Friday, May 30, 2003

WBUR needs to let in Fresh Air. According to this story on (via Romenesko), WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) spokeswoman Mary Stohn says the station will bring back Fresh Air "very soon."

Fine. How about this Monday?

Look, I don't get to listen to Fresh Air much these days, mainly because even when 'BUR was running it, it was on at 1 p.m. -- not exactly prime listening time.

But it's one of the best shows on NPR, and host Terry Gross is just about the best interviewer in the business. I can still remember her classic interview some years back with Nancy Reagan, who nearly walked out on her. And how about Gene Simmons of KISS, neatly emasculated by Gross about 10 minutes into his moronic sex-god shtick?

Maybe WBUR could justify taking the show off the air during the war in Iraq. But even though it remains an important story, it's no longer the sort of white-hot breaking event that must be followed every minute of the day. Few people are going to mind a little less BBC now.

So bring back Terry Gross!

Philly scouts deal blow to discrimination. The best thing the Boy Scouts of America could do is drop its ludricrous and offensive policy of discriminating against gays and atheists. But that's not going to happen, given the huge number of Mormon and Catholic churches that sponsor scout troops.

The second best thing is for the BSA to devolve -- to decentralize, to lessen the power of the right-wing executives in Irving, Texas (where did those people come from, anyway?), and to allow local people to make local decisions.

That's why it's heartening to see that scout executives in Philadelphia have decided to take on the hatemongers -- during a national conference in Philly, no less. Here's the latest from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and here's a supportive editorial from the Philadelphia Daily News.

As this earlier Inquirer story notes, Boston's Minuteman Council adopted what amounted to a don't-ask/don't-tell policy in 2001. But Philly's Cradle of Liberty Council, the third-largest in the nation, appears to go Minuteman one better, flat-out rejecting discrimination against gay men and boys.

No such luck for the atheists, unfortunately. But a step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

The Bill and Dick Show. Doesn't it give you just a warm, fuzzy feeling that Microsoft and AOL Time Warner are going into business together? This Washington Post analysis by David Vise is particularly good on how Microsoft may emerge as the principal engine by which AOL Time Warner distributes its massive quantities of content.

The Wall Street Journal goes hard on the angle that this may be the end of Netscape, the software company that AOL acquired a few years ago for $10 billion to compete with Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Netscape Navigator was essentially the original Web browser -- an immediate descendent of Mosaic -- but has long since fallen behind Explorer, helped along by that massive distribution network known as Windows.

Of course, it was Microsoft's attempts to crush Netscape that made it the subject of an endless, celebrated antitrust case. But the buzz has long since departed Netscape. Indeed, the code was given away a long time ago. These days, the principal innovations to Navigator are made by the open-source techies at Mozilla -- which is definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Outrage of the day I. No doubt we'll hear from conservatives in the next day or two as to how the New York Times' David Firestone got it wrong this morning. No doubt it will have something to do with how little low-income working families pay in taxes in the first place.

But can we nevertheless pause for a moment of outrage over this hidden gem in George W. Bush's wildly irresponsible tax cut? Because the fact remains that virtually the only Americans who won't be getting a $400 rebate are poor people who work.

Outrage of the day II. The Catholic bishops of Massachusetts are urging parishioners to lobby against same-sex marriage. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

Apparently it is time to redefine "chutzpah."

Mulvoy for the defense. One of Mike Barnicle's enablers, retired Globe managing editor for news Tom Mulvoy, is still on the job, writing to the New York Times today that the poor guy got screwed.

Lest the historical revisionism begin to take, read this and this.

New in this week's Phoenix. "Republic of Fear," separating the reality of terrorism, disease, and economic distress from the virtual world of media hype and political gamesmanship. Plus, WBUR Radio brings home a luminous voice from Iraq.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

An ode to Rupe. Media Log would be very surprised if Rupert Murdoch repurchased the Boston Herald as soon as the FCC's cross-ownership rules are dropped next week. As I wrote last Friday, Herald owner (and former Murdoch lieutenant) Pat Purcell may be going through a rough patch, but there are no signs that the wheels are coming off just yet.

But five years from now? Three? One? Well, who knows? And even if Purcell finds a way to maintain his independence, that doesn't mean deregulation won't present opportunities to do some kind of joint venture with his old boss, who owns Boston's WFXT-TV (Channel 25).

So it's predictable, I guess, that today's Herald offers a full-throated paean to Rupe -- a fight song presented in the form of an editorial, complete with attacks on the "loony left," Ted Kennedy, and the Boston Globe.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Frank Ahrens reports that progressive media groups continue to battle against what had been a foregone conclusion -- that the FCC would drop its rule against someone's owning newspapers and television stations in the same market, and also let companies own TV stations that reach 45 percent of the national audience, up from the current 35 percent.

Particularly aggressive is, which has reportedly gathered 170,000 signatures in opposition to the deregulatory scheme.

This fight may not be over yet.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Cathy Young responds. "With all due respect, I don't believe the two situations are comparable at all. Surely it is not uncommon for public figures who have been 'savaged' in an article to challenge the accuracy of the report. The dispute, as I understand, was Glass's word against Jacobson's. Moreover, Howard Kurtz quotes Michael Kelly as saying: 'Jacobson accused Glass and the New Republic of shilling for Procter & Gamble.... It seemed to me then, and seems to me now, an utterly irresponsible and baseless charge. He did not have any right to accuse the magazine of something that serious without any evidence.... This was completely separate from whether Glass was a fiction writer.'

"Blair, on the other hand, was the subject of internal complaints within the New York Times itself."

More on the Times meltdown. Washington Post gossip columnist Lloyd Grove reported this last Wednesday. But even though Romenesko flogged it, the departure of New York Times photographer Edward Keating -- accused of violating journalistic ethics for staging a photo of a gun-toting boy near Buffalo last fall -- didn't get much attention.

Given the meltdown now under way at the Times, Keating's alleged misdeeds should be considered alongside those of former Times reporter Jayson Blair and suspended Pulitzer winner Rick Bragg, who tells the Post today that he will quit. (Bragg, by the way, tells Howard Kurtz that Times editors knew precisely how heavily he relied on interns and stringers, and that he's now being made into an object lesson. What about it, Howell Raines?)

