Judith Miller up close

During the Society of Professional Journalists annual convention in Las Vegas I had the opportunity to photograph New York Times reporter Judith Miller for the organization’s magazine, Quill. Miller was there to accept a First Amendment Award from the Society, give a speech and take questions from the conventioneers.

I would love to write more about my experience, including some of my thoughts about the whole Judith Miller situation. Time is limited, though, as I organize and finalize plans for this Friday’s Cincinnati SPJ banquet (wanna come?). But suffice it to say that I think she’s done a wonderful thing for the collective “we” of journalists and, in turn, a great service to the public. Talking with an attorney-friend of mine the other day I referred to her as a martyr for all of us who believe in a strong First Amendment, adding that, for now, she’s my personal Jesus Christ of Journalism. She went to jail for 85 days so I wouldn’t have to.

Frankly, no matter your opinion of her reporting leading up to the war (and, believe-you-me, there’s plenty of blame to go around for much of the media covering the build-up), this is not the issue at hand. Not even close. Judy Miller stood hard-and-fast on an unwavering principle of journalism: Promises are promises.

The public is better served by these agreements – no matter how big or small. If anonymous sources cannot be protected I will be one of many journalists and other media professionals who will welcome you to the spun, press-release’d, press-conference’d, sound-bite’d and vanilla version of the world where everything is vetted, cross-checked, approved, plotted, conferred, manipulated, misinformed, calculated and white-washed and made-for-TV into a one-world-view of the, well, everything. Gone will be investigative reports of any substance, insider information on the government and corporations and the underbelly of anything. Without protection in some circumstances who would talk?

As a journalist people tell me things everyday that lead me on ideas for stories. Some make it in the paper, other’s don’t. Not that every tip needs the utter and rare protection of being anonymous under the scrutiny of a grand jury – nor do I believe many sources think it would ever be an issue. But it could be. Easily. Watergate would never, ever have happened in this climate. Woodward and Bernstein weren’t star reporters at the time they started meeting with Mark Felt, the famous “Deep Throat,” in a parking garage. They were good journalists, keeping their word to an anonymous source for 30 years – and only until Felt revealed who he was. Watergate, keep in mind, in the end, was really just about a run-of-the-mill burglary. Those happen all the time. It was just the people who were involved and what they were burglarizing that made it into such a big story. Nobody died, some people lied and everyone – except those who died later on – are all alive. Today, in 2005, we’re talking about stuff on a little grander scale than that. War, invading other countries, revealing the name of an undercover C.I.A. operative, dead American soldiers. Wish we were worried about little break-ins at the Watergate Hotel. My God, how simple life would be…

As a working journalist, past newspaper staff reporter and an active member of the media community, you do not want promises by journalists to be so easily dissolved. Judy Miller, like her or not, stood and stands for something. Something so important and so critical to good, solid and crucial journalism that much of the public does not know, care or understand what exactly has transpired, much less why it’s so important to them. But it is.

Sadly, many talking heads – including one surprisingly misguided Harvard professor this week on the radio program “The Al Franken Show” was dastardly wrong and misinformed on the situation and continued to spread more misinformation to a national audience. That stuff has got to stop. I generally expect and receive better from Franken.

If you listen to Judy Miller, her explanations seem very plausible, the dots match up and paint a very clear picture. She and her newspaper weren’t doing this for no more reason than to stand up for what’s right and what’s important to the media, and, in return, to the public. Miller’s comments to the SPJ convention Monday were recorded by C-SPAN and could have been obtained before this guy went on the show. The good Harvard prof obviously had not heard her comments from the convention.

If you look into Miller’s eyes, hear her talk and let her bear out the minute details of her situation, it makes perfect sense. Not an opportunist, a plotting, manipulative person or journalist. Doing her job? Yes. Competitive? Probably. But you want a competitive press, don’t you?

I commend her for actions, her courage and her willingness to ride out this storm and, above all, her outstanding journalism ethics. And those who suggest otherwise, I think, might be not looking at the big and the little picture. It’s high time they did.

