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Paul Shane <[email protected]>
Connecting March 19, 2015
Paul Stevens <[email protected]>
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March 19, 2015
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Embedded on the front lines in Iraq
Good Thursday morning!
AP journalists in Iraq ‐ and many other countries ‐ put their lives on the line every day to
bring us the latest news, and such was the case in the village of Quja this past Sunday
when the tomb of Iraq's late dictator Saddam Hussein was virtually leveled in clashes
between ISIS militants and Iraqi forces.
Pictured above is the Associated Press Baghdad base team that delivered the
story, from left to right, reporter Qassim AbdulZahra, chief photographer Khalid
Mohammed and cameraman Ali Abdel Hassan Jabbar. Their photo at the front
line in Tikrit, Iraq, was taken by Army Captain Atheer Katee.
The work of the three was cited in this week's Beat of the Week for their all‐format
coverage of the tomb of Saddam Hussein in a city overrun by Islamic State militants. They
found the tomb in ruins, during an embed with the Iraqi military trying to retake Saddam's
birthplace, Tikrit, from the extremists. The exclusive material was broadcast worldwide.
Click here for the story, which is also below:
Saddam's tomb suffers extensive damage in Iraq
By Qassim Abdul‐Zahra
The Associated Press
OUJA, Iraq ‐ The tomb of Iraq's late dictator
Saddam Hussein was virtually leveled in heavy
clashes between militants from the Islamic
State group and Iraqi forces in a fight for
control of the city of Tikrit.
Fighting intensified to the north and south of
Saddam Hussein's hometown Sunday as Iraqi
security forces vowed to reach the center of
Tikrit within 48 hours. Associated Press video from the village of Ouja, just south of Tikrit,
shows all that remains of Hussein's once‐lavish tomb are the support columns that held up
Poster‐sized pictures of the late Sunni dictator, which once covered the mausoleum, are
now nowhere to be seen amid the mountains of concrete rubble. Instead, Shiite militia
flags and photos of militia leaders mark the predominantly Sunni village, including that of
Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian general advising Iraqi Shiite militias on
"This is one of the areas where IS militants
massed the most because Saddam's grave
is here," said Captain Yasser Nu'ma, an
official with the Shiite militias, formerly
known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
"The IS militants' set an ambush for us by
planting bombs around" the tomb.
The extremist Islamic State group has
controlled Tikrit since June, when it
waged its lightning offensive that saw
Iraq's second‐largest city, Mosul, come
under their control. The Islamic State was helped in its conquest of northern Iraq by
Saddam loyalists, including military veterans, who appealed to Sunnis who felt victimized
by Baghdad's Shiite‐dominated government.
The Islamic State group claimed in August that Saddam's tomb had been completely
destroyed, but local officials said it was just ransacked and burned, but suffered only
Saddam's body has been kept in the mausoleum in his birthplace, Ouja, since 2007. The
complex featured a marble octagon at the center of which a bed of fresh flowers covered
the place where his body was buried. The extravagant chandelier at its center was
reminiscent of the extravagant life he led until U.S. forces toppled him in 2003.
Iraqi media reported last year that Saddam's body was removed by loyalists amid fears
that it would be disturbed in the fighting. The body's location is not known.
Recapturing Tikrit, a Sunni bastion on the Tigris River, would pave the way for an assault
on Mosul, which U.S. officials have said could come as soon as next month.
Concerns are mounting that Iraq's Shiite militias, of which an estimated 20,000 are fighting
in Tikrit, will carry out revenge attacks on this and other areas that are home to
predominantly Sunni residents.
Amnesty International last year said the militias wear military uniforms but operate
outside any legal framework and without any official oversight, adding that they are not
prosecuted for their crimes. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch echoed those
concerns, calling on the Iraqi government to protect civilians in Tikrit and allow them to
flee combat zones. Its statement noted "numerous atrocities" against Sunni civilians by
pro‐government militias and security forces.
Shiite militants are increasingly being accused of
leveling the Sunni towns they capture from the
Islamic State group, making it impossible for
residents to return. Tikrit has already been
heavily damaged in months of violence. A satellite
image of Tikrit, released last month by the United
Nations, observed that at least 536 buildings in
the city have been affected by the fighting, with
at least 137 completely destroyed and 241
Local Sunni tribal fighters have formed uneasy alliances with the Iraqi army and Shiite
militias in the battle for Tikrit, which Iraqi and U.S. officials believe is essential for
defeating the Sunni militant group.
