Myanmar Court Upholds Convictions of Two Reuters Journalists

A court in Myanmar rejected the appeal on Friday of two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison for reporting on atrocities against the country’s Rohingya minority.

The journalists, U Wa Lone, 32, and U Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted in September of violating the colonial-era Official Secrets act. The verdict further dampened hopes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar’s civilian government and a onetime human rights icon, would usher in an era of civil liberties in a country long controlled by a military government.

The prosecution of the journalists was widely condemned by human rights and media freedom organizations, and they were included with the murdered Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi among several journalists recognized as Time magazine’s person of the year for 2018.

“Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” the editor in chief of Reuters, Stephen J. Adler, said in a statement. “They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth. Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”

During their trial, the two men described how in December 2017 they had been urgently called to a meeting with a police official who, after eating dinner with them, handed them a newspaper with documents rolled up inside. They were arrested immediately afterward.

The documents, along with phone numbers and files from the journalists’ phones and homes, became key pieces of evidence against them. One witness said the materials were public at the time of the arrest, and a police captain even testified that the actions against the men were a setup. That captain, U Moe Yan Naing, was later punished with a year in prison for violating police disciplinary rules.

The judge found that the journalists had possessed secret materials that they intended to publish, which could harm the state. Myanmar’s High Court ruled on Friday that their seven-year sentence was appropriate.

Human rights advocates said the appeals process repeated the shortcomings of their trial.

“The case against these two journalists should never have proceeded, much less resulted in a conviction,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The appeals court process looks like it was just a rerun of the previous injustice done to these two reporters who dared investigate what the military wanted to keep hidden.”

Mr. Wa Lone and Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo were described by colleagues as idealistic young journalists who had embraced Myanmar’s expanding freedoms to report on important stories, including a violent campaign by the country’s military and Buddhist mobs against the primarily Muslim Rohingya ethnic group in the country’s northwest.

Mr. Wa Lone had obtained detailed information about the massacre of 10 Rohingya when he had been called to the meeting with police. Mr. Kyaw Soe Oo, who had recently joined the news organization, joined the meeting that led to their arrests, Reuters said.

Two months after their arrest, Reuters published a detailed account of the massacre they had been reporting on.

Saw Nang contributed reporting.

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In the New Year’s Eve Spotlight: Snoop Dogg, Ninja and a Free Press

Kelly Clarkson. Snoop Dogg. Dua Lipa.

And Lester Holt?

Television viewers on New Year’s Eve tune in for performances by the latest hitmakers and nostalgia acts. This time around, 11 journalists — ranging from familiar faces like Martha Raddatz of ABC to behind-the-scenes editors like Karen Toulon of Bloomberg News — will share the Times Square limelight, part of an effort by organizers to recognize the erosion of press freedoms at home and abroad.

The journalists will be tasked Monday with pressing the crystal button that initiates the minute-long descent of the New Year’s Eve Ball, a prime moment on a night that attracts tens of millions of viewers.

Among the scheduled attendees is Karen Attiah, who edited the Washington Post columns of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and American resident who was murdered in Turkey this year by Saudi agents. Mr. Holt of NBC, Alisyn Camerota of CNN, Vladimir Duthiers of CBS and Jon Scott, a weekend anchor on Fox News, are also expected to appear.

Editors from Time, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are also on the bill, along with Maria Ressa, a journalist in the Philippines whose news site, Rappler, has been threatened by the country’s authoritarian president, Rodrigo Duterte. Ms. Ressa, along with Mr. Khashoggi, was featured on the cover of Time this month for its annual person of the year honor.

The reporters and editors will be part of broadcasts featuring stars like John Legend, Shawn Mendes, Jennifer Lopez, Bebe Rexha, Sting and a reunited New Kids on the Block. The online gamer Ninja will lead Times Square revelers in a mass performance of the Floss, the viral dance craze.

