In late 2017, the New York Times received an urgent warning from a U.S. official. Egyptian authorities were looking to arrest Declan Walsh, the newspaper’s reporter in Cairo, according to its publisher. It’s not unusual for a large media organization to get tipped off about threats to its journalists overseas, particularly those reporting on authoritarian governments.
But what was striking is what the official said next: The Trump administration had tried to keep the warning about Walsh from ever reaching the Times. Officials “intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote in an opinion column on Monday.
This incident, described publicly by Sulzberger for the first time in a talk at Brown University earlier on Monday, adds a chilling new episode to the administration’s trend of attacking the press and diminishing the rights of journalists as they come under threat around the globe, the publisher wrote.
Where the United States was once seen as the top defender of press freedom, Sulzberger suggested Trump has inspired the opposite around the globe, citing recent threats made in an address by the Cambodian prime minister, a social media blackout in Chad, and attempts to arrest foreign journalists in Egypt, whose autocratic president Trump once jokingly called his “favorite dictator.”
“These brutal crackdowns are being passively accepted and perhaps even tacitly encouraged by the president of the United States,” Sulzberger said.
President Trump has refused to acknowledge that the Saudi government ordered the assassination of The Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as international investigators have found. And the president’s frequent use of the phrase “fake news” has resulted in more than 50 foreign government leaders to adopt similar calls, the publisher charged.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Walsh, The Times’s Cairo bureau chief, penned articles in early 2017 about the country’s crackdown on human rights groups, the expulsion of a prominent critic of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and the largely ineffective efforts to hold the country’s former president Hosni Mubarak accountable. He also led a live Web event from Cairo in March 2017 about the tight press restrictions placed on visual journalists in Egypt.
Hours after the New York Times Magazine published Walsh’s story about the controversial death of an Italian student in Cairo, the U.S. official called the Times to say the reporter had a target on his back, Walsh tweeted on Tuesday.
In New York, editors at the Times were also warned of Walsh’s imminent arrest. That’s when the call took a “surprising and distressing turn,” Sulzberger wrote on Monday.
The Trump administration wanted to sit on the warning and let Egyptian officials carry out the arrest, the official said. In fact, the official feared being punished for alerting the Times of what was about to play out.
And when Walsh called the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for help, he wrote Tuesday, a press officer there “expressed concern” but redirected him to the Irish Embassy instead. (Walsh is an Irish citizen.)
Almost immediately, an Irish official showed up at Walsh’s home and drove the journalist to the airport.
The Irish Embassy in Cairo referred a request for comment to the Irish Foreign Ministry, which said it does not comment on specific cases.
In his talk at Brown, Sulzberger used the incident to illustrate the repercussions of Trump’s failure to defend press freedom around the world.
“I’m sounding the alarm because his words are dangerous and having real-world consequences around the globe,” Sulzberger said.
Reporters Without Borders, a nonprofit that fights for press freedom, has noted a sharp drop in the number of countries where it is safe for journalists to work. Only 8 percent of 180 countries evaluated by the organization in 2019 have a media climate considered “good” for journalists, amid a tightening grip from government and increased violence. The United States came in at 48th, and Egypt was 163rd.
Later in his speech, Sulzberger mentioned an incident in February, in which another one of the newspaper’s journalists was targeted by the Egyptian government. This time, the Egyptians’ efforts were successful.
David D. Kirkpatrick, a Times international correspondent and former Cairo bureau chief, had written a book, “Into the Hands of the Soldiers,” that was critical of the Egyptian government. Upon landing in Cairo in February, Kirkpatrick was placed in custody for hours without food or water. He was then ordered on a flight back to London, where he is based.
Sam Werberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, later said the office was “concerned” about the incident and raised the matter with Egyptian officials.
Privately, however, the embassy’s reaction to the incident seemed to differ. After the Times’s leadership spoke out, Sulzberger heard from a senior official at the embassy.
“What did you expect would happen to him?” the official said, according to Sulzberger. “His reporting made the government look bad.”
Sulzberger’s column prompted one of Trump’s most outspoken critics in Congress to compare the president to an “authoritarian.”
“This is what authoritarians do,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Oboe player dies in fall at concert hall before performance
A Miami symphony oboe player died after she tumbled down a flight of stairs minutes before a season-opening concert performance, the band said.
Greater Miami Symphonic Band member Janice Thomson, 62, hit her head Sunday when she fell on the tile floor of the lobby of the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables, according to the symphony’s Facebook page.
One concertgoer said she was in the lobby purchasing a ticket when she heard a “bone-crunching splat,” the Miami Herald reported.
“We turned around and everyone was screaming and she was on the floor bleeding,” Grace Harrington told the newspaper. “Everyone was running to get her. They were screaming for a doctor.”
Thompson was rushed with internal bleeding to Jackson South Medical Center, where she succumbed Monday to her injuries, the Miami Herald reported.
The Greater Miami Symphonic Band said Monday that it will dedicate their Dec. 10 concert to Thomson.
“As has been our tradition, we will have an unoccupied seat in the oboe section with a single rose on it,” the band wrote on Facebook.
By James Smith
Venice Floods Because of Highest Tide in 50 Year
VENICE, Italy (Reuters) – Venice’s mayor called the city a disaster zone on Wednesday after the second highest tide ever recorded swept through it overnight, flooding its historic basilica and leaving many squares and alleyways deep under water.
A local man from Pellestrina, one of the many islands in the Venetian lagoon, died when he was struck by lightning while using an electric water pump, the fire brigade said.
City officials said the tide peaked at 187 cm (6ft 2ins) at 10.50 p.m. (2150 GMT) on Tuesday, just short of the record 194 cm set in 1966.Night-time footage showed a torrent of water whipped up by high winds raging through the city centre while Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, described a scene of “apocalyptic devastation”.
Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said the situation was dramatic. “We ask the government to help us. The cost will be high. This is the result of climate change,” he said on Twitter.
He said he would declare a disaster zone and ask the government to call a state of emergency, which would allow funds to be freed to address the damage.
Saint Mark’s Square was submerged by more than one metre of water, while the adjacent Saint Mark’s Basilica was flooded for the sixth time in 1,200 years – but the fourth in the last 20.
A flood barrier was designed in 1984 to protect Venice from the kind of high tides that hit the city on Tuesday, but the multi-billion euro project, known as Mose, has been plagued by corruption scandals and is still not operative.
Brugnaro said the basilica had suffered “grave damage”, but no details were available on the state of its mainly Byzantine interior, famous for its rich mosaics.
Its administrator said the basilica had aged 20 years in a single day when it was flooded last year.
‘ON ITS KNEES’
Some tourists appeared to enjoy the drama, with one man filmed swimming across Saint Mark’s Square wearing only shorts on Tuesday evening.
“Venice is on its knees.. the art, the basilica, the shops and the homes, a disaster.. The city is bracing itself for the next high tide,” Zaia said on TV.
The luxury Hotel Gritti, a landmark of Venice which looks onto the Lagoon, was also flooded.
On Wednesday morning the tide level fell to 145 cm but was expected to rise back to 160 cm during the day.
Local authorities and the government’s civil protection unit will hold a news conference at 1100 GMT.
The overnight surge triggered several fires, including one at the International Gallery of Modern Art Ca’ Pesaro, with hundreds of calls to the fire brigade.
Video on social media showed deep water flowing like a river along one of Venice’s main thoroughfares. Other footage showed large waves hammering boats moored alongside the Doge’s Palace and surging over the stone sidewalks.
“A high tide of 187 cm is going to leave an indelible wound,” Brugnaro said.
Much of Italy has been pummelled by torrential rains in recent days, with widespread flooding, especially in the southern heel and toe of the country.
In Matera, this year’s European Capital of Culture, rain water cascaded through the streets and inundated the city’s famous cave-dwelling district.
Further bad weather is forecast for the coming days.
Reporting by Riccardo Bastianello; Writing by Crispian Balmer, Giulia Segreti and Gavin Jones; editing by Grant McCool and John Stonestreet
Disney Plus streaming package debuts Tuesday with Marvel, Star Wars and more
The new service is $7 a month, commercial free
NEW YORK — Disney will sprinkle its pixie dust on the streaming arena Tuesday, as its Disney Plus service debuts with an arsenal of marquee franchises including Marvel and Star Wars, original series with a built-in fan base and a cheap price to boot.
The $7-a-month commercial-free service is poised to set the standard for other services like WarnerMedia’s HBO Max and NBCUniversal’s Peacock to follow, as major media companies behind hit TV shows and movies seek to siphon the subscription revenue now going to Netflix and other streaming giants.
Disney’s properties speak to its strengths. Besides classic characters such as Snow White and Pinocchio, Disney has Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic — big names that most people would recognize. Disney Plus will also have all 30 past seasons of “The Simpsons.” Original shows include “The Mandalorian,” set in the Star Wars universe, and one on the Marvel character Loki.
“I really love both the Star Wars and Marvel franchises and I grew up watching classic Disney shows and movies so I do think there will be enough content for me,” she said.
Marlina Yates, who works in marketing in Kansas City, said she signed up because of her husband’s enthusiasm about the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” and her daughter’s “love affair with princesses and everything Disney.”
Disney Plus’s $7 a month price is about half of the $13 Netflix charges for its most popular plan, and there are discounts for paying for a full year up front. Disney is also offering a $13 package bundling Disney Plus with two other services it owns, Hulu and ESPN Plus. That’s $5 cheaper than signing up for each one individually.
Everything won’t be available to stream right away, though, as Disney needs to wait for existing deals with rival services to expire. Recent movies missing at launch include the animated Pixar movie “Coco” and the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.” Others like “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” haven’t been released for streaming yet. Disney expects 620 movies and 10,000 TV episodes by 2024, up from 500 movies and 7,500 episodes on Tuesday.
Disney has said that it is losing about $150 million in licensing revenue in the most recent fiscal year from terminating deals with Netflix and other services. But Disney is betting that what it makes through subscriptions will more than make up for that — at least eventually.
Disney is boosting its subscription base initially with heavy promos, much as Apple TV Plus has done and HBO Max and Peacock plan to do. Members of Disney’s free D23 fan club were eligible to buy three years of Disney Plus service up front for the price of two years. Customers of some Verizon wireless and home-internet plans can get a year free.
The hope is that subscribers will stick around once they see what the service offers.
Long-term success is by no means guaranteed. With a slew of services launching, subscription fees can add up quickly. Consumers might be reluctant to drop an existing service such as Netflix or Amazon Prime to pay for something untested.
“I can’t keep up with so many services. It gets expensive,” said William Pearson, a Drexel University student who describes himself as a “massive” Marvel fan but already pays for Netflix, HBO and the DC Comics streaming service.
But compared with other newcomers, experts believe Disney will have no problem gaining — and keeping — the 60 million to 90 million worldwide subscribers it is targeting for 2024. It took Netflix twice as long to get to 90 million.
“Disney Plus has a gigantic array of content and a library that’s unmatched, so it feels like an easy addition for consumers to get a gigantic library at that low price,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group.
Bernie McTernan, internet and media analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, said Apple’s venture into streaming, Apple TV Plus, has to build brand recognition for its new shows, while viewers may have difficulties seeing what HBO Max offers beyond the standard HBO subscription.
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