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photo credit: terryballard

My ethics professor hosted a screening of The Most Dangerous Man in America, a documentary by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith. I’ll leave the issue of awards nominations to the entertainment professionals who know far more about the process than I do. Furthermore, the documentary does a fantastic job of telling Ellsberg’s story through family experiences, military service, a Pentagon career, and through the decision making process of leaking the Rand Corporation‘s report – over 7,000 pages on Vietnam – to The New York Times, and there’s lots of material written on the Supreme Court‘s 1971 decision New York Times Co. v. United States.

Map of Indochina including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand

Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

What I’d like to think about here are the various journeys – physical, emotional, and ethical, just to name a few – that led to the publication of top secret papers and, subsequently, historical decisions in both political policy and First Amendment law. No one in this story knew what was ahead or, once events started, how or where they would end.

Ellsberg’s journey from childhood to adulthood influenced his views on responsibility. Ellsberg also moved from military service to a career as a military analyst – a transition that took him behind the scenes of military decision making and into clearance “beyond top secret.” His trip to Vietnam was made in this capacity, where he saw for himself the conditions on the ground from troop movements and “non-existent patrols” to experiencing combat with both its effects on American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians. Ultimately, Ellsberg went from certainty to uncertainty. People he met along the way, from colleagues to followers of Gandhi, affected the way he saw the world and how he made decisions. Watching children pick through burning debris for a favorite doll in person during his trip in Vietnam gave him a different perspective by showing him things he couldn’t see from his desk in Santa Monica, California.

Once the Pentagon Papers were leaked to reporters, a whole new set of people faced new set of decisions. Reporters had to consider their responsibilities to their editors and the public as well as the risk to their sources. Editors had to consider their reporters, their publications, and the public. Lawyers for all involved had to weigh the pros and cons. In the end, The New York Times ran the story, and when they were ordered to stop, so did The Washington Post, then The Boston Globe – and then papers all across the country. The case worked its way all the way through the system until the Supreme Court’s Decision.

1972 population map of Vietnam from Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

1972 population map of Vietnam from Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection

Watching this movie as a journalism student in the Cronkite School‘s First Amendment forum definitely added a personal angle to the experience. While situations like the Pentagon Papers may be once in a lifetime or only for a few, it’s very likely that I’ll encounter ethical situations, quite possibly with sources and sensitive material.

I’ll have to make my own decisions, and no matter how helpful a rule book or ethical code may be, in the end, I agree with my professor – no hypothetical situation will have all the information – so there’s no way to completely prepare for the real life situations that require handling on a case by case basis. In real life and real time, you may have to make tough decisions without all the information.

Every bit of preparation and guidance along the way will be helpful when a moment comes that I’m on the spot alone. My mother has compared it to learning CPR without knowing when you’ll use it, so that when an accident happens, you start with an idea of what to do, even if it has to be adapted to the situation in front of you – waiting to learn life skills till the accident’s already happened won’t give you much time to prepare.

Would I have made the same decisions that reporters like Neil Sheehan & Hedrick Smith made? Even with all the information available today, can I even answer that question without being there in that time and place?

At one point in the film, Ellsberg says, “The people there were more than pictures for me and they were more than numbers.” I think that ultimately, that’s what it may always come down to. Numbers are predictable, understandable, logical. There’s a clarity and neatness – at least before the fixing begins – that makes working with them simple. People? Not so much.

If you’ve ever been on the spot, what helped you make decisions along the way?

photo credit: Jeb Ro

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Looking at pictures and following links – and possibly calling it research for my multimedia class when it was really procrastinating video editing for my broadcast class – brought me suddenly to this. Stunning, stunning photography – an amazing example of technical and emotional photographic skill. Also, of travel photography – not to mention a great story.

Brought back (or sent back) from a photographer in Thailand to a British publication, these photos show people and practices that most of us will never see in person. Without this work, and the work of everyone at Times Online, how many of us would even know the Moken existed?

They’ve made the news before, like this CBS News piece after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. There’s also features like the later National Geographic’s April 2005 issue, a general online article and a pdf article about religion from Phuket Magazine, and a technical approach in this piece at Cyber Diver Digital Media Network (CDNN).

There’s even YouTube video: a stand-alone piece on the effects of the tsunami and a 5-part series posted by rjwiik called The Moken Kabang Project Spring (it’s in Norwegian but the stunning visuals speak for themselves). I went ahead and embedded Part 1 below as a teaser.

A little online research turns up an translation of their name as “people of the drowning” and how UNESCO’s concern for the protecting the traditional Moken lifestyle has designed a project for “integrating the traditional knowledge of the Moken into the region’s sustainable development.”

Lastly, I’ve a brief comment (and a link) on word choice. While I don’t know how the Moken prefer to be called, the term gypsies isn’t without controversy, especially in Europe. I’m still learning, but a friend of mine who works at the European Roma Rights Center brought it to my attention when I asked about her new job. More information can be found on their site.

1886 IndoChina map

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China had been the People’s Republic of China for 60 years now since the Communist Party came to power, and they celebrated October 1 with massive parades and displays.

The parades and events are amazing, and this video is stunningly shot, a great example of multimedia event coverage: Timelapse of in Tiananmen Square. This video of a re-enactment is from the same photographer – Re-enacting the making of Mao’s China – and here is background information on the techniques used – Here.

Photo links: Slideshow from Life
Links to coverage at The Gaurdian, ABC News, and Reuters:

The Gaurdian 60th Anniversary parade Reuters Aerial

Coverage from China Post (self-described as Taiwan’s leading English-language newspaper in daily readership and editorial content): China’s 60th anniversary stirs pride, also unease

BBC Coverage:
Communist China marks 60th year
North Korea’s Kim Jong-il and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao watch the parades: Celebrations Mark China Visit
Art & Politics in China: Audio Slideshow
Great facts and statistics on Chinese demography including categories on population, wealth, military, and food: China: 60 years in facts and figures
Looking forward: a great survey page of individual Chinese and their thoughts on the future – Where will China be in 60 years?

For an introduction to the changes going on in China’s economy, I recommend Ted Koppel’s Discovery documentary (behind-the-scenes slideshow here and LA Times coverage of the series here).

Communist China Map Folio (1967)

Communist China Map Folio (1967)

Mongol Dominions, 1300-1405

Mongol Dominions, 1300-1405

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