The overwhelming majority of messages I got in response to Peter Bouckaert's call for an email campaign were critical of Gawker's decision not to honor the Richard Engel media blackout. But not all of them. Somalia Report publisher Robert Young Pelton, a longtime freelance reporter, wrote me to alert me to Bouckaert's campaign and to tell me that "having been kidnapped and involved in dozens of corporate bungled kidnaps, I can say there is no evidence that keeping things quiet does anything than protect the corporate image and pocketbook." Pelton is has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Somalia, Chechnya, and elsewhere. He was the first American to discover an injured John Walker Lindh and interview him near Mazār-e Sharīf. Pelton was kidnapped and held for ten days in 2003 by a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group. I asked him to put his thoughts into a longer email.
When we published reports on Monday that Richard Engel and his crew had gone missing in Syria, it was over the objections of Engel's employer NBC News, which had been trying to enforce a media blackout on Engel's situation. That was an unpopular decision in some quarters, and it sparked a discussion on the Vulture Club, a Facebook group focusing on war-zone reporting moderated a Human Rights Watch staffer named Peter Bouckaert. Bouckaert urged Vulture Club members to email me and ask me to take the Engel post down. Below are some of their notes.
One of the many little thrills of being a part of the Obama campaign four years ago was a deep and abiding sense that, finally, a political leader had come along who could live up to our highest aspirations. Yes, Obama was cool and played basketball and was conversant in ironical youth culture, but when it came down to it, he was overwhelmingly serious. The other guys were hauling unlicensed plumbers onstage and suspending their campaign at the drop of a hat, but Obama kept his eyes on the prize and played the grown-up. Now he's talking about "Romnesia."
It's time for another presidential debate, but this one is different, because everyone will follow the rules and tell the truth. This is the foreign policy debate, which means we get to witness the Lucky Alien Sweepstakes, in which the two candidates' answers determine just which nation's people have won the right to be torched alive from airborne American hellfire. CROSS YOUR FINGERS, SYRIA.
America's newest sweetheart and undeniable debate-winner Jeremy Epstein joined Chuck Todd on MSNBC this morning to share his experience at last night's town hall debate. Epstein described the question selection process, explaining that each audience member submit four questions, and was given one back, but no one knew for certain they would be called upon.
As can be gleamed from the various pop-up parody twitter accounts and tumblrs, the second presidential debate was predictably a perfect target for internet meme makers, which in this day and age is what one might call "a success." When the candidates weren't too busy talking over each other, Mitt Romney was making weird, unsupported claims about women and binders and both President Obama and Candy Crowley were providing live fact checking services for the entire evening. It goes to show that the purpose of any given presidential debate is really just to remove the context from stupid things the candidates say and preserve them on the internet forever.
The Presidential debate is already underway in Long Island, but news is trickling in via CNN that Mitt underwent intense training—like how to sit on a barstool. Mitt is, of course, a Mormon, so his experience in bars is limited. Therefore, his bar stool training does make sense—he wouldn't want to look robotic or unnatural, after all.
For what seems like the second time in the last thirteen days, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will stride on stage tonight and pretend, for a few moments, to not be sickened by one another's presence. Can Obama "recover" from his "poor performance" in the last debate? Can Romney convince "swing voters" that he is "more than a Mormon robot?" The estimable Mobutu Sese Seko and I will be live blogging this debate in order to, uh, help answer these questions, and to perform other vital unspecified pundit services.
Fox Nation, the delicate wordsmiths behind delicious turns of phrase like "Hip Hop BBQ," have a new creation under their belts (said belts are probably holding up Glenn Beck jeans): The conservative millennial Mark Twains have now proclaimed that Mitt Romney "smoked" Barack Obama in the coin toss for tonight's debate.
Time's Mark Halperin has made himself useful for once by obtaining, and publishing, a copy of the 21-page memorandum of understanding that the Obama and Romney campaigns negotiated with the Commission on Presidential Debates establishing the rules governing this month's presidential and vice presidential face-offs. The upshot: Both campaigns are terrified at anything even remotely spontaneous happening.
How did Mitt Romney win the debate? Sure, it could be because his opponent was unprepared and listless. Or it could be because he had a cheat sheet with all the answers on it. Careful video analysis of Romney taking something out of his pocket has revealed, Daily Kos bloggers and others claim, a tiny piece of paper covered with answers. ("OBAMA POLICIES = BAD.")
The first debate of the 2012 general election season—the one that will fundamentally alter the direction of this race even though both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are terrible debaters who will lose to each other—is upon us. So settle in to your couch, open a beer, review your debate drinking game rules, and let Max Read and I "liveblog"—that's a dead technology from the days before Twitter—the action for you. Let the zingers fly! (No seriously you can watch the ball game and just check in here; we'll keep you updated.)
Uh oh, everyone panic: the temperature outdoors is not cold. Repeat: it is not cold outside. Well, gee, the only reasonable reaction to this state of affairs is to run a huge unwieldy power-sucking machine which will use massive amounts of energy in order to return our indoor space to its natural state—frigidity.