Italy Probes Deaths Of 26 Nigerian Women At Sea

Spanish warship Cantabria brought the bodies of 26 Nigerian women to Salerno, Italy, after they were found in the Mediterranean Sea.

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Paolo Manzo/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The bodies of 26 Nigerian women were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, and Italian prosecutors are probing whether their deaths are linked to sex trafficking.

“Salvatore Malfi, the police prefect of the southern town of Salerno, said the 26 women may have been thrown off their rubber dinghy into the waters of the Mediterranean,” NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome. “The cause of death appears to be by drowning.”

Cantabria, a Spanish warship, brought their bodies to Salerno, Sylvia adds. That ship had carried out other Mediterranean rescues and had 374 rescued migrants on board.

According to the BBC, Italian authorities are questioning five migrants. The broadcaster adds that “twenty-three of the dead women had been on a rubber boat with 64 other people.”

Agence France Press reports that a spokesman for the EU anti-trafficking force Sofia said “another three bodies had been discovered during other life-saving operations in the Mediterranean this week.”

Italian media outlets are reporting that the women were mostly between 14 and 18, Sylvia adds. “Police Prefect Malfi called this a human tragedy and said his office has appealed to neighboring towns to provide dignified burial for the Nigerian women.”

The bodies were lowered in black bags from the ship and placed into coffins, the AFP reports.

It wasn’t immediately clear why all the victims are women. The AFP quotes Malfi as saying that sex traffickers typically use different routes. “Loading women onto a boat is too risky, the traffickers would not do it as they could lose all their ‘goods’ — as they describe them — in one fell swoop,” he said, the news agency reported.

Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera recently reported on an uptick in young Nigerian women and girls trafficked into Italy and forced into prostitution.

From January to November of this year, some 111,552 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration, and 2,639 migrants have died along that route.

That’s a smaller number than the same area saw in the same period last year, where 159,467 migrants arrived in Italy and 3,615 people died on the route, according to the IOM. A total number of 2,839 have died so far this year along all primary Mediterranean routes.

The Italian aid group L’Abbraccio says that “people-smuggling gangs charge each migrant about $6,000 … to get to Italy, $4,000 of which is for the trans-Saharan journey to Libya,” according to the BBC.

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Tragedy Comes To A Small Church In A Small Town

Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife Sherri near the First Baptist Church on Monday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman opened fire inside the church on Sunday, killing at least 26 people, including the Pomeroys’ daughter, Annabelle.

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Eric Gay/AP

Sutherland Springs, Texas, is a small town.

“They say the population is 400 and that’s if you count every dog, cat and armadillo,” 75-year-old L.G. Moore told The Associated Press. “It’s more like 200 people.” He runs an RV park a quarter mile from the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs.

On Sunday, that church was the site of bloodshed and terror unleashed by 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley of New Braunfels. Dressed all in black and wearing body armor, Kelley stopped at the town’s Valero gas station. Then he drove up to the church and began firing.

He fired shots at the church building and shot two people standing outside. Then he went into the church and walked down the center aisle, shooting the worshippers who had gathered for Sunday services. Then he turned around and kept shooting. He killed at least 26 people and wounded some 20 others.

It would be a horrific encounter in any place. But in this place, tiny Sutherland Springs, the event marks a profound loss.

The town, 35 miles southeast of San Antonio, has one blinking traffic light. There’s a post office, a Family Dollar, a community center.

And the First Baptist Church, a modest white building. It’s a focal point of town life, with a children’s choir, a youth group, movie nights, and men’s and women’s bible study. Thursdays mean a home-cooked fellowship dinner and distributing food to those in need.

“Everyone that goes here knows everybody,” Nick Uhlig told the San Antonio Express-News. “You’d never think something like this would happen out here — it’s so small.”

Uhlig’s cousin, Crystal Holcombe, was eight months pregnant when she was killed on Sunday. Three of her five children were also killed.

He said his family has lived in the area for three generations.

“Everybody can come, it doesn’t matter what religion you are,” Uhlig said. “Just about everything a church can do, we do.”

Mackenzie Hanner, 18, has gone to the church all her life. She intended to go to church on Sunday, she toldUSA Today, but she overslept.

“I see everyone there as my family, so it feels like I lost family,” Hanner told the newspaper.

Sunday evening and Monday morning, journalists from around the world traveled to Sutherland Springs to report on the terrible events. It’s a place that doesn’t usually get a lot of notice.

The town’s heyday was more than a hundred years ago, when the Hotel Sutherland attracted far-flung visitors to bathe in its large sulphur pool. Sutherland Springs advertised itself as “a resort town of great possibilities” and the “most beautiful spot in Texas.”

