May. 27th, 2003

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Does everyone remember Mark Kostabi?

He was a very eighties phenomenon in New York. Mark Kostabi was an "artist" who made his living as a brand. He didn't sell his name to a thong manufacturer. He put his name on other peoples' art and sold it.

Kostabi got the brilliant idea that since the target market who were buying most of his work were a pack of status-obsessed yuppie assholes who never got home to look at their walls anyway, he would fob off a 1920s era radical new Neo-Expressionist art Concept on them and convince them that their art could be subcontracted to sweatshops just as easily as their thousand-dollar deconstructed [ed: torn] outfits.

It was all going great - toujours l'audace! - when sadly it was discovered that Electroboy, an artist who was working in Kostabi's studio painting pictures for his signature was trafficking in... counterfeit fake Kostabis!

A sprightly conceptual battle ensued in the press and in various places that sold execrable cappucino over whether it was possible to counterfeit Kostabi, and whether even if it were possible, if Electroboy was the one painting the Kostabis anyway and (as it turned out) signing them for Kostabi, how were his Kostabis counterfeit?

Because, said Kostabi, who was getting huge prices for the art he was paying Electroboy and his coworkers practically nothing/hr to produce, I didn't tell him it was OK to sign my name to _those_ paintings I didn't do.

It was widely felt that Electroboy had trumped Kostabi in the all-important conceptual coolth component of the competition, and Kostabi faded, at least from his height of itness.

I was, for some reason, reminded of the Kostabi debacle when I read Howard Kurtz' Monday column on suspended NY Times reporter Rick Bragg, who is apparently spinning out his 15 minutes by threatening to quit.

Maybe it was this:

"My job was to ride the airplane and sleep in the hotel," the New York Times correspondent said yesterday from his New Orleans home. "I have dictated stories from an airport after writing the story out in longhand on the plane that I got from phone interviews and then was applauded by editors for 'working magic.' . . . Those things are common at the paper. Most national correspondents will tell you they rely on stringers and researchers and interns and clerks and news assistants."

But now what he calls a "poisonous atmosphere" has descended on the Times -- one that prompted the paper to suspend Bragg for two weeks for practices he considers utterly routine -- and the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter says he will quit in the next few weeks.

"Obviously, I'm taking a bullet here," he said of the suspension imposed last week. "Anyone with half a brain can see that." But, he said, "I'm too mad to whine about it."

Clearly that last sentence was slipped in from an earlier interview.

Maybe it was this:

Bragg freely admits he did little firsthand reporting for the June 2002 story about Florida oystermen that prompted an editor's note last week. That note said credit should have been shared with freelancer J. Wes Yoder, who was hired by Bragg as a volunteer assistant and spent four days in the town of Apalachicola. "I went and got the dateline," Bragg said. "The reporting was done -- there was no reason to linger."

He recalls one Times editor telling him: "The problem with this, Rick, is that you wrote it too good."

Such Times stringers and interns "should get more credit for what they do," Bragg said, but in "taking feeds" from such assistants, "I have never even thought of whether or not that is proper. Maybe there is something missing in me. . . .

"I will take it from a stringer. I will take it from an intern. I will take it from a news assistant. If a clerk does an interview for me, I will use it. I'm going to send people to sit in for me if I don't have time to be there. It is not unusual to send someone to conduct an interview you don't have time to conduct. It's what we do.

Who knew?

His shield and bulwark has turned out to be a bit patchy, which has gotta be a bitch, right?

Some Times staffers say that Bragg's case is extreme and that other correspondents don't rely on the reporting of stringers and assistants to nearly the same extent. But Bragg believes that reporters at the paper "have seen their lives kind of twisted and bent" because of the Blair fallout. He feels especially vulnerable because of his long association with Raines, who was forced to declare at a recent staff meeting that he will not resign.

No, that wasn't it either.

The part where Howie talks about how Bragg is being victimized for being white because They're hunting those didn't quite make it either.

Pride of place goes to this, the distilled battle-cry of the pampered office kiss-ass:

"Everyone who ever wanted to get even for a slight or unpleasantry or act out their jealousy now has their chance, and it will continue," Bragg said. "What I don't understand is the callousness of some people who would try to use this situation to settle their political squabbles. It is shameful that some people are using it in a power grab at the newspaper. It's just about the saddest thing I've ever seen.

I'm guessing we've tabled the question of how the power got distributed in the first place.
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Who would have thought it? Some two years after he left office hounded by right-wing detractors and stained by his affair with Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton now ranks as this nation's third best chief executive, according to a recent CNN/USA TODAY/Gallup Poll.

Only Abraham Lincoln (chosen by 15%) and John F. Kennedy (13%) finished ahead of Clinton (11%) in the April poll, which asked Americans who was "the greatest" president. George W. Bush managed to tie Clinton for third place.