The Keating affair dates back to last September 20, when the Times ran a front-page photo of a young boy aiming a toy gun, terrorist-style, in the Buffalo suburb of Lackawanna, New York, where federal authorities were investigating an alleged Al Qaeda sleeper cell.

According to this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, several other photographers at the scene were convinced that Keating had set it up, and persuaded their editors not to run it when it came in over the wires. As the CJR reports, the Times eventually ran an "Editors' Note" stating "that the boy's gesture had not been spontaneous," and that the paper "regrets this violation of its policy on journalistic integrity."

Keating -- who denied any wrongdoing then, and who denies it still in an e-mail exchange with Grove -- was suspended, and eventually left the paper. And it was Keating who took the portrait of a cigarette-smoking Blair that landed on the cover of Newsweek.

Stephen Glass and second chances. The normally reliable Globe columnist Cathy Young made a whopper yesterday, and she did it in service of a dubious argument: that former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair was given more chances to screw up than a white reporter would have because he is black.

Her example: Stephen Glass, who left the New Republic in 1998 after it was revealed that he had extensively fabricated people, organizations, universes, you-name-it in his feature stories over the previous few years. Young writes:

No one says that Blair lied and plagiarized because he is black, only that an obsession with diversity may have helped him get away with it. Glass was promptly investigated and fired after the first alarm signals; Blair got promoted despite an editor's memo urging his dismissal.

Wrong. In August 1998, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz offered up this tidbit about how one of Glass's editors, the late Michael Kelly, reacted when Glass's integrity was challenged:

Stephen Glass, the New Republic staffer fired for serial fabrications, once wrote a piece savaging Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Jacobson was depicted as a fastidious eater, zealot and hype artist in attacking such products as Olestra, the fake fat made by Procter & Gamble.

Now Vanity Fair reports that Michael Kelly, the New Republic's editor at the time of the now-retracted piece, fired off a letter after Jacobson complained: "Mr. Jacobson, you lied, and you lied because lying supported your thesis, and you attempted to cover up your lie.... I await your apology to Stephen Glass and this magazine."

"Never in my life have I gotten a letter with the kind of vitriol Kelly was spewing out," Jacobson said. "He was defending an indefensible position, as was subsequently shown to be the case with the unmasking of Stephen Glass. "

Kelly says he was responding to an "outrageous" news release from Jacobson's group accusing the New Republic of mimicking other newspaper articles in "a larger, industry-backed smear campaign to undermine CSPI's credibility."

The Glass article in question appeared in TNR in December 1996. He was allowed to keep falsifying for more than a year after that.

Friday, May 23, 2003

And so it goes. New York Times reporter Rick Bragg has been suspended for two weeks. The Columbia Journalism Review website has the details.

Here's what I don't get. Bragg is a Pulitzer winner. He was working with an intern -- an intern who actually went to the scene and did the bulk of the reporting. Ethics aside, why wasn't Bragg magnanimous enough to give the kid a byline? Hell, why didn't he put the kid's name first?


Coming to earth? Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's gravity-defying act has been dealt a setback. Dow Jones reports that Purcell is making some significant cutbacks at Herald Media, which owns the Herald and Community Newspaper Company, a chain of about 100 papers in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod. (Thanks to Cape Cod Media for pointing me to this one.)

In recent weeks, insiders have told me that though things were tight, there was no sign that Purcell was in any financial jeopardy. The Washington office has been expanded from one person to two, and the Herald sent two people to cover the war in Iraq -- a significant expense for what is, essentially, a local paper.

It also comes at a time when the Herald has been tarting itself up. Former editor Ken Chandler, who went on to edit the New York Post, is back as a consultant to Purcell, and the pages lately have been notably more tabloidy, to the distress of some staffers. In addition to such headlines as today's all-caps "POLS PIG OUT" (pork-barrel spending on Beacon Hill) and "HELL NEXT DOOR" (the Hells Angels have bought a house in Chelsea), the paper's two gossip pages have been brought together under the "Inside Track" brand, complete with a comely bimbo of the day.

Still, speculation that Rupert Murdoch, the owner of WFXT-TV (Channel 25), will buy the Herald strikes me as wrong, or at least very premature. Purcell loves being a local media magnate and, if anything, he's been talking about further acquisitions, not a sellout. The Herald's business pages have endlessly hyped the pending repeal of the cross-ownership laws, and Purcell recently told the crowd at his Herald 100 luncheon that he wants to become a radio entrepreneur.

Sounds to me like Purcell intends to try defying gravity for at least a little while longer.

Her brilliant career. Herald columnist Tom Keane today makes two points about Suffolk County sheriff Andrea Cabral's switch from independent to Republican and, now, to Democrat. I think he's wrong on one, but he's surely right on the other.

1. Keane notes that, last fall, Cabral promised then-governor Jane Swift that she would seek election in 2004 as a Republican if Swift appointed her to fill the vacancy. Keane flatly asserts that Cabral "broke her word" by becoming a Democrat, adding that "in politics, it seems, promises often carry little weight -- which may explain why so many voters are cynical about politicians."

Keane's take is accurate but facile. He goes on to detail how Cabral was disrespected by Governor Mitt Romney. As Swift herself knows, Romney's preferred mode for female officials is to walk 10 feet behind him with their mouths shut, à la Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Okay, Cabral broke her word, but how much was she supposed to take?

And how about that dime-drop re her unpaid student loans that occurred approximately three nanoseconds after she was photographed whooping it up with Ted Kennedy? If she had doubted her party-switching decision at all, she certainly knew then that she'd done the right thing.

2. Keane argues that Cabral might well have lost the election by switching parties. This is counterintuitive -- other analysts have mainly focused on the fact that Suffolk County is overwhelmingly Democratic -- but here, I think, Keane gets it just right.

