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avril 2014

Glenn Greenwald Greeted by Media Scrum on His Return to the USA

If America’s spy agencies were monitoring the ballroom of the Roosevelt Hotel today—and who’s to say they weren’t?—they certainly got an earful. The occasion, the annual George Polk Awards in Journalism, drew an impressive collection of intelligence world scourges. There was New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order to testify against a former CIA officer who allegedly was a source. There was Barton Gellman, who was being honored for publishing some of Edward Snowden’s leaks in the Washington Post. There was Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, whose paper was instrumental in bringing the surveillance story to light in the face of threats from the British government. But the really high-value targets were running late.

For the first time in nearly a year, Polk winners Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras were returning to the United States, a step they previously had avoided taking for fear of arrest, subpoena or other legal repercussions. "Their flight landed, they cleared customs," John Darnton, curator of the award selection process, reassured the audience to loud applause. "The only problem is clearing the scrum of reporters on the sidewalk."

The Polks are one of the most prestigious prizes in journalism, established in the name of a perished foreign correspondent to reward intrepid investigative reporting, but they are not used to partaking in the nerd-insurgency culture that surrounds the Snowden case. (Snowden himself was profiled in Vanity Fair this week.) Though Greenwald had previously hinted that he might return to accept the award in person—in a speech he made by Skype for this year’s South by Southwest conference, he suggested that the occasion would provide "really good symbolism" in the event he was handcuffed at the airport—the actual announcement came only yesterday.

Though it was hard to be sure how seriously to take the threat—Gellman has been doing his work while living and working in Washington—organizers from Long Island University, which sponsors the Polks, weren’t sure their star guests would actually attend until just minutes before the ceremony. When word circulated that Greenwald was near, more than a dozen cameramen and reporters staked out a bank of elevators like paparazzi, paying relatively little heed when an actual celebrity, actor John Cusack, passed by on his way into the ceremony, dressed in a black trench coat and combat boots.

Greenwald circumvented the scrum, breezing through a side entrance down the hallway leading to the ballroom, forcing the cameras to dash after him in pursuit. The NSA’s antagonist wore acid-washed jeans and a blue blazer, a black backpack tossed casually over one shoulder. The cameras stampeded past the rest of Greenwald’s party—which included the comparatively reticent Poitras and his partner David Miranda— and massed around Greenwald in a backwards-moving pincer formation. Someone shoved a microphone in his face and asked him how things went at the airport. "It was very smooth," Greenwald said, adding that he only returned because he was convinced the authorities would not "do something counterproductive."

Shortly after the Snowden story broke, Greenwald left the Guardian to join Poitras and others at First Look Media, a new organization funded by the tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar. He has accused "establishment" organizations like the Times—while writing in the Times—of sitting on explosive national security stories and serving a "set of elite and powerful factions."

Within the ballroom, the two sides of this media war held a polite truce. As Greenwald entered, a group of Times Metro reporters were accepting an award. Greenwald took a seat at a round banquet table, perhaps 30 feet from Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger. Other guests at the table included Greenwald’s agent, Dan Conaway, and editor Riva Hocherman of Metropolitan Books, which will soon publish No Place to Hide, his account of the Snowden story. They ate catered chicken and made whispered small talk as Denis Hamill gave a salty speech on behalf of his ailing brother, the tabloid columnist Pete Hamill, and a local TV reporter from Tampa accepted an award for exposing a scheme to boost traffic ticket revenues by shaving time off the duration of yellow lights.

The award for the NSA leaks closed the show. Greenwald took the stage along with Poitras, Gellman and Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian. Poitras said she was "thankful to the Polk community for giving me a really good excuse to come home," but said it was "also quite disorienting." She expressed concern that the specter of prosecution might still hang over herself—and definitely imperils Snowden, living in Russian exile, to whom she dedicated the award. "None of us would be here," Poitras said, "without the fact that someone decided to sacrifice his life to make this information available."

Greenwald was more openly confrontational, thanking his fellow honorees as "the people that James Clapper calls my accomplices." He decried what he described as a government campaign of repression against journalists and their sources. "There are ways to intimidate journalists. You can imprison them en masse but there are other ways to do it," he said, accusing the government of stoking a "climate of fear." The Snowden story, he claimed, had exposed this. "The debate we were about to trigger," he said, "was not just one about surveillance, but one about the proper role of journalism and the relationship between the media and government and other factions that wield great power."

