Media Notes on the Obama Heckler Story

Some thoughts I had on the recent Obama heckler story. Here’s a video of what happened.

  • This one is probably going to elicit a “you must be new here” response from some, but Wolf Blitzer’s piece is the exact wrong way to cover this story, and makes him look like a pillock. He refers to it as “an awful situation.” ISIS offensives in northern Syria are an awful situation — this is a tiny blip that we’ll probably forget by next week, and “Goodness, how impolite!” is the exact wrong tack you should take. It turns you into an extension of the White House PR department. Your job is not to rub Obama’s back and sympathize that his speech was interrupted.
  • Related to this, but the verb news outlets use to describe what Obama did or how he reacted tell you something about the news outlet. If your headline includes verbs such as “scolds,” “shuts down” or “burns,” you’re in trouble. “Scold” makes it sound like the protestor is a petulant child throwing a tantrum. Don’t automatically delegitimize someone like that. As a general rule: if your story is that the President of the United States totally pwned some random heckler, your story’s framed wrong. You’re the media, it’s your job to ferret out who the heckler was, what group they’re affiliated with, and what their grievance is.
  • Somewhat predictably, The New York Times piece on this is excellent — it has the name of the heckler —Jennicet Gutiérrez— and why she was protesting: the rights of LGBTQ detainees facing deportation.
  • On that note, most heckling is protest. Don’t undermine that fact by debating whether they’re attention-seeking. I think Obama largely handled the heckler well, apart from when he said “Shame on you, you shouldn’t be doing this.” By which he means that he should be able to give all his prepared speeches without a hitch, irrespective of how people are feeling about him. This is, of course, arrant bollocks. People in power shouldn’t get to define when and where dissent happens.
  • This piece from The Guardian on the dynamics of Obama’s retort to the heckling is quite good. Richards questions whether Obama would’ve been so direct if he was facing re-election, and this was something I noticed, too. I don’t watch a lot of day-to-day Obama videos but I was struck by the rapport he has with Joe Biden. The “you know me?” at 2:30 in the video seems to show a fairly cool, confident Obama.

In large part, the media —whether it’s a small blog or an established outlet— did a poor job covering this. Your duty’s to your readers, not the president, and Obama being interrupted during a speech is rare enough that you should go digging and see what the story is.

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Links for 06-23-15

Every State-Sponsored Confederate Flag & Monument Should Come Down:

Symbols have power. They clearly had power and meaning for Dylann Roof. They clearly had power and meaning for Adolph Hitler. Does Germany still have struggles with anti-Semitism? Yes, but a part of overcoming who they once were has been removing the symbols of their past and replacing them with new ones.

I agree with this one, and the idea that we should get rid of the flag seems to be gaining traction across the political spectrum. Kudos to for pointing me to the book “Our Flag” by George Preble. It quotes William Thompson, the Confederate flag’s designer, about the design:

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 5.23.39 PM


“Rent a crowd” company says US politicians use their services:

We have worked with dozens of candidates in the US primarily but not exclusively Republican. Mostly they are candidates who suffer from lack of enthusiasm/turnout at rallies and in need of a ‘game change’ (sorry, that’s a loaded term now!). The candidates have been primarily congressional/senate candidates. We’ve only worked with one (serious) presidential candidate thus far.

Most Americans believe that protests make the country better, unless the protesters are black.

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Links for 06-19-15

I’m interested in the reaction to Jon Stewart’s monologue on the Charlestown killings. Everyone’s sharing the video on social media with captions like “he gets it” and “THIS.” The Daily Beast called it “passionate.” What strikes me is that everything he says is —racism is alive, mass shootings keep happening and happening— seems so uncontroversial. He’s saying the most basic things and being lauded as a white guy who gets it, and I wonder if we’re not setting the bar for white allies a little low. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good that he’s using his platform, but nothing he’s saying is particularly forward-thinking or edgy. (This is part of a longer train of thought I’ve been having about Stewart being lionized as the most trusted news source these days, which rubs me the wrong way.)

Interesting paper about adding fake data trails to cellphones to thwart forensic analysis. Think “safe” texts/contact info appearing on an activist’s phone when they’re arrested at a protest, activated by a specific four-digit pin.

Jeb Bush continues to be a twit. Fun story, actually — at the paper, we have an unofficial policy that op-eds can’t just be “this politician said this dumb thing and this is why it’s dumb.” This will be hard to sustain come primary season if we want any content.

Bernie Sanders may have a potential problem because he’s an Independent.


