Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Following Mandela's Example

Like many others, I have been thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela in recent days, especially today. His words, actions and restraint are so worthy of admiration.

As a teenager, I remember being fascinated by Mandela, but it wasn’t until I interviewed Johnny Clegg, the (white) leader of apartheid-era South Africa’s first interracial band, that I gained a greater understanding and appreciation of Mandela and his country. (I recall that my article on Clegg was published in The Baltimore Sun on July 18, 1996, Mandela’s 78th birthday). 

Getting to South Africa became a goal of mine, and seven years later, when I was living in Argentina, I made it happen. I relied heavily on the advice of my colleague and friend Jon Jeter who had recently become The Washington Post's South America correspondent after four years as The Post’s Southern Africa correspondent. Jeter’s insights and contacts made sure I was able to see things both on and off the beaten path. Visiting Cape Town and Robben Island, and then Johannesburg and Soweto, were truly life-changing experiences, and I treasure the things I learned and the people I met there.

Later, I befriended South Africa’s ambassador to Argentina, Tony Leon. Despite his role as a vocal opposition party leader during and after Mandela’s presidency, Leon was made a diplomat by the ANC-led government, a move surely inspired by Mandela’s ethos of inclusion. (Interestingly, Leon’s successor in Buenos Aires is Zenani Mandela-Dlamini, Nelson and Winnie’s oldest daughter). Leon (who wrote an intriguing op-ed about Mandela today) 
and the many other South Africans who I have come in contact with over the years have led me to appreciate even more how their country produced such a wise, complex and gracious man. 

The willingness to sacrifice your own self-interest for the greater good seems like such a distant concept these days; let’s hope that Mandela’s passing can remind us all that it is an ideal worth pursuing.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fareed Zakaria borrowed from me too - on CNN

In wake of the news regarding Fareed Zakaria’s plagiarism suspension from Time and CNN, I was reminded of a feeling that I had last year: he borrowed from me too.

In October 2011, I filed a three-part report about Argentina’s economy for CNN. My three (1, 2, 3 ) video reports and subsequent CNN.com article -- all of which I conceived, pitched, reported, wrote and produced on my own -- served as a preview to the October 23, 2011 presidential election in Argentina, which incumbent President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won in a landslide

A week later, on October 30, 2011, Fareed Zakaria aired a report about Argentina on his CNN show “GPS.” 

After watching his video column, and reading the text article published on CNN.com, I couldn't help but feel that Zakaria had borrowed heavily from my original reporting. Some phrases in his report were lifted nearly verbatim from the scripts of my TV packages, and examples and anecdotes of mine were repeated too -- without attribution. Moreover, some of the exact video sequences used in my reports appeared in his too.

I had spoken on the phone with a "GPS" producer in New York a few days prior to October 30th, and I passed the links to my reports and shared some stories and insights with him, so I knew that Zakaria was going to speak about Argentina on his show, but I was surprised at the extent of which he had borrowed from my reporting.

Granted, all of these stories aired on CNN, but I don't think CNN -- or any other media outlet -- would encourage or tolerate such borrowing from within its own ranks without giving proper credit. 

At the time, I expressed this concern to some colleagues and family, but I did not pursue the matter. Given the recent developments questioning Zakaria's reporting, I thought it made sense to bring it up now.

I am not suggesting that this is full-on plagiarism, but the similarities are undoubtedly there. 

Some examples:

1. Byrnes:
"In December 2001, Argentina defaulted on $100 billion in debt -- the largest default in history. The move ushered in an era of utter chaos: five presidents in two weeks, cash and food shortages, deadly riots and dire poverty."

"In December of 2001, it declared the largest debt default in history, sparking a period of all-out chaos - there were five presidents in just two weeks."

"And it was disastrous for the Argentine people: many in the middle class had their entire bank savings wiped out, leading to deadly riots and widespread poverty."

2. Byrnes:
"While people in the U.S. and Europe are tightening their belts, Argentines are partying. Restaurants and nightclubs are packed nightly. Apartment sales are soaring. International rock stars, like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Ricky Martin have all played to capacity crowds here in recent weeks."

"People are partying - nightclubs and restaurants are packed; and rockstars from all over the world are adding Buenos Aires to their list of must-tour cities."

3. Byrnes:
"According to analysts, the crash occurred because of Argentina's enormous debt load, high public spending and overvalued currency. Greece now carries similar burdens, which has led some observers to suggest that Greece should follow Argentina's example and default and devalue."

"They have done well to emerge from it, helped especially by the devaluation of their currency. (If only Greece and Italy had that option, there would be no Euro crisis.)"

4. Byrnes:
"But Argentina's sustained economic growth has come with a cost: inflation. Officially, inflation in Argentina is around 9 percent annually, but according to various analysts and many Argentines, it is a nearly three times that number."