Journalists do not carry quite the same star power as past honorees, like Muhammad Ali or Lady Gaga, who memorably kissed the mayor at the time, Michael R. Bloomberg, in the first moments of 2012. But even a brief recognition from viewers will go a long way, said Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group that promotes press rights and helped coordinate the event.

“People who are watching across the country will see the media together, standing on the stage, visually united behind this principle,” Mr. Simon said in an interview. “That’s a positive message at a time when journalists around the world are threatened as never before.”

Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, has sought in recent years to leverage the ball drop’s worldwide audience to promote civic causes. Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, appeared onstage last year. David Miliband, who runs the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid group for refugees, was a guest on Dec. 31, 2014.

This year’s idea came about after a conversation between Mr. Tompkins and an acquaintance from his college days, Jacob Weisberg, a former editor in chief of Slate and a Committee to Protect Journalists board member.

“The two pictures that are sent around the world generally are people kissing each other with confetti falling and the people who appear on the stage,” Mr. Tompkins said. “We wanted to use that in a deliberate way.”

“It’s fitting to celebrate the free press as we reflect on where we’ve been during the past year and what we value most as a society,” he added.

Given the attention span of viewers on a night dedicated more to carousing than to the Constitution, Mr. Simon said the televised image of journalists, representing a range of news organizations, would be a potent symbol.

“You have to send a simple and essentially visual message,” he said. “The basic principles of press freedom are unifying, and it’s something that people can celebrate even if they have divergent views.”

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Der Spiegel to Press Charges Against Reporter Who Made Up Articles

HANOVER, Germany — Der Spiegel has announced that it will press charges against a former star reporter accused of systemically faking interviews and articles, in what might be the biggest journalism scandal in Germany since another newsmagazine published fake Hitler diaries 35 years ago.

The announcement came as the United States ambassador waded into the scandal by accusing the newsmagazine of anti-American bias and calling for an independent audit.

Richard Grenell, the American ambassador to Germany, wrote a letter to Der Spiegel on Friday that appeared to try to tie the fraud committed by the reporter, Claas Relotius, 33, to the newsmagazine’s editorial methods.

Some of the most notable articles that Mr. Relotius admitted faking are set in the United States, such as profiles of a religious activist who travels the country to witness executions, anti-immigrant militiamen in Arizona and a town of Trump supporters in Minnesota.

“These fake news stories largely focus on U.S. policies and certain segments of the American people,” Mr. Grenell wrote in the letter, which was published by the newsmagazine.

“We have previously voiced our concerns directly to Spiegel editors and journalists regarding bias in reporting on U.S. policy and the U.S. Administration,” the ambassador wrote.

Since taking his post in Berlin in May, Mr. Grenell has been an outspoken advocate for the Trump administration. Since the letter become public, Mr. Grenell has been active on Twitter, repeating the charge of anti-American bias to his 114,000 followers on the site.

The American diplomat’s tone was less about the transgressions of one reporter and more about the perceived bias by a newsroom expecting a certain type of article to be filed.

In the letter, Mr. Grenell suggested that much of the critical coverage of the United States could be avoided if German reporters would check in with the American Embassy before submitting their articles.

“Unfortunately, it is routine practice for Spiegel reporters to not even call us before writing,” Mr. Grenell wrote.

The editors of Der Spiegel, the country’s most important newsmagazine, who have been dealing with the fallout of the affair and the reputational damage to its vaunted fact-checking department, have apologized to Americans who felt insulted about the former reporter’s fraud. But they pushed back on the ambassador’s criticism.

“When we criticize the American president, this does not amount to anti-American bias — it is criticism of the policies of the man currently in office in the White House,” Dirk Kurbjuweit, the deputy editor in chief, wrote in an open letter to the ambassador.

“Anti-Americanism is deeply alien to me and I am absolutely aware of what Germany has the U.S. to thank for: a whole lot.”

The magazine’s admission that articles by the former reporter were partly or wholly fabricated for years came at a moment when public trust in journalism is already low. Far-right activists in Germany reveled in the news.