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Links for 06-18-15

Nine people have been killed by a white gunman at a black church in Charleston, NC. Watch how the media play this — the often-hit-or-miss Daily Beast has a douche tweet about the suspected killer being “quiet and soft-spoken.” This is domestic terrorism, and should be treated as such. Bernie Sanders has a refreshingly frank tweet condemning the “ugly stain of racism,” which makes Hillary Clinton’s “heartbreaking” tweet feel wishy-washy.

Speaking of, apparently Pontifex wasn’t having a great day

Verso Books, the radical book publisher, is having a flash eBook sale, with some books going for a buck or two. I just nabbed “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution” by Patrick Cockburn, who I’ve read before. You can see a full list of their books here.

I’m gonna dye my hair blue.

You could be fined for swearing on WhatsApp. As Noah said — this is why we need encryption.

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Links for 06-17-15

(Trying something new.)

DeRay McKesson: “Washington needs to tell the truth about police violence.”

There have only been 9 days this year when the police have not killed somebody.

A Storify of Donald Trump’s best worst tweets. Dear god, this man is a pillock.

The Irish ambassador to the US has written a scathing letter to the NYT editor about their article on the collapsed balcony, where they bizarrely referred to the J1 visa program as “a source of embarrassment for Ireland.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that Al-Qaeda seems to be turning into the lesser of evils. Christ.

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Suggested Reading On Privacy/Surveillance/Cypherpunks

This post started off as an e-mail to a friend, but others may be interested. 

I’m by no means a book critic, but I’m always happy to recommend books I’ve read. By my count, I’ve read about 25 books about privacy/surveillance/cypherpunks — here’s a distilled list of 9 recommendations. (If you think I’m missing something really obvious, do me a favor and tweet me?)

(If you want my tl, dr recommendations: Read Little Brother, then No Place to Hide, then The People’s Platform, in that order.)

Links are to Amazon, but aren’t affiliate, which means I get nothing if you click through and buy them. I also link to legal free online versions, where I found them.

Privacy/Big Data/Digital Lives

The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age, by Astra Taylor. (Link.)

I read this on break from college, finished it, and then turned back to the first page and reread the entire thing. Billed as a dismantling of techno-utopianism, I found it refreshing because it asked questions others didn’t — if the Internet’s such a democratizing force, what does it mean that women write less than 15 percent of Wikipedia articles, despite using the site as much as men do?

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, by Julia Angwin. (Link.)

“Who’s watching you, what they know and why it matters.” A great journalist turns a critical eye toward data silos and what it means that we’re constantly tracked online. I was really impressed with how critical and deep the research was.

Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion, by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis. (Link.)

Not particularly topical, but I found the book gave me a long list of scenarios-you-mightn’t-have-considered when it comes to privacy and other database-related worries.

Specifics: Snowden, Wikileaks

No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, by Glenn Greenwald. (Link.)

A good look at the story from a journalist’s perspective — the reporting questions and the reaction post-publication, not to mention the fun details of being in the Hong Kong hotel room with Snowden. Helpfully split into three main sections: Greenwald’s background and Snowden making contact; the substance of the leaks, and the response to them.

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man, by Luke Harding. (Link.)

I have some problems with this book — Luke Harding wasn’t in Hong Kong (but does work for The Guardian) so it’s “inside” but not “inside” in the sense that Greenwald’s book is. That said, it’s not a long book, it’s an easy read, and contains some fascinating details I haven’t found elsewhere. (Apparently Snowden once said that Ireland was nice apart from a “socialism problem.”) It’s very much the “zomg real world political thriller” it promises to be, but once you realize that and read other things to round out your knowledge, it’s alright.

This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers, by Andy Greenberg. (Link.)

By my count, I’ve read seven books with “Wikileaks” or “Assange” in the title, and this was the best thing I read, including things written by Assange himself. Greenberg’s currently doing great reporting with WIRED. It also charts the history of the cypherpunks, which you should read once. (And preferably only once — features a lot of nerdy white libertarian types.) If you want a second book on Assange, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, by David Leigh and Luke Harding is my tentative second recommendation. If you can, stay away from things written on the topic by anyone with a vested interest in either Wikileaks or The Guardian — it can descend into mudslinging at times.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous, by Gabriella Coleman. (Link.)

Quite simply the book on Anonymous, the hacker/activist collective. Coleman is an anthropologist and without being hyperbolic, is probably the world expert. Not required reading if you’re more into the Snowden side of things, but an excellent book all the same.


Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. (Link.)

I first read this as a 14-year-old, and where it really succeeds is getting you interested in this area without being designed to do so. First and foremost, it’s a YA novel, and a damn good one at that. I’d read this as an example of fiction featuring a lot of cypherpunkish lines of thoughts/habits. You can read the other books on this list to get specific angles, but this is a great overview.  (Doctorow also has free versions on his site.)

1984, by George Orwell. (Link.)

