2020
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Monitor Daily Podcast

June 18, 2020
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TODAY’S INTRO

What do Confederate symbols have to do with football?

Massachusetts is probably not the first place that comes to mind when you think of the Confederacy.

But when I moved to Walpole in the ’90s, the rebel flag seemed to be just about everywhere – on lawns, vanity plates, and the high school flagpole.

At the time, it was the official school flag.

The school changed it – after much heated debate – my freshman year. It didn’t have anything to do with slavery, many argued. The flag was adopted, along with the team name of the Rebels, all in good fun when coach John Lee turned the football team around in 1968. He became fondly known as General Lee.

But to the few Black students, most of whom were bused into town from neighborhoods of Boston, these symbols felt like a warning – a sign they were not fully welcome. 

Although the flag was changed in 1994, the nickname Rebels has endured. Students, graduates, and parents urged the town to drop the moniker at a rally last weekend. Former Walpole football player Darley Desamot told the crowd the nickname “represents ignorance to a community that has been striving to feel equal.”

When I was in school, some white students seemed genuinely unaware of the symbolism of the flag, the name, or the school song of “Dixie.” A lesson I learned in that moment is resonating once again today as I listen to cries of pain, fear, and frustration coming from my Black American colleagues and neighbors: As historical references become baked into the fabric of our culture, we can be blind to aggressions that may be hidden in the weaving. And so we listen in hopes that we too can start to see.

Corporate America confronts racism. Why this time may be different.

Alongside nationwide protests, corporations are issuing their own calls for racial justice. With the rise of social media and heightened public consciousness on the issue, they face risks if those words aren't matched by deeds.

Noelle

Two ways to read the story

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Many Americans are hoping to channel the anger and protests over the killing of George Floyd into a powerful movement for racial equity. And because equity involves economic disparity between Black and white Americans, the movement needs corporate allies.

Despite many symbolic moves and contributions to minority organizations in recent days, corporations’ record for supporting substantial racial change is inconsistent. Yet momentum could build, some workers for racial justice say, because of the massive scale of the protests, the proliferation of social media, and the rise of socially conscious consumers and business leaders.

Already, ConnXus, a firm that helps companies find minority-owned suppliers, is seeing increased interest. The tech company Slack is helping Black and Latino technology professionals in their first two years on the job. Still, there’s plenty of skepticism about whether corporations can and will support federal policy changes.

Corporations “are going to do everything but give you their political power,” says Nathan Connolly of Johns Hopkins University. “Maybe you get a ‘Black Lives Matter moment,’ but is that going to be sustainable? That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

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1. Corporate America confronts racism. Why this time may be different.

After George Floyd died at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, corporations across the country spoke out against police brutality and systemic racism.

McDonald’s and Nike put out videos on social media. “For once, don’t do it. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America,” the athletic shoe company said in its message. NASCAR, the racing body, banned the Confederate battle flag from all its auto races. The Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs at America’s biggest companies, formed a new committee to find solutions to racial inequality.

Activists are hoping to turn this moment of corporate attentiveness into a powerful movement for social change. Can it really happen? American companies have an inconsistent record of pushing reforms for people of color – sometimes superficial; sometimes essential. The question is: What has really changed?

On one hand, corporate America is still fundamentally driven by profits – it generally does things that are good for business, not for moral reasons. “Imagine what it would look like if Coca-Cola put its legal team to work prosecuting civil-rights violations!” says Nathan Connolly, director of the Racism, Immigration, and Citizenship program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Yet others argue that a number of business and technology trends, in play before Mr. Floyd’s death, give reasons for optimism, too. One of the indicators is the sheer mass of the protests generated this time. Previous killings of Black people by police have not sparked the number of domestic and even global demonstrations that have happened in the past three weeks.

“Historically, we’ve seen a similar playbook where a statement is issued, a few contributions are made, and then it’s back to business as usual,” says Rod Robinson, founder and CEO of ConnXus, a firm that helps companies diversify their supply chains. “But I’m seeing a lot more momentum around the issues now.”

His own company, for one, has seen in recent days a significant increase in calls from companies – from existing clients wanting to increase their use of minority-owned suppliers and new firms wanting to start the process. Last month, ConnXus was bought out by Coupa, which aims to mainstream supplier diversification.

Another factor is the proliferation of media, including social media. If a company’s words aren’t matched by deeds, the disconnect can be called out almost instantly. Those speaking up include current and former employees, who are often feeling more willing and able to speak out than prior generations of workers. Such pressure is far from a guarantee that substantive change will occur, but it’s a shift in U.S. culture.

In the 1960s, “there was no expectation that General Motors would have a position” on civil rights protests by African Americans in the South, says Benjamin Waterhouse, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today “companies respond to public pressure, which is something that can be mobilized much more effectively and quickly in a modern media environment.”

Many consumers, too, have grown more socially conscious. And the threat of even a small decline in customers “puts pressure on managers not to be on the wrong side of these things,” Mr. Waterhouse adds.

 

Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters
Protesters defend the Nike store from looting yelling "peaceful protest" during nationwide unrest following the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Long Beach, California, on May 31, 2020.

Another shift, fueled by these wider societal trends, is the change in how corporations see themselves. In the 1980s, any timid notion of a corporation’s social obligations gave way to a narrower view that a company’s only real obligation was to its shareholders. But more recently, the corporate social responsibility movement has pushed back against this bottom-line notion, and gradually firms have begun to look at their responsibilities through a broader lens. Last August, the Business Roundtable reversed more than 20 years of support for shareholder primacy by issuing a new statement, saying the purpose of the corporation was to benefit “all stakeholders – customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.”

The confluence of these forces have combined to cause many corporations to issue statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, a position that would have seemed improbable only a couple of months ago.

Some of the moves are symbolic. Besides NASCAR’s ban on the confederate flag, Pepsico announced Wednesday it was retiring its 130-year-old Aunt Jemima brand, long criticized for its stereotype of a Black female servant or slave. The same day, Mars Inc. said “now is the right time to evolve the Uncle Ben’s brand,” which depicts an elderly African American farmer. And Conagra said it would review its Mrs. Butterworth’s brand, another Black stereotype the company conceded “may be interpreted in a way that is wholly inconsistent with our values.”

While such steps are important in their own right, activists say, real progress against systemic racism can’t be made without addressing the persistent income and wealth disparity between Black and white Americans.

“What we really need to see is corporations taking the next step,” says Cynthia Muller, director of mission investment at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Michigan, which has a long tradition of funding programs addressing racial economic disparity. “It’s really going to require corporations to have legitimate and tangible skin in the game. And that means investment.”

She points to companies like Slack, whose “Slack for Good” initiative is helping Black and Latino technology professionals in their first two years and training incarcerated people for skilled jobs in the tech industry once they’re released.

 

Brendan McDermid/Reuters
Bottles of Mrs. Butterworth's branded syrup are seen along side Aunt Jemima branded syrup on a store shelf in New York City on June 17, 2020. Pepsico announced that day that it will retire the Aunt Jemima brand due to concerns about racism. Conagra says it will review the Mrs. Butterworth's brand due to similar concerns.