Cabral, Keane observes, will almost certainly face a challenge in the Democratic primary from Boston city councilor Steve Murphy. Keane writes:

Primary races are low-turnout events, dominated in Boston by more conservative voters, where a candidate's ability to get supporters to the polls is decisive. Murphy has (next to Mayor Tom Menino) the city's most powerful organization, well honed and capable of delivering. Cabral, a political neophyte, has none.

By this calculus, Keane adds, Cabral would actually have a far better chance in the November 2004 general election -- a presidential election, when turnout will be high, attracting the liberal voters whom Cabral needs to win.

This was how former Republican sheriff Ralph Martin did it. It's how Cabral might have done it as well. Instead, perhaps without realizing it, she's chosen a much tougher route.

Mad cow: the prequel. Not to claim prescience or anything like that, but in December 2001 I wrote this piece on mad-cow disease -- and suggested that it was one of the more important undercovered stories on the horizon.

Now mad cow is back. And here's one point the media seem to be missing as they focus on how that animal in Canada ever could have become infected: bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, as the disease is known scientifically, is a rare but naturally occurring disease.

What causes it to spread is the abhorrent practice of feeding dead cattle to live ones. Cattle are ruminants who do not normally eat meat. The media -- not to mention Canadian officials -- should focus on the feed.

The investigation continues. Some small indication of the hell that has descended upon the New York Times can be seen in today's "Editors' Note" about staff reporter Rick Bragg (scroll down).

It also provides some insight into what a Times byline really means. Answer: not as much as you might have thought.

Headline of the day. "Sampson Lawyers May Plead Insanity" (from today's Herald). We were out of our minds when we agreed to represent him.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

The quiet death of a civil-rights pioneer. Last week one of the most significant civil-rights figures of the past 40 years died. Yet you didn't see his obituary in national papers such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the Los Angeles Times -- or even in the big dailies in his home state of Texas.

The person in question was Lee Kitchens, who died on May 12 at the age of 73 near his home in Ransom City, Texas. One would think his passing would have warranted some media attention for his professional accomplishments alone: a longtime engineer for Texas Instruments, he was involved in everything from the development of the first transistor, to the first handheld calculator, to TI's belated entry into the personal-computer market. He also headed up TI's operations in Europe and East Asia at various times before spending his last pre-retirement years teaching at Texas Tech.

Kitchens's claim to wider fame, though, came from his role as a founding father of Little People of America, the largest organization in the world for dwarfs and their families. LPA was founded in 1957 by the late actor Billy Barty; but Kitchens was at the group's second meeting, in 1960, and was one of LPA's most involved members right up until his unexpected death. A former national president, he was vice-president of membership when he died.

It was rare to see a documentary or read an article on dwarfism without coming across Kitchens, who was endlessly helpful with everyone who sought him out -- journalists, new parents, whoever. I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with him last Fourth of July week in Salt Lake City at the LPA national conference, interviewing him for my book on the culture of dwarfism, Little People: Learning To See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes, which will be published this fall by Rodale.

A laconic pipe-smoker who reminded me of my late uncle, also a native Texan, Kitchens cheerfully held forth while seated on the scooter he used to get around. Kitchens, who was exactly four feet tall, had a type of dwarfism known as SED. Despite his considerable accomplishments, he'd led a sad life in many respects: his wife and their adopted son and daughter had all died. "Past history," he told me, with characteristic Texas stoicism.

If Billy Barty's life as an entertainer symbolized LPA in the minds of the public, Kitchens's life as a respected professional symbolized the organization in the minds of its members. Even though Barty and Kitchens were born not that many years apart, it was as though they were of two generations. Barty was widely credited for having the vision to found LPA; but it was Kitchens whom everyone -- figuratively -- looked up to.

Kitchens served on a number of disability commissions, both in Texas and nationally, and gradually came to see the utility of working with other disability groups in order to advance a broader agenda. It was also his advice that led us, after some years of reluctance, to get a handicapped parking placard so that our daughter, Rebecca, could cut down on her walking. Walking is good exercise, of course; but for a dwarf, moderation is the key lest it begin to take a toll on the back. Better a placard now, Kitchens warned me, than a scooter when she's 30 or 40.

The last time I saw Kitchens was in the fall, when he visited the LPA regional conference at the Sheraton Ferncroft in Danvers, site of this coming July's national conference. It was something of a shakedown cruise, and Kitchens was there so that he could report back to the national officers on how things were progressing. He took a few pictures of Becky as she waited to play boccia (never did see them, unfortunately), and later showed off his digital camera to our son, Tim.

So far, the only paper that has run an obit on Kitchens is the hometown Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.

As for all you other editors out there: you missed a big story, but it's not too late.

More Jayson Blair. Yes, I realize that we've slipped past the overkill stage, but here's a link to the New York Observer piece that everyone's talking about, if you haven't seen it already.

Today's Globe has a comprehensive overview of Blair's brief time at that paper. The Globe goes high up with Blair's claim that he's been diagnosed with bipolar disease, better known as manic-depression -- a serious mental illness. If this is true, can't someone please get this guy out of the limelight?

For my money, though, this piece by Jill Rosen, which will appear in the upcoming American Journalism Review, is among the most revelatory. Rosen really gets into Blair's time as a student at the University of Maryland, where all the self-destructiveness that would later bring him down was on full display.

New in this week's Phoenix. The Jayson Blair scandal -- and a host of other less-publicized acts of journalistic wrongdoing -- are further undermining a news media already beset by a crisis of credibility. Plus, crossed signals at the Globe, and the panderers take on flag-burning once again.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The New Yorker and the neocons. Has the liberal New Yorker become an outpost of neoconservative war-hawkery? That is the argument made by Daniel Lazare in the current issue of the Nation.

Lazare contends that the New Yorker and its editor, David Remnick, have been in retreat ever since that infamous post-9/11 mini-essay by Susan Sontag, in which she blamed the terrorist attacks on American ineptitude (and worse) even as the remains of the World Trade Center continued to blaze.

