James Risen labels Obama administration as “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation”

“Freedom of the press” is a term that is quickly becoming more and more obsolete in the United States. The Obama administration continues to tighten is hold on the press as they limit interactions in the White House and prevent coverage that used to be standard. And trying to get around the walls that are being put up comes with severe consequences. According to CNN “The current administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under The Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined.” James Risen is among those being prosecuted after writing a chapter is his book “State of War” using classified information disclosed to him by a CIA official and then refusing to testify in a lawsuit against them for leaking the info.

More recently, Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page made stated that press freedom was being threatened more by the current administration than “any administration in American history.” Many others have agreed such as former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson saying that this has “the most secretive White House” she has ever dealt with or Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Sally Buzbee who said this administration is “significantly worse than previous administrations.” Despite all that, James Risen has vowed to stop at nothing to continue his investigative journalism and just released a new book: “Pay Any Price”. However, not all journalists are willing to take that same oath.

There is no doubt that the limitations put in place by the administration are doing a good job serving their intended purpose: controlling what what the public sees behind closed doors.

A photo released by the administration of President Obama shooting skeet that appeared in the NYT in 2013.

A photo released by the administration of President Obama shooting skeet that appeared in the NYT in 2013.

Another administration released photo that appeared in the NYT; President Obama laughing with Hillary Clinton during a lunch outside the Oval Office.

Another administration released photo that appeared in the NYT; President Obama laughing with Hillary Clinton during a lunch outside the Oval Office.

Egypt’s “War on Terror”

The “War on Terror” in Egypt is raging, particularly in the Sinai Peninsula, which is located in north eastern Egypt. In early November Zack Gold, a journalist for Middle Eastern online journal, Sada, reported, “According to the Egyptian government, over 700 soldiers, police, and civilians have been killed in terrorist attacks since the 2011 uprising: about 500 of them just since the July 2013 coup.” And according to Mohamed Elmenshawy, a writer for the Middle East Institute, the deadliest of these attacks took place recently, on October 24, when a car bomb exploded, leaving 28 soldiers dead and another 30 wounded. The violence has apparently been linked ISIS, according to sources in the government.


The Sinai Peninsula, located in north eastern Egypt.

With bombings and attacks every day, the Sinai Peninsula is currently an extremely dangerous place. Militants are being arrested, tunnels between Gaza and Sinai are being destroyed, and houses are being evacuated and demolished along the boarder on a daily basis.


Graphic from Scribd.com outlining deaths attributed to the “war on terror” in Egypt.

Egypt has attended multiple meetings regarding the US-led coalition against ISIS after agreeing to join them. They have, however, still not stated the extent of their intended involvement outside of Egyptian boarders. In October, Prime Minister, Ibrahim Mehleb told Reuters, “For the Egyptian military the most important thing is its borders and the stability of its country and the protection of its country.” In hisUN General Assembly speech, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi stated that the War on Terror should not just be limited to ISIS, but should include all Islamic Extremist Groups, which could explain Egypt’s lack of involvement outside their own boarders.

Some, such as Khaled Abu Toameh argue that there is a double standard when it comes to Egypt’s “War on Terror”, and others, such as H.A. Hellyer, argue that it does more good than harm. One thing is certain- it’s a war that won’t be ending any time soon.

Egypt’s “War on Terror” on twitter:

Traditional vs. Non-Traditional News

In today’s world with facebook, twitter, instagram, tumblr, reddit, and so many other distractions, how can the mainstream news possibly draw people’s attention away from last weekends photo real, the latest facebook fight, or the unlimited number of cat gifs that plague the internet?


Sites such as BuzzFeed, Vox, and the Huffington Post may have found an answer to this attention dilemma. These news sources often take a step back from traditional reporting practices and take a more laid back approach. Using funny gifs, photos, or a humorous framing can make the articles more accessible for people who aren’t all that interested in reading lengthy, jargon filled articles. This inclusion of humor is prevalent in articles that are clearly for entertainment purposes as well as articles that are reporting on current events and issues. There also seems to be a pretty wide variety in stories that are deemed “news”. On the BuzzFeed homepage under their news tab you can find both This Is How ISIS Smuggles Oil” and Taylor Swift Just Removed All Her Albums From Spotify“. This is interesting because the website also includes an entertainment tab, where I would expect the Taylor Swift article to appear.

