Prominent Progressive Blogger Faiz Shakir as Director Of New Media
On the legitimacy side, if we invoke Max Weber’s classic formulation, these leaders lacked – lack – personal legitimacy, let alone charisma; ideological legitimacy, unable convincingly to wrap themselves in the symbols of Islam, Arab or local nationalism, socialism, liberalism, or development; or structural legitimacy owing to the weakness of institutions of state to deliver either moral or material goods.
Thursday was World Press Freedom Day. On Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP) published an article listing the arrests, injuries, and assaults of at least eighteen journalists covering recent clashes near the Egyptian Ministry of Defense. Some reporters were beaten, others shot at, a few captured or detained by the military.
CJP’s Mohammed Abdel Dayem commented with indignation, “Authorities cannot stand by while journalists are being beaten — at times so viciously that their lives are put at risk… We call on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to identify the attackers and bring them to justice immediately, as well as to release journalists in custody. Journalists must be allowed to carry out their work without threat of physical assault or arrest.”
I had always felt uncomfortable with this kind of indignation, and I finally began to understand it when I discovered NYU Professor Jay Rosen’s blog PressThink. Rosenargues that journalists have a creed, a religion of sorts, in which it is taken as holy writ that they have a right to be protected and to go about their work without intimidation. This is based on some version of the American first amendment. He who attacks or arrests journalists, the story goes, is violating something more than just the journalist’s wellbeing. Censorship, whether physical or bureaucratic, is sacrilege.
For the past few years, the rise of what is called ‘citizen journalism’ or ‘public journalism’, which Rosen himself has helped to pioneer, has made the question of journalists’ rights all the more tricky. The Huffington Post’s campaign coverage initiative Off the Bus was an example of how the death of newspapers and the Internet-driven rise of audience participation in reporting can be harnessed to increase credibility.
But what about when the audience is fighting? In Egypt, the concept of citizen journalism has been as celebrated as anywhere over the past year. But if every citizen is a journalist, and citizens are protesting the government, how can journalists credibly demand protection? And who are they demanding protection from?
Last October, I attended a press conference in the aftermath of clashes between protesters and the military outside of the Maspero building. Revolutionaries were claiming that the military had run over innocent demonstrators with their vehicles. The military leadership were claiming that protesters shot first, and put themselves in front of the vehicles. At the press conference, a chaotic three hours in a tightly packed room, activists told their stories. Journalists piped in with their own memories of the night, and everyone traded footage, pictures and anecdotes. By the end of the conference, it was impossible to tell who was the subject of the story and who was the writer. Activists and journalists had become indistinguishable. “This is one of the worst things that happened,” lamented Editor Rania Al Malky to me in an interview at the office of the Daily News Egypt. “A lot of journalists lost their bearings and a lot of activists started thinking of themselves as journalists…The lines are so blurred.”
The roots of this issue lie in the Mubarak days, many journalists here have told me, when to report on anything that the regime might find sensitive was to be cast as opposition. Neutral reporting, when it confronted a government eager to control information, became de facto activism. The dynamic remains now, and it has become dangerous for journalists.
In the popular independent newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, Amr Ezzat described how he and several other reporters were nearly attacked a few days ago by anti-revolution Egyptians. “The mere fact that we were journalists,” he wrote, “was evidence enough for them that we were involved in the revolution.”
And then, there are the foreign journalists. In November, they flocked to Mohammed Mahmoud Street when clashes broke out. For nearly a week they breathed in the tear gas with revolutionary youth, ran from the rubber bullets, remained on the revolutionary side of the divisions. Like reporters embedded with soldiers, they experienced firsthand the fear and anger, smelled the blood at the field hospitals, and like Mona El Tahawy loudly decried the arrests. How much could they physically imperil themselves before starting to take on the anti-military outlook of those around them? Did El Tahawy arrive to protest or to report?
When the Committee to Protect Journalists and other NGO’s decry “attacks on the press” and demand that Egyptian and foreign journalists be able to go about their work without problems, these questions usually go unanswered. It is tragic when journalists are killed going about their work, and it is natural to want someone or something to blame.