But a catastrophic flood in 1913 destroyed the pools and bathing pavilion, and despite efforts to rebuild, the town’s tourism economy never recovered.

Police move flowers placed at a barricade near the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Monday in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mike Clements is the pastor of a Baptist church in nearby Floresville, the county seat.

“[The church members] don’t have a lot of money, but they are always willing to give,” Clements told CNN. “These people are merciful people. A lot of them will be forgiving with what happened.”

At a news conference Monday, police said that the gunman had sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law, who sometimes attended the church but was not there on Sunday.

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said that virtually everyone in the community was affected by the events, and that there was no way for those in the church to escape unscathed, CNN reports.

Tackitt told NBC News that 12 to 14 of the dead were children. One of those killed was the pastor’s daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy; her parents were out of town when the shooting happened.

Her mother, Sherri Pomeroy, read a statement to reporters on Monday.

“Our church was not comprised of members or parishioners. We were a very close family. We ate together, we laughed together, we cried together, and we worshipped together,” said Pomeroy. “Now most of our church family is gone, our building is probably beyond repair. And the few of us that are left behind lost tragically yesterday. As senseless as this tragedy was, our sweet Belle would not have been able to deal with losing so much family yesterday.”

“Please don’t forget Sutherland Springs,” she said.

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Sam Smith Offers Brand New Tracks With Vintage Feel In 'The Thrill Of It All'

British soul singer Sam Smith’s debut LP, In The Lonely Hour, showcased his remarkable voice. It was one of the best-selling records of 2014, won four Grammys, and drew comparisons to Adele. His second collection is titled The Thrill Of It All. Music critic Will Hermes says each track on the record is elevated by Smith’s voice into something magnificent, that feels vintage, and at the same time, brand new.

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What Does Public Media Mean To You?

In 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act. This new law led to the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which Congress called upon to encourage “the growth and development of non-commercial radio” and to develop “programming that will be responsive to the interests of the people.”

The CPB introduced technical and professional standards to improve what were then mainly small stations. Soon, CPB and individual stations saw the need for a national radio service to bring Johnson’s vision to life.

50 years later, we are celebrating the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act. We’re asking our listeners and viewers to share stories and moments about the effect public media had on their lives. Take a moment to fill out the form below and we may give you a shout-out on social media this month.

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With Saudi Arrests, Crown Prince Shows He Can Force Change. But It's Not Democracy

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh last month. “We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he said at the economic forum.

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Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

The Saudi prince behind the weekend’s unprecedented arrest of high-level Saudi officials and businessmen is known as young and brash, and has even been called reckless. He is also known to be in tune with Saudi Arabia’s youth; those under 25 make up a majority of the country’s population.

The prince’s latest high-risk move has gotten rave reviews from Saudis on Twitter, the country’s most popular social media outlet. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, or MBS, as the 32-year-old leader is known, is gambling that he can modernize the ultra-conservative kingdom by consolidating power and mobilizing a generation of young people, say Saudi analysts inside and outside the kingdom.

“Did MBS just pull a red wedding?” asked one supporter on Twitter, comparing the weekend’s purge to a bloody family massacre on Game of Thrones.

Arrests began on Saturday, hours after the prince was named to head a new anti-corruption commission. The roundup included 11 princes, sitting and former cabinet officials and one high-profile businessman — billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, who has extensive investments in Western companies including Twitter, Apple and the Four Seasons hotel chain. The detentions were headline news on Al Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news channel.

These high-profile targets were previously considered untouchable in the Saudi kingdom and follow other controversial moves, including a royal decree allowing women to drive and limits on the power of the religious police.

It does not mean Saudi Arabia is opening up to democracy. The country’s rulers are unelected monarchs with a record of jailing critics and members of the Shiite minority. And the purge — action taken by a single leader — is very much in keeping with Saudi royal tradition. But the sweep of arrests marks a change.

Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal waves in the West Bank city of Ramallah in 2014. He is among dozens of Saudi princes and former government ministers arrested over the weekend as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe, further cementing King Salman and his crown prince son’s control of the kingdom.

Majdi Mohammed/AP

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Majdi Mohammed/AP

“It is unprecedented, more for the speed and the scale,” says H.A. Hellyer, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Atlantic Council. Mohammed bin Salman is sending a message, he says: “This guy is in charge and nobody is off the table.”

The crown prince is a Saudi-educated son of the current King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman. In a surprise move, he was elevated in June to become next in the succession, replacing his older cousin.

“His position is already secure. It’s not like he was being challenged. Everyone suspects he will be announced as the new king. But you can always consolidate more,” says Hellyer.