Procter & Gamble last week debuted a new social consciousness ad, “The Choice,” which implores white America to take a stand against racism, a followup to two acclaimed ads dramatizing the kinds of discrimination people of color endure. The consumer-product giant has also established and donated $5 million to a Take on Race fund to support groups fighting for more racial equality.

“The deep problems of systemic racism and inequality have been institutionalized over centuries and will not be solved unless the white community steps up to help,” Marc Pritchard, the company’s chief brand officer, said in a statement to the Monitor. “But many people are frozen, uncertain of what to do, having avoided the issues or never dealt with what is now inescapable. It’s time for us all to make the choice to take action.”

Anthem, a health-benefits company rated No. 1 among corporations in its treatment of workers by Just Capital’s ranking of social responsibility, and its foundation have announced a $50 million five-year pledge to fight racial injustice, strengthen communities, and address health inequities through its links with more than 4,000 nonprofits.

To allow individuals to participate, various entities are creating investment vehicles aimed at reducing racial inequality. For example, the NAACP has teamed up with Impact Shares to create the Impact Shares NAACP Minority Empowerment exchange-traded fund. Last fall, investing firm Candide Group launched the Olamina Fund, which invests in groups that tackle inequality and promote social justice for women and people of color.

“Money is so integral to racial justice and economic justice and whether you have $10 or $10 million, you have a part in this story,” says Morgan Simon, founder of Candide Group and author of “Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change.”

Amid all this, even companies making tangible efforts can be open to criticism that they aren’t doing enough.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, who has been outspoken about the need to confront systemic racism in technology, reportedly has faced criticism in recent days from Duretti Hirpa, a Black engineer with a track record of promoting diversity. Slack had publicly lauded her efforts on the issue, but when it came to promotions, she says she was told such efforts were merely extracurricular activity. When Mr. Butterfield said he was sorry her diversity work was not valued, The Washington Post reported, Ms. Hirpa tweeted, “Alas, you’re just a CEO in the position of power to change that!”

McDonald’s, with its long history of management diversity and the use of Black-owned suppliers, nevertheless has come under fire for losing Black franchisees in recent years and not doing enough to support its front-line workers who are primarily people of color. 

Many corners of corporate America have faced criticisms for relegating discussions of racial equity to diversity committees that have no real power to implement institutional change.

This week, a former Morgan Stanley executive who headed the investment bank’s diversity efforts filed a racial bias lawsuit against it. Marilyn Booker filed the lawsuit on behalf of Black female employees who allege systemic discrimination at the firm.

While improving economic equality is indispensable to battling racial injustice, it’s not sufficient to overthrow it, says Dr. Connolly. Corporations have stepped in with their lobbyists at key times, such as their defense of affirmative action when the Reagan administration tried to dismantle it in the 1980s. But he says they did so, not to improve public policy, but because diversity was seen as good for business. 

Corporations “are going to do everything but give you their political power,” he says. “They’re not going to give you access to their lobbyists. They’re not going to help you draft the legislation. ... Maybe you get a ‘Black Lives Matter moment,’ but is that going to be sustainable? That’s where the rubber meets the road.”

Editor's note: This story has been revised to more accurately convey Dr. Connolly's analysis.

Do officers belong in schools? Districts cut ties, debate best path to safety.

George Floyd’s death is prompting a rethinking of policing in schools, where students of color are more likely than white counterparts to encounter officers. As partnerships dissolve, authorities ponder how to keep students safe while also treating them fairly.

Noelle

Two ways to read the story

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  • Deep Read ( 6 Min. )

First came Minneapolis. Then Portland, Denver, and Charlottesville, Virginia. All are places where the use of police in public schools has been reversed in the weeks since George Floyd died. 

Critics say ending school police programs is an emotions-driven overreaction. When properly trained, they argue, school resource officers build positive relationships with students and parents, while protecting schools from outside threats including school shooters.

The back and forth is in many ways a microcosm of the broader societal debate about differences in experiences with law enforcement, often based on race, and whether funding should be routed to counselors and social programs instead. With the effectiveness of school police programs relatively unclear, and evidence that students of color can be disproportionately impacted, the negatives are now outweighing the positives for some school leaders.

For others, what’s happening is more a redefinition of school safety. “It is trying to build a world that’s never existed, to not rely on the criminal legal system, not rely on police to address social issues,” says Andrew Hairston, director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed, a social justice advocacy group. “It’s encouraging and a little anxiety-inducing.” 

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2. Do officers belong in schools? Districts cut ties, debate best path to safety.

In the wake of George Floyd dying under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer three weeks ago, there is a growing call to reimagine, if not eliminate, policing in the United States – and change is starting in public schools.

Reversing a decadeslong trend of heightened police presence, a handful of public school districts have gotten rid of their campus police forces in recent weeks, with others taking steps to discuss reductions and changes. The American Federation of Teachers also weighed in this week, with the union calling for school safety and policing to be decoupled.

Critics say ending school police programs is an emotions-driven overreaction. When properly trained, they argue, school resource officers (SROs) build positive relationships with students and parents, while protecting schools from outside threats including school shooters.

The back and forth is in many ways a microcosm of the broader societal debate about differences in experiences with law enforcement, often based on race, and whether funding should be routed to counselors and social programs instead. With the effectiveness of school police programs still relatively unclear, the negatives are now outweighing the positives for some school leaders.

“I don’t know that the marginal costs of [school] policing have changed,” says Emily Owens, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who studies school police programs. What’s changed, she says, is that “the marginal costs [are now seen as] so much higher than the perceived marginal benefits that people are finally demanding government leaders do something.”

A cascade of cancellations

Mr. Floyd’s city moved first, with the Minneapolis Public Schools board voting unanimously in early June to end its SRO contract with the city’s police department. A few days later in Oregon the Portland Public Schools superintendent announced the discontinuation of the district’s SRO program with the city’s Police Department, which cost the district no money, and his intention to increase spending on counselors and social workers.

Last week the public school systems in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Denver both voted to end their SRO programs. Their $300,000 and $750,000 contracts, respectively, with local police departments will be put toward alternative safety programs and mental health resources for students, they said. Next week, the Los Angeles Board of Education will consider phasing out police presence in the nation’s second-largest school district.

David Zalubowski/AP
Tay Anderson, Denver School Board member, leads demonstrators during a march calling for more oversight of the police, June 7, 2020, in Denver.

While Mr. Floyd’s killing was “a horrible tragedy,” this is one of the last things school systems should be doing, says Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, a nonprofit organization that offers trainings for SROs. “Schools that do that,” he says, “are losing potentially the best community-based policing they could have.” 

After decades, unclear results 

School police officers first began appearing in the 1950s. But beginning in the 1990s – and accelerating after a 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado – police presence has continuously expanded. Roughly half of U.S. students attend a school with an SRO, according to Shawn Bushway, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corp.

Yet this “dramatic change in social policy,” he says, has continued “without much evidence.” 

“There’s some evidence it decreases serious violence” in schools, he says, “but there’s some evidence it also increases negative outcomes for kids.”