Lazare's argument is not without merit. Remnick, in signed pieces for the "Talk of the Town" section, came out in favor of the war in Iraq, and Jeffrey Goldberg's reporting built the case both for Al Qaeda's worldwide capabilities and for the essential evil of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But this being the Nation, Lazare travels down several roads that many readers will find puzzling, and occasionally offensive. To wit:

  • Lazare blasts Nicholas Lemann, the author of several important post-9/11 pieces (and the newly named head of the Columbia School of Journalism) as someone who "seems to have reinvented himself as the sort of star-struck journalist who daydreams about fly-fishing with Dick Cheney and gushes over Condoleezza Rice." His evidence: Lemann's use of a pro-Condi quote from another White House official. Really.
  • In a case of moral equivalence run amok, Lazare writes: "Whenever The New Yorker uses the word 'terror' or one of its cognates, for instance, it is almost always in an Arab or Muslim context. While a Nexis search turns up numerous references in the magazine to Palestinian, Egyptian and Pakistani terrorism since the Twin Towers attack, it turns up no references to US or Israeli terrorism or, for that matter, to terrorism on the part of Christians or Jews. A Nexis search over the same period reveals that the word 'fundamentalism' appears almost always in an Islamic context as well." I'm not sure what to say about this except the old standby: I am not making this up.
  • Last year Goldberg wrote a densely reported, important piece on Saddam Hussein's gas attack against the Kurdish population in Northern Iraq in 1988. Lazare, though, is put out that Goldberg had found far greater evidence of perfidy on Saddam's part than had Human Rights Watch in an earlier report, even though Lazare gives us no reason to think that HRW is definitive on this matter. To be sure, Lazare accurately notes that Goldberg reported claims of ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda that have yet to be borne out. Still, Goldberg's report of what happened in Kurdistan was impressive and disturbing. And why does Lazare care that Goldberg served in the Israeli army?

Strangely, Lazare looks at the alleged ideological swings of the New Yorker's investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, without really considering just how plain wrong the guy has been. Hersh's most egregious piece appeared in the April 7 issue, in which he reported that the war was faltering, that there weren't nearly enough troops on the ground, and that the generals were furious with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for leaving American soldiers vulnerable and exposed. I understand that Hersh is a captive of his sources, but he obviously needs better sources. Count me among those who felt used.

In that respect, Jack Shafer's recent Slate deconstruction of Hersh is more valuable for what it says about the New Yorker's shortcomings than is Lazare's ideologically blinkered essay.

It's not that Lazare isn't on to something. It's that this isn't it.

Monday, May 19, 2003

The price of reform. Campaign-finance reform is one of those things that always sounds good in theory. Media Log is not immune to its charms, and in fact continues to be steamed at House Speaker Tom Finneran for his unrelenting campaign to nullify the state's voter-approved Clean Elections Law.

Even so, it's easy to exaggerate the benefits of reform and to play down the unintended negatives. Two examples from this morning's Globe.

On page one, Raphael Lewis reports that Governor Mitt Romney has been accepting campaign contributions from executives at corporations that have business pending before the state, including Fidelity (which would love to keep that mid-'90s tax break), the law firm of Mintz Levin, and EMC Corporation. (To be fair, it sounds like EMC's state ties are pretty tenuous, although founder Richard Egan is involved in the Pioneer Institute, a Romney-friendly think tank.)

That news is broken up by this howler:

Romney ... has pledged to accept no political action committee money, said spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom.

Now, I'm prepared to believe that Romney isn't going to let his decision-making be influenced by campaign donations. I really am. But as Lewis's story shows, political-action-committee money has been fetishized by reform advocates as pernicious in ways that ordinary contributions are not. Yet how does Romney expect to impress anyone with his no-PAC-money stance when he's taking money that is every bit as tied to special interests?

There's nothing unique in what Romney is doing. The PAC-money-bad/special-interest-donations-okay hypocrisy has become standard for any politician looking to boost his campaign account while making googly eyes at reformers. Still, no one should be impressed.

The second story, which appears on page three, concerns those boneheaded attack ads aimed at moderate Republicans such as Maine senator Olympia Snowe and Ohio senator George Voinovich, who have been singled out for insufficient loyalty to George W. Bush's radical tax-cutting agenda.

Bush's chief campaign strategist, Karl Rove, is quoted as calling the ads "stupid and counterproductive and not helpful," which they surely are. But illegal? Could be, given a prohibition on certain types of advocacy-group ads that mention elected officials or political candidates by name.

The ads are sponsored by the Republican-libertarian Club for Growth. The club's president, Stephen Moore, tells Globe reporter Nicolas Thompson that complaints that his group's ads are illegal "are pretty frightening from a free-speech perspective."

Thus does Moore show a far better grasp of the First Amendment than he has of politics.

Friday, May 16, 2003

Mistakes are made. SB points out something I should have noticed: the quote that "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew" came not from Pat Robertson but from one of his minions, Bailey Smith.

I've been thinking a lot about blogging lately, and this particular error plays into that. We all make mistakes from time to time, but it's far easier to screw up when you're writing a blog than when you're writing a piece for publication. You've got more time, it gets edited -- you know the drill.

We're at a moment when journalistic standards are under fire as never before. Do blogs add or substract from the sum total of our understanding? Is blogging an alternative to the mainstream media, or is it simply just one more thing for people to distrust? Am I contributing to that distrust?

Yes, there are some people who can bang out blog items flawlessly, almost never making a mistake. Right now I'm not sure I'm one of them. The idea is simple enough -- you rifle through the papers, you hit a few websites, you write, and then you go to work. But right now I'm wondering whether I'm really one of those people who can consistently do this sort of speed journalism without ever (or hardly ever) making an error.

I expect I'll muse about this more in the coming days and weeks. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts as well.

Jacoby's wrong about Robertson. Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby must have missed this one when he penned his ode to the heretofore undetected philo-Semitism of that great theological thinker Pat Robertson. Quoth the good reverend:

With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.

Robertson, as you'll see if you follow the link, has also muttered darkly about the relationship between communism and Jews.