Yazan al‐Jubouri, a Sunni from Tikrit fighting alongside the Shiite militias, said that the
Islamic State militants killed 16 of his relatives and kept his family living in horror.
"We want to take revenge on those IS militants who killed our children," he said.
Khalid Mohammed tasting snipers with fake camera an he covering the clashes between
Islamic State Group and Iraqi security forces ( AP Photo/Qassim Abdul‐Zahra)
Remembering Charlie Rowe
Walter Mears ‐ Charlie was a good friend and counselor, professionally and personally. I
turned to him more than once when I was Washington COB and later executive editor. He
was always there when needed. I treasure the memory of a week spent with him at his
beautiful home in Jamaica. I had not seen him in too long but will always treasure our
association and his memory.
Larry Blasko's cut‐throat adventure
Here's a report ‐ and the headline above ‐ from Connecting colleague Larry Blasko
Larry Blasko always had folks willing to cut his throat, but he'll pay Dr. Mark Urken to do it
at New York's Mount Sinai/Beth Israel medical center on Monday, March 23. Dr. Urken
will perform a total laryngectomy to remove squamous cell cancer. Blasko's wife, Helena,
will be with him.
The operation should leave Blasko, 68, breathing through a
hole in his throat and eventually communicating by
(An operation for a benign tumor in 1986 left Blasko with
paralyzed tissue inside the right side of his face, including
the vocal cord, but preserved altered speech and normal
Blasko joined the AP in November 1971 in Chicago and left
it in August 2004 from New York.
Kathy Gannon recounts her career as journalist
In this Video Memoir interview, Kathy Gannon, right, Special Regional Correspondent for
Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Associated Press, speaks about her career as a journalist.
She was working with Pulitzer‐prize winning AP photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus when
they were shot in Afghanistan while covering the upcoming elections. Anja Niedringhaus
was killed and Kathy Gannon was seriously wounded.
Kathy Gannon is the author of I is for Infidel: From Holy War to Holy Terror; 18 Years Inside
Afghanistan. She is interviewed by Ellen Nimmons, Assistant International Editor for the
Gannon will perform the memorial candlelighting at the OPC's Annual Awards Dinner this
Click here to watch the interview. (Shared by Sibby Christensen)
'Breathing easier at home'
Connecting colleague Claudia DiMartino (Email) and her new lung are now home from
the hospital, as of Wednesday, and the caption she wrote for this picture on Facebook
says it all:
"Breathing easy at home."
Great to hear!
Reception to honor Torrences on 70th anniversary A reception honoring Connecting colleague Elon Torrence (Email) and his wife Lois (Polly)
to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary will be held Sunday. Their anniversary was on
Tuesday, March 17.
Their family invites friends and AP colleagues to join them in celebrating at a reception
from 2‐4 p.m., Sunday, at McCrite Plaza, 1610 S.W. 37th, Topeka, KS 66611. Friends
unable to attend may send cards to this address. Elon, 98, retired from the AP in 1982 after a 36‐year career as a Topeka newsman.
AP Beat of the Week
By Michael Oreskes
As Pensacola correspondent, Melissa Nelson‐Gabriel often has occasion to visit the
military bases that dot the Florida Panhandle. She always reminds base personnel that the
AP can help them get news out quickly and accurately to other media; she makes sure to
get to know the public information officers.
Which is how she found herself hiking along the shore in the early light, toward the site of
a helicopter crash that killed 11 soldiers and Marines. Alerted by a PIO at Eglin Air Force
Base after 2 a.m., she wrote the story and then rushed to capture video of the accident's
aftermath, putting the AP well ahead. Her intrepid work earns her the Beat of the Week.
The first time Nelson‐Gabriel's cell phone rang, she was sleeping so soundly that she didn't
awaken. But the PIO from the Air Force's 96th Test Wing called again. He told Nelson‐
Gabriel all that was known about the crash of an Army Black Hawk helicopter just off the
coast during a training exercise, and told her off the record that all 11 on board were
believed to be dead.
