On Mort Report and the Endgame of Thrones

TUCSON, Arizona - A Facebook remark by a Bosnian photographer I knew in Sarajevo bit like a scorpion: “I don't think it is OK that Mort Rosenblum retired Journalism and get himself to political activism.”

“Not retired from reporting,” I replied, “just saying things as I see them.” But I got his point. We worked for Associated Press back when fair and balanced was no laugh line. Objectivity was far less of a moving target.

We old-crocodile reporters haven't changed that much, but capital-letter “Journalism” has. At a time when authoritarians and big money divvy up a planet threatened by endgame, this ought to trouble us all.

These days, anyone with an internet link can be a journalist, regardless of motives or grasp of facts. Schools that taught ethics and tenets focus on how to deliver a message rather than getting it right.

America's attention has turned inward. Smart kids learn little about the real world. A senior in my international reporting class spent weeks focusing on Iraqi refugees and then told me Iraq's capital is Bangkok.

Excellent reporting in the “mainstream” and countless tributaries competes with hyped horseshit. Network news fixates on domestic trivia, barely scratching the surface of what matters to our very survival.

I spent 39 years on seven continents for AP. I spent two as editor of the International Herald Tribune when it was the gold standard for global news. Now it's time to step back to fit mosaic pieces into a big picture.

Mort Report is non-prophet. It claims no omniscience, sticking to facts and objective analysis. It is also a non-profit, with help from readers who care about their world. Click here if you'd like to join in.

My inspiration is I.F. Stone's Weekly, at its peak in in the 1960s, a blend of Izzy Stone's own reporting put into broad context. Christiane Amanpour's definition for new journalism is apt: Truthful but not neutral.

I'm now in Arizona where I teach two months each year. The border I've known since I was a kid is news as Donald Trump whips up fantasized fears that isolate Americans and force countless others to suffer.

Soon I'll be back in the wider world, which so many Americans ignore. Domestic issues won't matter when Earth is unlivable. People who hate us have already closed off much of the map for safe travel.

Here are some upcoming themes:

  • While the United States looks inward and abandons its post-war role, Xi Jinping sets a new global standard: trampled human rights at home and rampant plunder of resources elsewhere. Whatever trade talks produce today, China - the Middle Kingdom -- is ready for the long run.

  • Americans obsess on the Second Amendment but forget the First. Authoritarians parrot “Fake News” as they muzzle their own press and ban foreign reporters at an increasing pace. Trump praises despots who torture and murder journalists. This strikes us blind in a perilous world.

  • Closing borders to desperate people while slashing foreign aid and embracing tyrannies that force them to flee ensures violent blowback. Those 150 million refugees and migrants on the road won't simply vanish.

  • Vladimir Putin fortifies Russia by undermining American and European democracy. Trump's acquiescence spurs him to step up election meddling and to spread disinformation in every way he can.

All of these crises are worsening dramatically because of factors Bill Moyers captured in two spine-chilling sentences:

“Corporate conservatives and their allies in the political and religious right are achieving a vast transformation of American life that only they understand because they are its architects, its advocates and its beneficiaries. They are systematically stripping the government of all its functions except rewarding the rich and waging war.”

Moyers was press secretary for Lyndon Johnson, when that vital job kept American citizens informed - daily, sometimes hourly - of what the president they elected was doing in their name.

His 2007 report on PBS, “Buying the War,” detailed how newspapers and networks beat the drums for Dick Cheney's invasion of Iraq. That killed millions, cost trillions and spawned growing global terrorism.

Trump is a megalomaniac who fits this plan perfectly by exploiting ignorance and fanning divisions. He has already threatened to unleash his armed attack dogs if stymied by constitutional means.

Keeping the peace in today's world demands a president who understands this global Game of Thrones. As temperatures soar and seas rise, we have no margin for error.

The likely choice would seem to be Joe Biden, a known quantity admired by allies and respected by foes. He could provide stability while a fresh batch of smart, diverse legislators works out lasting reforms.

Dennis DeConcini, an ex-senator from Arizona, emailed me this assessment: “Biden is a very decent person. Experienced, moderate, expert in many areas. When you serve for 18 years with someone you get to know them quite well…If there is any bad, I don't know any. Hate to see us go down in defeat because Biden is not perfect.”

That is the key. No one is perfect, and we are stuck with an outmoded electoral system in which primary rivals cripple one another in what Barack Obama called a circular firing squad.

DeConcini fears that the Democrats' leftwing will give us four more years of Trump. He wrote, “Some liberals, I think, would rather run on the extreme left and lose so they can maintain their following.”

The Democrats' wide field includes gifted centrists with good ideas, which is comforting for the future. But whoever runs in the end, this is no time for amateurs. Our immediate existential threats are external.

Domestic issues matter most to Americans, and many want to move fast on complex reforms at home. But Brexit and the Gilets Jaunes show what can happen when democracies try leaping over a wide abyss in a single bound.

In sum, Mort Report tries to shed light for Americans on reality beyond their borders and to offer some insight for others who see a society they once admired plummeting down an Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit hole.

If we overheat our only home, or if power-mad lunatics manage to blow too big a chunk out of it, none of the above matters.

Please join in. Donations help, but so does your support. Spread the word. Let me know your thoughts. Help engage a new generation that will have to confront whatever mess is left to them.