What happens when you mix Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," a hotel workers' strike, and a flashmob? You get a bunch of horn players and hipsters in the lobby of San Francisco's Westin St. Francis belting lines like "I want your gay ass, but not in a bad hotel!" Beat that, 82nd Airborne!
The San Francisco Chroniclereports that Chevron wants to rummage through filmmaker Joe Berlinger's cutting room floor. The company has been embroiled in a massive lawsuit in Ecuador, where it's being sued for $27 billion to clean up a swath of rainforest that's been polluted by decades of oil drilling. Last year, Berlinger released Crude, an excellent documentary about this lengthy, complex legal battle. Though the film was sympathetic to the indigenous Ecuadorians who are the plaintiffs, it also gave Chevron plenty of screen time to explain why it believes it's not responsible for pollution that caused by the wells' previous owner, Texaco. When I interviewed Berlinger last year, he explained why he took this approach:
My attitude is, I am not a lawyer; I am not a doctor; I am not a scientist. I am a filmmaker and I want to present what each side is saying and let the viewer come to their own conclusion. Chevron has wrapped itself in some pretty good arguments that make you scratch your head. The moral responsibility is certainly at its door. I leave it to other people to figure out whether there's legal responsibility.
Now Chevron is saying that outtakes from Crude could help its case. It does not seem to be implying that Berlinger hid anything, but rather that his unedited footage could reveal misconduct by the plaintiffs' attorneys. Berlinger tells the Chron that he'll resist Chevron's move, saying that turning over his footage would create a chilling effect for other documentarians: "I would be equally resistant if the plaintiffs had been subpoenaing me. There's an important First Amendment principle to defend." Berlinger is expected to make his case against Chevron's director's cut in federal court in Manhattan later this week.
In addition to its video of an American helicopter gunning down two Reuters journalists in Iraq, WikiLeaks has made its name by taking on rich and powerful targets like Swiss banks and Scientology. And then there's its not-so-rich or powerful targets, like us. Two weeks ago, Mother Jones got on the whistleblower website's bad side by running David Kushner's profile of its elusive founder, Julian Assange. Since then, Assange has accused us of "gutter journalism,""craven sucking up to the Pentagon" and just yesterday, being an agent of "right-wing reality distortion."
The latest salvo was fired when I caught up with Assange in Berkeley, where he was speaking on a panel at an investigative journalism conference at Cal. Beforehand, I approached the lanky, spectrally pale hacker-turned-journalist and apologized for suggesting that he'd sneakily given his comment on our site a statistically impossible 50,000+ "likes." More importantly, I urged him to correct any factual errors he thought we'd made. And with that, Assange launched into an invective-packed browbeating that wrapped up with him snarling, "I don't have the time to rip that piece of shit to shreds. Do your own fucking research."
So, in the name of research, during Q&A time I asked Assange about WikiLeaks' evolving identity. As recently as 2008, WikiLeaks said it would act as a "completely neutral" conduit for leaked materials and would crowdsource the analysis. But it's taken its old wiki-style site offline indefinitely and published the Iraq video in an emphatic (if somewhat meager) package titled Collateral Murder. I asked Assange if WikiLeaks' future scoops would follow this new, more top-down approach. The suggestion that WikiLeaks has ever changed its approach, Assange replied, was misinformation from the "right-wing reality distortion field." I told the room that I worked for Mother Jones, which got a laugh. Assange shot back, "There's been a lot of changes there in recent years."
MotherJones.com cartoonist Mark Fiore just won a Pulitzer for his online animations, but he can't get his own iPhone app. The Nieman Journalism Lab reports that Apple has rejected an app that Fiore developed, saying that it "ridicules public figures," an apparent no-no in the iTunes app store, which only sells high-minded titles such as iFart, Atomic Fart, and Fart Piano. Not to mention the recently launched app from the reverent folks at The Onion, which I just installed on my iPhone of evil. Let's see—its current lineup includes items that make fun of Oprah's weight, call the Pope a Scrabble cheat, and portray Congress as a bunch of porn hounds. Hey, Mark, I think you should try to win this one on appeal.
It's been a very good week for WikiLeaks. Last Monday, the whistleblower site released a classified video shot by an American attack helicopter as it mowed down a group of men on a Baghdad street, two of whom were unarmed Reuters journalists. The video has been watched no fewer than 5.7 million times and the debate over whether it depicts a war crime, a justifiable action, or a tragic example of the fog of war, is still going strong. "WikiLeaks" became a top Google search term as a site once frequented primarily by journalists and activists became a major media player. And the attention seems unlikely to abate soon: WikiLeaks says it's about to release footage of an American missile strike in Afghanistan that killed dozens of civilians.
Much of the attention on WikiLeaks has focused on its mysterious mastermind, Australian hacktivist Julian Assange. He's been hailed as a fearless fighter for transparency, but his emergence from the shadows has also revealed him to be as prickly about unwanted disclosures as any of his powerful targets. When David Kushner wrote about Assange's fascinating blend of passion and paranoia as well as WikiLeaks secretive inner workings on this website last week, Assange fired back, claiming the story was "full of errors" and "extremely irritating tabloid insinuations of the type that might be expected from a poor quality magazine." Amusingly, his comment has become the most popular one in the history of MotherJones.com, with 43,000 recommendations and counting.* (Assange hasn't elaborated on the supposed inaccuracies in the article.)