June 2013 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

June 2013

#Sidney's Picks: Temp Army; Building the Wrong Fence; Michael Sullivan, RIP

  • With immigration reform hanging in the balance, Hillman judge Harold Meyerson pens a scathing op/ed urging the Northern U.S. states to build a fence to protect their people from the low-wage, anti-worker climate of Southern U.S. 
  • Michael Sullivan, a longtime producer for the Hillman-Prize-winning PBS show Frontline, died this week at the age of 67. He leaves a legacy of outstanding journalism for the common good.
  • Dark-skinned and Plus-sized,” how the media use dehumanizing stereotypes about race, class, and body size to discredit 19-year-old Rachel Jeantel, the last person to speak to Trayvon Martin before he was shot to death by George Zimmerman. 
  • In the wake of the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act, E.J. Graff reflects on her personal and political journey from radical lesbian activist to happily married woman.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons]

Fast Food Fight: Workers' Groups Urge New York State to Let NYC Set Its Own Minimum Wage

New York City Council meets today to discuss wage theft in the fast food industry

Workers’ groups plan to rally outside the meeting. They want New York State to let New York City set its own minimum wage for the fast food sector. The state legislature voted to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 over the next three years. Nine dollars an hour is a step in the right direction, activists say, but it’s still nowhere near a living wage in New York City. 

Advocates for low-wage fast food workers will call on the state Legislature to bequeath wage-setting powers to the City Council at a rally planned at City Hall Thursday afternoon.

Under pressure from unions, progressive groups and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, state lawmakers voted to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next three years from the current rate of $7.25. But employees at fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Burger King should be earning more than that, and the city should have the power to set those wages, advocates plan to argue Thursday. [Crain’s Insider]

The state is already turning up the heat on fast food. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is reportedly investigating wage theft in the industry. 


[Photo credit: A_Minor, Creative Commons.]

Tonight on Frontline: "Rape in the Fields"

Tonight, PBS Frontline airs “Rape in the Fields,” a documentary about sexual violence against female farm workers. In the United States, an estimated one half to three quarters of all farm workers are undocumented. Undocumented workers are especially vulnerable to sexual harrassment on the job because they are reluctant to complain, for fear of being  deported. 


[Photo credit: leadenhall, Creative Commons.]

Bangladeshi Union Leader Talks Safety, Freedom of Association

Labor leader Nazma Akter talks with two World Policy Journal editors about the Bangladeshi garment industry. Akter, the founder of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, describes working conditions in local factories and explains why designated garment districts with modern infrastructure are a vital part of any plan to make the industry safer. Akter also explains why weak protections for freedom of association are hampering the labor movement in Bangladesh. Workers are regularly fired for attempting to organize their workplaces. 

[Photo credit: Dhaka street scene, AdamCohn, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Plummeting Wages, Scam Debit Cards, "All of Me"

The best of the week’s news:

  • FBI agents were exonerated of wrongdoing in 150 shootings, or, in an incredible 100% of cases.
  • The Los Angeles Times showcases All of Me, the acclaimed documentary about weight-loss surgery by Hillman Executive Director Alexandra Lescaze.
  • In response to speculation surrounding the cause of the car crash that killed investigative journalist Michael Hastings, a well-written piece about how and when car crashes cause fires


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]

Friends Remember Hastings as Mentor to Young Journalists

Thirty-three-year-old reporter Michael Hastings died Tuesday in a car crash in Los Angeles. Hastings is best known for his devastating Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McCrystal, which led to the general’s resignation.

Hastings wasn’t afraid to make enemies to expose the truth, but he also cultivated many friendships. National security reporter Ali Ghirab was one of those friends. He recalls Hastings as a generous mentor to younger journalists, a sentiment echoed by many who knew him:

Michael the reporter was a thing to behold, and no less Michael the friend. He disdained low-level aides and flacks—”his target was always the principal,” Smith wrote. That parsing of the pecking order, though, didn’t extend to his personal life or interactions with colleagues. It can be tough to get a word with star reporters, but not Michael. Young journalists flocked to him, and he talked freely with them. He cared about what even his most junior colleagues thought. He gave and gave and gave to young reporters, who wanted to know his secret (“devote your life to journalism”—and he did); he employed his well-honed bullshit detector and, if everything was copacetic, deferred to them.