Jacoby might also read this exchange of letters between Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Robertson. Foxman accuses Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network of showing a film called The Easter Promise that "is saturated with sinister caricatures of Jews reminiscent of the anti-Semitic stereotypes promulgated only in the darkest periods of Christianity."

Foxman also notes that Robertson had not acted to take The Easter Promise off the air despite having been tipped off about its "vile" content five years earlier.

Robertson's response is all unctuous solicitude. But the bottom line is that he accuses Foxman of being an agent for the Democrats. Robertson closes:

But Abe, I understand your game. It is clear that your focus is not the defense of worldwide Jewry, but the domestic political agenda of the Democratic Party of the United States who has done more to poison the relations between Jews and Christians in America than you. I marvel that the Board of the Anti-Defamation League hasn't restrained you some time ago.

This despite the fact that Foxman makes not one political reference in his letter.

It is true that Robertson has been a staunch defender of Israel. But Jacoby really needs to be less promiscuous about which friends of Israel he chooses to honor.

McGrory's Raines column runs. Today's Globe contains the Brian McGrory column that had reportedly been killed earlier in the week about Howell Raines, Jayson Blair, and Mike Barnicle. Or, at least, this is a version of it; who knows what got changed?

McGrory, an Irish-American who was promoted to fill the slot of another Irish-American, is very, very concerned about the perils of diversity. That said, it's not a bad column -- he worries, rightly, that this whole affair will be used to discredit African-American journalists.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

New in this week's Phoenix. I take a look at New York Times executive editor Howell Raines's culpability in the Jayson Blair scandal. Plus, an NECN documentary on a remarkable camp in Maine that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers.

No blogging today, as I will be taking part in an all-day seminar and will be disconnected from both my laptop and the news.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Toeing the tax line. Do not stop presses, but this is pretty amusing nevertheless. Toe-sucking political consultant turned conservative commentator Dick Morris has been identified as one of Connecticut's most notorious tax deadbeats, according to this story by the Associated Press.

Here's the actual list.

Morris, the architect of Bill Clinton's post-1994 "triangulation" strategy, pops up on Fox News these days, often on Hannity & Colmes, no doubt to make Sean look good. Next time will Hannity lambaste Morris for immorality or praise him for striking an anti-tax stand?

Of course, with Morris there's always a third way. In this case, he denies the allegations.

Here's Morris's latest column in the Hill, in which he handicaps the Democratic presidential candidates. His lead: "The very first thing to understand about the 2004 Democratic primaries is that they do not exist." Well that ought to save everyone a lot of time.

His early favorite in the non-primaries is Joe Lieberman -- "[b]ut only if he gets off his butt and raises some money." Hey, Dick: get off your butt and pay your taxes.

An unwarranted gift. In a time of fiscal meltdown, why does House Speaker Tom Finneran want to spend $100 million on R&D for the technology industry?

It's a good question, and Globe columnist Steve Bailey is asking it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Gasp! She dissed Nixon! The media template has been established: Teresa Heinz Kerry is outspoken and controversial. And nothing can change that -- not even sitting down for an interview with the New York Times' John Tierney and saying little of note.

Here's how Tierney's piece opens:

Even with two aides monitoring the interview, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the first Democrat to generate serious buzz in the presidential campaign, could not resist being candid when she was asked the other day her opinion of a warning issued by Richard M. Nixon in 1992. "If the wife comes through as being too strong and too intelligent," Nixon had said, referring to a newcomer named Hillary, "it makes the husband look like a wimp."

Ms. Heinz Kerry, the wife of Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and one of the nation's leading philanthropists, promptly fired back at Nixon, leaving his wife as collateral damage. Saying that the former president had "personal quirks," she referred to his marriage to Pat Nixon and said with a shrug, "Well, we know Richard Nixon wasn't too much in contact with how women should be."

Casually insulting a dead president and first lady was probably not the message her aides had hoped for in the interview on Friday afternoon at the Pierre Hotel in New York. But then, ever since Mr. Kerry was discussed as a possible presidential candidate, he has often been overshadowed by his wife's frank comments about everything from her marriages past and present, her prenuptial agreement with Mr. Kerry, her botox treatments and the Bush adviser who accused her husband of looking French. As the Kerry campaign gets under way, she is being described as either its greatest strength or its biggest liability.

In other words, what Heinz gave Tierney were some exceedingly ordinary observations about Richard Nixon, our most despised former president, and how he related to women. But these comments must be made to fit the template, so Tierney writes that she "[c]asually insult[ed] a dead president and first lady." Really? Is that how any sane person would read this?

And, as the end of Tierney's opening suggests, what is to follow is all rehash. Yet this substance-free profile made the front page.

Okay, I like his line about Heinz being "the first Democrat to generate serious buzz in the presidential campaign."

Paying tribute to Elizabeth Neuffer. The Globe has set up an online guestbook for people to share their thoughts about Elizabeth Neuffer. Many comments from her colleagues, many from those who knew her from other walks of life, and a few just from ordinary readers. It's sad and moving.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Elizabeth Neuffer's legacy. It's sad but predictable that an outrageous eruption of journalistic wrongdoing -- the apparent fabrications and plagiarism of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair -- has entirely overshadowed the death of Boston Globe reporter Elizabeth Neuffer.

But Neuffer is what this business is, or should be, all about. A tremendous reporter with an uncanny ability to drop into dangerous, chaotic places and make sense out of them for those of us back home, Neuffer and a Globe translator, Waleed Khalifa Hassan Al Dulaimi, were killed in a car accident in Iraq on Friday.

The Globe's Mark Feeney wrote a fine obituary that appeared in Saturday's paper. You'll also find links to her recent reports from Iraq.

Neuffer appeared on NPR's Fresh Air on December 3, February 3, and, most recently, March 20. You can listen to Terry Gross interview her by clicking here. Enter "Elizabeth Neuffer" in the "Find a guest" box.

Neuffer had a real sense of ordinary people's humanity. Her Globe reports from Rwanda and Bosnia, which she expanded on in her 2001 book, The Key to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda, are perhaps her most lasting legacy. I haven't read the book, but I've long followed her newspaper work.