In one of his first TV interviews after his June promotion, Mohammed bin Salman pledged to tackle endemic corruption in the kingdom. “No one who got involved in a corruption case will escape, regardless if he was a minister or a prince,” he warned.

It turned out to be no idle threat.

“Many of them have been known as deeply corrupt,” said a Saudi official who supports the crown prince and requested anonymity to discuss the arrest list — which includes former CEOs of Saudi Telecom and Saudi Airlines, four sitting cabinet ministers and high-profile business leaders from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s business capital on the Red Sea coast. Some had close personal relations to the crown prince.

These high-profile arrests send a powerful message, said the Saudi official. Business as usual is over, he said, with this “shock to the system.”

It has been shocking indeed in a kingdom used to a glacial pace of change. While Mohammed bin Salman launched the blitz of arrests, he also announced elements of an anti-corruption campaign that appears designed to win public approval, especially among Saudi youth.

His anti-corruption commission launched a new probe into an old corruption case involving damage after floods devastated the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2009. Torrential rains washed away thousands of homes and killed more than 120 people.

“No one was held to account there for the damage after the floods,” said the Saudi official who asked for anonymity. “Fighting corruption is always popular.”

The devastation in Jeddah was blamed on corrupt real estate practices and spurred a grassroots political movement that launched the career of a female activist, 38-year-old Rasha Hefzi. She won a seat on the Jeddah local council in 2015, when women could run for office for the first time.

The government has announced new trials with as many as 320 defendants, including some already acquitted by local courts.

The young prince is dismantling the old Saudi Arabia, says the government official, at least in how it makes decisions. “The consensus-based system is over,” he said, referring to Saudi Arabia’s traditional governance that involved a slow process of consensus within the royal family.

For the hard decisions, “We need the support of the majority of the people,” he said.

The new populism in the kingdom has the backing of the Trump administration — in particular, Jared Kushner, who reportedly has a close personal relationship with the crown prince.

But Mohammed bin Salman is playing a high-stakes game and there are grave risks, says F. Gregory Gause, head of the international affairs department at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service.

“The biggest risk here is to Prince Mohammad’s Vision 2030,” he says, a far-reaching reform plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil and diversify the economy.

“If some of the leading figures of the Saudi private sector can be detained in this way, it introduces enormous uncertainty into the investment environment,” says Gause. “Capitalists do not like uncertainty.”

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A Quest: Insulin-Releasing Implant For Type-1 Diabetes

Patients with Type-1 diabetes don’t have enough healthy islets of Langerhans cells — hormone-secreting cells of the pancreas. Granules (orange in this image) inside these cells release insulin and other substances into the blood.

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Steve Gschmeissner/Science Source

Scientists in California think they may have found a way to transplant insulin-producing cells into diabetic patients who lack those cells — and protect the little insulin-producers from immune rejection. Their system, one of several promising approaches under development, hasn’t yet been tested in people. But if it works, it could make living with diabetes much less of a burden.

For now, patients with Type-1 diabetes have to regularly test their blood sugar levels, and inject themselves with insulin when it’s needed.

Some researchers are developing machines to automate that process.

But Crystal Nyitray, founder and CEO of the biotechnology startup Encellin, in San Francisco, didn’t want to use a machine to treat diabetes. As a graduate student in bioengineering at the University of California, San Francisco a few years ago, Nyitray wanted to try something different: living cells.

A coin-sized, semipermeable pouch is key to the proposed implant. The pouch allows cells inside to thrive and release insulin, the researchers say, while protecting the cells from immune rejection.

Courtesy of Encellin

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Courtesy of Encellin

“Cells are the ultimate smart machine,” she says. Clinical trials that transplant insulin-making pancreatic cells into people with diabetes have been underway for several years, with some success. But the recipient’s immune system is hard on these transplanted cells, and most patients still need insulin injections eventually.

Nyitray and colleagues designed a system that would encase live islet cells from the pancreas in a flexible membrane that could be implanted under the skin. Insulin and blood sugar could pass through the membrane, but cells from the recipient’s immune system would be kept out, preventing immune rejection.

“I think of it like if you’re sitting in a house and you have the window open with a screen,” Nyitray says. “So you can feel the breeze of the air outside, and smell everything, but the bugs and the flies aren’t able to get through because you have the screen in place.”

She took her idea for building a protective home for insulin-producing cells to Tejal Desai, a professor in bioengineering at UCSF, and Nyitray’s grad school advisor. Desai has had a lot of experience with using membranes to encase cells, and she gave her younger colleague some sobering advice.

“I said don’t do it,” recalls Desai.