She called Bernard McGhee on the South regional desk, and together they put out a
NewsAlert, a NewsNow and a writethru. She took a moment to do a Q&A with AP Radio.
And then, at 4 a.m., she hurried from her home for the base, 20 miles away, in a dense
"I knew video would be an important early priority and I found the search‐and‐rescue
workers fueling boats at a well‐lit station near the crash site. I was able to get video of that
and transmit it to BNC early. The rescue workers wouldn't go on camera but told me
approximately where the aircraft went down," she says.
"I am familiar with that area and knew the closest public access parking lot to the military
property. I waited for sunrise and just started walking the shoreline with my video camera,
still camera and iPhone. It was so foggy and eerie that I started to turn back after about a
But then she ran into a former airman who had trained at the range and had come to see
if he could help with rescue efforts. They walked together, following the ATV and boot
tracks in the sand for about three miles to the blare of horns from search boats. The murk
was so deep that she could see little. Finally, she saw a line of airmen in fatigues searching
the shoreline for debris, and used the video camera to get some shots before she was
ordered to leave. By the time she got back to her car, the road leading to the area had
been closed off ‐ if she had been a little later getting there, she wouldn't have gotten in.
Her photo of the line of searchers in the fog was used on front pages and websites
nationwide, including USA Today. And her story or photos were on the front pages of 10 of
Florida's 23 daily newspapers. Even the local Pensacola paper used her story on its website
For a beat that combined crucial source development and pedal‐to‐the‐metal reporting,
Nelson‐Gabriel wins this week's $500 prize.
(Shared by Valerie Komor)
Lefteris Pitarakis Appointed AP's Chief Photographer
Lefteris Pitarakis, an Associated Press photojournalist based in London, has been named
AP's chief photographer for Turkey, based in Istanbul.
The appointment was announced Tuesday by Tony
Hicks, AP's regional photo editor for Europe and
"Turkey is a country with a dynamic breaking news
agenda, top level sports and rich historical
traditions. In Lefteris Pitarakis, AP has an
experienced, creative and hard‐working
photographer with all the attributes needed to make his assignment there a massive
success," Hicks said.
Pitarakis, 40, started work with the AP as a freelance photographer in 1998 and covered
the Balkans region with assignments in Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as
Cyprus. From 2000 to 2005 he was based in the Middle East, mainly covering the
Palestinian uprising against Israel. Later, he became deputy photo editor for Israel and the
Palestinian territories, and traveled throughout the Middle East, Europe, North Africa and
South Asia. He also covered the aftermath of the U.S.‐led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since 2005, Pitarakis has been based in London while continuing to travel frequently. He
covered three wars in the Gaza Strip, and his work from the 2006 war between Israel and
Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon was included in a team entry that became a finalist for the
In his latest assignment, he covered the fighting between Islamic State militants and
Kurdish fighters for the Syrian city of Kobani.
Pitarakis also shoots video for AP and trains AP photographers on shooting video, as well
as lecturing frequently about ethics in photojournalism, a topic he has championed in
universities and photography institutions.
He graduated from Middlesex University with a degree in photography and holds a
master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Westminster.
Click here for a link to this story and more of his images.
Connecting '80s/'90s/100 Club'
The 80s are the new 60s, the 90s are the new 70s, and the 100s?, well, they are reserved
for a precious fortunate few. So if you have earned your stripes by qualifying for one of
those age plateaus and you are not listed below, send a note to Ye Olde Connecting Editor.
Any ideas on further proper recognition of our Connecting clubs is welcomed.
Members "admitted" to date:
Mercer Bailey (Email) ‐ 88
Sibby Christensen (Email) ‐ 80
Phil Dopoulos (Email) ‐ 83 Mike Feinsilber (Email) ‐ 80
Lew Ferguson (Email) ‐ 81
Albert Habhab (Email) ‐ 89
George Hanna (Email) ‐ 85
Bob Haring (Email) ‐ 82
Gene Herrick (Email) ‐ 88
Ferd Kaufman (Email) ‐ 88
Joe McGowan (Email) ‐ 83
Joe McKnight (Email) ‐ 89
Walter Mears (Email) ‐ 80
Charlie Monzella (Email) ‐ 83
Marv Schneider(Email) ‐ 84
Arlon Southall (Email) ‐ 83
Paul Webster (Email) ‐ 83
George Bria (Email) ‐ 99
Elaine Light (Email) ‐ 92
Sam Montello (Email) ‐ 92
Elon Torrence (Email) ‐ 98
Max Desfor ‐ 101
Stories of interest
Administration sets record for withholding government files (Shared by Mark
WASHINGTON (AP) ‐ The Obama administration set a record again for censoring
government files or outright denying access to them last year under the U.S. Freedom of
Information Act, according to a new analysis of federal data by The Associated Press.