I had exactly one encounter with Neuffer -- brief and from afar. At one point during the endless Woburn toxic-waste lawsuit, which I covered as a staff reporter for the Woburn Daily Times Chronicle in the 1980s, plaintiffs' attorney Jan Schlichtmann held a news conference outside the federal district courthouse.

Nothing particularly striking to report -- just that I remembered her and remembered her name as she established a reputation for herself. She was a great journalist, and if there's any justice, she'll be remembered long after the likes of Jayson Blair are forgotten.

David Farrell on the Big Dig. I'm late in getting to this, but I want to call your attention to some online commentary by former Globe columnist David Farrell, who observes that the entire Central Artery/Tunnel Project never would have been necessary if Tip O'Neill and Michael Dukakis hadn't blocked construction of the Southwest Corridor and the Inner Belt.

(What Southwest Corridor and Inner Belt? Well, that's Farrell's point.)

A couple of counterarguments: (1) it wasn't all Democrats, as Republican governor Frank Sargent had a lot to do with the no-new-highways decision; (2) those massive highway construction projects would have destroyed entire neighborhoods, and thus there were good reasons for canceling them.

Still, Farrell reminds us of the law of unanticipated consequences.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Elizabeth Neuffer killed in Iraq. Boston Globe reporter Elizabeth Neuffer died earlier today in Iraq, as the car in which she was riding struck a guard rail.

This is awful news, and it underscores how dangerous the life of a foreign correspondent can be, even at a time when the shooting war has more or less come to an end.

Like many Globe readers, I've long admired her work, as she has reported from some of the world's most dangerous hot spots, such as Rwanda and Bosnia.

Washing their hands? The Globe's Andrea Estes today has a story about a woman who will receive a $2.5 million judgment for having been impregnated at a facility for troubled teenagers when she was just 14 years old.

It's a well-told tale about a terrible breach of trust. What really caught my eye, though, was the last paragraph:

DMH officials were not named in the suit. They said private contractors assume responsibility for people under their care.

It seems that the private facility to which the then-teen was committed was under contract to the state's Department of Mental Health, yet the DMH assumes no legal liability for the performance of those contractors.

How can this be? If state officials decide to farm out their social obligations, how can they be any less responsible for the actions of the private companies that they hire than they would be for their own employees?

Maybe this isn't as bad as it sounds. Maybe the state requires contractors to carry liability insurance so that victimized clients have just as much opportunity to pursue redress as they would against the state. But Estes's story leaves this unresolved -- understandably so, since it's not the focus of her report.

Memo to Globe metro editor Carolyn Ryan: assign Estes to do a follow-up on this.

Of smackdowns and tire irons. Daily Howler Bob Somerby alluded to this yesterday and promises more today. No doubt the Incomparable One's take will be worth reading, but in the meantime, here's what he's talking about.

On Wednesday, Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC's Hardball, ended his program with a brief discussion of the Globe's decision to suspend sports columnist Bob Ryan for a month. Ryan, as you may recall, said on a television program that he would like to "smack" Joumana Kidd, the wife of New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd, and then dug himself into a deeper hole by declining several entreaties to take it back.

Matthews had two guests with him -- Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, and Michael Graham, a right-wing radio talk-show host whom I had never heard of before.

Vanden Heuvel said that "as a woman" she found Ryan's remarks "offensive, cruel, ignorant," but added, "As an editor, it bothers me that a newspaper would suspend a columnist" -- surprising only until you remember that she must put up with Alexander Cockburn.

But then Graham went off. Roll the transcript (it's at the very end):

I'm not a woman or an editor. But as a human being, I found the line a joke. It was a joke. It was just an off-the-cuff comment. Anyone listening to Hillary Rodham in her speech last week about patriotism, that screaming, screeching fingernail, I wanted to bludgeon her with a tire iron. That's what I wanted to do.

Of course, Graham's gutter talk, reprehensible though it is, is hardly atypical these days. Ryan doesn't deserve to go around with a scarlet "S" on his chest for the rest of his career, but he does deserve to do his penance and serve as an example.

Maybe the most impressive thing about the Globe's decision to come down harshly on Ryan is the paper's willingness to go against the cultural tide.

And to Ryan's credit, his comments to USA Today show that even though he was blown away by the length of his suspension, he definitely gets it.

Whoring. Media Whores Online has picked up my piece in this week's Phoenix on the Republican Attack Machine.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

"The Gore-ing of John Kerry." Media Log has been a bit under the weather for the past two days (and thus hopes for dispensation from Charlie Pierce's anti-third-person rant; scroll down). But I do want to call your attention to an excellent analysis of the media's animus toward Senator John Kerry as he ramps up his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Written by's Ben Fritz for Salon, the piece argues that the media -- with a big assist from the Boston Globe -- are turning Kerry into the Al Gore of 2004.

On matters such as Kerry's "regime change" remark, the late discovery of his Jewish roots, even his haircuts, the media, Fritz writes, have adopted "the key tropes built into the media's coverage of Gore and turned them against Kerry: the assumed phoniness of everything he says, the assumed cold political calculation behind every move he makes, and the belief that individual gaffes demonstrate deep, fundamental character flaws."

Good and important stuff.

Everything you know about the DC sniper shootings is wrong. This week's Washington City Paper has a long, riveting, and utterly convincing cover story arguing that much of what we know about the sniper shootings comes from partly and/or wholly fabricated reports by former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair.

City Paper reporters Erik Wemple and Josh Levin, who were on Blair's case even before he was forced to resign over his lifting of a story from the San Antonio Express News and the Associated Press, have produced a model of media sleuthing.

Not that this is the City Paper's intent, but wait till the right-wing Howell Raines-bashers find someone to read this to them.

Mike Barnicle, media critic. Check out the "Inside Track" in today's Boston Herald to see what disgraced former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle -- in what was apparently intended as a defense of Bob Ryan -- said about the sex lives of the Globe's top editors during his talk show on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM).

Now ask yourself this: why does the Globe allow sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy to be a regular on Barnicle's show? For that matter, why doesn't Shaughnessy just do the right thing and quit?