Afterward, the Snowden journalists held a hastily arranged press conference, where John Cusack watched from behind a bank of cameras, smoking an electronic cigarette. (He’s on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, along with Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras.) The journalists were asked about German investigations into NSA spying (deemed encouraging) and Heartbleed (no comment), and Greenwald was once again called upon to say how long he expected to continue publishing Snowden material on his Omidyar-financed website, The Intercept. (He said he really hopes to be finished soon.)

First and foremost, though, the press wanted to know how personally threatened the journalists felt. "It’s easy, I guess, to say it doesn’t seem likely to happen but when those threats are being directed at you, you take them seriously," Greenwald said.

So, how long are they planning to stay?

"Since we didn’t know what today held, we haven’t been doing a lot of long-term thinking, because we had no idea of what the outcome would be of our deplaning," Greenwald said. But he added that he hoped their presence would make a statement. "It was a commitment not just to come back for this one time, but to come back whenever we want, which is our prerogative as American citizens."

Not to mention, Greenwald added, there are practical considerations. "For me, I have a book coming out next month."

Read more posts by Andrew Rice

Filed Under: glenn greenwald
,laura poitras
,edward snowden
,nsa
,politics
,media

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Help for the Big Guys

In 2011, there were 117 tax returns that showed both total income of at least $5 million as well as unemployment insurance income.

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Texas Monthly Wants to Sue the New York Times for Hiring Its Editor

The hiring of editor Jake Silverstein, formerly of Texas Monthly, by The New York Times Magazine, is not going over well down south. Emmis Communications, which owns the Texan title but is actually based in Indiana, is planning to sue Silverstein for taking the job and the Times for offering it. (The company blames the Times for "inducing" breach of contract.)

"We had an understanding with Emmis during the search that Jake would be permitted to exit his contract with Emmis and take the job," said Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy in a statement. "Inexplicably, Emmis has instead decided to initiate litigation."

It’s a strange move, to be sure. In its Eleven Commandments of Emmis Communication, the company decrees "Be rational — look at all the options," "Have fun — don’t take this too seriously," "Don’t attack the industry, build it up," "Never jeopardize your integrity — we win the right way or we don’t win at all," and "Be good to your people — get them into the game and give them a piece of the pie." All good things to keep in mind.

"We believe there is no basis for a lawsuit," said Murphy. "We look forward to having Mr. Silverstein join the Times next month and help us shape the future of the magazine." In fact, Silverstein spent the day at the Times offices today, Daily Intelligencer has learned, meeting with his new colleagues.

Read more posts by Joe Coscarelli

Filed Under: ink-stained wretches
,new york times magazine
,texas monthly
,lawsuits

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The Backlash Against New York’s Standardized Tests Is Getting Serious

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may perceive the much ado being made over this year’s New York state standardized tests as "drama and noise," but the city’s school leaders and their constituents are fighting back.

Today, hundreds of slogan-toting principals, teachers, parents, and students took to the streets to protest what they say are flawed and ambiguous English language and arts tests administered last week to kids as young as third grade. (Math assessments are scheduled for the end of this month.) Elizabeth Phillips, principal of the much-beloved P.S. 321 in Park Slope, sounded a loud post-test alarm last Friday, calling on her school community to show their dissent. Now it’s spreading.

Worried Phillips would appear to be a lone voice — and the complaints would be easily overlooked — other principals are now following suit. "I thought, Go Liz, that’s great. But what really triggered the rest of us was having [her concerns] dismissed … as representing just a tiny fraction of families affected by the ELA," says Adele Schroeter, the principal of P.S. 59 on East 56th Street, who helped rally colleagues in District 2. "I thought, just because the rest of us aren’t demonstrating doesn’t mean it’s okay."

Monica Berry, the principal at P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side, says she was moved to join in after hearing that dozens of schools were formally mobilizing: "If silence is being interpreted as acceptance, then we needed to say something," she says. "We’re the ones who’ve seen the tests. So it should come from within. We’re the ones who know."