Desai says other researchers have tried to build synthetic homes to transplant cells into people, but there were always problems. One of the biggest problems was getting the cells to thrive in their new home.

But Nyitray ignored the advice, and pursued the project anyway. Ultimately, Nyitray showed that using a flexible membrane kept the cells alive and happy by creating an environment more like the pancreas.

“When she showed me the experiment — where she took islet cells in our devices, and showed that the ones in our devices actually pumped out more insulin and were alive longer — that was what convinced me,” says Desai.

She and Nyitray have now shown their approach works in lab animals. In fact, the results were so promising that Nyitray started her company, Encellin.

“Our next big step is to demonstrate this in humans,” she says. “Our hope is to put this in the clinic in the next couple of years.”

Of course, there are a lot of researchers trying to perfect something similar to what Nyitray has in mind. The San Diego company ViaCyte has already begun trials with its system. And other approaches use porous gels instead of membranes to protect the transplanted cells from immune rejection. So far, none of these approaches have been proved to work in patients.

Is there any reason to think Nyitray will succeed where others have failed?

“It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” says diabetes researcher Alice Tomei, an assistant professor and director of the islet immunoengineering lab at the University of Miami. She says Nyitray’s approach is rational, “but until you test in humans, it’s hard to tell whether they work or not.”

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NPR Looks Inward As It Covers Its Own Sexual Harassment Allegations

Michael Oreskes has resigned as chief of NPR’s newsroom following accusations of sexual harassment.

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Chuck Zoeller/AP

Last week was extraordinarily difficult at NPR, as the top newsroom executive, Michael Oreskes, was forced to resign in the wake of profoundly unsettling allegations that he had engaged in multiple incidents of sexual harassment over the span of two decades, including while at NPR.

Oreskes had been at NPR since April 2015; his departure is yet another dramatic high-level staff change at an organization that had seen — until the last three years or so — a virtual revolving door of chief executives and heads of the news department.

Listeners and readers have contacted me with many questions (and lots of anger). I am NPR’s news ombudsman (or public editor), not a corporate ombudsman, and so many of the decisions made by NPR’s corporate side are largely outside my purview, unless they reflect on NPR’s journalism. That said, serious questions have been raised about NPR’s handling of this situation. Chief executive Jarl Mohn (to whom I report, with a contract that is designed to keep my work independent) has apologized to staffers and announced that an outside law firm is being hired to examine NPR’s actions in the Oreskes case. I hope for, and expect, a thorough assessment.

In the meantime, here are answers to some initial questions that have been asked by NPR’s listeners and readers about how the newsroom has responded to this situation, and how the broader issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault have been reported by NPR.

How NPR Covered the Story

The story about NPR was broken not by NPR’s own journalists, but by TheWashington Post, which wrote about two women who alleged they were harassed two decades ago while they worked for Oreskes when he was an executive at The New York Times. Both women had contacted NPR in mid-October about those allegations (and one had previously contacted NPR in 2016, as well).

That the company was looking into allegations for a couple of weeks and didn’t alert the newsroom frustrated some (I am referring to the issue of informing NPR for its reporting purposes, not the separate issue of leaving newsroom employees potentially vulnerable). But that is the way it should be, if the newsroom and corporate operations are to remain editorially independent (although I’ll address, below, one problematic editorial aspect of the separation, concerning Oreskes’ oversight of NPR’s coverage of sexual harassment in general).

NPR subsequently jumped quickly on the story; TheWashington Post story hit at about 4 p.m. on Halloween and NPR’s media reporter David Folkenflik was interviewed on All Things Considered at 7:35 p.m. and again on Morning Edition the morning of Nov. 1. He was able to move so quickly partly because, as he reported, he had previously been looking into a complaint about Oreskes that had been filed internally. (Folkenflik had not been able to report it because the woman did not initially want to go on the record.)

NPR also got beat on the second-day story: The Associated Press, where Oreskes worked before coming to NPR, broke the story that he had resigned from NPR (under pressure). That rankled NPR employees, who wanted to hear it from NPR first, and, of course, no newsroom wants to get scooped about internal news by a competitor. NPR spokeswoman Isabel Lara told me a plan was in place to inform the employees who reported directly to Oreskes, followed by an email to the staff and the board and then an announcement to media reporters (including Folkenflik). While Oreskes’ direct reports were being informed, the AP alert went out, however. “From the attribution in AP’s first version it appears that Mike [Oreskes] gave a statement to them a few minutes before we could get our messages out,” Lara said.

Breaking news aside, most of the listeners and readers who have weighed in on NPR’s own coverage of the story so far have praised it. Folkenflik came back with his own new details about internal complaints against Oreskes; All Things Considered guest host Mary Louise Kelly conducted a very tough interview with NPR’s chief executive Jarl Mohn about the company’s handling of the situation.