SOURCE: National Center for Education Statistics
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Henry Gass and Jacob Turcotte/Staff

 

A study published last month found that SRO or police presence at a school corresponds with an increased probability that student incidents will be reported to law enforcement. Notably, that study failed to find evidence that these consequences disproportionately involve students of color.

Another study found that federal grants for school police in Texas increased middle school discipline rates by 6% – driven primarily by low-level offenses and school code of conduct violations, and with Black students experiencing the largest increases in discipline. The study also found that "exposure to a three-year federal grant for school police is associated with a 2.5% decrease in high school graduation rates and a 4% decrease in college enrollment rates."

“Those affects are small, but significant,” says Emily Weisburst, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles, who authored the study. “When students are disciplined, their attachment to school decreases,” she says. “That can translate longer term into a lower likelihood of graduation.”

The benefits of SRO programs are similarly difficult to evaluate.

The violent crime rate in schools, and the overall juvenile arrest rate in the U.S., have been declining in recent years – a period that coincides with an increase in schools with campus police officers. Whether there is a correlation between the two is unclear, however. Whether school police build trust and positive relations between law enforcement and students is also, at least empirically, unclear.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 1992 through 2018; National Center for Education Statistics
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Henry Gass and Jacob Turcotte/Staff

 

Meanwhile, some research has found a more fundamental drawback to school police programs.

A Tulane University survey of almost 4,000 New Orleans charter school students during the 2018-19 school year found that 69% of white students felt safer in the presence of police compared to 40% of Black students. A survey of thousands of California high school students the year before also found that Black students felt less safe than other students in the presence of police officers, both in and out of school.

“Many well-intended school leaders and school board members erroneously believe that they are making schools safer” with school police programs, says Shaun Harper, executive director of the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center. “That’s not what students say.”

“And if they are in fact so good for the school community, why don’t we see them in predominantly white schools?” he adds.

Momentum in Texas

Police do have a strong presence in predominantly white schools, but they are even more common in predominantly minority schools, statistics show.

In Texas, a coalition of advocacy groups is calling on the public school districts in four major cities in the state to scrap their school police programs. All four districts have predominantly minority student bodies, and two of the districts, Houston and Dallas, have budgeted more than $18 million and more than $23 million, respectively, for policing and “security and monitoring” services in recent years. All four districts have fallen short in the past two years of the 250-to-1 student-to-counselor ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association. 

“We’re not just removing police officers, we’re removing police officers and adding the mental health services piece. So [potential] student threats are addressed that way,” says Karmel Willis, an attorney with Disability Rights Texas, one of the advocacy groups in the coalition.

For alternatives like restorative justice programs to work, research has shown, they need appropriate time and investment. But alternatives demonstrate that there is “a different way, a better way, to ensure that there’s justice and accountability and restoration when harm is done in a school that doesn’t require any sort of law enforcement,” says Dr. Harper.

Mr. Canady, from NASRO, says that schools “need more of everything.” 

“Mental health experts aren’t trained on active shooter events. Who’s going to handle that?” he says. “There are still reasonable conversations to be had about strategies and reform,” he continues. “But that’s difficult to be had when … some people are in an absolute overcorrection mode.” 

The Houston Independent School District had a counselor-to-student ratio of 1-to-1,111 in 2018. Still, decreasing funding for the policing of schools “would jeopardize the safety of our students and staff,” the district said in a statement to the Monitor. “The [police] department reflects the demographics of HISD students and families, and the personal relationships that HISD police officers work to cultivate and grow with students are an important component to improving academic outcomes.” 

All eyes on Minneapolis 

For those wanting to pull police out of schools, this current movement is less an overcorrection than a redefinition of school safety. For Andrew Hairston, director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed – another advocacy group in the coalition – “It’s encouraging and a little anxiety-inducing.”

“All eyes will be on Minneapolis and Denver and Charlottesville,” he says.

And for school districts that do choose to end school police programs – whether they replace them with more counseling, more mental health resources, restorative justice programs, or other alternatives – it will be a step toward larger change.

“It is trying to build a world that’s never existed, to not rely on the criminal legal system, not rely on police to address social issues,” he says. “It would have to be something that’s invested in wholesale.”

Reporters on the Job
Staff writer Henry Gass gives the inside scoop

The familiar ground of an old beat – in this case, school policing – is the closest I can get to on-the-ground reporting these days. 

Should officers be in schools? It’s a complex debate, fundamentally statistical: By what metrics are school police helping, and hurting, students? But it’s also deeply emotional, given safety concerns. School resource officers “appear to be here to stay,” I wrote in 2016

As I revisited the topic in 2020, I spoke to the same sources for the first time in years. They had changed titles and started families. I probed those two tracks of the question – the statistical and the emotional – with them. What had changed? Why had debate turned to action?

The statistics haven’t changed much, but the emotion around them has. Calling sources again, but scheduled around home schooling, with their family audible in the background, gave me a sense of how much the world has shifted since 2016 – and since February. Months of isolation and introspection, and recent horrific cellphone videos, have brought us here. Any change seems possible now.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), 1992 through 2018; National Center for Education Statistics
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Henry Gass and Jacob Turcotte/Staff

A deeper look

Racial protests prompt waves of upheaval in America’s newsrooms

A highly charged debate over advocating for racial justice and what that means for the long-standing journalistic goal of neutrality is likely to shape the future of 21st-century media.

Noelle

Two ways to read the story

  • Quick Read
  • Deep Read ( 9 Min. )

In the wake of this month’s Black Lives Matter protests, newsrooms across the country are being challenged by mostly younger journalists to not only diversify their staffs but also to drop “both sides” journalism in favor of stances that they believe provide moral clarity. They’re questioning restrictions against joining political protests and posting opinions on social media. And they’ve agitated to oust veteran colleagues who’ve published controversial opinion pieces.

“We need to, as journalists, be clear about and embrace our values, which in my view should include anti-racism,” says journalist Lewis Wallace, author of “The View From Somewhere.”

Such calls have often been accompanied by a drive to shift the range of “acceptable” opinions within organizations.

That’s raising questions within newsrooms about whether such curbs on speech are compatible with the search for truth and engendering public trust in the press. The often contrarian opinion columnist Meghan Daum wonders whether she’d make it into the nation’s biggest publications if she were just starting out today.

“If there’s a North Star for commentary, it really should be presenting views that are diverse and intellectually credible,” she says. “What purpose is served in telling people to not read something?”

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3. Racial protests prompt waves of upheaval in America’s newsrooms

In 2017, the syndicated radio show Marketplace fired a reporter for violating a tenet of the profession: neutrality. 

Journalist Lewis Wallace had written a personal blog post about the role of the Fourth Estate during the Donald Trump era titled “Objectivity is dead, and I’m okay with it.” He also strongly implied that the president is affiliated with white supremacists.

“The argument that I was making at that time was essentially that this idea of objective journalism is no longer shaping up,” says the transgender millennial, who was dismissed for expressing a political opinion by a media outlet keen to avoid perceptions of bias. “We need to, as journalists, be clear about and embrace our values, which in my view should include anti-racism.” 