I'd be surprised if Barnicle's outburst yesterday goes unanswered. Stay tuned.

New in this week's Phoenix. I take a look at the depredations of the Republican Attack Machine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

The return of Salam Pax. The legendary Iraqi blogger appears to be alive and well, grateful that Saddam is gone but horrified by the realities of war (via InstaPundit). He's also got this great media note:

I have seen John f. Burns of the New York Times naked. I knew this war had to be good for something.

Well kind of naked, he had a stripy towel wrapped around him, but G. who got me there in the first place couldn't control his giggles because he kept saying that the whole setup is like a trashy 70's porn.

Actually Burns was very nice, really. He did act like God, but we sat for about an hour there and we talked about everything from the work of reconstructing Iraq to architecture in Beirut.

Of course, if Pax really did meet Burns, then Burns can finally answer the question of whether Pax really exists.

More on Bob Ryan. Here's my piece on Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan, which will appear in the print edition of tomorrow's Phoenix.

Media Log unplugged. No blogging this morning, as I have been tied up with writing a piece on the Bob Ryan situation for tomorrow's Phoenix. Perhaps something later today.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Ryan apologizes. According to the New York Post, Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan has apologized for his bizarre and offensive remark that he'd like to "smack" Joumana Kidd, wife of New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd (via Romenesko). The Post also reports that the Globe will issue some sort of a statement.

I would imagine that this will be the end of it -- although it wouldn't surprise me if the Globe cracks down on its moonlighting scribes, who are paid to be outrageous when they're on the air.

A couple of years back, the Globe banned its sportswriters from appearing on The Big Show, on WEEI Radio (AM 850). 'EEI retaliated by banning Globies from all of its shows. Perhaps something more sweeping is now in the offing.

Say it ain't so, Bob! Boston Herald sports-media columnist Jim Baker today reports that Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan is (or should be) in trouble for hyperbole beyond the bounds of decency.

According to Baker, Ryan -- in his regular appearance on Channel 4's Sports Final on Sunday night -- said this about Joumana Kidd, wife of New Jersey Nets star Jason Kidd: "I'd like to smack her because that's what she needs!" And when host Bob Lobel threw Ryan a lifeline, Ryan proceeded to wrap it around his throat and pull hard.

It would be bad enough if Ryan had said this about anyone. But Jason Kidd, of course, is already known to have smacked around his wife, which makes Ryan's outburst all that much more deplorable.

If you're a paying customer, you can read Baker's column online here.

Ryan is a splendid sports columnist, and deserves the benefit of the doubt. But he'd better address this forthrightly and humbly -- soon.

They must be part French. It's getting to the point where Media Log should consider awarding a Wacky, Disingenuous Quote of the Day to the Romney administration. Today's prize goes to Romney spokesperson Shawn Feddeman.

Raphael Lewis reports in today's Boston Globe that Democratic legislators have lined up more than enough votes to change the name of the I-93 underpass from the generic Liberty Tunnel -- Romney's choice -- and instead name it after the late Tip O'Neill.

So what does Feddeman say? Get this:

The war in Iraq has only been over for a week and already people are forgetting the sacrifices being made by our servicemen and women. Governor Romney believes it is fitting to name our newest tunnel the Liberty Tunnel, in recognition of those individuals who have fought so courageously throughout our Commonwealth's history to protect our freedom.

You see, the Democrats aren't just honoring O'Neill, they're ... dishonoring our troops. Please.

Cellucci on reefer madness. Speaking of Republican governors, Al Giordano, publisher of the Narco News Bulletin, passes along a hilarious story about former governor Paul Cellucci that appeared on Saturday in Nova Scotia's Halifax Herald.

I couldn't come up with a link to the full story, but you can find a synopsis here. (Scroll to the bottom.)

The gist is that Cellucci -- now the ambassador to Canada -- is warning Canadian officials that if they decriminalize marijuana, as they seem to have every intention of doing, it could slow down border crossings to a crawl.

"I think it comes down to perception," Cellucci was quoted as saying. "If the perception is it might be more easy to get marijuana here, then that could lead to some pressure on the border because US Customs immigration officers ... would have their antennae up."

No word on whether the Bush administration will consider regime change if the Canadians are so foolish as to defy Cellucci.

Phanton candidate. Pity Christopher Snow, a candidate for town moderator in Provincetown. He took out an ad in the Provincetown Banner -- but when the paper came out, his name was missing, according to Connor Berry, writing in the Cape Cod Times. Not only that, but the Banner endorsed his opponent. How convenient!

Since it was the last edition of the Banner before Election Day, it looks like Snow's not going to get anything other than a refund.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Bennett's boring vice. Media Log is unable to get excited about the news that blowhard moralist William Bennett is a high-stakes gambler. This is even less interesting than Bennett's 1980s incarnation, when the then-drug czar turned out to be a chain-smoker.

The double hit comes from Newsweek and the Washington Monthly.

Still, as Michael Kinsley argues in Slate today, anything that suggests Bennett is a hypocrite is better than nothing -- although Kinsley admits, "Let's also be honest that gambling would not be our first-choice vice if we were designing this fantasy-come-true from scratch."

I have to admit that when Josh Marshall posted this item on Friday morning, Bennett's was the first name that popped into my head -- and that, like Kinsley, I was hoping for something oh so much kinkier.

But this story is going to fade fast. As for Bennett himself fading, not likely. He'll be back on Hannity & Colmes, oozing unctuously, before you can say "blackjack."

My Old Man. Everyone has stories about the Old Man of the Mountain, the ancient New Hampshire landmark that fell apart over the weekend. Here are a couple of mine.

In August 2001, I was driving home from a three-day hike to Galehead Hut with my then-10-year-old son, Tim, and his friend Troy. We'd had a great time, hiking up North and South Twin and Galehead Mountain, but the boys were exhausted. So they were less than thrilled when I pulled into a parking lot so they could see the Old Man.

After much grumbling, we walked down to the edge of a path so that they could see the great stone face. They obviously didn't care, and I figured, what the heck -- they're tired, they're grumpy, and there will always be another day.

