‘We pray that the roar of arms may cease’

Pope-Francis-Easter-1-t(image: Reuters/Financial Express)

Pope Francis used his Easter message to pray for the murdered Kenyan students and call for an end to persecution and violence worldwide, but also to welcome the nuclear framework agreement with Iran, “that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, made the rounds of the US Sunday talk shows to restate his opposition to the agreement, saying he was “trying to kill a bad deal” which he said would “spark a nuclear arms race in the middle east.”  Sen Diane Feinstein, Democratic vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the Prime Minister should “contain himself.”

President Obama gave a major interview to Tom Friedman of the New York Times in which he defended the potential deal and addressed Iranians and Israelis – as well as the domestic US audience – over concerns about the agreement.

“It is a good deal even if Iran doesn’t change at all,” Obama argued. “Even for somebody who believes, as I suspect Prime Minister Netanyahu believes, that there is no difference between Rouhani and the supreme leader and they’re all adamantly anti-West and anti-Israel and perennial liars and cheaters — even if you believed all that, this still would be the right thing to do. It would still be the best option for us to protect ourselves. In fact, you could argue that if they are implacably opposed to us, all the more reason for us to want to have a deal in which we know what they’re doing and that, for a long period of time, we can prevent them from having a nuclear weapon.”

According to The Intercept, the Times “accidentally undermined” – through the choice of a  hyperlink – a recent op-ed by John Bolton in which he called for the bombing of Iran.

Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post on how Iran will shape the legacies of not just President Obama, but Secretary of State John Kerry and former Secretary – and possible President – Hillary Clinton.

It is perhaps only an accident of history that three of the key actors in the diplomatic efforts to deny Iran a nuclear bomb are the 2004, 2008, 2012 and probable 2016 Democratic presidential nominees. But their intertwined ambitions provide a dramatic backdrop to the unfolding and unfinished story.


* POLITICS * Sen Ted Cruz became the first 2016 Presidential candidate to run a TV ad in this cycle, when his campaign bought time for a thirty-second, religious-themed spot during the weekend’s Fox News broadcast of “Killing Jesus”, based on the book by Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. In the wake of the Indiana controversy – which was kept stirring by a Sunday TV appearance by Rick Santorum – Cruz courted religious conservatives last week in his first visit to Iowa since becoming a candidate.

Talking of Fox, there’s a good piece the other day by Jack Shafer at Politico on the myth of the “Fox primary.”

If [Fox chief Roger] Ailes is so powerful, such a potent kingmaker, why couldn’t he persuade either of his 2012 favorites, Chris Christie and David Petraeus, into the 2012 race? Perhaps the two men know something Ailes doesn’t. Fox seems to be as equally powerless at leveraging its media power to win general elections. The network influence failed to propel John McCain into the White House in 2008. In 2012, the network tried to load the deck for Romney in the last three days of the campaign, broadcasting 168 minutes of Romney campaign speeches compared to just 27 minutes of Barack Obama speeches, according to Media Matters. We all know how well that worked.



* BRITISH ELECTION * The head of the Civil Service announced an inquiry into how a leaked memo, written in the Government’s Scotland Office, came to be published by The Daily Telegraph. In it, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is alleged to have told the French Ambassador  that she would rather David Cameron won the upcoming election over Ed Miliband.

Both sides denied the claim, and Ms Sturgeon called the Telegraph report “categorically, 100 per cent untrue”. 

Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor as First Minister, Alex Salmond, wrote in The National that “leaks are where the dirty tricks lie… in the very heart of political darkness,” while Zoe Williams at The Guardian writes how the incident has exposed Westminster’s “nasty machinations.”

Something is lost, when credulity pushes past reality into believing any damned thing you want to believe. Some courtesy is lost in the tenor of the debate; arguments get nastier in inverse proportion to their solidity. Politics suffers as a whole, when you push back the curtain and see nothing but bare assertions and empty confidence.

In another apparent leak, this time in The Sun, Ed Miliband’s notes from last week’s leaders debate – in which Ms Sturgeon was acknowledged to have performed well – showed that the Labour leader had hoped to present himself as “the happy warrior” in contrast to the Prime Minister.

Also in Scotland, the Labour Party is preparing for an electoral “tsunami” according to the FT, while BuzzFeed reports that the deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party has found no hiding place on social media  – from her dad.

In The Independent, John Rentoul and Jane Merrick write about the broader role of social media in the election. 

While Labour dominates Twitter, the Conservatives are stronger on Facebook. Labour strategists are using Twitter to motivate and mobilise supporters, pushing messages during the TV debates, for example. Labour wants to use Facebook more – one million people saw the party’s content during last Thursday’s debate. But the Tories are vastly outspending Labour on Facebook adverts – they have spent £100,000 in one month on this.


* MEDIA * A report by the Columbia Journalism Review was published into the journalistic failings in a controversial Rolling Stone article last November about an alleged rape on the campus of the University of Virginia. The story was widely discredited after the Washington Post raised questions about discrepancies and issues with the content.

The report, published on Sunday in place of the original – now retracted – article is described as  “a piece of journalism about a failure of journalism.” Rolling Stone writes:

We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report. We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.

Very interesting interview the other day at Nieman Lab with The Economist‘s digital editor Tom Standage, exploring specifically the newspaper’s digital operation as well as the broader state of online media.

According to Variety, movie audiences are increasingly starting to stream new releases using Meerkat and Periscope, but so far the studios don’t appear concerned that box office receipts will be hurt.

You’d have thought they’d see this coming…



This weekend saw the first of the final episodes of Mad Men. The Washington Post has a recap, while Slate wonders if the last note will be hopeful or bleak? The FT’s Matt Garrahan has lunch with the show’s creator Matthew Weiner.

Twin Peaks creator David Lynch apparently won’t be directing the revival of the show, set for next year.


* SPORTS * Monday sees the NCAA mens basketball national championship game, between Duke and Wisconsin, after previously unbeaten favorite Kentucky ended their season 38-1, leading to arrests in Lexington.

Saturday’s Final Four doubleheader generated an average of 18.9 million total viewers, up 35% over last year and the most-viewed National Semifinal coverage in 19 years. The tournament as a whole has grossed a record 306 million total social impressions across Facebook and Twitter through the second Thursday for a 36% increase over 2014.

Kentucky’s semi-final defeat also hit ticket prices for the championship game on the secondary market.


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