Michael Dunne, who sits on the community support board for member station KLCC in Eugene, Ore., wrote to my office: “While almost every other news organization would ‘lawyer up’ and run from the situation, NPR has steadfastly and bravely covered the allegations against one of its top leaders as if the news organization was covering an unaffiliated entity.” His was one of many such emails and tweets.

But listener Bil Seymour, from Calimesa, Calif., was one who wrote with a counterview, focusing on Kelly’s interview of Mohn:

I believe it was a poor decision to have the co-anchor of ATC —a female, no less —conduct it. Said co-anchor, by virtue of her employment, as well as her gender, was, in fact, part of the story and she should not have been given this assignment. Instead, NPR management should have quickly hired outside personnel — a producer and a reporter — to take over this investigation, conduct the interviews, and report the story. Using law enforcement agencies as an example, which routinely turn over investigations of their own personnel or operations to outside agencies, NPR should not be conducting interviews of its own personnel by members of its own staff. Not only does it unfairly place the (in this case) co-anchor in the vulnerable position of interviewing her own boss, it colors the whole approach to the interview (and subsequent investigation), possibly limiting the scope and depth of the questioning — not to mention giving the appearance of a cover-up.

There is certainly a case to be made for either approach: covering a story in-house or finding an outsider to handle such stories (one news organization, Bloomberg LP, has a policy of not covering itself at all, which I do not think is an option here). However, finding an outside reporter to cover a fast-breaking story would have been time-consuming. Moreover, it would not necessarily have guaranteed better (or more credible) coverage. The proof is in the work: Kelly asked hard-hitting questions and did not seem the least bit intimidated by having to interview Mohn, and Folkenflik has reported unflattering details about the company’s handling of the situation.

The company’s ethics policy explicitly addresses how to cover NPR: “NPR journalists cover NPR the same way they would cover any other company.” Many media organizations have similar policies, and keep their coverage in-house, as The New York Times did when reporter Jayson Blair was caught plagiarizing and fabricating for his work. NPR’s written protocol for such stories goes further than most, as far as I have been able to determine (and based on my own past experience as a media reporter who had to cover my own company). Folkenflik said the same to me: “I don’t know of another news organization that endeavors harder to tell the news about itself with the same dedication and intellectual honesty that it would try to bring to reporting on any other company.”

David Sweeney, NPR’s chief news editor, who oversees newsgathering, provided me with the written protocol, which includes working only through Folkenflik’s own editor (Pallavi Gogoi, NPR’s chief business editor) and the deputy managing editor on duty. There is a back-up chain of command should one of those editors have a conflict and have to be recused if she or he is “involved in the issue or event that is the focus of the story.” The overall goal is to immediately isolate Folkenflik’s reporting from any wider newsroom or corporate pressures. “Nobody in the upper ranks is allowed to guide or see it,” Folkenflik told me.

In this case, both Gogoi and Terence Samuel, the deputy managing editor who is handling the coverage, are fairly new to the company and thus have had less time to develop internal allegiances, a status which also bolsters their independence; Gogoi started in July and Samuel in May.

Because Folkenflik covers NPR as he would any other company, he did not listen in on the off-the-record all-staff town hall meeting on Friday (which, full disclosure, I was asked to moderate, as an independent employee). He tweeted: “I am not attending today’s NPR all-staff as it has been deemed off the record. So I am relying on sources there to inform me.” He later added, “I made decision not to attend all staff. NPR said it was off record to allow women to share very personal accounts. Two did so.” Instead, he talked to employees afterward, as he would had the session been held by any other company he covers, and based his (thorough) story on that reporting.

NPR did run into one significant snag as a result of its policy restricting the number of people working on this story. There was a long lag between Folkenflik’s initial on-air report for a late edition of All Things Considered at 7:35 p.m. ET on Oct. 31 and the time the story was posted on NPR’s website (not until after 11 p.m.) For those who did not hear the on-air report but knew about the Post‘s story, it might have appeared as though NPR were avoiding the story about itself.

Mark Memmott, NPR’s standards and practices editor, said the delay was a result of Folkenflik having to do all the work himself; he had to file short pieces for the newscasts, as well. “It would have been good to have a digital reporter” write the Web version, Memmott said, instead of having Folkenflik handle it on top of his other duties.