Photo Captions
All photos Copyright 2005 by Joe Wessels
In two photos Judith Miller discusses her situation at the SPJ convention before joining a panel of other journalists in similar situations.

Patricia Hurtado – a reporter with Newsday – discusses her battle to stay out of a court case she was covering during a panel with the AP’s Josef Hebert and The New York Times’ Judith Miller. Attorneys involved with the case subpoenaed her to testify so she could no longer cover the trial, she said. Far right, media law attorney Bruce Sanford who also addressed the audience.

In one photo, Miller talks with Associated Press reporter Josef Hebert, also involved in a subpoena case similar to Miller’s, but with less attention. They were on a panel together at the convention.

Miller holds hands across the table with an audience member at the SPJ convention who heard her speak.

A crowd rushes the stage after Miller’s panel to get one-on-one time. Miller addresses the crowd.

After leaving the conference hall, Miller spends time with Cleveland-based freelance writer Wendy Hoke to be interviewed for Quill, SPJ’s magazine (two photos).

Coming home not so easy

After this evening’s mayoral debate – sponsored by Cincinnati Advance, the Society of Professional Journalists, National Association of Black Journalists and WAIF-FM – between Ohio Senator Mark Mallory and Cincinnati City Councilman David Pepper, I headed home. No big deal. I had work to do. Only problem: I couldn’t get there.
Just about a block south of where I live a man fired shots from an assault rifle and then reportedly ran into the Belmont Cafe on Race Street, a few doors south of 12th Street – and just about a block south of where I live.
Workers at the bar then barricaded the door and wouldn’t let police in to investigate – a direct violation of state law. This then, according to police spokesman Lt. Kurt Byrd, sparked an intense police intervention. The kind of intervention that, ya know, brings out the S.W.A.T. and keeps people from going about their business – like going home.
That intervention included a six-block area around the scene – including where my apartment is located – being draped with yellow “Police Line – Do Not Cross” tape. The S.W.A.T. team was called, and a mini-convention of local media outlets – each TV station and newspaper well represented – all gathered to take it all in. I just wanted to go home.
I, with nothing better to do and unable to get to the pad, called an editor at the Enquirer to see if I could maybe at least earn a few dollars covering the story. The editor had dispatched the evening’s cops’ reporter to the scene, but he said he might want some photographs if “shooting broke out.”
Okay, then. I grabbed my camera and positioned myself with the other media folks.
All us journos sat around with our cameras and our notebooks aimed directly a half-block away, right at the front entrance of the Belmont. The TV folks aimed their microwave remote dishes straight at their respective newsrooms and went live at 11.
The most impressive part of the whole evening was the group arrival of the off-duty S.W.A.T. team members around 11:45 p.m. Central Parkway was closed and then all at once sirens and a convoy of private-person cars, trucks (lots of big pick-up trucks with large tires) and large police vans, cars and a big, black tank-looking truck with the large, white “S.W.A.T.” blazoned across the side zoomed past. Each vehicle had one person – presumably a member of the S.W.A.T. team – in it and they filed past us and headed for their staging area along 12th street. You know, near my bedroom window (the one where the crack addicts usually indulge in…well, lots of stuff).
S.W.A.T. went in a little later and then we waited. Nothing happened.
We waited longer and still not much happened after then news-wise and that’s pretty much the way it ended, with Lt. Byrd stopping by, sharing details of what we just saw with cameras rolling, notebooks filling and all of us glad to be able to soon leave.
According to Lt. Byrd, apparently the person with the assault rifle was real – police found shell casings on the ground outside the bar. But nothing and no one was found. Night over. Time to go home.
The Sit-a-Round
Sitting around at stories with other journalists is often fun. These sort of sit-and-wait news events lend themselves to us hanging around and getting to know each other, chatting about the stuff we’ve covered in the past, the characters we’ve covered, our lives and whatever.
Learned a bit about some of my colleagues, especially one local TV reporter and anchor who four years ago ran for Cincinnati’s mayor against Charlie Luken. He and I had never met, but he’d heard of the radio show I did this past summer (he did one once himself) and we got talking about the state of the city. He’s got a passion for this town that is inspiring, a caring that runs deeper than most. I share this with him on many levels. It was neat to talk to him.