About a month and a half later, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, Tim and I returned to stay at Lonesome Lake Hut and then, the next morning, to hike up Cannon Mountain -- home of the Old Man. It was a tough climb, and an even tougher skid downhill.

But when we were near the summit, we and other hikers kept trying to peer around rock formations to see exactly where the Old Man was. I knew it was a silly exercise -- the Old Man was basically an optical illusion, seen only from certain angles, and there was no way that jumble of rocks would look like a face from where we were. But how could you resist?

Now it's gone forever. Unsurprising, given its fragility, and astounding at the same time.

Still more on Jerry Williams. Two more tributes to the late talk-radio host Jerry Williams, one by Anthony Schinella, writing in the Winchester Star, and one by WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host David Brudnoy.

Friday, May 02, 2003

More on Jayson Blair. Media Log is still getting up to speed on the Jayson Blair story. It turns out that the Washington City Paper broke the story on Tuesday at almost the same time as the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz -- call it a tie.

Plus, the City Paper's Erik Wemple has the additional detail that Blair lifted not just from the San Antonio Express News but from the Associated Press as well.

Another media career in ruins. The New York Times today announces that reporter Jayson Blair has resigned after writing a story about a missing soldier that he'd apparently lifted from the San Antonio Express News. Blair also appears not to have visited the home of the soldier's mother even though his article gives every appearance to the contrary.

The soldier, Army Sgt. Edward Anguiano, later turned out to have died in Iraq.

Here is Blair's story, published in the Times last Saturday. And here is the Express News story, written by Macarena Hernandez and published on April 18.

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz actually broke the story on Tuesday on He wrote a follow-up for the print edition the next day, and today reports on the finale.

According to Kurtz, Blair at one point had been a reporter for the Boston Globe. (Must have been for about two and a half minutes.) There is also this telling sentence: "He has been involved in a number of controversies and the paper [the Times] has run 50 corrections on his stories."

Romenesko is all over this, too.

A sad story, but Blair obviously has no one to blame but himself.

Today's civics lesson. Did you know that "taking Article 12" is the Massachusetts equivalent of taking the Fifth? Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey explains -- and reports that few public officials are as experienced with the nuances of Article 12 as our extremely ethical state treasurer, Tim Cahill.

Manly on the Lopez case. Judge Maria Lopez is the wife of Boston Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich. But you already knew that.

With that bit of disclosure taken care of, run out and buy a copy of today's Boston Herald so that you can read columnist Howard Manly's take on the Ebony Horton post-sentencing investigation. It is very different from what you've read, seen, and heard elsewhere -- and, in my view, very smart. (To pay to read it online, click here.)

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Romney's permanent campaign. Amid the squabbling over Governor Mitt Romney's reorganization plan that leads both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today is a fascinating tidbit: Romney has launched a radio-ad campaign urging listeners to demand that the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature not raise taxes, even though absolutely no one other than a few lonely progressives is talking about a tax increase in the first place.

This from the Globe story, by Rick Klein:

On Monday, [House Speaker Tom] Finneran reminded his colleagues at a closed-door caucus of House Democrats that Romney may work to unseat them next year, when all legislators are up for reelection.

"Romney and his team have machine guns, and they have bullets with our names on them," Finneran told the caucus, according to several House members who were in attendance.

Of course, Romney should campaign to elect more Republicans to the legislature. Ultimately, that's the only way he'll have any hope of succeeding. The problem is that when he goes into political mode, his tendency is to be so disingenuous and heavy-handed that he does himself more harm than good.

How to explain it? Here's a theory. Despite coming from a political family, Romney seems to be entirely unfamiliar with the political culture. Like a lot of people in the business community, he appears to be deeply cynical toward politicians, and therefore he assumes that this sort of crapola is standard operating procedure.

Beacon Hill is far from perfect, but most of the folks up there are not nearly as cynical as Romney thinks they are. Urging voters to get riled up about a tax increase that no one is even proposing is just a miserable way to do business.

More on Jerry Williams. Reader Stuart Shiffman of Springfield, Illinois, writes to Media Log:

I enjoyed your thoughts on Jerry Williams. For a few years he had a show in the evening in Chicago. I remember one night that his guest was the famous Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell. I was a high school student in Evanston listening to the show. One on my friend's fathers, a Holocaust survivor, became so incensed with the show that he got in his car and drove to the studio to confront Rockwell. The police had to be called to calm the man down.

Williams was a craftsman, and is my memory fading or was he just so incredibly good at what he did? He didn't insult, sensationalize, or do any of the things that talk show hosts do now. I guess I am getting old.

In her own write. Here is the text of the speech that MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield gave at Kansas State University. And one clarification to my previous item: the interview she conducted that so incensed the easily incensed Michael Savage was with terrorists from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

They may also have been "loyalists to Saddam Hussein," as I wrote, but they were not Iraqis, as I implied.

Here's the wind-up:

I'm hoping that I will have a future in news in cable, but not the way some cable news operators wrap themselves in the American flag and patriotism and go after a certain target demographic, which is very lucrative. You can already see the effects, you can already see the big hires on other networks, right wing hires to chase after this effect, and you can already see that flag waving in the corners of those cable news stations where they have exciting American music to go along with their war coverage.

Well, all of this has to do with what you've seen on Fox and its successes. So I do urge you to be very discerning as you continue to watch the development of cable news, and it is changing like lightning. Be very discerning because it behooves you like it never did before to watch with a grain of salt and to choose responsibly, and to demand what you should know.

Banfield has taken a lot of criticism over the past few years (but not from me!) for being some sort of shallow, unqualified bimbo. It's true that there have been times when it's appeared that she was in a little over her head, especially when she was anchoring a nightly show from Afghanistan post-9/11. (Wasn't everyone, though?)

The truth is that she's a hard-working journalist who's worried and disgusted about what's happening to her business. We all should be.

New in this week's Phoenix. Boston-based campaign-finance-reform activist-lawyer John Bonifaz takes on a new cause: stripping corporations of their First Amendment rights.