Going forward, NPR should find a way — with all the necessary safeguards — to bring in more help for these kinds of stories. Also, as many in the newsroom (and a few outside) have argued, NPR should assign a female reporter to the topic, in addition to Folkenflik. Sexual harassment is not uniquely a woman’s issue, but in this case the story directly involves women in the NPR newsroom, some of whom felt intimidated by what they described as sexual advances by the newsroom leader. NPR has had more women than men discussing these issues, overall, but having another reporter on the story, one with perhaps a slightly different perspective, can only enhance the coverage.

Oreskes’ Role in Weinstein Coverage

A number of listeners and readers have expressed unhappiness that Oreskes, as NPR’s top news executive, might have been overseeing NPR’s coverage in recent weeks of the sexual assault allegations leveled against Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein. Those allegations touched off a national conversation about sexual harassment. If Oreskes was helping shape that coverage, is it discredited or somehow tainted?

The two anonymous Oreskes accusers, from his days at the New York Times, themselves told TheWashington Post that they came forward now because they believed Oreskes was overseeing the coverage of recent sexual harassment stories, including Weinstein, and should have recused himself. The Post quoted one woman as saying: “The idea that he’s in charge of that coverage is just so hypocritical to me.”

Another broader question has been raised internally by NPR journalists themselves. NPR’s corporate side formally rebuked Oreskes after an October 2015 complaint by an NPR staffer, and was informed of another allegation from his past (one of the complaints from his Times era) in October 2016. The corporate side of NPR does not play any role in newsroom operations, and that is admirable. Nonetheless, why did management somehow not find a way — without giving details — to tell the newsroom that Oreskes needed to be recused, or recuse himself, from overseeing coverage of sexual harassment and sexual assault (which predates Weinstein, and includes, during Oreskes’ tenure, numerous prominent figures, including President Donald Trump, former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, and former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly)? This is separate and apart from the question of whether the company acted quickly and aggressively enough when confronted with the allegations against Oreskes — which Mohn has acknowledged did not happen.

There were also whispers among a few in the NPR newsroom that the Post was chasing a story somehow related to Oreskes and sexual harassment, although the details were not known. Christopher Turpin, Oreskes’ deputy (and now the acting head of news at NPR), was one who heard them.

He told me that when he heard the first whispers, “I wish I had directly confronted Mike and asked him to recuse himself.”

That said (and I agree that would have been the correct action), I have found no evidence so far that Oreskes, while certainly overseeing the newsroom in general, had any major role in shaping the coverage of this issue.

When Oreskes took a direct interest in a subject he could be intense, firing off exclamation-point-filled email after email to the news staff, weekends and late nights included. That did not happen in at least the Weinstein case, as far as I have been able to determine.

“To my knowledge, Mike took no part in our coverage” of Weinstein, said Turpin, who would have been one of the main recipients of any flurry of emails had Oreskes gotten involved. “He did not weigh in in any significant way,” Turpin said.

Sweeney said Oreskes was out of the office for at least one extended period after the Weinstein story broke in early October, and added, “I did not have one conversation with Mike about Weinstein.” Sweeney said a search of his inbox showed no email exchanges, either. Ellen Silva, who oversees NPR’s cultural coverage (including Weinstein’s movie studio), told me Oreskes “usually had a lot of probing questions to ask in the morning meeting and I remember noting at the time that he didn’t with this story.” Samuel, the deputy managing editor handling much of the Weinstein coverage, told me that he thinks Oreskes’ role is a fair question to raise, but added: “I don’t see any evidence of Mike having any damaging influence on the coverage of the sexual assault story.”

And, finally, Folkenflik, who was the reporter responsible for covering the Fox allegations, and for some of the Weinstein coverage, told On the Media (a public radio program that is unaffiliated with NPR) that Oreskes had “no direct oversight” of the coverage and did not shape it in any significant way.

Another way to assess it, of course, is by the stories that NPR turned out on the Weinstein allegations. Turpin said the coverage “speaks for itself. We’ve covered it very aggressively.” I would agree. Between Oct. 5, the date of NPR’s first story about the Weinstein allegations, and Oct. 31, when the Oreskes story broke, NPR had nearly five dozen on-air or online pieces on the topic of the specific allegations, other men against whom allegations were made, or the broader issue itself. NPR did not in any way shy away from the story.

These are just a few of the early questions that have been raised about the Oreskes story. Among other issues, his departure also has potential consequences for the direction of newsroom operations going forward. I’ll explore that, and other issues related to this situation, in upcoming columns.

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Sleepless Night Leaves Some Brain Cells As Sluggish As You Feel

Sleep-deprived brain cells respond sluggishly, say researchers who recorded directly from the tired brains of people they'd kept awake for 24 hours.

Darren Pryce/Getty Images/Imagezoo

When people don’t get enough sleep, certain brain cells literally slow down.