Unlike CNN, Fox, or NBC, non-traditional news sources have no problem with drawing people in with tabloid-like headlines or funny quizzes that tell you which Harry Potter character you are. And the same rules of impartiality certainly do not exist. The article “A Gentle Reminder That “The Prince Of Egypt” Is The Best Animated Musical Of All Time” demonstrates both the humor and impartiality that BuzzFeed articles use. Many other articles use this same format where they don’t have the goal of providing both sides of the story, but instead they’ll use humor to express the authors view of the situation.

One of the latest quizzes available for taking on the BuzzFeed website

One of the latest quizzes available for taking on the BuzzFeed website

Despite the impartiality and humor, I was pretty shocked to discover that these sites do actually also produce articles that are informed and satire-free. Articles such as “Egyptian Court Sentences Eight Men In “Wedding Video” To Three Years In Jail” might not have the exact feel of an article from a more traditional news source- but it certainly has more seriousness to it than “14 Legitimate Excuses To Eat Cookiesor29 Passive-Aggressive Windshield Notes That Forgot How To Passive“. This specific article actually has a lot of the same components as a traditional article. They cite Aswat Masriyaa traditional news outlet in Egypt as the original source of their story witch adds legitimacy to the story and lets the reader know that it isn’t a parody article. They also provide the video that they are referring to in the article for added context and information. Although the article is short and simple it provides the reader with information that appears to be impartial and reliable.

Overall non-traditional news is probably not as valuable as traditional news, however, it might be able to reach audiences that traditional news cannot.


Social media as the new mainstream media

The use of social media by journalists has become widespread in Egypt. Journalists are all over twitter, facebook, tumblr, youtube, and countless other sites that allow for real time updates. Back in 2011, during the Arab Spring, many journalists made the realization that traditional journalism just wasn’t going to cut it; people wanted to know what was going on as it was happening. Journalists were forced to keep up with the protesters themselves who were also constantly sharing information and updates as things were happening. CNN reporter Ben Wedeman took full advantage of twitter during this time to provide real time updates.

Journalists weren’t only one who realized the benefit of instantaneous sharing around this time. Politicians also began to address the public though social media outlets, such as twitter. They realized that it was a way in which they could groom their public image by addressing people quickly and directly. In a Deutsche Welle article about social media in Egypt, Sonya Angelica Diehn highlights Egyptian politicians Mohamed ElBaradei and Mohammed Morsi as prominent twitter users (http://www.dw.de/social-media-use-evolving-in-egypt/a-16930251). Morsi surprisingly didn’t stop tweeting during his fall from power, he was still giving live updates.

Social media has had a huge impact in Egypt in incredible ways. The ability to converse and band together online was the stepping stone to change; to a revolution. It didn’t just bring people together for one cause, it changed the way in which people communicated and associated with each other.

Citizen journalists

Since the early 2000’s citizen journalism has been on the rise in Egypt, which a huge surge in 2011 at the time of President Hosni Mubarak’s deposition. While traditional journalism is being held hostage by the Egyptian government, citizen journalism has made a huge impact on the media landscape. Citizen journalists have the ability to cover things that traditional journalists just can’t or won’t go near. With Egyptian protesters being at the forefront of the political happenings they have the upper hand when it comes to timeliness. According to a report by the Pulitzer Center, in 2011, the death of 27 people during a military crackdown on a Coptic protest was largely covered by citizen journalists before mainstream media picked it up and covered it using the footage of the citizen journalists  (http://pulitzercenter.org/reporting/egypt-journalism-citizen-blogging-press-freedom-government). The likely reason for this is that traditional journalists are able to absolve themselves of any direct responsibility for the story by citing bloggers as the source of the videos.

That isn’t to say, however, that citizen journalists do not face repercussions for their reports. In her article outlining the presence of citizen journalism Hanna Sistek notes that there is still a lack of freedom of speech in citizen journalism (http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2011/09/online-journalism-booms-in-egypt-but-not-without-restriction262/). She points out that even though freedom for bloggers is growing, ancient laws that prohibit critique of the army caused the three year sentence of Maikel Nabil Sanad, a prominent Egyptian blogger.

Along with blogging, facebook has become a huge part of citizen journalism in Egypt. Facebook pages such as Rasd News Network and We are all Kahled Said, both of which were started by citizen journalists, exponentially gained a large amount of followers within hours of being established. Facebook provided the opportunity for people to get updates on events related to the revolution in real time, the downside being accuracy. Obviously with a lack of professionalism the issue of trust arises. In a media climate where the options are traditional media sources with a government agenda or citizen journalism with no real professionalism, who’s to trust?