Last year’s exams, designed by Pearson, which has a $38 million contract with the state and were the first to adhere to Common Core requirements, garnered lots of heat for being overly long, riddled with product placement, and including confounding questions that, to many educators, were "inappropriately difficult."

This year, says Schroeter, they’re even worse. "Last year, everyone was ready for it to be a fluke. People thought, okay, first year, first time out, it’s going to be a mess. And by the time this year rolls around, people thought, ‘Oh, they’ve had time to get it together and make a better assessment," she says. "But it just wasn’t. You’re skimming through the booklet and going, ‘What? Wait a minute.’"

She said her teachers reported that students found the exams "demoralizing" and "frustrating." Rather than evaluating reading comprehension skills, Jenny Bonnet, principal of P.S. 150 in Tribeca says they were "more [about] having [students] have to flip back and forth and look at structural things versus having a deep understanding of what the passage is about … When I first looked at the test, I was just in shock. I was having trouble with my fellow teachers — we sat around and tried to answer some of the questions — and I thought, This is ridiculous. I’m an adult, I should be able to answer these questions. If it’s hard for me, these poor kids — they must be incredibly confused."

Principals and their staff can’t discuss specifics of the test because they’re barred from doing so by a "gag order" — another major concern. Neither teachers nor parents see the results in their entirety. The stakes are higher this year, too, because not only do results determine, in some cases, where kids can apply to middle schools, but they’re also linked to school and teacher evaluations. "The level of agitation is growing," says Schroeter. "Not only were the expectations and the standards raised, and the tests made more difficult, the stakes attached to them became higher and higher."

The end goal? Transparency, say its critics. And hopefully "more collaboration on designing a test that’s a little more reflective of the kind of instruction that’s really good," says Schroeter. "The Common Core aspires to thoughtful stuff, but it needs to be thoughtfully applied. They’re not little graduate students, they’re 8."

Read more posts by S. Jhoanna Robledo

Filed Under: school daze
,kids today
,education
,oh brooklyn

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‘Hubble Madness’ Picks a Winning Image, and Deep Space Never Looked So Good

Online voters selected a NASA-released image of the Carina Nebula to commemorate the space telescope’s 20th anniversary

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Sheryl Sandberg and Megyn Kelly Are Friends

When Sheryl Sandberg saw Fox News host Megyn Kelly tear colleagues Lou Dobbs and Erick Erickson to shreds for saying women aren’t biologically fit to be breadwinners, she picked up the phone. “I loved this so much that I called you and we became friends over it," Sandberg recalls. This is how most of Taylor Swift’s BFFships go down, too.

Read more posts by Kat Stoeffel

Filed Under: love and war
,video
,watch
,free megyn kelly
,sheryl sandberg
,megyn kelly

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NSA Gladly Used Heartbleed Bug to Steal Passwords: Report [Updated]

Heartbleed, the latest amorphous thing on the internet to not fully understand but to be afraid of anyway, is a newly uncovered security hole in a popular encryption technology. Until this week, the flaw, which affects websites like Facebook, Gmail, and Instagram, was overlooked by everyone. Except the NSA, of course. Bloomberg reports:

Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.

That’s right: For about two years, the U.S. government knew passwords across the internet were at risk and told no one, instead using the glitch, supposedly, for national defense. "We’ve never seen any quite like this," a security firm researcher told Bloomberg of Heartbleed. "Not only is a huge portion of the internet impacted, but the damage that can be done, and with relative ease, is immense." That risk, we’ll surely be told, was outweighed by our protection by shadowy forces.

The NSA has so far declined to comment, but this one is really going to rankle people. Don’t expect the reinvigorated NSA outrage to settle any time soon.

Update: The government denies Bloomberg’s report:

“NSA was not aware of the recently identified vulnerability in OpenSSL, the so-called Heartbleed vulnerability, until it was made public in a private-sector cybersecurity report. Reports that say otherwise are wrong," the agency said in a statement to NBC News.

Read more posts by Joe Coscarelli

Filed Under: spy games
,nsa
,heartbleed
,the internet

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Here’s Why Putin Won’t Stop Selling Gas to Ukraine

It’s the economy, stupid

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Phony Republican Sympathy for Kathleen Sebelius

With no further political gain from targeting the former Health and Human Services secretary, the GOP turns back to Obamacare

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