A study that recorded directly from neurons in the brains of 12 people found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker, a team reports online Monday in Nature Medicine.

The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“You can imagine driving a car and suddenly somebody jumps in front of the car at night,” Fried says. “If you are sleep-deprived, your cells are going to react in a different way than in your normal state.”

The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy.

As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient’s seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days.

And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation.

In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity.

“These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you,” Fried says.

Then, four of the patients stayed up all night before looking at more images.

And in these patients, “the neurons are responding slower,” Fried says. “The responses are diminished, and they are smeared over longer periods of time.”

These changes impair the cells’ ability to communicate, Fried says. And that leads to mental lapses that can affect not only perception but memory.

The team also found evidence that sleep deprivation affects some areas of the brain more than others. It was as if certain regions of the brain were sleeping, while others remained vigilant, Fried says.

The research adds to the evidence showing it’s important to avoid driving when you’re sleepy, Fried says.

Drowsy driving in the U.S. is responsible for more than 70,000 crashes a year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on estimates and statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Fried says his team’s finding also supports efforts to limit the hours worked by doctors in training, noting that he worked very long hours as a neurosurgery resident.

Now, he says, “I am trying to impose the lesson I learned from my research on myself.”

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The Paradise Papers: Revelations Spring From Leaked Records Of World's Wealthy

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been named among the 120 rich and powerful people who are mentioned in the Paradise Papers, a new release of data about offshore tax havens and obscure financial dealings.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

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Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and a key ally to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are among the 120 rich and powerful people who are mentioned in the Paradise Papers, a new release of data about offshore tax havens and obscure financial dealings.

The Paradise Papers are a massive trove of 13.4 million records — many of which were leaked from the offshore law firm Appleby, which was founded more than 100 years ago and operates in places ranging from Bermuda and the Cayman Islands to the Isle of Man, Mauritius, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Reflecting millions of loan deals, financial statements, emails and other documents, the data reveals how specialty firms handle the money of wealthy individuals, families and corporations.

Some 380 journalists collaborated to unravel the connections in the Paradise Papers’ nearly 1.5 terabytes of data. The trove was acquired by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which says the records show how the wealthy and powerful sometimes duck taxes, regulations, sanctions and “at least their social responsibility.”


Wilbur Ross “was a major client of Appleby,” the ICIJ says, saying that the law firm administered more than 50 companies and partnerships linked to investments on behalf of his private equity firm, W.L. Ross & Co, LLC.

“Ross divested himself of most of his business interests when he joined the Trump Cabinet in February 2017,” the group says. “But he kept a stake in the shipping company Navigator Holdings through a chain of companies in the Cayman Islands, Appleby’s files and public records show.”

Discussing Ross’s Paradise Papers file with NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, reporter Jon Swaine of The Guardian said Ross’s investments link him to Navigator — which is in turn linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.

Navigator is paid about $20 million dollars a year to ship gas out of Russia for a Russian company named Sibur,” Swaine said on Morning Edition. “And Sibur is co-owned by Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov.”

In an interview with the BBC, Ross said on Monday, “There is nothing whatsoever improper about Navigator having a relationship with Sibur.”

Ross said that Sibur wasn’t under sanctions when the deal was made, and that it’s not under sanctions now. But critics of the arrangement note that in addition to Shamalov, another of Sibur’s co-owners is Gennady Timchenko, who is currently under U.S. sanctions because of his close ties to Putin.

As for the money generated by the deal, Swaine says, “Navigator’s brought in about $68 million in revenue since 2014 from the deal. The contract is worth at least $200 million a year, and it’s scheduled to continue for about a decade.”

Referring to Sibur, the commerce secretary said, “The fact that it happens to be called a Russian company does not mean that there’s any evil in it.”

Referring to his financial disclosure form 278 that was filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Ross said, “Where there is evil is the misstatement that I did not disclose those holdings in my original form.”

Another high-profile figure named in the papers is Queen Elizabeth, who reportedly had around 10 million pounds (some $13 million) of her money offshore, the BBC says. The queen’s investments included a previously undisclosed stake in a Cayman fund in control of a rent-to-own company called BrightHouse, which as The Guardian reports, has been criticized “for exploiting thousands of poor families and vulnerable people.”

The Guardian notes that Elizabeth’s estate, the Duchy of Lancaster, says it was unaware of the holding prior to being contacted by news agencies. The ICIJ notes, “the queen voluntarily pays tax on income received.”

Other notable names include tech giants Facebook and Twitter — which the news site Reveal says benefited from large investments that were indirectly made by “two Russian government-owned firms known as vehicles for the Kremlin’s politically sensitive dealings.”