Ronald Reagan, a conservative icon, garnered 10% of the vote, followed by Franklin Roosevelt, George Washington, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter. Bush's father, the 41st president, was chosen by just 2% of the respondents, tying with Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson...

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On a recent Saturday in a church fellowship hall here, evangelical Christians from several states gathered for an all-day seminar on how to woo Muslims away from Islam.

The teacher urged a kindly approach: always show Muslims love, charity and hospitality, he said, and carry copies of the New Testament to give as gifts. The students, scribbling notes, included two pastors, a school secretary and college students who said they hoped to convert Muslims in the United States, or on mission trips abroad.

But although the teacher, an evangelical preacher from Beirut, stressed the need to avoid offending Muslims, he projected a snappy PowerPoint presentation showing passages from the Koran that he said proved Islam was regressive, fraudulent and violent

"Here in the Koran, it says slay them, slay the infidels!" said the teacher, who said he did not want to be identified because being a missionary to Muslims put his life at risk. "In the Bible there are no words from Jesus saying we should kill innocent people."...

Most of the authors and teachers preach a corollary of the Christian dictum to "love the sinner and hate the sin." They assert that while the vast majority of Muslims are not evil, they have been deceived by a diabolical religion based on a flawed scripture that can never bring them salvation.

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University, said he grew up attending Catholic and Protestant missionary schools in Pakistan, but never heard a negative word about Islam from the missionaries. Now, he said, the new hostility to Islam and, in particular, the insults to the prophet Muhammad have outraged the Muslim world.

"The whole range of Muslims, from orthodox to liberal secularists, are all lined up against these attacks coming from the American evangelists," said Mr. Ahmed, the author of a new book "Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World" (Polity Press). "Unwittingly, these evangelists have unleashed a consolidation of sentiments for Islam. Even the most moderate Muslims have been upset by this."

The push for conversions may backfire for the evangelists, he said, since Muslims who may have been open to the missionaries' presence feel their honor has been insulted.

In interviews, evangelical authors and lecturers said their work did not denigrate Islam as much as share the truth about Christianity...

I think it's nice that churches are paying more attention to the message of the parable of the Samaritan who probably was an OK guy except for the burning in the fires of Gehenna in torment and agony for eternity thing.
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He Stole a Lot More Than My Words
By Macarena Hernandez
Macarena Hernandez is a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News.

One of the last stories Jayson Blair wrote before being unmasked as a liar and plagiarist contained these words: "Juanita Anguiano points proudly to the pinstriped couches, the tennis bracelet in its red case and the Martha Stewart furniture out on the patio. She proudly points up to the ceiling fan."

Eight days earlier, I had written similar words about Anguiano in an article for my newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News: "So the single mother, a teacher's aide, points to the ceiling fan he installed in her small living room," I wrote. "She points to the pinstriped couches, the tennis bracelet still in its red velvet case and the Martha Stewart patio furniture, all gifts from her first born and only son."

When I read Blair's story early on the morning of April 26, it seemed possible, barely, that Blair too had visited Anguiano, a south Texas mother whose son Edward was the last American soldier missing in action in Iraq. There was also a tiny chance she had shown him the same items she showed me. But there was a problem. The Martha Stewart patio furniture wasn't on the patio: It was in its box next to the kitchen table. I doubted that Anguiano had found the energy to haul it outside after we spoke. Also, when she pointed to her furniture and jewelry, there had been no hint of pride, only pain.

I soon concluded that Blair had stolen my work. In the process, he'd also twisted Anguiano's story, dishonoring her pain at one of the worst times in her life.

I spent much of the morning after I read Blair's story searching for a logical explanation. Maybe, I told myself, he came down here but found it difficult to navigate a region where Spanish is more valuable than English. Maybe Anguiano had only given him a short interview and he needed more. I even entertained the notion that maybe he had to rely on my story because of racism. There aren't too many blacks in south Texas: Maybe this Mexican American mother from Los Fresnos did not warm up to a black guy from Virginia.

But the stark fact was that Blair had lifted information from my story without crediting it. In this business, where honesty and trust are at the heart of everything we do, plagiarism and lies can't be ignored.

The situation was made more complicated by the fact that I knew Jayson. Five years ago, we spent three months together as New York Times interns. We were both offered jobs there at the end of the summer, but I returned to Texas instead. Now I wondered whether the pressure of being at the New York Times had proved too much for Jayson. I worried that my calling attention to his theft would cost him his job...

Ms. Hernandez was also offered a spot at the times, but gave it up to return and take care of her mother in the wake of her father's death. She has since earned a job as a reporter in Texas.

I'd be fascinated to hear what the dextropundiat thinks her story symbolizes.


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