On Friday, Der Spiegel dedicated its weekly edition to the scandal.

On Saturday night, the magazine announced in one of the many articles documenting Mr. Relotius’s misdeeds that the editors would be filing a criminal complaint against him after it emerged that he had set up a private donation drive ostensibly to help two Syrian orphans that he had profiled.

According to Der Spiegel, only one of the two orphans exists, and the aid money went to the reporter’s private bank account.

Mr. Relotius has not been available for comment since the scandal broke, but according to the newsmagazine’s editors, last week he explained the fraud this way: “It wasn’t about the next big thing. It was the fear of failure.” He also said, “The pressure not to fail grew as I became more successful.”

Perhaps the most egregious case of the fraud tied to the award-winning reporter involved a piece on Fergus Falls, Minn., which Mr. Relotius turned into a caricature of a pro-Trump, anti-immigrant town in his 7,300-word report.

A couple of residents who assiduously documented the reality around many of his fake claims opened a window into just how little Mr. Relotius’s Der Spiegel articles were based on facts on the ground.

His fakery was finally revealed after the magazine printed a story about an Arizona militia group and a caravan of migrants hoping to cross the Mexico-United States border. The co-author of the piece, Juan Moreno, found that the militiamen Mr. Relotius had profiled had never met him.

Follow Christopher F. Schuetze on Twitter: @CFSchuetze.

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Should the Press Boycott Trump? Political Strategists Weigh In

The CNN chief Jeff Zucker gave his troops unexpected orders the day after President Trump snatched the press credential away from Jim Acosta, one of the network’s White House correspondents.

The temptation to play it big was strong. Here was a CNN star in the middle of the action, and television news is nothing if not self-promotional. But at the regular morning meeting on Thursday, Mr. Zucker told his producers to stand down.

This time, CNN would not be led by the nose into giving significant airtime to another Trump attack on the news media, especially when Democrats were preparing to take over the House and Jeff Sessions was being forced out of the attorney general’s office.

It was a first step toward a revised approach in dealing with the president’s anti-media antics, which reached a new level last week when Mr. Trump went beyond mere rhetoric by taking away Mr. Acosta’s White House press pass and threatening to do the same for anyone else who failed to show “respect.”

Other news organizations appeared to follow Mr. Zucker’s lead, resisting the urge, for once, to allow the president to turn them into hapless characters in his never-ending national melodrama.

But the proportionate coverage did nothing to restore Mr. Acosta’s White House access. Nor did it keep Mr. Trump from threatening to bar other reporters whose questions he doesn’t like.

And so the press corps remained in a Catch-22.

Reporters could stage a group protest. But that would make them look like they’re at war with the president, just as he always says they are. Or they could do nothing and effectively “submit to his authority to determine who gets to hold him accountable,” as the former Republican presidential strategist Steve Schmidt put it to me in an interview on Friday.

Mr. Schmidt was on my call list as I polled strategists from both parties on how to handle the conundrum.

It isn’t my habit to ask political operatives to weigh in on journalistic matters. But in bringing a reporter’s notebook to a knife fight, the White House press corps has seemed overmatched in parrying attacks from a man who flummoxed rivals with catchy sobriquets like Low Energy Jeb, Lyin’ Ted and Crooked Hillary.

The strategists have more experience with this kind of thing than newspaper editors or journalism professors.

“He’s Swift-Boating you guys,” said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who worked on the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and John Kerry.

She was referring to “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” a group that undermined one of Mr. Kerry’s strong points, his stellar war record in Vietnam.

The false accusations presented the Kerry campaign with a classic campaign dilemma. To address them, even to dispute them, would only call more attention to them. And letting them go unmet would let them fester. (Mr. Kerry ultimately responded, but some Democrats complained after his loss that he did so too late.)