"But the success of Argentina's comeback may also be blinding the country to a build up of problems. Loose money, large subsidies and a cheap currency are leading to inflation. While Kirchner's administration puts the figure around 9%, that number is widely regarded to be doctored. Reliable private estimates put it closer to 25%."

5. Byrnes:
"According to watchdog group Global Trade Alert, Argentina has taken 14 protectionist measures over the last three months, more than Brazil, India and China combined."

"While the remedy to that is structural reform, Kirchner has instead resorted to crude protectionism. And external headwinds are on the way - a global slowdown will mean lower incomes from agriculture and reduced demand from China and Brazil."

Here are my three video reports (on left) and the CNN.com text article:

And here is Fareed Zakaria’s video/article:

What do you think?

FYI, This is not the first time my work has been lifted. In 2008, the New York Times Travel section plagiarized an article I wrote about Ex-Pats living in Buenos Aires. 

Where was my article published? Newsweek International.

Who was the editor of Newsweek International at that time? Fareed Zakaria. 

The New York Times never ran a correction, and to the best of my knowledge, Newsweek International editors didn't pursue one. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Pale Blue Door

I enjoyed an delightfully unusual dining experience last evening. British artist Tony Hornecker (above) invited me to the opening night of his Pale Blue Door exhibition, a vagabond restaurant slash art installation that he’s set up in an abandoned old home in the heart of San Telmo.

Hornecker -- who has worked with Stella McCartney, Bat for Lashes and the late Alexander McQueen -- has already conquered London and Santiago, Chile with this show, and plans to be here in Buenos Aires for the next three weeks.
Upon arrival, we worked our way through a dark corridor until we were greeted by the eponymous Pale Blue Door which opened onto a courtyard of tables, stages and stairs made of plywood and pulleys and flanked by antique bicycles. Our small, candlelight table was tucked away in a side room, and set with vintage dishware and cutlery. Despite the derelict surroundings, it all worked to create a, dare-I-say, romantic setting. That was until a drag queen appeared on-stage and began lip-syncing Tina Turner tunes.

The food was surprisingly good, considering it wasn’t even prepared in a real kitchen. Greek salad followed by a rare-as-hell Roast Beef with horseradish sauce, potatoes and red cabbage. It’s a meal I ate countless times as a kid at my Irish grandmother’s house, and this was nearly as good. A superb peach cobbler finished things off nicely.

The Pale Blue Door is a truly multi-national operation: Tony is a Brit, the chef is from Austria, the waiters are from Chile, and the aforementioned transvestite hails from Greece.

A weird, entertaining and enlightening evening for sure. I’d recommend it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Covering the Chile Quake

I was the first reporter on the scene in Chile for CNN following the Feb. 27th earthquake and one of the first international correspondents to report live from near the quake’s epicenter in Concepción. Here's an account of my journey to the quake zone.

When the phone rang at 5:30am on Saturday, I was still slumbering with the sounds of the Coldplay concert I had attended a few hours earlier, so it was a quick change of gears when the CNN International Desk in Atlanta alerted me that there had been a major earthquake in Chile, and that I was to begin reporting on the story immediately.

I quickly learned that an 8.8 magnitude quake had hit south central Chile and that tremors had rattled cities as far away as Buenos Aires, where I live, although I didn’t feel any. I soon began monitoring Chilean media online and did a few live phone reports for CNN International about the developing situation. I then started making plans to get into Chile. It wouldn’t be easy. The Santiago airport was closed, so I considered my quickest bet would be to fly from Buenos Aires to Mendoza, the wine-growing city in western Argentina that lays 180 kms east of Santiago. That option would require an overnight odyssey crossing the rugged Andes Mountains on a high-altitude road full of switchbacks. A few hours later, I was on a plane, and by midnight I had made my way through the Cristo Redentor tunnel and to the border crossing at 3,500 meters. The air was cold, and the road was curvy, but fortunately a full moon helped guide our way and at 2am on Sunday morning -- less than 24 hours after the quake -- cameraman Juan Pablo Lanciotti and I were in Santiago, where darkness blanketed neighborhoods for miles and where we saw people camping in tents in front of roaring fires.

Highway overpasses had collapsed and it was nearly impossible to drive on certain sections. In the posh neighborhood of Providencia, the steeple of a 120-year-old church tethered precariously over a main thoroughfare. We made our way to a budget hotel to meet up with CNN en Espanol’s Guillermo Fontana and cameraman Ivan Slodky, whom had arrived a few hours earlier. Dozens of guests were sleeping in the hotel lobby; too terrified to sleep in their rooms, as aftershocks were still rampant. We immediately got to work sending the video that we had shot on our trip, but a glacier-slow internet connection meant it took us three hours to upload the material to Atlanta, and before we had time to even close our eyes for a minute’s sleep, the sun was up, and we were outside again, preparing for what would be the first of some two-dozen live reports I would do in the coming days.

