January 2015 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

January 2015

Sidney’s Picks: The Scandal of the Heroin Treatment Industry

The Best of the Week’s News

  • “Almost every day, I slip food to one of my students,” a Colorado teacher writes.

"Do I Fear Sleep? Yeah..."

Photo credit: 

Sprogz, Creative Commons.

In “Midnight Three & Six,” a New York Times Op/Doc short film, Joe Callander brings us an intimate look at a family’s 24/7 struggle to keep a pre-teen with volatile Type 1 diabetes alive. Grace has already lost four friends her age to this rare and deadly variant of diabetes. 

Grace’s blood sugar is so unstable that her parents sometimes have to measure it every hour, or even every fifteen minutes. If her sugar drops too low, she will go into convulsions and possibly a coma. Typically, Grace’s mom and dad take turns checking her blood sugar through the night, at midnight, three, and six am. Hence the title of the documentary. Her mom lives in fear that her daughter will die in her sleep if she sleeps through her alarm. 


Journalist Who Reported on Argentine Prosecutor's Death Flees Country

Photo credit: 

Casa Rosada, official workplace of the president of Argentina, by Sliff, Creative Commons.

A journalist who investigated the death of a prosecutor investigating a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center has fled the country for Israel. The journalist, Damián Pachter, says that he was being persued by Argentine intelligence agents and feared for his safety.

The prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, was found dead the night before he was scheduled to testify about the the bombing, which he alleged was perpetrated by Hezbollah and covered up by the Argentinian government. Nisman alleged that the Argentina colluded with Iran to cover up the bombing as part of a deal in which Iran would supply oil to Argentina.

Bizarrely, the twitter feed of the Argentine Presidential Palace (@CasaRosadaAR) published purported details of Pachter’s flight to Israel.

Jorge Capitanich, Argentina’s cabinet chief, defended the publication of Mr. Pachter’s movements on the Twitter account of the presidential palace. At a news conference on Monday morning, he said, “If a journalist says that he feels threatened, it’s important to publish his whereabouts.” [NYT]

The government answered Pachter’s coverage with an even more bizarre counter-conspiracy theory:

In a letter this week, [President] Kirchner also wrote that Mr. Nisman had, unknowingly, been fed false information by Mr. Stiusso to sully the government as part of a plot that would end with his death. “The true operation against the government was the death of the prosecutor after accusing the president,” she wrote. [NYT]

So, the government is saying that there was plot to murder the prosecutor and make it look like a suicide, but the government didn’t do it. They say the government was framed by an ousted former spy who wanted to make the administration look bad.

By tweeting a journalist’s flight details, the Kirchner administration is making itself look bad. 

Sidney’s Picks: Doc Who Treats the Poor from His Car Fights to Save His Medical License

The Best of the Week’s News

  • A federal judge permanently blocks Arizona’s attempt to ban driver’s licenses for people who were brought to the U.S. as undocumented children.

The Movement to Put a Church in Every Public School

Photo credit: 

Moyan_Brenn, Creative Commons.

Katherine Stewart has a new piece in the Nation about the growing evangelical movement to colonize the public school system.

Groups like the Venue Church are setting up shop in public school buildings on weekends. In some places, including New York City, churches don’t even have to pay rent to use public school facilities. Once ensconsced in a public school, these churches are keen to form “partnerships” with the institution to gain access to students and parents. 

“If you are looking to maximize missional money,” Venue suggests on its website, “the school campus is where you will yield the highest return on your investment.”

The story was reported with support from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project

Cuomo Pledges to Raise Minimum Wage

Photo credit: 

Diana Robinson, Creative Commons.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo came out in favor of a two-tiered minimum wage hike for New York State and New York City, respectively:

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said he is proposing the creation of a two-tiered minimum wage for New York, setting the hourly rates at $10.50 for New York state and $11.50 for New York City by the end of 2016. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75, after the state legislature in 2013 passed a graduated increase to $9 by the end of 2015. [WSJ]

Cuomo’s proposal is a far cry from the hike to $15/hr that low-wage workers and their allies have been demanding in a nationwide series of strikes, but even the modest increase that Cuomo is proposing would be a step in the right direction. 

Sidney’s Picks: Cops Caught Using Mugshots of Black Suspects for Target Practice

The Best of the Week’s News

  • The Holy Grail: in search of an organizing model to unite low-wage workers.
  • How the White House kills national security stories.

Be Happy: Join A Union

A new sociological study suggests that union membership makes people happier, and not just because union members earn higher wages. The authors, Patrick Flavin and Gregory Shufeldt, scoured the World Values survey and found that union members were more satisfied with their lives than non-members. Then they tried to figure out why:

Yet as Mr. Flavin and Mr. Shufeldt told Op-Talk in an email: “Labor union membership still has benefits, and that this is true for all union members. Simply put, if one goal of labor unions is to boost the quality of life for their members, our study provides empirical evidence that they are succeeding.”

In their study, they tease out four “pathways” by which being a union member might improve quality of life compared with not being a member: “These include having greater satisfaction with one’s experiences while working, feeling greater job security, being afforded numerous opportunities for social interaction and integration, and enhancing the participatory benefits associated with more engaged democratic citizenship.” [NYT]

So, the advantages of belonging to a union are better working conditions, more respect, enhanced security, more friends, and a voice in society. That’s enough to make anyone happier.

You can read a draft of the paper here. (.pdf)

L.A. Times Duo Wins Sidney For Exposing Brutal System That Puts Perfect Mexican Produce on U.S. Tables

Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti win the January Sidney Award for “Product of Mexico,” a multi-media package for the LA Times documenting the brutal labor practices on Mexican farms that produce fruits and vegetables for major U.S. retailers, including WalMart.

The story is the product of an 18-month investigation that took the reporters to 9 Mexican states. Marosi’s words and Bartletti’s images tell the stories of the workers who travel hundreds of miles to work on farms that grow produce for export.

Farm owners lure workers from remote villages in Mexico with promises of high wages. The workers travel hundreds of miiles from home. They arrive penniless, and they rapidly fall into debt due to high prices at the company store. They can’t leave as long as they owe money even if the wages aren’t as high as the famer promised. To compound the farm workers’ misery, they may not be able to buy enough food on their meagre wages to feed themselves and their families, who often travel with them. Marosi and Bartletti observed workers picking through garbage for extra food.

Working conditions are dangerous and accidents are a constant threat. One teenage farmworker they met had her ankle accidentally slashed by a machete.

Marosi used public records and reports to prove that produce from these farms found its way to major American retailers including WalMart.

Read our Backstory interview with Richard Marosi for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this remarkable multi-media package.

Sidney's Picks: America's Dirtiest Cops; Who's Driving This Train?

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