Passport

A tale of two Mogadishus

In media, timing is key to breaking news and getting recognized for original journalism. But it can also sting you, as Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler learned during the Arab Spring after publishing, respectively, a glowing profile of Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad and a list of the "15 Best Places to See Right Now" that included Libya.

Today, the New York Times fell victim to the timing trap. The paper led its print edition with a story by Jeffrey Gettleman entitled "A Taste of Hope in Somalia's Battered Capital," only for a suicide bomber to attack a gathering of Somali officials this morning in Mogadishu's National Theater, killing the heads of Somalia's Olympic committee and soccer federation, among others.

Gettleman had even mentioned the National Theater in his piece (key lines in bold):

Outside, on Mogadishu's streets, the thwat-thwat-thwat hammering sound that rings out in the mornings is not the clatter of machine guns but the sound of actual hammers. Construction is going on everywhere - new hospitals, new homes, new shops, a six-story hotel and even sports bars (albeit serving cappuccino and fruit juice instead of beer). Painters are painting again, and Somali singers just held their first concert in more than two decades at the National Theater, which used to be a weapons depot and then a national toilet. Up next: a televised, countrywide talent show, essentially "Somali Idol."

Mogadishu, Somalia's capital, which had been reduced to rubble during 21 years of civil war, becoming a byword for anarchy, is making a remarkable comeback. The Shabab, the fearsome insurgents who once controlled much of the country, withdrew from the city in August and have been besieged on multiple sides by troops from the African Union, Kenya, Ethiopia and an array of local militias.

Today the theater is a scene not of cultural renaissance but of carnage:

Yet only weeks ago, when the theater was reopened, the atmosphere at the Chinese-built complex very much matched Gettleman's description:

On Twitter, some people are tweaking the Times for being a bit trigger-happy on the optimism ("NYT story on #Somalia illustrates the danger of proclaiming peace in such places; new violence was bound to happen," argued the Atlantic Council's Barbara Slavin), while others are simply discouraged ("Wanted so badly to believe NYT's article on Somalia today," photographer Ed Suter wrote. "Guess it was a bit premature").

The Times, for its part, has put the two stories into a dialogue of sorts on the World page.

And it's worth pointing out that Gettleman tempered his report with the sober assessment that Mogadishu "and the rest of Somalia still have a long way to go," citing a recent attack on the presidential palace in the capital as just one example.

"Who says it's just bad news coming out of Somalia?" Gettleman tweeted early this morning. Indeed, any positive news out of war-torn Somalia is welcome. In the news business, sadly, you can never pick the right day to highlight a heartwarming story.

Abdurashid Abdulle/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Passport

Gunter Grass's Passover surprise

The controversy-courting German author is back in the headlines today for a new poem published in several newspapers that accuses Israel of endangering world peace. Titled, "What must be said," it's available here in German. Reuters summarizes:

"Why do I say only now ... that the nuclear power Israel endangers an already fragile world peace? Because that must be said which may already be too late to say tomorrow," Grass wrote in the poem, published in German in Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

"Also because we - as Germans burdened enough - may become a subcontractor to a crime that is foreseeable," he wrote, adding that Germany's Nazi past and the Holocaust were no excuse for remaining silent now about Israel's nuclear capability.

"I will not remain silent because I am weary of the West's hypocrisy," wrote Grass, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for novels such as "The Tin Drum" chronicling the horrors of 20th century German history.

The poem would be controversial enough -- and editorial in Die Welt called Grass "the prototype of the educated anti-Semite" and the Israeli embassy issued a statement, saying, "What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder."

But then, of course, there's Grass's background. In a 2006 autobiography, Peeling the Onion, Grass revealed for the first time that in the closing months of World War II, when he was 17, he had been drafted into the Waffen SS -- the armed wing of the Nazi party responsible for many of the worst atrocities of the Holocaust. While Grass claims to have never fired a shot, many Germans were shocked at the time that the Nobel Prize-winning author, who had for years excoriated his fellow citizens into confronting the realities of the Nazi era in novels like The Tin Drum, had kept his own past secret for so long. 

The Die Welt piece, by German-Jewish journalist Henryk Broder, claims that Grass has "always had a problem with Jews." Whether or not that's true, an ex-Nazi who hid his own war record for 60 years isn't exactly the most credible critic of Israeli foreign policy. 

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images