Mr. Wallace now appears to have been just a few years ahead of his time. In the wake of this month’s Black Lives Matter protests, newsrooms across the country are being challenged by mostly younger journalists to not only diversify their staffs but also to drop “both sides” journalism in favor of more activist stances which they believe provide moral clarity. They’re questioning restrictions against joining political protests and posting opinions on social media. And they’ve agitated to oust veteran colleagues who’ve published controversial opinion pieces.

The push for social justice advocacy isn’t just happening at media outlets such as The New York Times. Generation Z and millennial employees are urging similar stances within tech companies, big corporations, book publishers, and arts organizations. Such calls for a moral North Star have often been accompanied by a drive to shift the range of “acceptable” opinions within organizations. That’s raising questions within newsrooms about whether such curbs on speech are compatible with the search for truth and engendering public trust in the press. It’s a debate that is likely to shape the future of 21st-century journalism.

“One of the factors here, frankly, is that newsrooms have kind of developed a culture of their own,” says Jeffrey McCall, a professor of media studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. “The culture is not necessarily that we are providing information for an electorate so that self-governing citizens can make their own decisions – but that, in fact, we are creating news organizations that are designed to influence public opinion.”

Others argue that the media’s long-standing tradition of presenting a balance of voices creates a problematic impression of moral equivalence. 

“American view-from-nowhere, ‘objectivity’-obsessed, both-sides journalism is a failed experiment,” tweeted former Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, a winner of the Pulitzer Prize who was arrested while covering the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Some contend that the tumult across America this month underscores the importance of staking out racial justice principles. They believe it’s not just opinion pages that need to be reformed, but news reporting, too. 

Mr. Wallace, the former Marketplace employee, recently published a book that argues the journalistic tradition of “objectivity” has historically given newspapers cover to repress and sideline muckrakers such as Ida B. Wells, the Black investigative reporter who documented America’s sordid history of lynchings during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

“There’s this long tradition in the Black press of journalism as resistance, journalism as activism,” says Mr. Wallace, author of “The View From Somewhere.” “It took activism and advocacy on the part of Black journalists, but also Black activists using the means of journalism – using Twitter, using live video footage, using Instagram, you know, documenting it – to get the mainstream media to report the truth about police violence in the United States.”

Newsroom revolts

Since the protests began, employees at numerous news organizations have staked out activist positions. The staff of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette are currently engaged in a stand-off with executive editor Keith Burris (who has written opinion pieces in support of President Donald Trump). After Mr. Burris barred a Black reporter from covering the protests because of a tweet that he believed revealed bias, a huge contingent of the newsroom rose up to support her. They, too, were then barred from reporting on the protests.  

The top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently exited the paper following a furor over a piece by the staff architecture critic with the headline: “Buildings Matter, too.” At The Intercept, colleagues of writer Lee Fang exacted an apology from the journalist for posting a video interview with a Black man who asked, “Why does a Black life matter only when a white man takes it?”  

Andrew Harnik/AP
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington May 5, 2020. Senator Cotton wrote a controversial New York Times op-ed arguing that local law enforcement may need active-duty military forces to help tamp down racial unrest in the U.S. Days after its publication, and following an internal uproar at the Times, the editor of the paper's opinion section, James Bennet, resigned.

The staff revolt that has garnered the most attention is at The New York Times. Outrage erupted over a June 3 op-ed in which Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas proposed the use of military force to quell rioting. Many Times staffers claimed that Senator Cotton’s proposal, if enacted, would put Black journalists in harm’s way. Further objections asserted that the piece included factual inaccuracies. Within days, opinion section editor James Bennet resigned. 

Amid the fallout, New York Times columnist Bari Weiss tweeted that the newspaper was split into two camps. “The New York Times motto is ‘all the news that’s fit to print,’” tweeted Ms. Weiss. “One group emphasizes the word ‘all.’ The other, the word ‘fit.’”

The columnist blamed a culture of “safetyism” among more recent college graduates. Other staffers took issue with her analysis, with her tweets themselves generating harsh pushback.

“It is an expansion of some of the mentalities on college campuses ... looking at controversial or unwanted speech as a form of violence or being harmful,” says Donald Downs, author of “Free Speech and Liberal Education.” It also reflects a change in the politics of the left, says Mr. Downs, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The “woke” wing has moved away from the classic New Deal liberalism exemplified by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, who famously declared that the remedy for falsehood and fallacies is more speech, not enforced silence.

In recent years, there have been foreshadowings of the current upheavals in newsrooms. After initially booking former Trump adviser Steve Bannon for a live interview at The New Yorker Festival, editor David Remnick quickly backtracked following an outcry from his staff. Similarly, The Atlantic fired conservative writer Kevin Williamson just days after hiring him, because the magazine’s rank-and-file objected to one of his earlier controversial statements on abortion.

“I think Thackeray had it about right in ‘Vanity Fair’: ‘One of the great conditions of anger and hatred is, that you must tell and believe lies against the hated object,’” Mr. Williamson says in an email. “Nobody seriously believes that James Bennet has it in for black people or that Tom Cotton is a fascist, but if you can lie to yourself successfully enough, then you believe that everybody who disagrees with you is the moral equivalent of Adolf Hitler, which makes practically everything permissible: lies, the suppression of speech, the weaponization of employment for enforcing conformity.”

The often contrarian opinion columnist Meghan Daum wonders whether she’d make it into the nation’s biggest publications if she were just starting out today. Though the former Los Angeles Times columnist disagreed with Senator Cotton’s proposal to send in the troops, she frets that if a sitting senator becomes persona non grata on an opinion page, then readers who already have low trust in the media may simply leave and never come back. 

“If there’s a North Star for commentary, it really should be presenting views that are diverse and intellectually credible, that are offering something new,” says Ms. Daum, author of “The Problem With Everything.”

“With a lot of these columnists, it’s like there’s an unwillingness to surprise their own audience – almost a fear of doing so. I mean, I’ve seen columnists go on Twitter and tell people, don’t bother reading such-and-such. Don’t bother reading this article. And I want to say, ‘Why are you in the business?” she says. “What purpose is served in telling people to not read something?” 

A reckoning

Many newsrooms have been undergoing a kind of reckoning of late, as the racial protests have shined a bright light on their own workplaces as highly elite – and still mostly white – organizations.

For John Watson, who worked for 21 years at the Jersey Journal as its first Black reporter, diversity in the newsroom isn’t a matter of ticking boxes, it’s a matter of professional importance. If the newsroom isn’t properly representative, a portion of humanity’s issues may not make it into the news, he says. Minority reporters will spot stories that others will miss. Case in point: When Mr. Watson was city editor in the early 1980s, he received a regular FBI crime report, including for the newspaper’s county. But when he looked at the homicide count, he grew suspicious.

“I thought it was off by 10 or 12,” says Mr. Watson, now a professor at American University’s journalism school, where he specializes in media law and journalism ethics. “They didn’t count homicides by police, only civilians. ... It really hit me. Wow, the right people weren’t there to say, ‘Look at these killings. They aren’t being reported. There’s a significant number of killings not in the uniform crime report.’”