The government took longer to turn over files when it provided any, said more regularly
that it couldn't find documents and refused a record number of times to turn over files
quickly that might be especially newsworthy.
It also acknowledged in nearly 1 in 3 cases that its initial decisions to withhold or censor
records were improper under the law ‐ but only when it was challenged
A Sunshine Week surprise: White House exempts executive office from
The White House on Tuesday erased a government‐transparency rule that a federal court
overturned nearly six years ago, officially exempting the president's Office of
Administration from records requests.
The timing of the move caused an uproar among transparency advocates, who are in the
middle of Sunshine Week, a seven‐day effort to promote open government and greater
compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. The law allows the public to access
federal documents with limited exceptions.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday characterized the rule change as a
matter of cleaning up outdated regulations, noting that the U.S. Court of Appeals in the
District of Columbia decided in 2009 that that the Office of Administration is not an agency
as defined under FOIA and therefore not subject to the statute.
"It has no impact at all on the policy that we have maintained from the beginning to
comply with the Freedom of Information Act when it's appropriate," Earnest said.
The Rules of Photojournalism Are Keeping Us From the Truth
Just because a photo looks like photojournalism, doesn't mean it's Photojournalism.
Photojournalism the ethic, the genre, the act of
reportage through story and images, has been
hijacked under the guise of "photojournalism" the
style‐where the style denotes "truth," objectivity,
righteousness, infallibility, etc. At what point did
the act of making images subvert the idea of what
Photojournalism is and should be?
This is not an argument for pushing aesthetics
and technique out the window. Technique is integral to image‐making (obviously), but it
should service the story first and foremost; the type of image being produced should
never dictate the story.
In Vermont, A HyperLocal Online Forum Brings Neighbors Together
Around Christmastime, Vermont resident Erin Wagg
had a problem. Her family had received a card from a
friend in Italy ‐ someone from an old exchange
program ‐ and it was written in Italian. "I don't read
Italian at all," says Wagg. So she posted about it on a
network called the Front Porch Forum, asking if anyone
could read and translate the card for her. From her
town of Richmond, Vt. (population 4,000), she received
more than 20 offers of help.
At a time when many people are connected to hundreds, if not thousands, of people on
social media, Front Porch Forum is building smaller networks ‐ of neighbors. Every day,
participants get an email including all the postings from other people in their town or city.
People report lost dogs or break‐ins, recommend babysitters, sell items and raise money
for various causes.
In order to take part, members have to be local residents and can't be anonymous. And
each person can only join a single forum.
Biggest Advertisers Are Sending Their Dollars to Digital
The country's largest marketers are slashing their advertising budgets as they shift a larger
portion of their spending to digital, according to new figures released on Wednesday.
The 10 biggest advertisers cut spending by 4.2 percent in 2014, to $15.3 billion from $16
billion a year earlier, according to the latest report from Kantar Media, a research firm
owned by the advertising conglomerate WPP. Procter & Gamble, the top advertiser,
lowered its ad spending in 2014 by 14.4 percent, bringing its expenditures to $2.6 billion,
the report showed.
"Large advertisers in particular are the ones that are most aggressively moving budgets
into digital, and the cost efficiencies of digital advertising enable many marketers to buy
more for less," said Jon Swallen, the chief research officer at Kantar Media North America.
A good portion of those dollars are going into fast‐growing digital segments like video and
mobile, which Kantar does not track.
Today in History ‐ March 19, 2015
By The Associated Press
Today is Thursday, March 19, the 78th day of 2015. There are 287 days left in the year.
