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Top Stories: Possible Gaza Truce; Air Algerie Wreckage

Jul 25, 2014

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Korva Coleman

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Good morning, here are our early stories:

— France Dispatches Military Unit To Site Of Air Algerie Wreck.

— Kerry Presents Proposal For Seven-Day Truce In Gaza.

And here are more early headlines:

Australia Aims To Guard Plane Debris In Ukraine. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Report: U.S. Reviews Whether Some Hondurans Are Refugees. (New York Times)

Taiwan Plane Crashed In Storm On Second Landing Attempt. (BBC)

U.N. Relief Trucks Enter Syria Without Government's Permission. (AP)

Fast Food Workers Discuss How To Increase Minimum Wage. (Chicago Tribune)

No McDonald's Chicken Nuggets In Hong Kong After Meat Scare. (Reuters)

Defendant In Stradivarius Theft Jailed At Least 3 Years. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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A Palestinian man cries after bringing a child, wounded in a strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, to the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya on Thursday. (AP)

Kerry Presents Proposal For Seven-Day Truce In Gaza

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 25, 2014

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Eyder Peralta

Secretary of State John Kerry has handed over a seven-day truce proposal to Israel and Hamas, NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports.

Kerry is hoping for fighting to stop as the holy month of Ramadan comes to an end this weekend. He's now waiting for a response.

Soraya tells Morning Edition that the outline of the temporary truce is still murky, but Israeli media are reporting that the deal would stop the fighting, while still allowing Israeli troops to hold their ground and continue destroying tunnels into Israel.

Quoting an unnamed "official involved in the negotiations," The New York Times reports that condition is still "unresolved."

The paper adds:

"It was not clear if the final plan would be endorsed by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, or by the Israeli cabinet.

"Hamas's political leader, Khaled Meshal, has stated that he would not accept an enduring cease-fire until his demands were met, including the lifting of an economic blockade on Gaza. But Mr. Meshal called Wednesday for a humanitarian truce to allow relief aid to reach Gaza, and the proposed start of the seven-day truce is intended to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr, which signals the end of Ramadan. The Israeli cabinet was expected to discuss the plan on Friday afternoon, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported."

The Washington Post reports the deal is "backed by United Nations and is the product of U.N., U.S., and Egyptian negotiators, with Turkey and Qatar acting as go-betweens with Hamas."

Quoting "people familiar" with the proposal, the paper reports the cease-fire may include "unspecified incentives to Hamas, including release of a small number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and partial payment of suspended government salaries in Gaza, perhaps by Qatar."

Meanwhile, the new peace proposal has not dampened the fighting. NPR's Emily Harris tells us the death toll in Gaza has now gone up to 815. Thirty-five Israelis have been killed.

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A Palestinian man cries after bringing a child, wounded in a strike on a compound housing a U.N. school in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, to the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya on Thursday. (AP)