The documentary directed by Mr. Hetherington and Sebsstian Junger, Restrepo, was incredibly gut-wrenching and eye opening. The film is nothing like any other war story I have ever heard, seen, or read. I think it is difficult to determine how balanced or impartial the film is without knowing the absolute story of the Korengal Valley. I haven’t been there and therefore can never know how accurate any one story truly is. I do believe, however, from what I have previously been exposed to, that it seems to do a better job of being balanced and impartial. We see the soldiers in many different situations; hanging out, fighting, eating, goofing around, reflecting back on what happened. We get more than just one story.

The New York Times photos and the Vanity Fair story are great supplements to the film that do an excellent job of helping readers/ waterers process the information at a slower pace. The film throws a lot at you in a relatively short amount of time. There is a lot of footage of here’s what happened but not a lot of explanation or time for processing. The captioned photos give something to look at, think about, and reflect on, alone with the article. It walks through what happened at a slower pace that is easier to process. However, the articles and pictures do not provide the same shock factor that comes alone with the film. The film really does a good job of taking you into the situation with the soldiers rather that telling you about it from the outside.

Reporting and showing death

The reporting and showing of death in the media is a delicate thing. I believe that it is often appropriate and even important to depict death even if it is sensitive. It is impossible to define the line between acceptable and unacceptable but there are situations in which it is appropriate and ones in which it is not. One of the most important conditions to showing death in media is forewarning. I do not believe that images of death or dying should be forced upon any viewer or reader. Some kind of disclaimer should be presented before the sensitive image is shown.

Another issue with the depiction of death is that, from my own observance, depiction of death in foreign countries seems to be far more common than depiction of death in the United States. Which makes me wonder; is it more acceptable or necessary to depict the death of foreigners or is it just easier to stomach? Or is it somehow more disrespectful to show a dead or dying American? It’s possible that seeing death of Americans in the news is just more disturbing and hits too close to home for people to look at. I often click through  CNN’s ’30 photos of the week’ and they occasionally have disturbing images of death or dying people but in all the pictures I have seen, I have never seen an American.

"Health workers place a corpse into a body bag Thursday, September 4, in Monrovia, Liberia. The suspected cause of death was the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 1,900 people in West Africa since December, according to the World Health Organization. Health officials say the current Ebola outbreak is the deadliest ever." One of the photos from CNN's 'week in 30 photos'.

“Health workers place a corpse into a body bag Thursday, September 4, in Monrovia, Liberia. The suspected cause of death was the Ebola virus, which has killed more than 1,900 people in West Africa since December, according to the World Health Organization. Health officials say the current Ebola outbreak is the deadliest ever.” One of the photos from CNN’s ‘week in 30 photos’.


I believe that sometimes the seriousness of issues is difficult to express and the use of depictions of death can be informative and evoke emotion. For example, the picture above, and many others like it, have been used to express the seriousness of Ebola in other countries. Reading about death and seeing it are two totally different things. Perhaps people would gain a better understanding of death in war if the death of U.S. soldiers was as prevalent as the ebola pictures. However, it’s not really something we see a lot of.

The [only] scoop on the October 1992 earthquake

On October 12, 1992 an earthquake measuring 5.3 on the Richter scale devastated Cairo killing 370 and injuring more than 3000 people. As could be expected, the story hit the front page of many newspapers, large and small, all over. Unsurprisingly, much of the same information was present in the handful of articles I read through. Of course, the number of people killed or injured, the status of the buildings in Cairo, and the magnitude of the earthquake are all important details that were mentioned in each of the different stories. It surprised me, however, to find a number of other overlapping details that were much less broad concerning the story of the earthquake as a whole.

Articles from The New York Times, The Sun [Baltimore, MD], Morning Call [Allentown, PA], and the Toronto Star, tell shockingly similar stories of the disastrous event. Apart from all of the general and necessary information concerning the earthquake, the articles shared very similar details, such as mentioning the deaths of school children who had been trampled while rushing out of schools. Three of the articles mention the collapse of the same 14-story apartment building and two mention the same woman who was pulled from the wreckage seven hours after the collapse still clutching the body of here dead son. Not only do the articles provide similar details about the same individuals involved, but three of the articles use the exact same quote: “At first I thought it was a bomb in the bank,” said Samy Mohammed Ali, a lawyer. “Then I saw people running, and I realized it was an earthquake.”

It is quite shocking that the articles seem to all focus around the same aspects of the earthquake despite the multitude of stories that could have been told. There were thousands of people injured and hundreds killed, yet the articles repetitively reported on the same few people.