We were then on the road again, heading south towards the epicenter in Concepción. As we drove down the Pan-American Highway (Rt. 5) we quickly realized that the damage was severe to the road. Much of the highway was cracked, with deep, fault-line crevices in the asphalt. We had to take detours onto rural routes and into small villages. In a town called Hospital, I saw scores of one-story adobe homes that had been flattened like pancakes. One woman grabbed me to show me the damage to her neighbor’s home, saying that the family had fled on foot and not been seen since. I spotted two nuns searching unsuccessfully for water at a small market. When we reached the Rio Claro in the Maule region, we saw that a huge section of the Rt. 5 bridge had crashed into the water below. An overturned passenger bus sat on the side of the highway, close to mangled power lines. Nearby, a 3-story metal silo looked like a crushed beer can. Lines at roadside gas stations stretched for half-a-mile. We passed a funeral procession; the battered hearse glided cautiously over the damaged road; I still wonder if the deceased was a victim of the quake.

About four hours from our destination, our luck started to sour too. Our two-car convoy became one when the engine of our van ceased up. We had to abandon it and scramble to consolidate all our gear and pack five tired, sweaty and anxious men into a small sedan for the final stretch into Concepción. When we arrived around 8pm, what I saw truly shocked me. Thousands of people were running in the streets, looting stores and scavenging for water inside a dirty public fountain. At gas stations, people were dipping long tubes into tanks below, siphoning fuel to power their cars, water pumps and generators. Dusk was setting in and the 9pm curfew was just minutes away. It was clear that authorities had zero control over the city. As we approached the Rio Alto Building, I quickly recognized it from the cover of the morning’s papers; it was a 15-story apartment building that collapsed with more than 100 people inside. I knew that CNN Chile had their satellite truck stationed nearby and I was anxious to get on the air as soon as possible to report all that I had seen. With the wrecked building and busy rescue workers as a backdrop, I went on the air on CNN International in the 7pm ET hour on Sunday night and described the destruction that I had been witnessing all day. I reported live throughout the night and into the morning and following afternoon, speaking to CNN U.S., CNN International and CNN affiliate stations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Early Monday morning, other CNN crews began showing up, all of whom had also had long and difficult journeys arriving to Concepción. Everyone looked ragged, but they soon set out to tell the story of the earthquake’s devastation, traveling to neighborhoods in Concepción city and to coastal villages wiped out by the ensuing tsunamis.

In downtown Concepción, the street fronting the collapsed Rio Alto building quickly turned into a makeshift media center, with journalists from around the globe descending there to do live reports and get updates from Chilean officials. The CNN team has had to live exactly like the residents of Concepcion, without electricity, running water or heat. No toilets or showers has meant that hygiene has taken a hit, and we’ve had to subside on granola bars, tuna and water.

As Chile continues to dig out from the wreckage, more sad and also inspiring stories are being revealed. Many media outlets have insisted on comparing Chile’s earthquake to the one that occurred in Haiti the month before. I don’t think this is necessary or fair. Each tragedy deserves its own reporting, analysis and response. Chile is a strong country, but it needs the world’s help to respond to this crisis; I think CNN is doing its part to let the world know just that and I am proud to be a part of it.

All photos by Brian Byrnes. Copyright 2010.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Argentine Novias, Pt. 2

As previously noted here, Argentine women possess a certain charm that has seduced even the most eligible of bachelors, many of them from the world of entertainment. Now add to the list two guys from opposite ends of the musical spectrum, but both of whom are are known around the globe.

First, Canadian crooner Michael Buble, who just announced his engagement to bubbly Argentine actress/model/former teen starlet/purveyor of products Luisana Lopilato, who he met during a tour stop in Buenos Aires, then picked to star in one of his videos, and then asked to be his wife. Apparently, neither of them speaks the other’s language very well (yet, at least) but I’m sure they’ll figure it out. Congrats.

The second in James Hetfield of Metallica, who I just found out is married to an Argentine women. (I’m surprised I didn’t know this earlier; it’s exactly the kind of useless information that I have a knack for retaining). Hetfield is married to Francesca, a former wardrobe designer for the band, whom he married in 1997 and is the mother of his three kids. Los Hetfield spent the holidays in Punta del Este, Uruguay in December before Metallica embarked on the first leg of their Latin American tour, which ended Sunday in Sao Paulo. Metallica played two shows here in Buenos Aires (I didn't attend, but I have seen Metallica live before) and in this clip you can hear Hetfield getting the crowd fired-up during “Seek and Destroy” with an impressive locals-only pronunciation of Buenos Aires ("Let's make some history Bwanoss Ayress!"); clearly he’s had plenty of practice.