(The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a
columnist for Reuters.)
By Steven Brill
Aug 26 This is the latest installment of Steven
Brill's weekly column, "Stories I'd Like to See"
1. Becoming a millionaire the hard way:
Last week, the New York Times published this article about a
man receiving a $10 million settlement from New York City after
Brooklyn prosecutors' misconduct resulted in his spending 16
years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
This is the latest in a series of recent payments that New
York has made to settle similar claims, including those of the
five men exonerated following their wrongful convictions in the
infamous 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.
I'm curious about what happens to these newly minted
millionaires. For starters, how much money do they actually get
after their lawyers deduct fees and expenses?
What do they plan to do - and, in older cases, what have
they done - with the money? Does anyone help them manage it?
It would be great to look in on three or four exonerated
2. Is cable TV news flooding one zone at the expense of
In March, when CNN chief Jeff Zucker focused the network on
covering the missing Malaysian airliner at the exclusion of
almost everything else, the cable news channel was attacked by
media critics and derided by people like Jon Stewart.
But lately it seems that all cable news, and to some degree
network news, is following Zucker's lead.
The police shooting of Michael Brown and subsequent events
in Ferguson, Missouri, were of course a big story. But is it my
imagination, or did the cable news channels - following a
48-hour gorging on the Robin Williams suicide - abandon pretty
much everything else from August 14 through about August 19 to
cover every moment of what was happening in Ferguson? Even when
there was no real news?
The everything else that went largely uncovered includes
some pretty earth-shattering events: the war with Islamic State
militants and the beheading by these terrorists of kidnapped
American journalist James Foley; the conflict in Ukraine and the
status of the Russian truck convoy being sent there, and the war
in Gaza and the negotiation of a possible peace agreement.
Then by last Thursday it seemed that Ferguson was being
pushed aside for the Islamic State story and the Foley
execution. I don't mean that one story got more weight than the
other. Rather, that since CNN's swarming of the missing
Malaysian airliner, cable news seems to be focusing on one story
a day - pretty much to the exclusion of all others.
I'm hoping media reporters are on top of this, about to
produce data on just how wall-to-wall the coverage was and on
the resulting ratings. There also needs to be thoughtful
analysis on why it is happening and what it means. Including
whether, as I suspect, it produces less balance, more hype and
speculation (when some story gets its turn as today's
obsession), and a lot less comprehensive news coverage.
3. Kidnapping journalists:
Speaking of kidnapped journalists, this report in the
Huffington Post says "at least 30 journalists have been
kidnapped or have disappeared in Syria."
This New York Times story quotes the Committee to Protect
Journalists saying the number is "at least 14 cases" but then
adds "the total number of abductions is believed to be
significantly higher because many cases have not been publicly
disclosed, usually at the request of the victims' families,
partly for fear of angering the kidnappers or emboldening them
to demand higher ransom payments."
What's significant about both reports is that they were
published a year ago, and I've found little comprehensive
reporting since. Until last week's execution of Foley.
Still image from undated video of a masked Islamic State
militant holding a knife speaking next to man purported to be
James Foley at an unknown locationThe news embargo is obviously
because the press has been sensitive to the wishes of victims'
families. However, two or three or four dozen hostages, let
alone hostages who are journalists, is a big, big story -- and
can and should be covered without endangering individual
Reuter's David Rohde, himself a former kidnap victim,
weighed in last week about the need for a public debate over
whether the U.S. and British policy of never paying ransom in
these situations is the correct one. He's right, and that debate
is now starting - in part thanks to his prompting.
But we also need a lot more reporting about the basic facts
surrounding all this - as I am sure there would be if 30 or 40
other categories of people, such as passengers on a hijacked
airliner or customers in a shopping mall, were being held
What is the best estimate of the real numbers? If the total
is as high as these vague reports, what does that say about the
odds of reporters going into these combat zones and never coming
out? How are news organizations dealing with these new dangers?
Are the hostage-takers predominantly or exclusively Islamic
State militants? If so, what calculus are journalists and their
employers now making before deciding to try to cover the
terrorist group or even go into regions where they are engaged
And, yes, what compromises has the press made in its
coverage, ostensibly to protect their colleague-hostages? Have
they made the same compromises in other situations?