The word “chilling” gets thrown a lot in the free speech debates, but Orwell’s London is haunting in what feels to me like a very subtle way — it’s undeniably violent, but in a way that’s not at all overt. The book’s always described as “prophetic” but I don’t actually think it’s particularly useful as a road-map of NSA surveillance or way of making sense of the USA in the 21st century. Read it to get a sense of panopticons (a system where everyone can be under surveilled at any time, and so act as if they’re monitored constantly) and a society under oppressive surveillance. (You can read online here.)

Blogs I Follow

To keep up with news on these topics, here are the authors I try not to miss anything from:

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10th and B

You’re on your way to being a real New Yorker once you get the fuck outta the dorms.
—A New Yorker friend of mine.

Image nabbed from Wikipedia

The Life Café, circa 2008. Image nabbed from Wikipedia

It’s June 4, 2015, and earlier today I found myself standing on the corner of 10th street and Avenue B, beside Tompkins Square Park. Before landlord disagreements caused it to close, you could find the Life Café here — a boho café and brunch place best-known for appearing in “RENT,” a musical I was a wee bit obsessed with as a teenager. I visited it in summer 2011, the first time I visited NYC and, not finding one ready-made, I fashioned my own RENT-tour. (Oh god, that’s embarrassing to write.)

Standing there, I was hit with this surreal feeling. I did my last acting gig in April 2010, playing RENT’s narrator in a community theater production in Limerick, Ireland. If you told that kid that he’d turn 21, have blue hair, and be renting an apartment in the East Village working for a kick-ass journalism non-profit, I imagine he would’ve just melted in a puddle of happiness at your feet.

The sublet I’m in is cozy — one of those room-for-a-bed-and-not-much else affairs. The landlord bans cats, but I couldn’t swing one —dead or alive— even if I wanted to.


(After a few chords, the COMPANY, led by MARK COHEN, enters from all directions and fills the stage. MARK sets up a small tripod and a 16mm movie camera downstage center, aimed upstage. He addresses the audience.) MARK: We begin on Christmas Eve with me, Mark, and my roommate, Roger. We live in an industrial loft on the corner of 11th street and Avenue B, the top floor of what was once a music publishing factory. Old rock ‘n’ roll posters hang on the walls. (He turns the camera to ROGER) Smile!

More updates to come!

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Broadcast Journalism

I thought I wrote about this on the blog before, but apparently not.

Right before the end of the semester, I took the reins of the Week Ahead video, a short clip the Washington Square News produces for the NYU community about events happening in or around campus.

I really enjoyed producing the video, even though I have essentially no TV experience. We have immensely talented videographers and media types at the WSN, but our setup is still kind of on-the-fly — the teleprompter I’m using in the video is an auto-scrolling iPad, which I found really hard to see, hence the squinting.

I have a sneaking suspicion I would love broadcast journalism — both producing and anchoring, so I’m taking a multimedia class at NYU next semester, and this was a cool first experience. I don’t know what the setup is going to be with these videos next semester, but I hope to get to do some more.

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Current Status: Opinionated

Next semester, I take over as the Opinion Editor with the Washington Square News. I’m delighted to continue with the paper for a third semester running, and I’ll continue to write my weekly column on the intersection between technology, privacy, and student life. I’ve enjoyed being an editor so much over the last six months —I was a deputy ops editor last semester— because it brings writing into a more social space: what was once a solitary profession is now a little more communal.

My journalism path has been a little bit of a meander so far. In the fall of my freshman year, I did two articles for them as a stringer, but was ultimately too concerned with acclimatizing to a new country to spend too much time on extracurriculars. I had a hunch that any journalist worth their salt worked with their school newspaper though, but I wouldn’t figure out my ‘in,’ since I didn’t think I wanted to be a straight-up news reporter. My twin interests of journalism and explanatory writing collided spectacularly summer after my freshman year, when I realized that I could write opinions. I hashtag pivoted to the opinions section and started writing a column that became affectionately known as “Collision Course.”

(As how-did-you-get-your-start stories go, I like mine: A staff editorial at the paper somewhat eyebrow-rasingly declared that “Privacy is an unreasonable expectation on the Internet” and, having become involved in net neutrality/online privacy advocacy, I asked to write a counterpoint; Right to online privacy should be claimed was published three weeks later, and the rest, as they say, is history.)

But being an editor is more than being able to produce a column each week. You’re on the masthead, and it’s much more of a collaborative environment. No ops editor is an island, and the paper as a whole is better when there’s a plurality of voices writing those opinions.