Death toll reaches 340 as earthquake hits Egypt: [AM Edition] Reuter. Toronto Star [Toronto, Ont] 13 Oct 1992: A1.

EARTHQUAKE, PANIC KILL 370 IN EGYPT: [FIFTH Edition] Mann, William CView Profile. Morning Call [Allentown, Pa] 13 Oct 1992: A01.

Earthquake in Egypt Kills 370 and Injures 3,300: Earthquake in Egypt Kills 370 and Injures 3,300 By The Associated Press. New York Times (1923-Current file); Oct 13, 1992;

Large quake strikes Egypt At least 370 die, many in schools: [FINAL Edition] The Sun [Baltimore, Md] 13 Oct 1992: 1.A.

(All of these articles can be found using ProQuest News and Current Events on the UM Library website)

Get away to the beautiful Egypt!

Photo Credit: Andreas Tellefsen - Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/xgrape/4302012092/in/photolist-dBQ9HG-e2D46F-dBQbXy-7y9WvC-7y68sD-7y9W81-7y9Xbm-7y9Woj-7y68qp-7y66PH-7y9XdY-7y675e-7y9WaA-7y9Wjh-7y66Ta-7y67LP-7y9X4W-g5y78P-eWtpRZ-eWELMC

After sifting through a few dozen articles covering Egypt in the last 24 hours with titles like, “Policemen killed in blast near Egypt ministry” and “Egypt: Military aircraft crash ‘kills six crew’,” I happened upon a delightful article that painted Egypt as the perfect vacation getaway. In an article titled “7 Surreal Beach Getaways in Egypt”, Farida M Ezzat and Mohamed Khairat describe some of the most beautiful destinations in Egypt for a relaxing and comfortable vacation. If one were to read this article with no prior knowledge on the current state of Egypt, they could be fooled into thinking it is currently a conflict free, frequently traveled, perfect vacation destination.

The first and most obvious thing that the writers do to cover up the current issues taking place in Egypt is to not mention them at all. They omit them from the story completely in order to get the point across that there are still places in Egypt that are not emerged in conflict. In the second paragraph they describe El-Gouna, a Red Sea resort, as being “Just hours away from Cairo’s hustle and bustle”. They don’t bring up that the “hustle and bustle” of Cairo these days is protests and riots. They also use plenty of language that contradicts most articles you see today such as “relaxation and adventure” and “timelessness, peace and comfort”. When you scan the numerous articles that come up in the Google news search for Egypt you mostly see “death”, “killed”, “detained”, “attacks”, and so on.

For the most part, being up to date on the happenings in Egypt would probably steer you away from planning your next getaway there. But after reading this article there is a glimmer of hope that not everything everywhere is as terrible as the mainstream news lets on. There is still beauty in Egypt, even if we aren’t reminded of it every day.

A zero-tolerance approach to dissent

In this day and age in the United States you can open up your laptop, google a current issue or event and find all kinds of articles from different angles, perspectives, and opinions. People are given the right to think and write about pretty much whatever they want. Access to information isn’t usually thought of as a huge problem for journalists. However, this certainly isn’t the case everywhere.

In Egypt, it isn’t always as easy for journalists to write about whatever they feel like. The government has it’s own media agenda and anyone who tries to interfere with it is putting them self in the line of fire. Earlier this year in March, Egyptian journalists held a protest in Southern Cairo at a police institute where they were denied access to an appeal session, at which three prominent Egyptian activists were being tried. Under Egyptian law, trials are open to the public unless decided otherwise by the head of the court.

The concern for freedom of expression has only gone up. In June this year three Al Jazeera journalists were accused and convicted of “spreading false news, aiding a terrorist organization and endangering national security” according to a news report by Index, an international organization that focuses on the freedom of expression. And they aren’t the only ones who have been punished for attempting to cover things that the government is trying to keep inaccessible. Dozens of journalists have been detained for being dissenters since Early July when President Mohamed Morsi was deposed. But being detained isn’t the worst of it.

Riot police shot and killed at least five journalists and wounded others while attempting to cover protesters clashing with security forces. It is nearly impossible for journalists to cover anti-coup protests without being targeted by security forces. This creates a huge issue for the media in Egypt.

With targets being put on journalists backs for reporting on things the government tries to cover up, most people just find it easier to play it safe by ignoring those or taking the same stance that the government does. And not only that, but the journalists who are being killed or put on trial receive no support and are called “traitors” or accused of attempting to sabotage the country. By threatening and scaring journalists away from covering certain topics they are pushing their own agenda through the media and denying journalists and the public from the freedom of expression.