Book News: Amazon Reports Big Quarterly Loss

by Annalisa Quinn
Jul 25, 2014

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The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Amazon reported big second quarter losses Thursday and said the current period may be even worse. The company posted a quarter net loss of $126 million, or 27 cents a share, even though sales rose 23 percent. After Thursday's news, shares fell more than 10 percent in after-hours trading. As The Wall Street Journal points out, "The losses reflect Amazon's heavy investments in new businesses and services that some investors worry are stretching the Seattle company too thin. This year it has released an array of new offerings including a hand-held grocery-ordering device, unlimited e-book rental and streaming services, and its first set-top boxand smartphone." Amazon's chief financial executive seemed to shrug off those concerns. "We're ramping up the spend," Tom Szkutak said in a conference call Thursday, pointing to new warehouses and investments in original content for Amazon Prime. He added: "We're not trying to optimize for short-term profit." Szkutak also suggested that some of the losses could be blamed on price-cutting wars with its competitors. Meanwhile, Amazon is engaged in a very public dispute with the publisher Hachette, and had a brief (now resolved) fight with Warner Bros. over DVD prices.
  • Brian McGreevy explains why "a British woman who looked like a benign but mildly dotty Hogwarts teacher" is the greatest 20th century horror writer you've never heard of. "[D]o not miss the occult mischief behind those 1980s mom-glasses; in a fairly standard Angela Carter story, Harry Potter would be mauled to death by a werewolf before a pan-species initiation of Hermione's pubescent sexual power. She made things weird like that, which is why she was great."
  • "The first Man Booker prize longlist to include American authors has divided headline writers into those who prefer 'Commonwealth writers edged out' and those who have chosen 'Donna Tartt snubbed.' " — The Economist breaks down coverage of the Booker longlist.
  • The poet TJ Jarrett — who is also a computer engineer — talks to Win Bassett about the ways her two worlds connect: "I tend to break things up into functions. If I were building a cash register, I'd build the "add" and "subtract" and "running total" functions. If I were building a book about lynching, I build "how the crowd gathers" function; "how fear works" function; the "grieving" function; the "questioning if this is the best way" function. If a poem is a tiny machine, then a volume of poetry is a car or a plane — a bunch of parts that come together to perform a larger action."
  • Tom Bissell profiles William T. Vollmann: "His books are too long in the way the Petronas Towers are too tall, the way foie gras is too rich: the manner of their excess is central to their essence. Vollmann is neither a readers' writer nor a writers' writer but a writer's writer, which is to say William T. Vollmann's writer."
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Pop Culture Happy Hour: Culture Between The Coasts And Imperfect Fits

Jul 25, 2014

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In San Diego or its sprawling surrounding area? Come to the East Plaza Gazebo in Seaport Village (between Village Cafe and Ben & Jerry's) on Saturday morning, any time between 9 and noon PT, to hang out with the Pop Culture Happy Hour gang! It's just an informal meet-and-greet — we wanted a chance to hang out with folks in the area who couldn't get tickets to the San Diego Comic-Con that week — but we'd love to see anyone who's able to swing by. For last-minute scheduling information, follow Linda, Glen and me on Twitter.

Before we get started with this week's episode, a quick reminder that tickets for Pop Culture Happy Hour's August 19 live show at New York City's Bell House will go on sale Monday, July 28 at noon ET. Tickets to last month's 200th-episode spectacular sold out in less than two minutes, so bookmark this page and get quick on the draw, people! We'll have wonderful guests on hand — including Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton from Ask Me Another, as well as our producer emeritus and music director, Mike Katzif — so we're sure to be in even better spirits than usual.

With the PCHH crew already in the process of scattering westward, we recorded this week's episode a whopping two weeks ago. Linda was already on the West Coast to attend the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles, so she decided to meet up with our now-L.A.-based pal Barrie Hardymon and form half of this week's panel 3,000 miles from home. That left Glen and me to sit in an uncharacteristically barren Studio 44 and listen to Linda and Barrie's voices on the wind.

Which, in turn, got us to thinking about the bicoastal nature of U.S. pop culture — and, more to the point, the massive area so often dismissed as "flyover country." We talk about specificity, authenticity, accuracy, and towns large and small, while dropping just about every name imaginable: William H. Gass, Marilynne Robinson, Jonathan Franzen, Mark Twain, the Green Bay Packers, W.P. Kinsella, Ray Bradbury, The Wizard of Oz, Alexander Payne, John Grisham and more.

Then it was on to the notion of "imperfect fits" — art in which one performance or element doesn't seem to fit with the work surrounding it. Linda opens the discussion with this jarring performance in a musical, but we find lots of room to maneuver within the topic, from Marni Nixon to Nicki Minaj to Mad Men to Russell Crowe to Barbra Streisand to Glen's cardinal rule of superhero stories. Along the way, Barrie mentions a few of the less likely works of Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein, as well as these lovely children's books by Russell Hoban.

Finally, as always, we close with What's Making Us Happy. I set a Comic-Con goal that doubles as a parenting goal, and highly recommend a long read about Britney Spears. Glen offers a measured recommendation of this movie. Barrie loves this PBS show and these two lesser-known works by a great author of children's books. And Linda highlights a favorite from Press Tour in which a familiar face teaches viewers about familiar topics.

