When you’re a columnist staring down a three-day work week before a major holiday—and all of my fellow scribes must know the feeling—you go for the easy kill. And what could better, more time honored, more cliched than the annual “Things I’m Thankful For” column? If it were a Christmas song, it’d be “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.” On an endless loop. With no gun nearby to shoot the stereo.
So yeah, I’m gonna do it—but with a twist that might just make this piece one of a kind. For as we all know, 2021 has been a watershed year for journalism and the media: arguably one of the most important in history. One of us scared a dictator so much that he resorted to skyjacking. Another band of pluggers unearthed the largest stash of documents in the annals of the profession. How’s that for a start?
These are the journalism events (and people attached to them) that find me in an especially grateful mood. May I submit that you pause to not only consider what’s on this list, but also to make your own? We need to stay positive. For if this were a tabulation strictly devoted to press freedom under fire, I’d need ten columns and a bathtub full of gin. And I don’t even drink.
And so, the blessings. This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that:
Roman Protasevich is (presumably) still alive
Protasevich was the 26-year-old journalist skyjacked from a Ryanair flight on May 23 by Belarus’ bully dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. Through his efforts as a blogger on the Telegram channel—he was editor-in-chief of Nexta and chief editor of Belarus of the Brain—Protasevich labored hard to expose and expunge a ruthless strong man who loves his power more than his people.
The last I saw of Roman, he appeared bruised and sleep deprived, forced into a confession that had all the authenticity of Nazi propaganda. Belarus propaganda isn’t too far off from that these days. But even Lukashenko isn’t enough of a violent fool to kill Protasevich while the rest of the media world watches. (Maybe.) It’s said Protasevich was transferred to house arrest in June. Presumably, he’s been safe ever since.
Danny Fenster is free just in time for Thanksgiving
Danny Fenster, who worked for the news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, was released earlier this month after half a year in prison—you can thank Myanmar’s brutal military junta for the kangaroo court verdict. Around the table of his family’s home, it will be a Thanksgiving like no other.
While Fenster believes he caught COVID-19 behind bars, he claims he wasn’t starved or beaten. It’s hard to say whether the same is true for more than 100 journalists and media officials have been detained in Myanmar since February, when the military overthrew the elected government after getting bushwhacked in free and fair elections.
The Pandora Papers have only started to emerge
A treasure trove of 11.9 million documents known as the Pandora Papers began to go public on Oct. 3. They detail the intricate hide-and-seek tax schemes powerful rulers, prelates and politicians use to shelter and build wealth at the expense of the people they serve. For this, thank the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among the Pandora finds: King Abdullah II of Jordan created a network of offshore companies to build a $100 million overseas property empire.
Though such news may smack of Stating the Obvious (I opined as much in a recent Qwoted column), it remains tantalizing to see what troubles Pandora will unleash on a world where the rich, powerful and greedy jockey for every advantage no matter how many bodies they trample, coffers they rob or seas they pollute. I’ll eagerly await the next major dispatch as much as high and mighty offenders won’t.
Prof. Scott Galloway remains a media force
I’ve never seen anything like Scott Galloway in my three decades of scribing, editing, column writing and striking poses at brainy-babe writer parties. His shingle leads off with marketing professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, but that’s the tip of the tip of the tip of the iceberg. Public speaker. Prolific author. Podcaster. Entrepreneur. Media heavy. I mean, supertanker heavy: “In March 2008, after raising $600 million, acquiring 18% of the outstanding stock, and threatening a proxy contest, I was elected to the board of The New York Times Company.”
OK, then: Who among us can write a true sentence like that? Or anything close to it? Not I, said the gadfly.
In an age where far too many pundits gain celebrity by virtue of their big mouths, bold lies and branding skills, Galloway oozes authenticity and irrefutable bona fides. How he runs his ship and operates within the media tell us a lot about how to effectively maintain voice, currency and influence in the public sphere.
Dogged journalists won’t let Jan. 6 go
It’s bizarre beyond the bizarre that so many Americans—including Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives—simply want to forget the Capitol riot and insurrection like it was an accidental belch at a dinner party. Some of the same lawmakers who cowered under their desks that day went into full contortionist mode the next, some even rewriting the narrative. A few have dared to say that the attack was really about patriotic people trying to defend their nation. This, comrades, is how fascist regimes get started.
The Washington Post, New York Times, and authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, have kept this story alive. That’s no easy feat when that trifecta of celebrity news, pandemic peril and ultra-right propaganda have threatened to bury it. We know now that John C. Eastman, a legal “scholar” turned evil genius, allegedly concocted a plan by which the vote to confirm Joe Biden as president could be stopped and the election results reversed in Trump’s favor. (Click here to connect with him on LinkedIn.)
We also know that Donald Trump and his allies set up a “war room” at the Willard Hotel where they plotted out what amounted to an overthrow of the government—which might well have happened, Woodward and Costa write in their book “Peril”—had Vice President Mike Pence decided to stop certification of the election. Then what?
Even as Trump has still not conceded his election defeat, the journalists who continue to report the Jan. 6 stories have not ceased their quest to expose, illuminate and inform the people. They have not nearly so much to gain as to lose; death threats are sadly too common for reporters today. But to borrow a phrase also used to describe those in the military, they’re working hard so I can enjoy my freedom.
Of all the media gifts I treasure this Thanksgiving, this may be the greatest of all. For our democracy remains in peril. But not if honest, hard working reporters get there to defend it first.
Meanwhile, pass the mashed potatoes, will ya? With Black Friday just days away, you can’t load up on too many carbs.