The Christian Science Monitor hosted an internal town hall meeting in which staff raised questions about the newspaper’s lack of Black staff reporters and its guidelines that forbid public expressions of opinion.

“The question is, how we can take the best of this new thinking to expand and strengthen our work,” says Mark Sappenfield, editor of the Monitor. “This can be a moment to build and do better.”

Some argue that, as newspapers work to hire journalists from more diverse backgrounds in an effort to better understand those communities, it makes little sense to then effectively muzzle those writers’ points of view. 

At the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, professors Jeff Jarvis and Carrie Brown recently launched a degree in social journalism. The idea is to develop a relationship with self-identified communities and then figure out how best to serve them as journalists. But Mr. Jarvis admits, the question of what the proper distance is between journalists and their subjects doesn’t have an easy answer – as he discovered while talking to his class right after the 2016 election.

“We talked about empathy. And African American students in particular in that class said, ‘No. If you’re asking me to be empathetic to these people who’ve never been empathetic to me and mine, no,’” recalls Mr. Jarvis, a renowned media analyst and creator of Entertainment Weekly. “I said that as a human being, I understand and agree. As a citizen, I understand and agree. As a journalist, however, you have the need to attempt to understand even those people.”

Those who champion the elusive ideal of objectivity, or at least fairness, contend that citizens seldom agree on what constitutes morality. For example, feminists of different stripes may broadly agree on the need to advance the interests of women, yet disagree on how best to do so.

DePauw’s Mr. McCall says mainstream media outlets should first strive to fulfill the democratic function of providing information in as detailed and fair a way as possible. Then, second, offer clearly labeled analysis or interpretation of the news. 

For all the disagreements, journalists on both sides of the debate can still find common agreement around certain principles: serving communities, watching out for the little guy, holding the powerful to account, and being fully transparent. 

The journalistic value that Mr. Wallace prizes above all is curiosity.

“There’s a funny way in which objectivity and impartiality actually foreclose curiosity,” he says. “What that often ends up doing is restricting or limiting the debate to ‘left’ versus ‘right.’ Or the parties who are already assumed to have a stake. I think curiosity can be quite radical and can blow up an idea of what reality and what voices might need to be included.” 

Note: This piece was updated to correct the title of the uniform crime report. We regret the error.

‘The pandemic has united us’: A media divide fades in the Baltics

Trusted news sources can shape behavior. In the midst of a health crisis, Russian speakers in the Baltics switched loyalties to watch local news, helping Latvia and Estonia fare better against the coronavirus.

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Ints Kalnins/Reuters
The day after the pandemic state of emergency was lifted in Latvia, people in their cars attended a drive-in concert in the capital, Riga, on June 11, 2020.

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In Russia’s two smallest neighbors, Latvia and Estonia, roughly a quarter of the people are Russian-speaking – an enduring legacy of the Soviet era. Russian speakers tend to consume Moscow-based media. At the beginning of the pandemic, “the message that Moscow was sending ... was that the virus was nothing worse than the flu,” explains Uga Dumpis, the Latvian government’s chief virologist.

But people soon turned to more local news sources. That switchover is credited with helping Latvia and Estonia fare better against the coronavirus than much of the rest of Europe. Top politicians stepped aside and allowed their medical experts to take the lead. Tasked with informing the public, scientists spoke from both sides of the linguistic divide, which helped their countries emerge from this stage of the pandemic with little loss of life.

But this new sense of national unity will soon be tested by the pace of economic recovery. “Over 200,000 Latvians have emigrated over the past few decades to seek a more prosperous life abroad,” says sociologist Liene Ozoliņa. “It will be crucial to see how the government supports the economy and protects ordinary people to prevent another wave of emigration.”

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4. ‘The pandemic has united us’: A media divide fades in the Baltics

The state of emergency in this venerable seaside capital ended last week. Many stores are still boarded up, including some that will never open again, and sidewalk cafes are far from full capacity.

Nevertheless, as this nation of 1.9 million people enjoys a welcome burst of late spring weather, there is an undeniable feeling of collective relief.

“It feels as if we are waking up from a bad dream,” says Bernhard Loew, the manager of a luxury hotel in the city’s historic Old Town. Like all of Riga’s hostelries, it was forced to close because of the scourge. “But at least we are waking up,” says Mr. Loew.

Both Latvia and her sister Baltic republic, Estonia, have good reason to be relieved. Thanks to proactive, consensus leadership, both are emerging from this stage of the pandemic with remarkably little loss of life and lower infection rates than most of Europe, as well as a renewed sense of unity and national pride.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

A major reason for this is that the top politicians of both countries stepped aside and allowed their medical experts to take the lead in a health crisis.

Ever since both countries regained independence in 1991, a legacy of the Soviet era has challenged them: tensions between the ethnic Latvian and Estonian majorities and their Russophile countrymen. Roughly a quarter of the population are Russian speakers, many of whom have family members who were Soviet troops and officials, or are themselves former military. 

In Latvia, for example, both communities have differed over the Latvian government’s recent push to make Latvian the state language.

Some expected those tensions to evince themselves once again when the coronavirus struck. But that didn’t happen – just the opposite.

Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins credits both the ethnic Latvian and Russian-speaking communities for adhering to the government’s directives on the pandemic.

“I suppose you could say it was ironic, and it certainly wasn’t planned,” says Prime Minister Karins. “But the pandemic has united us.”

“The measures we employed to stop the virus were only effective because they entailed our entire society,” he adds. “Basically, everyone collaborated on this.”

Gordon Sander
Medics to the World, by Aigars Bikše, is a sculpture dedicated to health workers that was funded by donations. It was installed this week in front of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga, which reopened to visitors May 19, 2020.

News via Moscow

Compounding the initial challenge was the fact that the two communities tend to rely on news from disparate sources. In Latvia, as in Estonia, much of the Russian-speaking population relies on the slicker, Moscow-based Russian media for information.

So it did – at least at first – with the pandemic. What the Russian community initially absorbed from Russian media jarred with the Riga government’s message. “The message Moscow was sending, both to its own citizens, as well as ‘Russia abroad,’ was that the virus was nothing worse than the flu,” says Uga Dumpis, the government’s head virologist. “Fortunately everyone realized that the virus was just as serious as we said it was.”

Meanwhile, the government’s chief epidemiologist, Jurijs Perevoscikovs, is a Russian speaker – putting Latvia’s two top health experts on different sides of the linguistic divide.

“People quickly realized that they had a common enemy,” says Jana Jermakova-Zaikovska, a broadcaster with Radio Latvia’s service for Russian speakers.

As Martins Lagzdins, the CEO of a Riga advertising firm, put it, “The virus has helped all Latvians realize that at the end of the day we are all in same boat.”

Prominent Latvian American journalist Pauls Raudseps agrees. “The differences between the two communities have receded into the background,” says Mr. Raudseps, who like the prime minister, is from the diaspora and came to Latvia in 1990. “And that is a good thing.”