Ah, home sweet…what?
Soon after all the media left and I tried to go home. Couldn’t though. Police were planning to keep the area closed for a while longer and the cops guarding the perimeter where unaware of what was going on, uh, again, near my front door. So now I am now typing this little ditty from the WAIF studios – about the only place close enough that I knew I could go that I could get in. I’m tired. I’m concerned. I’m frustrated.
People think I’m crazy for living where I do. Sometimes I think they’re right. It seems lately I have been feeling that more and more. Despite that, I’m convinced Over-the-Rhine, or OTR, as many call it, is a special place. Maybe you’ve heard it before: the architecture, the old buildings – all preserved, but deteriorating. Ironically, the abject poverty that set in here starting 40 and more years ago is what has allowed this neighborhood to stay pretty much the same. No money, no way to tear things down and build new stuff.
The only thing missing is the spirit that built this place, that made it this magnificent masterpiece, full of character and promise. I often walk the streets and wonder what it would’ve been like to have been living here 50 years ago. Or eighty years ago, or maybe even a hundred. Bet it was neat. Community-minded people everywhere.
OTR might just not be that special place for me right now. I wonder what it would be like to move a little farther south, into the true downtown. The crime rate is lower and the activity is centered around good restaurants, good entertainment and business (though it admittedly struggles, too). OTR has so many good people wanting to make it better. In the time being, though, I could be a victim of something horrific.
I heard one of the candidates this evening say there are 2,500 residents living in the central business district – what most would call “downtown” – right now. He said he would aim to increase that number to 10,000 during his time as mayor. Getting people to live downtown would certainly change the make-up of the people who hang out down there. It would undoubtedly make it better.
Along those same lines, had lunch yesterday with a friend who owns a restaurant in Over-the-Rhine. She, like me, believes the neighborhood could be more. But it just isn’t. At times it seems to be back-sliding. Not far and not fast, but it’s slipping. She called it a mess. I don’t want to admit it, but I think she’s right. It needs people like she and I, we both agreed, but geez, in the time being…
That former mayoral candidate and TV anchor said in the nearly two decades that he has lived here he’s seen a change, too. He said the town doesn’t know how to have fun anymore. When he got here Cincinnati – downtown – was a fun place. He likened it now to a kid growing up and forgetting how to enjoy itself.
I remember what he is talking about. A friend and I used to ride the bus downtown and hang out downtown- see a movie on the Skywalk, play video games at the arcade and ate at McDonald’s. I dare you to find a movie theater, a video arcade or a McDonald’s downtown. Heck, I almost dare you to find the Skywalk. Downtown in the mid-80s was a different place. I used to come downtown to visit my Uncle Steve who lived at the 4th & Plum Apartments and was entranced by what I saw. Being a suburban kid, coming downtown seemed exotic and I guess really kind of was. My travels on the bus became a hot topic of discussion among my family and extended family at gatherings and dinner tables. I just loved it here – and I felt safe.
I’m not so sure that it’s just that the city lost it’s ability to have fun. I think too many people gave up too long ago and moved too far away to care that much about it anymore – even though we all point to downtown and Cincinnati when we talk about where we’re from. But I don’t see that magic anymore. I wonder what happened, why it happened. I miss it. And seeing the S.W.A.T. on my front doorstep as I wander home one evening after hearing two of the candidates for mayor is like buying a shiny new bike and then having it stolen upon taking it for its first spin. You wonder what’s the point.

Twins Turn One: No Big Deal to Them

My darling twin little nieces flipped from counting life by the month to by the year Sunday (though their official birthday isn’t until tomorrow) with another birthday party at my sister’s house and the same trademark bliss that has been key to their first 12 months. They had no idea what was going on – but loving just about every minute of it.