Those investments — reportedly $191 million, in the case of Twitter — were used to buy early stakes in Twitter and Facebook via the investment firm DST Global, according to Reveal, which adds that DST’s founder, Yuri Milner, and others made profits of more than $1 billion when it sold some holdings after the two social media giants took their stocks public.

Those revelations come as Russia’s attempts to use social media to influence the 2016 U.S. election remains a hot topic. Both tech firms and members of President Trump’s inner circle have faced scrutiny; the Paradise Papers add to that conversation.

“More recently, Milner invested $850,000 in Cadre, a real estate firm co-founded by Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner,” the ICIJ reports.

The ICIJ adds, “Milner is a Russian citizen who lives in Silicon Valley. His ties to Twitter, Facebook and Kushner’s firm have been previously disclosed. But his links to the Kremlin financial institutions weren’t known.”

Many of the deals and documents cited in the Paradise Papers have to do with avoiding taxes — and that’s the focus of reports on Apple, the most valuable publicly traded company in the world.

Recording billions in profits, Apple began to look for a new way to shelter itself from taxes after Ireland toughened its stance on international corporations in late 2013. That prompted Apple to make a plan with Appleby to use subsidiaries to park money in Jersey, a tax haven in the English Channel, according to the ICIJ.

As The New York Times reports, “Apple has accumulated more than $128 billion in profits offshore, and probably much more, that is untaxed by the United States and hardly touched by any other country. Nearly all of that was generated over the past decade.”

Another Trump Cabinet member, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, is mentioned in the documents as a former director of a Bermuda company named Marib Upstream Services Co., which the ICIJ says was “created to conduct oil and gas operations” in Yemen. Tillerson reportedly served on Marib’s board for roughly a year, from 1997 to 1998.

The report also highlights two Democrats who are not currently in government. Former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker is seen transferring shares of two companies into a limited liability corporation that’s referred to as being “owned by trusts that are for the benefit of Penny Pritzker’s children,” the ICIJ says, citing Appleby documents. The move was made just after Pritzker was confirmed; the report says she later filed ethics paperwork in which the holdings were “simply listed as having been sold.”

In a shorter entry, former presidential candidate Wesley Clark is mentioned for his ties to Amaya, an online gaming company that is now called the Stars Group.

The Paradise Papers are the fruit of a new branch of the work that brought the Panama Papers to light in 2015 and 2016. Those leaked documents caused embarrassment among the elites in several countries, from the U.K. to the Ukraine; they also resulted in the prime ministers of Iceland and Pakistan leaving office.

The leaked Appleby records that are at the heart of the Paradise Papers detail more ties to the U.S. than to any other nation, according to the ICIJ.

“At least 31,000 of the individual and corporate clients included in Appleby’s records are U.S. citizens or have U.S. addresses, more than from any other country,” the ICIJ said in a statement about the release. “Appleby also counted clients from the United Kingdom, China and Canada among its biggest sources of business.”

In Canada, the CBC reports that the names of more than 3,000 Canadian citizens, companies, and other entities appear in the Paradise Papers, including three former prime ministers — Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin.

Also mentioned is Stephen Bronfman, a key fundraiser for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Noting that Trudeau has mentioned tax fairness as a priority, the CBC says that Bronfman, a Seagram family heir, and his investment company, Claridge Inc., “were key players linked to a $60-million US offshore trust in the Cayman Islands that may have cost Canadians millions in unpaid taxes.”

More revelations seem likely to come from the Paradise Papers — so far, we’re seeing only a sampling of the documents, as the stories that were launched by dozens of collaborating media outlets on Sunday reflect only the data’s highlights. A member of the ICIJ’s data team says the group will release “the full structured data from the Paradise Papers investigation in the coming weeks.”

As for the timeline described in the leaked documents, the ICIJ says the records date back to 1950 and run forward to 2016.

In response to the reports, Appleby released a statement saying in part, “The journalists do not allege, nor could they, that Appleby has done anything unlawful. There is no wrongdoing. It is a patchwork quilt of unrelated allegations with a clear political agenda and movement against offshore.”

The law firm added, “We wish to reiterate that our firm was not the subject of a leak but of a serious criminal act. This was an illegal computer hack.”

News of offshore accounts and tax havens has been grabbing headlines since it broke on Sunday. But the ICIJ warns against assuming the guilt of anyone mentioned in its reporting. Noting that there are “legitimate uses for offshore companies and trusts,” the group says, “We do not intend to suggest or imply that any people, companies or other entities included in the ICIJ Offshore Leaks Database have broken the law or otherwise acted improperly.”

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists was founded in 1997, as part of the Center for Public Integrity; it became an independent organization early in 2017.

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