Trusted Russian-speaking doctors

Across the border in Estonia, broad support for the government has also put a spotlight on new faces from the Russian community. One of them is Dr. Arkadi Popov, chief medical officer of the Estonian Health Board’s crisis team.

Dr. Popov, who became a reassuring nightly TV presence, says he is pleased if he has contributed to bringing the country together. “I think that in a crisis such as this, it is especially important that objective information is available to both Estonian- and Russian-speaking audiences,” he says.

He points to the way the Russian community observed May 9, the day that Russians in both Latvia and Estonia commemorate the end of World War II by gathering at Soviet cenotaphs in both capitals.

“Usually the area in front of the Unknown Soldier monument in the Military Cemetery in Tallinn is extremely crowded,” Dr. Popov notes. “This year there were just as many flowers at the monument as before, but this year it could be seen that people followed the 2 + 2 rule.”

The 2 + 2 rule allows people in public only in pairs, while maintaining a two-meter distance. “The pandemic has also made us more innovative,” says Dr. Popov, pointing to a dramatic increase in use of video consultation between doctors and patients in Estonian hospitals.

Tonis Saarts, a professor of comparative politics at Tallinn University, said during his weekly radio commentary that thanks to the “brilliant contribution” of Dr. Popov and other Estonian Russians, “the crisis has almost done away with ethnic boundaries.” As in Latvia, Russian speakers turned away from Russian news sources and began to rely on local information on the coronavirus. “For the first time in three decades we witnessed the birth of a common information sphere to unite the two communities,” said Professor Saarts on his radio show.

“When people realized that Russian TV was not talking about the situation in Estonia, they started watching our Estonian Russian-speaking TV,” says Jevgeni Zavadski, a producer for Estonia’s national broadcaster. “Our ratings have grown three times because we turned into a unique and accurate source of information.”

Next challenge, the economy

Professor Saarts nevertheless warns that this new sense of national unity will soon be tested by how well the government handles Estonia’s economic recovery.

“Unfortunately this trust in national institutions might not last very long,” he declares, “because it is clear that the looming economic crisis will hit Russians harder than it will Estonians.”

Professor Saarts’ optimism, as well as his concern, is echoed by Latvian sociologist Liene Ozoliņa, who teaches at the London School of Economics. “The medical challenge has been won,” she says. “The next one is economic.” Latvia’s unemployment rate is about 11%, and more than half of residents say that they have been negatively affected financially by the pandemic.

“Over 200,000 Latvians have emigrated over the past few decades to seek a more prosperous life abroad,” she says, referring to what most agree is the greatest challenge holding Latvia back from its full potential – population decline. “It will be crucial to see how the government supports the economy and protects ordinary people to prevent another wave of emigration,” says Dr. Ozolina, who herself is returning to her resurgent homeland next month.

Editor’s note: As a public service, all our coronavirus coverage is free. No paywall.

‘The time has come’: Which US bases may lose Confederate namesakes?

With pressure growing on the U.S. military to strip the names of Confederate officers from its bases, the question arises: Just who were these men, and what were they really known for?

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As the protests around the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd gained momentum, so, too, has a longstanding push in the United States to remove the icons and symbols of the Confederacy. Towns are tearing down statues, and the Confederate flag is increasingly being banned.

Now a Senate committee has voted to force the Pentagon to strip 10 U.S. military posts of their Confederate names within three years – a move that the Defense Department has resisted for years.

Given the side they chose, many of these bases’ namesakes were vocal advocates for slavery, fighting to defend a morally reprehensible institution. Also problematic from a military standpoint, these bases were all named for traitors to their country.

President Donald Trump says he will “not even consider” renaming the bases. But decorated modern-day military leaders have pushed back, arguing that it’s the right move. “It’s always puzzled me that we don’t have a Fort George Washington or a Fort Ulysses S. Grant or a Fort Patton or a facility named for an African American Medal of Honor recipient,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told The New York Times this week. “I think the time has come, and we have a real opportunity here.”

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5. ‘The time has come’: Which US bases may lose Confederate namesakes?

As the protests around the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd gained momentum, so, too, has a long-standing push in the United States to remove the icons and symbols of the Confederacy. Towns are tearing down statues, and the Confederate flag is increasingly being banned as a symbol of hostility, not heritage.

Now a Senate committee has voted to force the Pentagon to strip 10 U.S. military posts of their Confederate names within three years – a move that the Defense Department has resisted for years.

Given the side they chose, many of these bases’ namesakes were vocal advocates for slavery, fighting to defend a morally reprehensible institution. Also problematic from a military standpoint, critics point out, these bases were all named for traitors to their country. Some of those honored were also notoriously bad commanders.

President Donald Trump says he will “not even consider” renaming the bases, calling them “part of a great American heritage.” But decorated modern-day military leaders have pushed back, arguing that it’s the right move.

“The events since the killing of George Floyd present us with an opportunity where we can move forward to change those bases,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told The New York Times this week. “It’s always puzzled me that we don’t have a Fort George Washington or a Fort Ulysses S. Grant or a Fort Patton or a facility named for an African American Medal of Honor recipient. I think the time has come, and we have a real opportunity here.”

Here’s a rundown of the bases, and a bit of background on their namesakes:

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

1. FORT A.P. HILL, Virginia

One of Robert E. Lee’s most trusted subordinates, Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. had a meteoric rise through the ranks, becoming the youngest major general in the Confederate Army. His reputation as a fearless commander and aggressive tactician did not translate into fighting success later in the war, however. Hill died in battle a week before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, saying he had no desire to see the collapse of the Confederacy.

2. FORT LEE, Virginia

No Civil War general had a pedigree more all-American than Robert E. Lee, a legendarily handsome man known as the “marble model” among his West Point classmates. Two of his ancestors were signers of the Declaration of Independence, and his father, Henry, wrote the famous ode to his good friend George Washington, “First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen,” according to historian Robert Leckie.

But when Lee was approached to lead the Union Army’s 75,000-plus soldiers, he refused, explaining that though he opposed secession, “I could take no part in an invasion of the Southern States.” Instead, he returned to his native Virginia to “share the miseries of my people.” In what was widely considered an act of treason, he took command of the Confederacy’s Army of Northern Virginia, whose troops revered him. “I’ve heard of God,” said one, “but I’ve seen General Lee.”

And while Lee is often portrayed as a benevolent general who happened to own slaves, he saw slavery as a positive institution, once writing in a letter, “The painful discipline [Blacks] are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.” He made a point of breaking up Black families on his plantation and administered particularly harsh beatings. And when his army encountered free Black Americans in the field, Lee ordered them enslaved and brought back to the South as property.

3. FORT PICKETT, Virginia

George Pickett, who graduated last in his West Point class, is best known for leading Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. Of Pickett’s division of 5,500, some 1,100 were wounded, 1,500 were declared missing or captured, and 224 were killed. Pickett’s official battle report was reportedly rejected by his higher-ups for its “bitter negativity.” Asked by journalists why his infamous charge failed, Pickett liked to say, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.” After the war, Pickett fled to Canada for a year, fearing prosecution for his execution of 22 captured soldiers, before Ulysses S. Grant interceded on his behalf.