The Trump press corps has quickly debunked mischaracterizations, as its members did after the White House made the false claim that Mr. Acosta placed “his hands” on a young aide who sought to take his microphone away as he clashed with Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

But Ms. Cutter said that whenever possible, the press corps should starve the president’s attacks of attention and keep the focus on the issues.

“They don’t need to cover a man who is picking fights with them for the purpose of turning out his base,” she said. “It should be about the Justice Department and trying to thwart the Russia investigation.”

That still doesn’t get back the revoked press badge.

Mr. Schmidt, who helped manage John McCain’s 2008 campaign and served a stint in George W. Bush’s White House, said a boycott of the White House press briefings should “at least be on the table” until Mr. Acosta’s pass is returned — especially when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, so often uses the sessions to spread falsehoods.

“What they should say is the press briefing is conditioned and premised on the ability of a free press to hold government accountable,” said Mr. Schmidt, who has emerged as a critic of Mr. Trump on MSNBC and recently announced he was quitting the Republican Party.

John Weaver, a lead strategist for the 2016 Republican presidential campaign of Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, was more bullish on a boycott, even if means giving Mr. Trump the foil he seeks.

“If you’re going to catch hell anyway, do the right thing,” said Mr. Weaver. He cited not just Mr. Acosta’s revoked pass but also Mr. Trump’s personal insults against reporters last week, including three black women who cover him.

At this point, though, even the White House Correspondents’ Association has not threatened a walkout. The lack of a call to action may have something do with the fact that Mr. Acosta is a somewhat polarizing figure, viewed by some of his press corps colleagues as a showboat. But there is also the risk of a backlash if the reporters were to stay away from the next briefing.

As Anita Dunn, a Democratic strategist and former White House adviser to Mr. Obama, told me: “That puts them in the middle of the story.”

“The more they personalize this, the more it becomes a fight between the press and the president, as opposed to the press doing its job,” she added. “When they are covering the story, as opposed to being the story, they’re on firmer ground.”

I found rare agreement between Ms. Dunn and a onetime opponent, Jim Dyke, a top strategist for the Republican National Committee during the George W. Bush years. He spoke to me from South Dakota, where he was hunting pheasant and where, he said, people “don’t give a flip” about Mr. Acosta’s credential.

When I asked him what advice he would offer members of the media if they were his client, he gave me an earful.

“It’s not about them, and they obsessively make it about them, and it’s not, and that’s step one,” he said.

In his view, reporters are too strident when they challenge the president, either in person or on Twitter. “If you’re running a campaign and your candidate is seething at the other person, and all they can talk about is, ‘That S.O.B. is an idiot,’ they typically lose campaigns,” he said.

His advice?

“Get back on track. Calm down. Show the office of the presidency the respect it deserves.”

Before I could jump in, he went on.

“Now they’ll say, ‘How can we respect it when he doesn’t?’ O.K., that’s his problem. You showing it respect further elevates you above him, instead of being dragged down to his level.”

But, but, but — the press badge!

Mr. Dyke said that if the administration were to deny access to other reporters, “and the press makes a substantial, thoughtful case, people will be outraged.” For now, though, he said, “Because Jim Acosta lost his hard pass, the press isn’t able to do its job?”

Mr. Acosta answered the question via Instagram on Friday as his network weighed bringing a lawsuit against President Trump. The selfie he posted showed him smiling in Ray Bans, the Eiffel Tower at his back.

“Greetings from Paris,” he trolled.

He had flown there on his own — as opposed to aboard Air Force One — to cover Mr. Trump’s visit.

He was showing that reporting without a license is not a crime. At least for now.

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Another Trump Scoop, a Giddy Reaction and a Reporter Under Fire

WASHINGTON — Jonathan Swan could not sleep.

It was 4 a.m. last Wednesday, and Mr. Swan, the star White House correspondent for the upstart news outlet Axios, was tapping out a Slack message to his colleagues.

“I wish I could redo that moment,” Mr. Swan wrote, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times. “I’m sorry, because you all have to work at Axios and bear whatever reputational damage I do to the company.”