Birthday parties at Shelly and Sean’s house are turning into a production-line process, complete with a stream-lining expert and new modes of efficiency being implemented at each new celebration. I imagine by time my sister and her husband’s four children are fully-grown there just may be a room off to the side – maybe not yet even added-on to their house yet – dedicated to birthdays, locked, blinds drawn and only to be entered for those special days but already and always set up with cake, candles, reversible Barbie/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle table cloths and napkins and perfect acoustics for belting out the “Birthday song”.

And, as usual, their uncle was busy snapping away photos of all the action. This past month, though, I’ve been armed with a digital camera which means two things. First, I shoot a ton more photos – which is starting to even annoy me. And secondly, I can – for the first time ever – share these photos very easily. It’s pretty fun and amazing what technology can do (even a technophile like myself gets blown away at times).

As you can see by the photo above, my darling nieces were turned to plastic by the excitement as they posed – naked – outside the party for their wacky uncle Joe – you know, the un-married, odd one that lives by himself downtown and has two cats. That’s me.

Updates to Web page

I have made some minor updates to my personal Web page at www.joewessels.net. Most notably are adding photos of my niece’s birthday party (which I already wrote about on here), changing, adding and deleting photos in the “My Computer’s Slideshow” section, plus adding a page with photos I took earlier this year in Northside both at the Gay Pride Festival and the neighborhood’s Fourth of July Parade (both a hoot to witness and shoot).

I’ve also made mention on my site of a Web page that will be about the new radio show I am launching October 14, 2005 – independent of the one I did this summer. No name, Web address or other information has been announced yet – but stand by. There’s cool news (I’m excited about it) on the horizon. As soon as it is finalized I will Blog about it here and update the link on my Web page.

I’ve also re-opened my guest book to comments. I’ve had problems with spammers using it to post copious, lengthy diatribes about penis enlargement and hope that they’ve moved onto more fertile pastures. And if someone who knows me decided to direct penis enlargement companies to my Web site – as a favor – I thank you. They worked. And that’s all I got to say about that…

Blogging about the Bloggers

Last evening I was a panelist during a joint meeting of the The Women’s Circuit and the Cincinnati Programmers’ Guild. The topic? Blogs.

I was joined by two other local bloggers – Peg Haustetter and Brendan Cronin – and ex-blogger Kat Jenkins. In front of a small group on the 27th floor of the Chemed Building downtown, Guild president Troy Davis moderated and drilled us on the how and why of Blogging, including some talk of how Blogs are changing the way news is covered and treated today.

It was neat to see a few people had actually read my Blog prior to the evening. Though I really do this for myself and to hone my craft, it is always certainly cool to know people read what you write. Thank you!

It was a neat discussion, interesting to learn why people Blog (and why some, like Kat, stopped), and what the group thought about the medium. Overall I really enjoyed the evening and would like to thank the Programmers’ Guild and The Women’s Circuit for inviting me and shining light on this topic.

Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati brings out the best

It’s just not everyday you get to see a Cincinnati City Councilman dressed up in lederhosen. Come to think of it, that’s true unless you’re talking about Jim Tarbell. The Cincinnati City Councilman likes to dress up. I’ve also seen him in long tails and top hat. But the good thing is he’s always in the spirit of the occasion – a true showman. Sunday was no different when I spotted him at Cincinnati’s annual celebration of its German-influenced heritage known as Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.

Living downtown lends itself to doing things downtown. It might be my favorite part of being down here. Of all the festivals that happen down here – and there are some neat ones – I like this one the best. Call me biased, but maybe my German heritage leads me to that conclusion. But during Oktoberfest weekend, everyone in the Greater Cincinnati area is a little German.

Gotta say, too, that I was a little bummed I didn’t get a chance to see Uncle Al and Captain Wendy. Doing the chicken dance with them all these years later (when they first taught me to throw my elbows back and twist, twist, twist at my waist) would have been a distinct honor. I am so happy – even though I missed it – that they agreed to come back to town to do this. I have such fond memories of watching their show as a child.