But if every protester can hold up a camera or write a blog and then claim protection, how can journalists demand protection? And when they do demand protection, who are they demanding it from, exactly? The CJP targets the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Certainly, the SCAF has been accused of beating journalists who they arrest, and this is reprehensible. But the calls to protect journalists, by groups like the CJP, go beyond just demanding an end to beatings. They demand that the SCAF protect journalists. What are they supposed to do? Send the very soldiers who the protesters are attacking to go guard a few foreign correspondents or Egyptian journalists who openly side with the protesters? It is easy to decry, but much more difficult to offer solutions to these messy questions.
Others target the mysterious ‘thugs’ who populate many of these clashes. What purpose does it serve to demand that mysterious ‘thugs’ stop harassing journalists? Publishing a few articles about instances of harassment strengthens the perception that journalists and protesters and all ‘outsiders’ are on the same side.
Ezzat, the reporter who was nearly attacked, suggested a different approach. Instead of simply decrying those who nearly attacked him, he looked for understanding. “I could tell from their appearance how authentically terrified and worried they were about the fate of their neighborhood,” he wrote, “in which they had previously been safe and secure until these ‘outsiders’ came to the nearby square with their protests, press, and cameras and turned their neighborhood into a battle area.”
Ezzat explains that Egyptians who do not agree with the protests increasingly view reporters and protesters as one and the same, as “outsiders” who are endangering their neighborhoods. We are no longer in the media-friendly days of the original revolution, when a majority of Egyptians wanted Mubarak out and the narrative of liberation was obvious. Now, the narrative is not clean. People are fighting and do not know who to trust. Ezzat started to reflect, consider and report on why journalists might be in danger. He turned personal danger into the kind of curiosity that produces powerful journalism. For others, indignation seems to be enough.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is tapping a prominent progressive blogger well schooled at the intersection of opposition politics and online reporting to serve as head of her online operations.
Faiz Shakir, the editor-in-chief of Think Progress, the highly influential blog for the think tank Center for American Progress, is leaving to become Pelosi’s director of new media and senior adviser.
Shakir is hardly the first blogger to leave that corner of the media universe for service in public office. But his departure from Think Progress nevertheless represents a major development for the site. He has been with Think Progress since 2005, during which time he helped build it into an outlet not just for progressive policy analysis but also for breaking, often oppositional, reporting. The level of success was best exemplified this past year, when a group of conservative operatives and reporters launched the imitation website FreeBeacon.com.
Chandra’s new Profession is begging In the midst of public debates on fairness, tax rates and debt reduction, there is a fallacy, deliberately promoted by some, that undermines honest discourse. It is this: private charitable contributions should be classified and treated as “public money.” If allowed to perpetuate, this bait and switch could lead to … Read more
“Faiz leaves us in an incredibly strong position in terms of the deep reservoir of talent he has recruited to the blog and a record-setting March with 4.7 million unique visitors,” said Center for American Progress’ Action Fund president, Tom Periello, in an email to staff. “His talent, tendency towards innovation, and tenacious spirit will be missed, but he will not be far away and we wish him the best of luck in his next progressive adventure.” Shakir will be replacing Karina Newton, Pelosi’s long-serving new media director, who is leaving to travel the world with her husband. Taking over Shakir’s role at Think Progress will be Judd Legum, who founded the blog before leaving to serve as research director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and then run for state office. (Legum returned to Think Progress in February 2011.) Igor Volsky, who has worked for Think Progress for four years, will become deputy editor. Shakir has prior experience working in congressional roles and on campaigns. He served as a legislative aide to Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and as a communications aide in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He also worked as a research associate for the Democratic National Committee.
The stakeholders who are active in this negotiation for democracy are the political parties from both side of the divide, the ever growing civil society movements like Bersih, NGOs and the young adult population (gen X and Y), all of whom have a crucial say on how this political drama unfolds. This mixed feelings and … Read more