Philippa Thomas Online

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Daniel Ellsberg is very much On The Record

Daniel Ellsberg – the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers – was described by Henry Kissinger as The Most Dangerous Man in America. Today he came to talk to the Nieman fellows and in the course of a very intense lunch hour, we covered Wikileaks and whistleblowers, secrets and lies, sex and acid trips. Whew. Continue reading

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Talking to Brian Lehrer TV

I’ve given an interview about this blog – and what happened after my post about Bradley Manning & P J Crowley. It’s part of a programme with New York TV host Brian Lehrer called “Citizens cover the Uprisings”. I apologise in advance for alarming any viewers by being scarily close up to the camera on Skype, and gosh do I really have such a terribly British accent?


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What I did and What you said.

On Thursday I published a short story here about the U.S. State Department spokesman’s view that the Department of Defence is being “ridiculous and counter-productive and stupid” in its treatment of Wikileaks whistleblower Private Bradley Manning.

On Friday, President Obama was questioned about it.

On Sunday, the spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned.

I’m writing this because I’ve been a reporter for the BBC for two decades, broadcasting through the traditional mass media of television and radio – and now as an individual, I’ve learned at first hand the power of the blog. Continue reading


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Public broadcasting without public funding?

Do we need publicly funded broadcasting? Is it a luxury rather than a necessity, given the explosion of information on the internet? Is it a cash drain we can’t afford in this age of austerity? Is it an idea whose time has gone?

This blogpost is published with graphics on the BBC College of Journalism website. Continue reading


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The State Department spokesman and the Prisoner in the Brig

I just heard an extraordinary remark from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. He was speaking to a small audience at MIT on “the benefits of new media as it relates to foreign policy”, an event organised by the Center for Future Civic Media.

Around twenty of us were sitting around the table listening to his views on social media, the impact of the Twittersphere, the Arab uprisings, and so on, in a vast space-age conference room overlooking the Charles River and the Boston skyline. And then, inevitably, one young man said he wanted to address “the elephant in the room”. What did Crowley think, he asked, about Wikileaks? About the United States, in his words, “torturing a prisoner in a military brig”? Crowley didn’t stop to think. What’s being done to Bradley Manning by my colleagues at the Department of Defense “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.” He paused. “None the less Bradley Manning is in the right place”. And he went on lengthening his answer, explaining why in Washington’s view, “there is sometimes a need for secrets… for diplomatic progress to be made”.

But still, he’d said it. And the fact he felt strongly enough to say it seems to me an extraordinary insight into the tensions within the administration over Wikileaks.

A few minutes later, I had a chance to ask a question. “Are you on the record?” I would not be writing this if he’d said no. There was an uncomfortable pause. “Sure.” So there we are.


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The Internet’s Unholy Marriage to Capitalism?

This is my take on a fascinating article from John Bellamy Foster and Robert W McChesney, just published in Monthly Review. It argues that the internet should be treated as a public utility but is instead becoming the territory of capitalist robber barons, while the U.S. government is failing its citizens by standing aside. It’s quite rare to read a Marxist economic take on US communications policy, and I recommend the experience. We’ve just had a lively debate in our Kennedy School “2020 Vision” class about the assumptions made within this article; here are the points that stood out for me. Continue reading


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American reading – any recommendations?

My favourite thing about the holidays is the chance to sink deep down into fiction. I’ve just turned the final page of a big, emotional, multilayered historical novel by author Ethan Canin about American politics and family, and I really feel I’ve been inhabiting that world. A work called “America, America” was always going to be ambitious wasn’t it! It’s great reading for a political junkie like me, as it weaves together a fictional community with all the real events of the presidential primary campaign of 1972. It also reminds me of another novel that kept me thinking long after I put it aside – “American Wife” by Curtis Sittenfeld. I’ve just realised they were published within months of each other in 2008; intriguing to have a male and female narrator to compare. Anyone else with recommendations for big novels about American politics, let me know!