(By the way, I had noticed a while ago – and had planned to write about it, but an editor declined the story – to write about how WCPO was selling Uncle Al t-shirts and other items. But apparently Uncle Al asked the station to stop selling the stuff.)

And though I’m German (my father immigrated here in 1955 when he was 7 1/2 years old), I don’t own a pair of those…things. And I’ve been asked why a few times. See, my family – thank God in Heaven – is from the northwestern region (a county, for all intents) of Germany known as Emsland. There they don’t wear lederhosen. That’s a southern-Germany thing. And I will forever be grateful. But, hey, Tarbell looks good in ’em.

Niece survives three years

My niece Kailey had her third birthday party Sunday. It was a blast to see her so darn happy – she gets it big time now. Presents. Cake. People. Kids to play with. Fun everywhere. And she showed it in her super-big expressions and her happy-go-lucky demeanor. I think I captured it in some of the photos I shot last night. More are on my Web page…

By the way, I used Picasa to get the photos off my camera, edit, manipulate and create a handy dandy Web page to share what I shot. I am getting more and more impressed all the time with the wonderful features of this free software, provided by Google.

It’s not PhotoShop (I still have a copy of that on my computer for tougher jobs), but for the quick, easy handling of a massive amount of photos, I don’t think it can be beat – especially for the price. For being someone who has become notorious for taking photos that people never see again (because it was always too cumbersome to get them to people), this is making my life easier and those who are in the photos much happier.

Where’d ya been?

Having a digital camera now allows me to do some of the off-the-cuff photography that having a film camera just practically wouldn’t allow. I’m sure it excites you…

So, today, riding through Cincinnati’s west side, I noticed this sign on a restaurant near a school.

It begs some serious questions. Were the restaurant owners and/or managers glad the students are back? And where’d the BLT wraps been? Also, if the wraps are just coming back are they equally as excited that the students are coming back as they are about the wraps finding their way home, too? Can maybe you order up an order of “students” to eat and on your next trip get a BLT wrap? Will students be used in the making of the BLT wraps? Like, can a student be wrapped up in a BLT wrap and be served hot? I need some answers, folks.

Three Good Movies

Just in the past few days I have seen three really excellent movies, each good in their own special way. Two I saw while on vacation, the other I just saw today.

In Reno, I checked out The Aristocrats. This documentary is entirely about a single joke among comedians, a sort of secret-society, never-told-on-stage behind-the-scenes funny-funny. It’s told by about 100 different comedians in the movie in their own unique, and uniquely perverse, disgusting way. And it’s wonderful!

Maybe surprisingly (and it seemed so odd to me, making it even funnier than the others) – the joke is told the funniest, raunchiest and most outlandishly by Bob Saget (Full House, America’s Funniest Home Videos). The punch line to the joke is the movie’s title. And, oh boy, get ready to laugh…

In San Francisco, on the night before I left giving Mike a few hours to himself, I saw The Constant Gardener. Holy shit. This movie was both a thriller and tear-jerker, plus was poignant, smart and chilling – all wrapped up in a beautiful photographed, beautifully written story . I read one critic call it the “thinking-person’s thriller,” and I think that describes it pretty well. This was my favorite – by far – of the three I’ve seen recently.

Finally, today I quelled my curiosity and saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Hilarious, and at times very touching (especially the ending – which is also a little silly-funny), Steve Carell is emerging, without question, as one of the comic geniuses of our time. Between his bits on The Daily Show and his role in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, I think Carell is well on his way to well-deserved recognition as a full-fledged, all-out comic actor star.

Go see this one for a good laugh, plus, at times, some gross-out comedy (which my sophomoric side just loves), plus some good physical gags. It also has some well-placed tender moments. It makes the whole story packaged in a very humorous and a very touching way – especially for us 30-something virgins. Ha. Just kidding. C’mon now…