4. FORT BRAGG, North Carolina

A West Point graduate with a “prickly nature” and a reputation for engendering “cold looks” among his troops, Gen. Braxton Bragg – for whom America’s largest military installation is named – was not a great leader, according to just about all historians, including Earl J. Hess, author of “Braxton Bragg: The Most Hated Man of the Confederacy.” Though he distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, his leadership style “tended to inhibit initiative” during the Civil War, Dr. Hess notes, and his subordinates complained with disbelief that “he never could understand a map.”

5. FORT GORDON, Georgia

Though he had no prior military training, John Brown Gordon was elected captain of his Georgia company, and went on to fight with distinction – and in the wake of some major injuries, including five gunshot wounds suffered during the Battle of Antietam. After the war, he served as a U.S. senator, as governor of Georgia, and, rumor has it, as a leader in the Ku Klux Klan, which he denied.

6. FORT BENNING, Georgia

A vocal activist for secession, Gen. Henry Benning was passionate about safeguarding the wealth of slave owners, and adamantly opposed to freedom for Black people in America. In one infamously racist speech, he worried that if the North won, “the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything,” causing the U.S. to “go back to a wilderness.” His family celebrated his legacy. “This Was a Man,” they had engraved on his tombstone. His wife is reputed to have been an inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind.”

7. FORT RUCKER, Alabama

Edmund Rucker enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army, but rose through the ranks through his engineering experience. When Tennessee voted to secede from the Union, more than 100,000 were in favor of the decision, but 47,000 – most in the eastern part of the state – voted to stay. Rucker was assigned to maintain martial law there, punishing those caught burning bridges and forcing into service locals who didn’t want to join the Confederate Army, according to Michael Rucker, who wrote the first published biography of his distant relative last year.

8. CAMP BEAUREGARD, Louisiana

After the secession of his native Louisiana, Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard resigned from the U.S. military and became the first brigadier general of the Confederate Army. He was known as a competent commander, taking part in the First Battle of Bull Run and in the defense of Richmond, Virginia. Colleagues complained, however, that his tendency to question orders bordered on insubordination. After the war, he got rich promoting the Louisiana lottery.

9. FORT POLK, Louisiana

Though a West Point graduate, Leonidas Polk had spent most of his life as an Episcopal bishop in Louisiana before the Civil War began. He was appointed by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, his West Point classmate and friend, to be a major general, in the hopes that his knowledge of the Mississippi Valley terrain would be an asset in the war. Polk was killed in 1864 while scouting Union positions.

10. FORT HOOD, Texas

John Bell Hood was known as an initially successful commander who rose rapidly through the ranks – too rapidly, analysts say. Notably, Hood was the Confederate commander in the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee. In what is known as the “Pickett’s Charge of the West,” Hood ordered nearly 20,000 men to charge across 2 miles of open terrain to attack fortified Union soldiers. The assault was beaten back with some 6,000 Southern casualties, including 14 of Hood’s generals, in one of the worst defeats of the Civil War.

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

On Film

Home theater: Movies that live up to the books that inspired them

When movies based on books succeed, it is often because they complement what’s on the page, rather than trying to replicate it. ”Great fiction is an intimate expression of a writer’s way of seeing, and this vision is extremely difficult for a filmmaker to duplicate,” says film critic Peter Rainer. Here, he shares some of his favorite adaptations.

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Liffey Films/Newscom
Anjelica Huston stars as a wife who pines for a lost love in “The Dead” (1987), derived from a short story by James Joyce.
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6. Home theater: Movies that live up to the books that inspired them

At a time when many of us are trying to tame that tottering pile of novels we’ve been meaning to read or reread, this might also be a good time to highlight some of the terrific films derived from great literature.

Standout examples are relatively few. Great fiction is an intimate expression of a writer’s way of seeing, and this vision is extremely difficult for a filmmaker to duplicate. When William Faulkner, for example, describes the “wan hemorrhage” of a rising moon, it won’t do to show us a close-up of a moon, no matter how artfully framed.

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For the filmmaker who seeks to make a movie similar in stature to its fictional source, an even greater problem is that most first-rate literature does a deep dive into the psychology of its characters. While it’s true that movies can portray exceedingly well a great many things, the richness of interior lives, except in rare cases, is not one of them. (This is why second-rate books often make for better movies. They’re less intimidating.) A remarkable actor can sometimes compensate for the deficiency but this only takes us so far. In movie adaptations of great literature, we are most often left with its least interesting aspect – the plot.

Still, there are movie adaptations of great literature that, while wisely not pretending to measure up to their sources, are nevertheless fine achievements in their own right. They complement our experience of reading the book. And, if you’re like me, you’ll always try to read the book first. 

Most recently, there was Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma” (2020), a sparkling surprise, especially given how many Jane Austen adaptations preceded it. Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” (2019), despite its lurching narrative structure, was another success. 

Going back a ways, we have Henry James’ “Washington Square,” about a lovelorn spinster and the cad who romances her. It was eventually adapted for the stage and then for the screen as “The Heiress” (1949), starring Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift at their peak. James’ haunting novella “The Turn of the Screw” became “The Innocents” (1961), a marvelously evocative chiller starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave and co-written by Truman Capote. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s epic novel “The Leopard” was transferred to the screen with its glory intact by director Luchino Visconti and Burt Lancaster, in his best performance, as an aging aristocrat in 1860s Sicily. One of Chekhov’s finest short stories, “The Lady with the Dog” (1960), became, under the direction of Iosif Kheifits, perhaps the most perfect of all literary adaptations. 

If you’re looking for a good place to start, I recommend the following worthies, all fine examples of the adapter’s art.

“The Namesake”

Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 novel about an intergenerational Indian family in America, adapted by director Mira Nair and screenwriter Sooni Taraporevala into “The Namesake” (2006), delicately renders the immigrant experience in its many complexities and features the finest performance of the late great Irrfan Khan as a father trying to reconcile his new life with the one he left behind. (Rated PG-13)

“The Dead”

John Huston’s entrancing and deeply melancholy final film, “The Dead” (1987), stars his daughter Anjelica as a wife who pines for a lost love. Derived from the peerless James Joyce short story, it’s a movie Huston had long wanted to make and a fitting valedictory. (Rated PG) 

“The Member of the Wedding”

Carson McCullers adapted her 1946 novel for Broadway, and a version of that play was remade by Hollywood as “The Member of the Wedding” (1952), under the expert direction of Fred Zinnemann, fresh from making “High Noon.” Repeating their legendary stage performances are Julie Harris as the ferociously lonely tomboy Frankie and Ethel Waters as Berenice, her de facto surrogate mother. Waters singing the gospel hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” to her young charge is one of the most moving moments in all cinema. (Unrated)

“Great Expectations”

David Lean’s “Great Expectations” (1946) is not only the best of the many Dickens adaptations, it’s one of the best British movies ever made. It has visual grandeur, wit, literacy, and thrills. Look for the young Jean Simmons as the imperious Estella and, in his first important role, Alec Guinness as the foppish Herbert Pocket. (Unrated)

Peter Rainer is the Monitor’s film critic. 