Watching Michael with younger reporters, or doling out advice to aspirants, it was easy to see him years down the road, still baby-faced and energetic, but with some gray hair and a couple extra pounds on his slender waistline. He’d still be coaching, still be helping colleagues achieve their ambitions, and still making time for his friends, to discuss grave matters or just laugh for a while (or both at the same time). Then there’re the expectations for the important work he would have produced. The journalism industry, the country and the world are worse off for losing him. He was a model journalist just as he was a model friend—it’s impossible to know which he was better at. He will be sorely missed.

Dave Weigel of Slate remembers Hastings fondly from the 2012 campaign trail, where Hastings’ utter disinterest in currying favor with powerful sources set him apart from most of his colleagues. 

Journalists Remember Michael Hastings

Michael Hastings, the reporter who brought down America’s top general in Afghanistan with a magazine profile, died in a fiery single-vehicle car crash on Tuesday at the age of 33. Ben Smith, Hastings’ boss at Buzzfeed, remembers him as a fearless reporter who leveraged his outsize personality to call the powerful to account:

Michael Hastings was really only interested in writing stories someone didn’t want him to write — often his subjects; occasionally his editor. While there is no template for a great reporter, he was one for reasons that were intrinsic to who he was: ambitious, skeptical of power and conventional wisdom, and incredibly brave. And he was warm and honest in a way that left him many unlikely friends among people you’d expect to hate him.

Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Sharlet reflects on Hastings’ journalistic legacy:

 And I’m writing as just an ordinary citizen – there’s not much hope in the news, but what Hastings did was inspiring. What he did was actually pretty ordinary, too – he reported what the general said. What he actually said. And that was enough to damn the general. It didn’t end the war, it was barely a bump in the path of empire, but Jesus, even that – it was beautiful. As was the outcry of a thousand hacks crying foul because Hastings did what they couldn’t do: he reported the facts. Hastings drew them out into the open. So, really, it was a double expose – of the general and the press corps that made him.

Hastings didn’t hesitate to make enemies, but he also made many friends. Journalists across the country are reeling from the news of his untimely passing. He will be missed. 

Did a Child Slave Process Your Walmart Shrimp?

It’s been a hard spring for socially conscious foodies. Last month, we learned that our unctuous Greek yogurt is polluting the enviornment. Today, we find out that our plump, juicy shrimp might be processed by child slaves in Asia. Tom Philpott delivers the bad news in Mother Jones:

Over the past 20 years, the rapid rise of South Asian shrimp farms has transformed our relationship to the tasty crustaceans, shifting it from an occasional luxury to an all-you-can-eat commodity. Twenty years ago, most of our shrimp came from domestic wild fisheries. Today, we import 90 percent of it, almost all of it farmed. But who works on these foreign farms and processing facilities—and under what conditions? A new briefing paper by the well-respected International Labor Rights Forum and the Warehouse Workers United (WWU) alleges serious labor abuses, including illegal use of underage workers, at the Thai shrimp producer Narong Seafood, at least until recently a major supplier of Walmart and a leading shrimp processor for the US market, according to a recent analysis by the consultancy Accenture for Humanity United. [MoJo]

WalMart claims it stopped buying from Narong, but Philpott’s reporting suggests otherwise. 

If you’re looking for a more ethical and environmentally sustainable alternative to farmed Asian shrimp, the Marine Stewardship Council recommends wild-caught pink shrimp from Oregon.

[Photo credit: Phú Thịnh Co, Creative Commons.]


Mortgage-Servicing Corps Pocket Tornado Insurance Checks

If you have disaster insurance on a mortgaged home, chances are, any payout for storm damage will go through your mortgage-servicing company, rather than to you. As David Dayen reports, many tornado survivors in Oklahoma who were counting on insurance to cover repairs are being told they must use the money to pay down their mortgages instead. 


[Photo credit: Tornado damage in Louisiana, by _Wick, Creative Commons.]

#Sidney's Picks: Coercive Sterilization, Courtroom Assault, and More

News highlights from the week that was:

  • Poor Americans are set to lose at least 4.1 billion in food stamp benefits.
  • A Nevada woman was arrested in family court after she complained to the judge that a marshall had sexually assaulted her during a routine drug search.
  • Bloomberg LP is facing a class action lawsuit by employees who say the company cheated them out of overtime.


[Photo credit: Wander Mule, Creative Commons.]