Friday, June 24, 2005

NOTE: In this final post, I introduced Mark Jurkowitz, who served as the Phoenix's media columnist from mid-2005 to mid-2006, and who is now the associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in Washington. Lest there be any confusion, the current author of Media Log, now called Don't Quote Me, is Adam Reilly, as explained in the column at right. — DK, 12/14/07

THE LAST POST. Media Log made its debut in October 2002. I can't tell you what I wrote about, because the archives have been corrupted somehow. But I can say I've enjoyed taking part in the blogging movement and trying to figure out how this new type of DIY journalism can enhance and expand the role of a media critic.

The Phoenix's new media critic, Mark Jurkowitz, is planning to write some type of media-related blog, so please look for it on I have no doubt that Mark will immediately establish an online presence that will make him a must-read.

I'm taking the summer off before beginning my new job this September teaching journalism at Northeastern University. If you'd like to know what my future blogging plans might be, please check in occasionally at

It's been a pleasure writing for you. Thank you.

"DARK ALLIANCE" IS BACK ONLINE. The groundbreaking 1996 series by Gary Webb, who committed suicide last December, reported on the connection between the CIA, the Nicaraguan contras, and the explosion of crack in the United States.

Now is uploading the entire series to the Web. According to Narco News's Dan Feder, the entire website put together by the San Jose Mercury News was recently discovered on a CD-ROM by Webb's family.

"Dark Alliance" was a landmark of Internet journalism, with people around the country and even the world logging onto the Mercury's website to read it. The grotesque overreaction by the mainstream media to what were some fairly minor flaws in Webb's reporting (not to mention the Mercury's gutlessness in throwing Webb over the side) helped form the current critique of corporate journalism by activists on the left.

Congratulations to Narco News and its founder, my former Phoenix colleague Al Giordano, for getting Webb's work back in circulation.

GLOBE NAMES OMBUDSMAN. Boston Globe publisher Richard Gilman has appointed Richard Chacón to the ombudsman's post, replacing Chris Chinlund. Here's the e-mail Gilman sent out to the staff yesterday:

June 23, 2005

To The Staff:

I'm pleased to announce that Richard Chacon will assume new duties as ombudsman beginning on Monday morning, June 27. Richard replaces Christine Chinlund who, after three years of gracefully dealing with the sometimes unhappy reader and weighing in on matters of importance to the newspaper, has moved on to become the new editor of Globe South. I want to thank Chris for all she has done and for all of her incredible diplomacy in juggling the competing points of view that so often end up in the ombudsman's office. The newspaper is better for her efforts.

In his new role, Richard will report directly to me. This is meant to reinforce his role as a neutral observer while at the same time affirming the independence of the newsroom where, as always, our editors make the final call on content issues. Like Chris, Richard will write a column every other week for the op-ed page and will also establish an online ombudsman's page.

Although reader issues will continue to be the main focus of his job, Richard will also try to put his own stamp on the position by reaching out to the community in the broadest sense and creating a dialogue aimed at promoting a better understanding of our business and our role in Greater Boston.

He's a great choice for the job. His newsroom credentials are impeccable, his recent Nieman experience has given him the time to think about some of the larger issues facing journalism today, and his time as deputy foreign editor and foreign correspondent gives him a world perspective that will be of value in his new role.

I hope you will join with me in wishing Richard the best in his important new role.


Chacón should be given a chance, of course. Structurally, though, this appointment is problematic, because Chacón is part of the Globe family, and - from what I hear - wants to stay after his ombudsman stint is over. That's been a problem with most of the paper's ombudsmen; some have handled it better than others.

The Globe's corporate sibling, the New York Times, has embraced a better model during the brief period that it's had an ombudsman - or "public editor," as the Times prefers to call him: an outsider who's given a contract for a limited period.

The first Times public editor, Dan Okrent, was fiercely independent. The new guy, Byron Calame, has just started. His first real column was actually a defense of the Times, which may set off some alarms, although his defense was warranted, in my view.