Hours earlier, Mr. Swan, 33, had done what he usually does, the thing that turned him from an obscure Australian striver into a uniquely Washington figure of envy, fascination and contempt: he landed a big story. In an interview posted Tuesday, Mr. Swan had cajoled President Trump into acknowledging that he wants to end automatic citizenship for immigrant children born in the United States.

Like other Swan scoops — Nikki Haley leaving her job; the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord; “executive time” — this one sent newsrooms scrambling. But online, disgust among liberals at the president’s policy plans quickly morphed into disgust with Mr. Swan.

Why did a video clip of the interview show him smiling so gleefully as Mr. Trump confirmed his reporting? Why was he “excited to share” the news as a preview of Axios’s new HBO show, rather than a policy with real-world, possibly devastating impact? Why didn’t he challenge Mr. Trump’s bogus claim that no other country offers birthright citizenship? (At least 30 others do.) One columnist called him a “bootlicker”; another went with “the ne plus ultra of media toadying.”

To cover Mr. Trump’s White House is to play in a treacherous arena. But Mr. Swan has struck a bigger nerve than most.

He has scaled journalism’s most competitive beat with brute force (competitors say his calendar is booked weeks ahead); a TV-ready persona (he is a regular on the cable circuit); and a truffle-pig’s nose for news. “He’s probably the most plugged-in person in Washington,” said Sally Quinn, the Washington journalism doyenne and a friend.

Still, his rise has come with accusations of coziness: that he favors access over accountability; that he irritates the White House, but rarely infuriates it. Many journalists here have lucrative TV deals (including at The New York Times), but some grumble about Mr. Swan’s gigs as a paid corporate speaker, including a roughly $20,000 appearance at Goldman Sachs that other news organizations would prohibit for their reporters.

That Mr. Swan works for Axios, the rapid-fire news site founded by the Politico creators Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, brings its own complications. Its stripped-down version of journalism (motto: “smart brevity”) means its articles are presented as bullet points that can negate nuance, with headlines that can hype.

All of which places Mr. Swan at a sticky nexus of journalistic ethics and best practices in an era when the audience for White House reporting has never been bigger — and the judgments never harsher. Ratings and subscriptions are up, and reporters become household names, but they are often denounced as “fake news” by the right and as brown-nosers by the left.

“How do you practice insider journalism with an administration that a large share of the country is rooting for, regardless of the truth of the president’s claims, and that another large part thinks is morally repugnant?” said Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed News (and a former employee of Mr. VandeHei’s). “That is a really hard challenge.”

For all the slings and arrows sent his way, Mr. Swan, who declined to comment for this article in the wake of last week’s dust-up, has lived his own American dream.

The son of Norman Swan, a prominent television journalist in Australia, he arrived here in 2014 after a promising career in the Canberra trenches, where among other scoops he discovered video of an Australian senator hurling the feces of a kangaroo.

On a visa for a congressional fellowship, he spent nearly a year being rejected for reporting positions until landing a job at The Hill. “I probably interviewed five or six hundred people in my life, and I just knew right away that he was going to be a great reporter,” said Bob Cusack, the editor in chief.

Sources and competitors of Mr. Swan, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because, well, it’s Washington, described a hustler and charmer with a herculean work ethic, often squeezing in four source meetings a day. “He seemed drawn to me,” recalled Ms. Quinn, who met him at an Axios party at Nobu. “He asked me to dinner.”

Over an Italian meal, Ms. Quinn said, she discovered “a special, exceptional person.” She added, “When he’s talking to you, he never looks bored or distracted in any way. He wants to know everything, but he’s also genuine in talking about himself and his life and his hopes and dreams.”

Sometimes, his eagerness can backfire.

On Sept. 24, political journalists were thrown into a tizzy when Mr. Swan reported that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had verbally resigned. The fate of the special counsel’s Russia investigation seemed at stake. Networks broke in with special reports as their journalists tried to match the news.

