Archive for June, 2009

Minor Celebrity Defined

June 26, 2009

My niece went to Bali for a friend’s wedding and reported this item:

I was riding to the wedding with friends in a car, following the map provided with the invitation. It was about 5.30pm and the sun was still good and hot. One friend pointed to a blonde foreigner on the side of the road in a nice dress and said, “That’s Mercedes Corby.” She’s the older sister of infamous Australian marijuana prisoner Schapelle Corby. The younger Corby is serving a 20 year sentence stemming from her 2004 arrest when 4.2 kilograms (9.3 pounds) of weed was found in her boogie board bag entering Indonesia at Bali airport. Schapelle Corby, who came to Bali with her family to visit her sister, claimed the drugs were planted. Her case got massive attention in Australia and along with the Bali Nine arrests – Australians busted for smuggling heroin – put a temporary crimp in the flow of Australian tourists to Bali.

“She’s probably going to the wedding, too,” one friend, who’d met Corby a couple of times, said. The bride and Corby were both long-time residents of the same area of Bali and both Australians in relationships with Indonesians, so it made sense.

“We should have offered here a lift,” another friend said. “Maybe she knows where this place is.”

Although it looked close on the map, there was no sign of the turn for the wedding venue. No one we asked knew it was. So we figured we’d gone too far and turned back. We must have missed the turn, and this time we’d find it.

We passed Corby, still at the side of the road, but almost immediately realized there was no other possible turn ahead and quickly pulled into a parking lot to make a u-turn for another pass.

“Hi,” Corby shouted across the street at my friend she’d met.

“Do you know the wedding is?” my friend asked.

“It’s here,” Corby replied. “Just pull down this road and park behind that car.”

“Do you want a ride?” I asked.

“No, I have to stay here,” Corby said. “I’m the signpost.”

Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Indonesia is not a ‘Muslim country’

June 16, 2009

Al Jazeera is promoting a special program called “Hearts and Minds: the struggle for Indonesia’s soul” ahead of nation’s presidential election in July.


The show is off to a bad start in its promos, calling Indonesia “the world’s largest Muslim country.” Indonesia is not a “Muslim country” – it is a secular nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. An estimated 85-90 percent of Indonesia’s 240 million people are Muslims. But there are more Christians, Hindus and other non-Muslims in Indonesia than there are people in Australia, Sri Lanka, Scandinavia, or Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories combined.


Recognizing that significant minority, Indonesia’s founders made a conscious decision not to declare their nation a Muslim state, and voters have affirmed that decision in every election the country has held. Indonesia’s motto remains Unity in Diversity, not Allah Akbar.


Beginning with its misinformed “Muslim country” premise – whether due to poor preparation or ideological predisposition – Al Jazeerah’s special seems unlikely to shed useful light. Instead it will help Indonesia remain the greatest story never told.


Totally globalized native New Yorker and former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie. 

All Ahmadinejad, all the time

June 14, 2009

The most thoughtful and thought provoking show on CNN International in Asia these days is Fareed Zakaria GPS, airing Sunday night at 8pm Hong Kong time, a few hours before it’s shown in the US. This week, Zakaria’s program featured a segment on the Iranian election with a pair of Iran-born scholars and former top US Middle East diplomat Dennis Ross.

Rather than let us hear these smart people’s insights on Iran, CNN chose to continue its live feed of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s press conference complete with sycophantic questions and polemic replies – long after even Al Jazeera International dropped it. The network finally relented about 15 minutes into GPS’s scheduled broadcast time, so viewers enjoyed some of the panel’s intelligent analysis.

But after about 30 minutes, CNN decided we’d seen enough. It interrupted the program again, under the banner of “Breaking News,” not for more of the news conference or live pictures of protests by those disputing Ahmadinejad’s reported win. No, CNN interrupted GPS to bring us Christian Amanpour, who was at Ahmadinejad’s news conference, complete with snazzy red head scarf, to summarize what CNN International viewers had been forced to watch for most of the past two hours.

It wasn’t enough to see it once, we had to suffer through Amanpour blathering about this non-event. The insult to CNNI’s Asian viewers is multiplied because here, unlike other regions, GPS doesn’t have a reasonable rebroadcast time for us to see what we missed. Shame on CNN.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, financial crisis, and cheap lingerie.

Holocaust Museum Gunman vs Miss California

June 11, 2009

As a former CNN producer, I pay attention to what my former colleagues churn out. Wednesday night’s edition of Anderson Cooper 360 showcased some of the best and worst that the medium can offer.

AC360 coverage of Holocaust Museum gunman James von Brunn began with predictable, unfortunate recitation of von Brunn’s ridiculous views. Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, but it’s equally true that there’s no such thing as bad publicity: every mention of his wacky beliefs or tease of his website gives comfort and opportunities to recruit similarly disturbed extremists.

The program took a far better turn when it interviewed an official of the Southern Poverty Law Center that actually tracks and fights hate groups. The best guests are doers, not writers. The guest, SPLC Intelligence Report director Mark Potok,  was able to put the museum attack in context, both in terms of von Brunn’s history and recent hate group activities. Potok made the connection between this incident and the shooting of abortion doctor George Tiller. A black president in the White House may drive some violent extremists to desperate acts, enabled by easily available firearms.

The other related guests – an FBI agent who once infiltrated the hate groups and von Brunn’s former housemate – offered the irresistible TV lure of having actually met the shooter, but neither had much to say. Tracking them down, particularly the housemate, who seemed to have been landed mid-show, wins big bragging rights for the show and for the assistant producer or booker who uncovered them. It’s a much bigger coup for the show and its personnel than for viewers.

From the heights of the SPLC guest, AC360 tumbled to the depths with its story of Miss California Carrie Prejean being stripped of her crown. Pointlessly reporting this non-story is one thing, but this iteration insulted viewers at several levels. From a strictly journalism point of view, it’s inexcusable that the story failed to show the new Miss California, Tami Farrell, opting for that familiar video of Prejean’s pageant bikini strut. Believe me, as a red-blooded male, I like that bikini strut as much as the next guy. But apparently Anderson Cooper doesn’t, since he complained about running story. That’s the real insult.

On one hand we’re supposed to believe that Anderson Cooper is a hands-on newsman and AC360 is his take on the news of the day. But when it comes to Miss California stories, then AC portrays himself as a typical empty suit anchorman who doesn’t know what’s in the show until he reads it in the teleprompter. The reality is likely between those extremes, but that doesn’t mean AC can have it both ways. If Cooper really didn’t want the Miss California story on his show, it wouldn’t be there and it certainly wouldn’t have been teased throughout the hour. So, AC, please save the crocodile journalism ethics and stand behind your whole show or none of it.

Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance and cheap lingerie.


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