Being an in-house critic of folks as touchy as journalists must be as pleasant as having your teeth pulled without Novocaine. It's a position that would benefit from maximum independence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

WHY GOD MADE TABLOIDS. This Herald front doesn't quite rise to the level of the drunken toga party during a late-night House session several years ago. But it will do. Dave Wedge writes:

While the unfinished state budget sat back at the State House, the parade of representatives at the Hyannis public course began at 9 a.m. sharp, with several reps taking trips to the driving range, putting on sunblock and lacing up their golf shoes. Several unidentified players were spotted drinking beer in their carts.

DURBIN GETS IT. Even if some of his defenders don't. From the senator's apology yesterday:

Mr. President, I have come to understand that was a very poor choice of words. I tried to make this very clear last Friday that I understood to those analogies to the Nazis, Soviets and others were poorly chosen. I issued a release which I thought made my intentions and my inner-most feeling as clear as I possibly could.

Let me read to you what I said. "I have learned from my statement that historical parallels can be misused and misunderstood. I sincerely regret if what I said causes anybody to misunderstand my true feelings. Our soldiers around the world and their families at home deserve our respect, admiration and total support."

Mr. President, it is very clear that even though I thought I had said something that clarified the situation, to many people it was still unclear. I'm sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. Nothing, nothing should ever be said to demean or diminish that moral tragedy.

Now let's get back to the real issue: the well-documented abuses - including torture - that have taken place at Guantánamo and other detention facilities, thus damaging American moral authority in the eyes of the world. (Via Andrew Sullivan.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A VERY LARGE BOSTON NEWSPAPER. Two examples of an odd journalistic practice in today's edition of Boston's largest daily newspaper.

- Columnist Joan Vennochi writes about an exchange that took place on the radio between MassINC executive director Ian Bowles and Peter Blute. Bowles, Vennochi semi-informs us, was "on the radio yesterday morning" with Blute, a "radio host and former congressman." Why not just say that Bowles was a guest host on WRKO Radio (AM 680)? [Update: Whoops. Bowles was interviewed by 'RKO, but he was not a guest host.]

- In a feature on mixed martial arts, Jack Encarnacao writes, "A series of recent local media reports about the Roxy event lumped the sport together with 'Tough Man' contests and professional wrestling, two spectacles in which deaths have occurred, usually as a result of amateurs taking risks." Substitute "Boston Herald" for "local media," and you now know one more thing than Encarnacao told you.

Not to single out either writer. This is so ingrained that it's got to be some bizarre copy-desk rule. But I don't get it.

GET YOUR PHOENIX. And send the Tracksters a couple of T-shirts.

TOO EASY. Once or twice a month, I get a nasty e-mail from a Mark Steyn fan, which always leads me to wonder what the glib faker has been up to lately. The answer: taking utterly predictable shots at Senator Dick Durbin, and - of course! - stacking the deck besides.

God bless Steyn - he's always good for an item.

As I've said before, Durbin's remarks comparing American soldiers at Guantánamo to Nazis, Soviet guards, and the Khmer Rouge were stupid and offensive - every bit as stupid and offensive as Senator Rick Santorum's comparing the filibustering Democrats to Nazis.

But I want to draw attention to how Steyn sets up Durbin's remarks. Steyn writes:

Last Tuesday, Senator Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, quoted a report of U.S. "atrocities" at Guantanamo and then added:

"If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime - Pol Pot or others - that had no concern for human beings."

Er, well, your average low-wattage senator might. But I wouldn't. The "atrocities" he enumerated - "Not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room" - are not characteristic of the Nazis, the Soviets or Pol Pot, and, at the end, the body count in Gitmo was a lot lower. That's to say, it was zero, which would have been counted a poor day's work in Auschwitz or Siberia or the killing fields of Cambodia.

That's the extent of it in Steynworld: the prisoners had to listen to Snoop Dogg, and it was hot. But here is what Durbin actually said before making his unfortunate Nazi/Soviet/Pol Pot comparison:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here - I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold.... On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If Steyn wants to beat up on Durbin, that's fine. Frankly, Durbin deserves it. But by glossing over - and making fun of - what has actually happened at Guantánamo, as documented by US government officials, Steyn demonstrates once again that he's nothing but a Republican cheerleader with scant regard for the facts.