Today's Highlight in History:
On March 19, 1945, during World War II, 724 people were killed when a Japanese dive
bomber attacked the carrier USS Franklin off Japan; the ship, however, was saved. Adolf
Hitler ordered the destruction of German facilities that could fall into Allied hands in his
so‐called "Nero Decree," which was largely disregarded.
On this date:
In 1687, French explorer Rene‐Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle ‐ the first European to
navigate the length of the Mississippi River ‐ was murdered by mutineers in present‐day
In 1863, the Confederate cruiser Georgiana, on its maiden voyage, was scuttled off
Charleston, South Carolina, to prevent it from falling into Union hands.
In 1918, Congress approved daylight saving time.
In 1920, the Senate rejected, for a second time, the Treaty of Versailles (vehr‐SY') by a
vote of 49 in favor, 35 against, falling short of the two‐thirds majority needed for approval.
In 1931, Nevada Gov. Fred B. Balzar signed a measure legalizing casino gambling.
In 1955, the inner‐city school drama "Blackboard Jungle," starring Glenn Ford, was
released by MGM.
In 1965, the wreck of the Confederate cruiser Georgiana was discovered by E. Lee Spence,
102 years to the day after it had been scuttled.
In 1976, Buckingham Palace announced the separation of Princess Margaret and her
husband, the Earl of Snowdon, after 16 years of marriage.
In 1979, the U.S. House of Representatives began televising its floor proceedings; the live
feed was carried by C‐SPAN (Cable‐Satellite Public Affairs Network), which was making its
In 1987, televangelist Jim Bakker resigned as chairman of his PTL ministry organization
amid a sex and money scandal involving Jessica Hahn, a former church secretary.
In 1993, Supreme Court Justice Byron R. White announced plans to retire. (White's
departure paved the way for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to become the court's second female
In 2003, President George W. Bush ordered the start of war against Iraq. (Because of the
time difference, it was early March 20 in Iraq.)
Ten years ago: Police in Citrus County, Florida, found the body of 9‐year‐old Jessica
Lunsford, more than three weeks after she'd disappeared from her bedroom. (Convicted
sex offender John Evander Couey was later sentenced to death for kidnapping, raping and
burying Jessica alive; he died of natural causes in September 2009.) Irina Slutskaya (sloot‐
SKY'‐yah) won the gold medal for the second time at the World Figure Skating
Championships, held in Moscow; Sasha Cohen of the United States won the silver medal
for the second straight year. Automaker John Z. DeLorean died in Summit, New Jersey, at
Five years ago: The White House released an online video of President Barack Obama
making a fresh appeal directly to the people of Iran, saying a U.S. offer of diplomatic
dialogue still stood, but that the Tehran government had chosen isolation.
One year ago: In her first news conference as Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen said with
the job market still weak, the Fed intended to keep short‐term rates near zero for a
"considerable" time and would raise them only gradually. Toyota agreed to pay $1.2
billion to settle an investigation by the U.S. government, admitting that it had hidden
information about defects that caused Toyota and Lexus vehicles to accelerate
unexpectedly, resulting in injuries and deaths. Robert Strauss, 95, a prominent Democratic
party powerbroker and former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, died in Washington.
Former Iran‐Contra chief prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh, 102, died in Oklahoma City. Fred
Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church that preached hatred of gay people, died
at age 84.
Today's Birthdays: Former White House national security adviser Brent Scowcroft is 90.
Theologian Hans Kung is 87. Jazz musician Ornette Coleman is 85. Author Philip Roth is 82.
Actress Renee Taylor is 82. Actress‐singer Phyllis Newman is 82. Actress Ursula Andress is
79. Singer Clarence "Frogman" Henry is 78. Singer Ruth Pointer (The Pointer Sisters) is 69.
Actress Glenn Close is 68. Film producer Harvey Weinstein is 63. Actor Bruce Willis is 60.
Actress‐comedian Mary Scheer is 52. Playwright Neil LaBute is 52. Actor Connor Trinneer is
46. Rock musician Gert Bettens (K's Choice) is 45. Rapper Bun B is 42. Rock musician Zach
Lind (Jimmy Eat World) is 39. Actress Abby Brammell is 36. Actor Craig Lamar Traylor is 26.
Actor Philip Bolden is 20.
Thought for Today: "As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole
world." ‐ Virginia Woolf, English author (1882‐1941).
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