow of the Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and bought the magazine The Atlantic.
“I’m not the kind of guy to own an operation,” Mr. Newmark said. “I help, then I get out of the way, then I stay out of the way. That’s my strength.”

He disagrees that he helped kill newspapers. In the back garden of the Reverie Cafe, near San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood and not far from his house, he said he was getting a bum rap.

He cited the work of the media analyst Thomas Baekdal as proof that newspapers’ decline long preceded Craigslist. In an email, Mr. Baekdal largely absolved Craigslist of any responsibility for devastating newspapers and hastening the end of the world.

“If we were to imagine a world where Craigslist was never invented, I do not think it would have made any difference,” Mr. Baekdal wrote. “We in the media industry insisted on keeping the classified market limited and high-priced so that it supported other parts of our businesses where we were essentially losing money (a.k.a. journalism). It was only a matter of time before someone realized there was a more efficient way to do this.”

Mr. Newmark gave $20 million last month to The Markup, a new site dedicated to investigating technology. It is run by, from left, Jeff Larson, Julia Angwin and Sue Gardner.

The fact that Craigslist was free, however, doubtless accelerated its effect. It is now in 700 cities in 70 countries.
“Craigslist helped people put food on the table, helped people get a table, helped people get a roof under which to put the table,” Mr. Newmark said. It is something he has said before, he acknowledged, “most recently some hours ago, on Twitter.”

Mr. Newmark’s charm at 65 is that he is the mogul who declines to act like one. He has looked 35 for the last two decades — round, balding, goateed. He got married six years ago, and even before that his bride, Eileen Whelpley, promised a makeover. She told The San Francisco Chronicle that “Craig is going to do yoga, although he doesn’t know it.”

So how is the yoga going?
“Let’s say that’s still in the future,” he said.
Mr. Newmark still does customer service for Craigslist, which mostly consists of booting off troublemakers, but has not had an operational role for a long time. “As a manager,” he noted, “I suck.”

The site has been run since 2000 by Jim Buckmaster, who is described in his official biography as possibly the only chief executive who has been labeled a “socialist anarchist.” Mr. Buckmaster keeps a low profile. “He won’t call you back,” Mr. Newmark said cheerfully. (Mr. Buckmaster didn’t.)

Unlike just about every other venture begun in the dot-com era, Craigslist never even thought about going public. It has no ads or subscription fees. (It charges for job postings in the United States and for brokered apartment listings in New York.)

Every tech mogul ever born has maintained that it is not about the money, but for Mr. Newmark and Mr. Buckmaster this really seems to be true. In 2006, Mr. Buckmaster told an audience in New York that there were problems with “obscene wealth.”

“You should be careful what you wish for. Do you really want to walk around with bodyguards?” he asked. The audience shouted back, “Yes, yes!” and “I do!”
Mr. Newmark flies commercial. At Cafe Reverie, his consumption was limited to a glass of water. His biggest extravagance is a $6 million New York City apartment.

“I’d like things to start in New York and spread,” Mr. Newmark said.

His net worth, according to Forbes, is $1.6 billion. Mr. Newmark brushed the figure aside. “My focus is on giving it away in a smart way,” he said, though he didn’t want to say how much he plans to give away. In previous interviews, Mr. Newmark, who owns about half of Craigslist, has asserted he is worth much less than people assume.

One thing is clear: He is not spending his money on Craigslist. He can’t remember the last time he got something off the site, although he said his wife used it.

“Craig doesn’t need to prove he’s someone by having possessions,” said Sylvia Paull, a media consultant who has known Mr. Newmark for 20 years. “His way of living mirrors Craigslist. For years people have been saying, ‘You’ve got to upgrade the interface, make it more interactive, add color.’ He just says, ‘No, I like it simple and plain.’”

Mr. Newmark has been a steadfast supporter of women in tech, and built a website for Ms. Paull’s networking group for women, Gracenet, back when that was a labor-intensive initiative. He also funds veterans’ causes. He has lingering guilt about not serving in Vietnam even though he knows he wouldn’t have been much of a soldier.

Contributing money isn’t enough. He shows up at symposiums, like a recent one in Berkeley, Calif. He told the audience that he traced the crisis in journalism back to the mid-1990s, when the speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, offered “attractive lies the press just couldn’t stay away from.” He criticized The New York Times for its coverage of the 2016 presidential race and offered general advice: “Don’t be a loudspeaker for liars.”

Afterward, the first member of the crowd to go up to him said he found it “kind of ironic” that the guy whose internet site had done so much to undermine newspapers was now funding journalism. For the umpteenth time, Mr. Newmark recommended Mr. Baekdal’s work.

Journalism in San Francisco is still in crisis. San Francisco Magazine just made clear its future will involve a lot less journalism and a lot more fluff. Many staff members have left.

“I’d love to see some of the S.F.-based tech moguls step up and help journalism in their own backyard,” said Gary Kamiya, a former editor of the magazine.
But Mr. Newmark is concentrating on New York, where local coverage has also faltered.

“My goal is to support the groups which are not only going to do good work but say, ‘Here’s how you do good work,’” he said. “I’d like things to start in New York and spread.”

As he was leaving Cafe Reverie, Mr. Newmark checked his phone.
“Twenty-seven new emails,” he said.
How many were asking for money?
“All of them,” he said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In the month since my laptop fell out of my fingers onto the floor and broke when I was moving it from my lap on the couch to the table in front of me while trying to do something else at the same time with my other hand I've been coming here to my neighborhood library and signing-in to use one of their computers at a long table with other people some of them homeless. I like doing this. It feels more part of something than staring at a computer at home. I only get 45 minutes on it. I wish I got more. I like the setting. The people around me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Michelle Obama Announces New Project to Help Educate Girls Worldwide

Michelle Obama.

On Thursday International Day of the GirlMichelle Obama announced a new initiative to empower girls around the world through education. In an op-ed for CNN, the former First Lady writes that education has been proven to to help girls earn more later on and live healthier lives.

There are more than 98 million adolescent girls globally who are not in school at the moment, according to the op-ed. “The reasons for this are many, including scarce resources, early pregnancies, dangerous commutes, and threats of violence,” Obama writes. “Equally pernicious is something they’re taught from an early age — the belief that because they’re girls, they’re simply unworthy of an education.”

Because of this, the Obama Foundation is launching the Global Girls Alliance, she writes. The new initiative will be “offering scholarships, launching mentorship programs, preparing girls to become entrepreneurs,” and also reaching out to parents about ways they can help their daughters. The Alliance will also work with grassroots organizations and leaders already helping to increase girls’s access to education globally, and it aims to help with their fundraising efforts as well.

“We’re seeking to empower adolescent girls around the world through education, so that they can support their families, communities and countries,” she writes. “The evidence is clear. Girls who attend secondary school earn higher salaries, have lower infant and maternal mortality rates, and are less likely to contract malaria and HIV. And studies have shown that educating girls isn’t just good for the girls, it’s good for all of us.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

There are some faces I like to see come by when I'm holding my sign. Some faces have a look. One older guy always has a faint smile. He gives an appreciative nod to the sign. Today he stopped for the first time. He's a Freudian analyst, he told me when I asked. He's 83 which you'd never think. He still has an office. He wanted to know all about me and the sign's message. What I think really made him stop today is that last week he became a grandfather for the first time and he wanted to show someone who also might be a grandfather the little bundle's photo which he took over the weekend in Boston where his daughter lives.