Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Outstanding Journalism

Writing for publications and other media comes in many forms. On top of the list is investigating journalism which often takes weeks or months of intensive research. It also is the most important kind as it brings to public’s attention facts that either have never been known or have been intentionally kept secret, for the benefit of the government or big business, for example. This type could be thought to be a society’s conscience as it forces the reader or listener/viewer to face facts that are not necessarily pleasant to accept. Second, at least on my list, are thoughtful, fact-based opinion pieces, which are however only opinions and clearly labeled as such. News reporting is often just repeating information that some source has stated or perhaps quoting an eyewitness. Humor obviously has its place: we all can enjoy a good laugh. Then there are those writers whose output shows up in print simply because it can. Much of sports writing falls into this category, although it often has some entertainment value, at least to sports fans. Finally there is writing similar to diarrhea of the mouth written down, and the importance of it is, to use a Finnish expression hyttysen pieru, comparable to a mosquito’s fart. If it didn’t exist, nobody would miss it.

Even if she weren’t my daughter that I’m proud of, I would pay close attention to Silja Talvi’s work. She mainly writes on issues that others rather keep quiet about: social and racial injustice, immigration issues (how quickly we’ve forgotten that we all come from an immigrant background, minus the small and neglected native population!) and seemingly the least popular topic, prisons and inmates. This country has locked more people behind bars than any other ‘civilized’ country, a great portion of them mentally ill or convicted of drug-related crimes. We don’t seem to like the idea of rehabilitation and with the ‘three strikes’ laws in place in many states, people have been put away for life, whereas with rehabilitation most of them could have become productive members of our society. Recently the BBC talked about mental illness and especially schizophrenia which many British doctors feel should be eliminated as a term. In that context an expert said that about one percent of the population suffers from that type of mental illness. Is it just a coincidence that approximately the same percentage of our population is incarcerated or on probation? States provide less and less mental health care and it is no wonder so many of the ill people end up in jails and prisons, not being able to afford to seek help. Presently Silja is working on a book about women behind bars; it should be out next year.

Just last month my daughter won a New America Media Ethnic Media Award, given in a ceremony in Washington D.C. for 'The Real Enemy' in ColorsNW Magazine about the often horrendous treatment of many immigrants in the post-9/11 atmosphere. Recently In These Times featured Silja’s investigative article of Taser-related deaths as their cover story. Promoted by the manufacturer as a non-lethal weapon for the law enforcement, it has nevertheless caused over 200 deaths. The story has created a lot of attention, was picked up by the UTNE Reader, and is being reprinted in many publications, even as far as New Zealand. Other media has also expressed interest, resulting in radio interviews about this controversial subject. As Silja points out, this weapon has often been used completely unnecessarily and by untrained people, be they prison guards trying to quiet down a psychotic inmate already in restraints, or police officers repeatedly discharging thousands of volts of electrical current on their already disabled target, resulting in shockingly (no pun intended) large number of cardiac arrests and deaths. While not light-weight reading in the class of Dean Martin’s biography or a trashy romantic paperback, it is essential that people know the truth before more deaths happen. We wanted to believe in an easy victory in Iraq, after all, yet in this morning’s Senate hearings the defense secretary nominee Robert Gates openly admitted that we are not winning the war there. It cannot be easy for our troops there to hear such an admission. A neighbor of ours was proudly waving the flags of the U.S., U.K. and Spain immediately after our invasion of Iraq. He hasn’t had anything on his pole lately. Facts are often not what we are made to believe, and Americans are very easily brainwashed by propaganda, no different from people in countries we like to label savage.