“The Namesake,” “The Dead,” “The Member of the Wedding,” and “Great Expectations” are available on at least one of these platforms: Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes. 

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Listening to the world’s displaced

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The worldwide total of people forcibly displaced by violence, persecution, or human rights abuses reached a record 79.5 million at the end of 2019. One hot spot is Libya. A 2011 revolution in the North African country ended a dictatorship but also unleashed tensions that have kept it in constant turmoil. The United Nations estimates that 1.3 million Libyans need emergency relief. More than 200,000 are internally displaced.

Libyan society is in tatters. Yet it is also clear that this is not what ordinary Libyans want. At the local level, towns that once fought each other are setting aside ethnic animosities to coordinate responses to the pandemic. Youth-led civil society initiatives are giving voice to aspirations for democracy, women’s rights, and national reconciliation. In a country divided by tribes and other influences, there is still a shared desire to build national unity from the grassroots. The biggest obstacle to peace is outside meddling.

If the democratic aspirations of ordinary Libyans can be supported, it might set an example for how to end violence and persecution elsewhere. The best route home for the displaced is to provide space for local peace initiatives to take root.

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Listening to the world’s displaced

The worldwide total of people forcibly displaced by violence, persecution, or gross human rights abuses reached a record 79.5 million at the end of 2019, according to a United Nations report released today. Forty percent were children. One of the more urgent hot spots is Libya. A 2011 revolution in the North African country ended a 42-year dictatorship but also unleashed ethnic and regional tensions that have since kept it in constant turmoil – and ripe for foreign intervention.

The U.N. estimates that 1.3 million Libyans need emergency humanitarian relief. More than 200,000 are internally displaced. Libya is also the gateway for African migrants trying to reach Europe. Smuggling routes crisscross its desert expanses. Islamic State cells have sought to exploit rival factions to their own gain.

Both the economy and Libyan society are in tatters. Yet it is also clear that this is not what ordinary Libyans want. At the local level, towns that once fought each other are setting aside ethnic animosities to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Urban youth-led civil society initiatives, connected via social media, are giving voice to aspirations for democracy, women’s rights, and national reconciliation. In a country divided by tribes and other influences, there is still a shared culture of disdain for powerful central government and a desire to build national unity from the grassroots.

The biggest obstacle to the peace that these local movements seek is outside meddling. Attracted by Libya’s oil reserves – the largest in Africa and ninth largest globally – and driven by regional power ambitions or security concerns, Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have stoked proxy wars between local Libyan groups.

At the latest peace conference, held in Berlin last January, the rival Libyan leaders refused even to meet. The resulting communiqué called for a joint military commission and a renewed commitment to an existing embargo on exports of arms to Libya. But just months later, in early June, Turkey deployed troops and military hardware to expel a Russian-backed faction trying to take Tripoli, where Ankara’s preferred proxy sits.

“As the foreign intervention increases, the Libyans themselves are getting lost in the mix, their voices crowded out,” says Stephanie Williams, acting U.N. special representative for Libya. “We must enable responsible Libyans to write their own future.”

That observation provides a clarifying motive for international policy toward all troubled states producing displaced persons and providing fertile terrain for terrorists and other violent actors. If the democratic aspirations of ordinary Libyans can be honored and supported, it might set an example for how to end violence and persecution elsewhere. The best route home for the displaced and the shortest distance to achieving economic stability and security is to provide space for local peace initiatives to take root. 

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Finding our livelihood in divine Love, God

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What does it mean to “lay down [one’s] life for [one’s] friends,” as Jesus taught? As a woman experienced after losing her job, it’s something we can do while very much alive – and then we experience the healing and solutions that result.

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1. Finding our livelihood in divine Love, God

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A Bible verse loved by many, including me, is this one: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

This Son, Christ Jesus, taught us about the greatest love any of us can express: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus certainly lived such love literally, dying on the cross so that through his resurrection he could prove Life, God, to be eternal, and we can be endlessly grateful for that. It’s also important to honor those who lost their lives in defending our freedoms or who selflessly choose to help others while putting their own life in harm’s way.

But there is also a deeper meaning to Jesus’ words that we can all practice moment by moment. It is a willingness to selflessly “lay down” a materially based sense of life full of fearful uncertainty, replacing it with a life not only filled with more love and care toward others, but also grounded in an understanding that the real source of our “everlasting life,” including our livelihood, is God.

This has been proved to me in many ways. One example was when I lost my job 16 years ago. While there were certain justifications behind the decision, not unlike the position many unfortunately find themselves in today because of the pandemic, from my perspective the situation seemed largely unfair.

But I understood that I had a choice to make. I could either let outrage, anger, or despondency take over my thinking, or I could choose to “lay down” unhelpful ways of thinking and keep my thought aligned with God, divine Love.

For instance, I was very tempted to hate some of the individuals involved, but through my prayers I felt a deeper sense of God as Love, reflecting limitless love throughout creation. And I found I was able to honestly begin to love those people as God’s children.

I also initially felt very afraid for my family’s financial well-being. But soon our prayers led to a greater trust that God’s love was sustaining us and would never forsake us. And evidence of the truth of this came in due course, when I secured a new and even better position at the place where I am still productively employed today.

In the end, this experience taught me how we can overcome feelings of both hatred and fear by gaining a greater understanding of divine Love, and what it means to not only know and feel this everlasting Love, but be a better expression of God’s love in this world.

The Bible describes a material sense of life, with its vices and limitations, as the “old man.” The founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, once wrote: “What a faith-lighted thought is this! that mortals can lay off the ‘old man,’ until man is found to be the image of the infinite good that we name God, and the fulness of the stature of man in Christ appears” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 15).

This willingness to lay off a concept of man as a sinful, hating, mistake-ridden, selfish, fearful, vulnerable mortal enables us to glimpse “man in Christ,” which is the real man and woman of God’s creating. This is our true identity, entirely spiritual, incapable of hate or fear, flawless and pure, eternally – made in the image of God, who is eternal Life itself.

This brings us back to the last part of that Bible verse I opened with, the part about having everlasting life. That’s an understanding that our life truly is eternal – without beginning or end, without mortality or limits of any kind. So when we’re willing to lay down hatred, condemnation, and even fear and to instead express the love God has placed in our hearts – to love our neighbors throughout the world as ourselves, to see them as God does – we’re living our true nature, our everlasting spiritual life in God.

To return full circle to the first part of that Bible verse, yes, God so loved the world. And God still does. This infinite, divine, and perfect Love can never be overwhelmed, stopped, or cut off from us in any way.

Recognizing this empowers us to love the world as Christ Jesus taught, and to help heal it too.

Viewfinder

In the rice fields

Danish Ismail/Reuters
A man walks in a field covered with rice saplings at Kullan village in Kashmir’s Ganderbal district on June 18, 2020.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Jacob Turcotte. )

A look ahead

Thanks for joining us today. Come back tomorrow, when Martin Kuz will explore Minneapolis’ effort to dismantle its police department.

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