People have asked why I work at the paper when I already have a blog, and the answer is basically just deadlines. The ability to write well is like a muscle, in that it improves with continued use and strengthening. Conversely, disuse causes atrophy. With a blog, there’s a temptation to take breaks from writing or only write when it suits me. With the paper, there are column inches that need to be filled. The paper doesn’t care if you’ve got writer’s block or if you’re tired or if you have a big midterm tomorrow. (On that note, I am going to have to be hella organized next semester — queue up a couple of evergreen columns that I can pull out at short notice.)

When I wrote about becoming a deputy editor in January, I talked about how I’d never really edited before. “I haven’t done a huge amount of editing of other people’s work before,” I wrote, “so I expect that’s where most of my on-boarding will be.” This turned out to be fairly true: I continued writing my column and editing was indeed a new experience. I enjoyed editing other columns, and how a piece edited by me ends up fairly different than a piece edited by Tess or Matt. Being Ops Editor next semester means more editing, which adds to the friendly, collaborative atmosphere round the office and also — the more editing I do, the better my own writing becomes. Win all round.

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Dyeing Thoughts

You finally did it! It looks great.
—Facebook comment on a pic I uploaded.

I’ve been interested in dyeing my hair for a while, and I’m not entirely sure where the desire comes from. I suppose some of it has to do with living in NYC and being surrounded by people of all hair colors and being naturally curious. I can’t pinpoint when exactly, but at some stage I decided it was something I really wanted to do. I wanted to dye my hair. Something outlandish. Probably blue.

Exhibit A — natural hair. Actually my headshot at the NYU newspaper.

Exhibit A — natural hair. Actually my headshot at the NYU newspaper.

But deciding to do it turned to actually be easiest part. I had a really big block about it. Part of me thought it would look awful and was a terrible idea, and another part of me felt rooted to the spot, unable to actually pick up the phone and make an appointment or ask a friend to help me do it. I’m not usually a .gif person, but this accurately sums up how I felt about the idea. Retrospectively, I have no idea why I felt so scared about doing it. “It’s such a big thing!” I told myself, which is… true. But I also moved continents to attend college. I am not averse to big changes and big shifts.

My biggest mistake —but, I think, the only reason I ever finally did— was telling people I was planning on doing it, having taken no concrete steps. By my reckoning, I first told someone I really wanted to do it at Thanksgiving, and promised that, by New Years’, I’d be blue. I chickened out. Okay, I promised, when I saw them again in April — by the end of the semester. We agreed, and I went back to studiously avoiding booking an appointment. I think this person realized this was something I wanted to do, underneath it all, and I’m grateful that they continued to prod me in the right direction for the better part of a year.

After two coats of bleach. Not even the white most people seem to achieve.

After two coats of bleach. Not even the white most people seem to achieve.

In my free time between not taking any concrete steps towards booking an appointment, I would look up info about hair dyeing. As far as my searches could go, no ginger has ever dyed their hair. This notion was reinforced because people tended to react with shock when I admitted I was thinking about dyeing it. Red hair is so strange, in that old ladies on the street (in New York, even! Bastion of intensely solitary people) would stop and comment on it and, on more than one occasion, touch it. It was supremely weird. But it’s so rare! they would say. Yes. And?

But, thanks entirely to a prodding of one friend and the dyeing prowess of another, I fulfilled my ambition of going blue last night. It took two coats of bleach, because we went for a weak version to save my scalp, and also because my hair is naturally good, thick hair, which sticks out like a potted plant when it gets too long. The actual experience of dyeing was interesting. It felt like someone was putting heavy cream over my scalp. My friend had described bleach as something which “breaks follicles open,” but I found the actual experience to be much less dramatic because we went for a weak variety. Most of the evening was spent trying not to touch anything, watching the movie “Hackers” and waiting for Bleach 1, Bleach 2, and then blue to set in.

When we were done, the color turned out mostly blue. Along the front/top, we suspect the bleach didn’t entirely set in and the law of colors has given me a cool purple tinge. I suspect it may fade to a metallic grey of some description, but we’ll wait and see. For now, I’m delighted with how it’s turned out. Before now, I didn’t do much with my hair beyond shampooing and styling it with gel, but I picked up a good conditioner because I want to actually keep this looking good.

In short, I’m freaking delighted with how this turned out. It looks great, I feel amazing about it, and I can’t fathom why it took me this long.

Update, May 30: The bleach definitely didn’t entirely take, and some spots were creeping back towards red after some washes. We went back at the hair today with more bleach and applied heat after dyeing the hair back to blue. The result is a much bolder blue that seems like it’s going to stick. I am excited.

After the first dyeing attempt, the hair faded to purple.

After the first dyeing attempt, the hair faded to purple.


After letting Attempt #2 dry.

The tl, dr, here is that ginger hair is totally dye-able, and it looks epic.

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