Six weeks later, Mr. Rosenstein is still in his post. It emerged that while Mr. Rosenstein had indeed offered his resignation, nobody had accepted it. Mr. Swan later wrote that he “screwed up by giving it a certainty it didn’t warrant,” and Axios clarified its article.

In a hair-trigger news environment, the episode revealed the power and peril of Mr. Swan’s position. It also renewed questions about Axios’s approach to news.

Introduced in 2017 and pronounced “ACKS-ee-ohs” (its founders wanted “ack-see-US,” until eventually realizing that nobody else said it that way), the site says it strips away the flab and filler of traditional journalism for busy readers.

But critics say it presents articles with little context — political, ethical or otherwise — an approach that can ring hollow for some readers who are in the grips of an existential moment for the country.

Mr. VandeHei, who faced similar criticism when he started Politico, rejected that notion.

“Journalists have a bad, bad habit of equating length with substance and depth,” he said in an interview. “If you look at the architecture of our site, the whole idea is to tell you what’s new, why does it matter, and give you the power to go deeper.” Politico alumni work at a host of prestigious publications, including The Times. “Three to five years from now, there will be a lot more people writing the way we do than the old way,” Mr. VandeHei said.

Mr. Swan is the piston of the Axios engine; Mr. Allen likes to call him “bionic.” But that has made him a target for critics of his employer. His Goldman Sachs appearance, though cleared with management, was considered unseemly by rivals, and it echoed past criticisms that Mr. Allen at Politico was too cozy with advertisers. “We’ve got lots of people who have true subject matter expertise and we want to share that,” Mr. VandeHei said.

The HBO series on Axios, set to begin Sunday night, brings a new level of exposure for Mr. Swan, and it was the peg for the 70-second clip on Tuesday featuring his newsmaking moment with the president. “Jonathan, I’m impressed,” Mr. Trump says in the clip, after Mr. Swan raised the issue of birthright citizenship. “Good guess,” the reporter replied, tapping his head.

The exchange was skewered online, though it was the kind of byplay that, off-camera, is typical in interviews. Reporters want sources, even a president, to feel comfortable and keep talking. In his late-night Slack message last week, Mr. Swan, who wrote that he had been trying to confirm the immigration news for weeks, told colleagues that “my brain popped.”

“I’m not used to having my facial expression recorded,” he wrote, adding, “I shouldn’t have been surprised given it’s an inflammatory immigration question and we’re a few days out from the midterms, but what you saw was authentic surprise.”

Three current and former Trump White House officials praised Mr. Swan’s fairness, even as they acknowledged his coverage was often unfriendly. One person said that the White House canceled a presidential interview with Axios after Mr. Swan published a tough piece on the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, and his penchant for snoozing in meetings.

Mr. Swan’s foreign origins have also been wielded against him. Stephen K. Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, recalled Mr. Swan once calling him for comment on a negative story. “O.K., killer, remind me again of your visa status?” Mr. Bannon replied.

Peter Hartcher, Mr. Swan’s former editor at The Sydney Morning Herald, called him “a naturally exuberant human being,” saying in an interview: “At first blush you think, ‘Who does this guy think he’s kidding?’ But it’s completely natural.”

“From kangaroo turds to Donald Trump,” Mr. Hartcher added. “He’s come quite a long distance, hasn’t he?”

Friends say that Mr. Swan has ambitions to write long-form pieces. For now, though, he is happy at his station: He recently renewed his contract at Axios through mid-2021. He also has equity in the company, which has raised roughly $30 million from major investors like NBC, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Laurene Powell Jobs.

As for Mr. Swan’s tough week, his friends are standing by him. “I’d like to have Swan with me for the rest of my life,” Mr. VandeHei said. And Ms. Quinn said that she “didn’t quite understand the backlash.”

“He’s very sweet, I think he’s genuine,” Ms. Quinn said. “And of course he’s ambitious. Tell me who isn’t, you know?”

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