As always, we're delighted to hear from you, so find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: me, Linda, Glen, Barrie, producers Jessica and Lauren, and our pal Mike Katzif.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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A drawing of two clinking martini glasses. ( NPR)

Thanks For Your Support. We'll Take It From Here

by Steve Drummond
Jul 25, 2014

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One of the questions we're most frequently asked on the NPR Ed team is, essentially, "Don't you guys get a lot of money from the Gates Foundation?"
The answer is, of course, yes.

What that question is often implying is: "Aren't you guys just a mouthpiece for the Gates Foundation's agenda?"

The answer is, of course, no.

In addition to the criticism that we're in the bag for Gates, or one of the many other organizations that support our work, you can pretty easily find comments on our posts saying that we're in the bag for the teachers unions. Or the opponents of the teachers unions. Or that we're too much for the Common Core. No, wait, we're slanted against the Common Core!

In other words, many people view us and our work through the lens of their own beliefs.

We can't help that. 'Twas ever thus, as they say.

The people at NPR who cover politics, or the Middle East, or any other issue face the same scrutiny.

What we can do, though, is be as clear and upfront about who and what we're reporting on as possible. The word we use for that is transparency.

At a practical level that means when we mention Gates, or other foundations or work supported by them, you're going to be seeing notes in our stories pointing out that this or that foundation "also supports NPR's coverage of education."

We know that won't satisfy everyone. When we write about research or report a story about a program or school one of our funders supports, critics are quick to seize upon that as the latest evidence that we've "sold out" ... forgotten our ethics ... been swayed by all that grant money.

I have to tell you, it just doesn't work that way.

The reporters and editors for the most part prefer not to know the details of where our funding comes from. Of course, complete isolation isn't possible, but it just doesn't affect the day-to-day decision-making. We can no more ignore a good story because it's based on work funded by Gates or the Wallace Foundation or someone else, than we can assign a story that isn't worth doing because it would make this or that foundation happy.

Our funders know that when they give NPR money, it helps pay for the reporters and producers and editors, the travel and production costs and equipment and all the things that go into putting stories online and on the air. They don't get to pick what stories we cover or how we approach a given beat.

But the simple fact is, in education there is going to be a lot of overlap between funders who support NPR, and funders who support research and programs aimed at improving schools. Philanthropies are interested in giving their money to the very same people and programs we're interested in writing about as journalists: the educators, entrepreneurs, researchers and thinkers who are doing new — and successful — things to solve the toughest problems in education.

There's a word for that in our business: "news." Especially given our commitment to move our reporting beyond conflict and problems to examine solutions.

And so when there is overlap with our funders, it won't change what stories we choose or how we go about reporting them.

But it is information we feel strongly that you should have. Then you can make up your own mind about our work and what we're reporting on.

Across NPR we take this responsibility seriously. It's in our ethics manual, and it's worth quoting from it here, for the record:

"Our journalism is made possible by a diverse coalition of funding sources, including donations from members of the public, grants from foundations and government agencies, and paid sponsorships and underwriting. While we value all who support our work, those who fund us do so in the knowledge that our journalism serves only the public. We believe our strength as a business is premised solely on high-quality, independent journalism in the public interest. All NPR employees — journalists as well as sponsorship, communications and development staff — are committed first and foremost to that service.

"At NPR, the journalists — including senior news managers — have full and final authority over all journalistic decisions. We work with all other divisions of the company towards the goal of supporting and protecting our journalism. This means we communicate with our sponsorship and development departments to identify areas where we hope to expand our reporting. It also means we may take part in promotional activities or events such as coordinated fund drives, listener support spots and public radio audience-building initiatives.

"But we observe a clear boundary line: NPR journalists interact with funders only to further our editorial goals, not to serve the agendas of those who support us."

Since we began NPR Ed we've realized we're going to have to be extra vigilant on this. Already it has come up several times, with several of our funders.

And we know we're going to have to be extra careful to make sure we're doing our homework on the origins and funding of research or programs or individuals we're reporting on.

We also expect — and encourage — you to let us know how we're doing.

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