Wednesday, March 31, 2004

STREAMING O'FRANKEN. I've been listening to a bit of The O'Franken Factor on Air America Radio, which doesn't have an outlet in Boston but which is streaming live here. I can't judge it from 45 minutes of intermittent listening, obviously, but while I had it on Michael Moore dropped by, and then Al Gore called in to say hello.

Gore got off a funny, asking, "How's the drug-free thing working out?" Moore made a crack about OxyContin, and Al Franken chimed in, "We've been drug-free now for two hours and 40 minutes." Maybe they're taking the wrong drugs, because it seemed pretty low-energy. You'd think they'd be bouncing off the walls on Day One.

Franken and Gore couldn't get Moore to apologize for supporting Ralph Nader in 2000, but Moore did say he's backing John Kerry this time around.

Air America has got to pick up a Boston outlet before the conventions. You'd think this would be one the best markets for liberal radio in the country. But with just about every station with a decent signal locked down by a conglomerate, that may not be easy.

Anyway ... the streaming works just fine, and it's also on Channel 167 on XM Satellite Radio. As for the rest of the country, stay tuned.

MONKEYS MAUL KERRY. Kerry knew it was coming, but he hasn't been particularly effective in warding off the flying monkeys of the Bush-Cheney campaign.

That's the conclusion of the Washington Post's Dan Balz, who reports today that "attacks on John F. Kerry by President Bush and Vice President Cheney, backed by millions of dollars in negative ads, have wiped out the narrow lead Kerry enjoyed at the beginning of the month and damaged his public image."

MORE IRAQI HORROR. The images out of the Iraqi town of Fallujah today are horrifying and sickening - the burned bodies (and body parts) of four Americans being dragged through the streets, beaten with sticks, and hung up for public display.

The New York Times, which covers the story here, has also posted an AP video that you need an extraordinarily strong stomach to watch. If you read this AP story at Yahoo News, you'll also find a slideshow that is nothing short of appalling.

It will be interesting to see what the media ethicists say about showing these images. Two years ago, the Phoenix touched off a controversy when it published on its Web site a link to a propaganda video made by the Islamist terrorists who kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The video ends with an image of Pearl's severed head being held aloft. The paper also published two small images from the video, one of them post-decapitation. Click for what I wrote about it at the time.

The Phoenix got some support, but also received a lot of criticism. Publishing gruesome images is always controversial, and should never be done without a great deal of thought. The question is, are the pictures from Fallujah somehow newsworthy in a way that the Pearl images were not? And, if so, what is the standard?

And just in case you were wondering: I think they were both newsworthy. We shouldn't be forced to watch such images, but neither should we hide from them.

Monday, March 29, 2004

WHITE DEATH. Here was the story of the weekend - Ken Holmes, a 37-year-old father of five, hiked into the Pemigewasset Wilderness on January 12 and froze to death. Garry Harrington's piece in the Boston Globe Magazine portrays a man who was in excellent physical condition, who packed plenty of cold-weather gear, but who nevertheless had an exceedingly cavalier attitude about how quickly conditions can turn life-threatening in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

I have my own memories of the Pemi. In November 1987 my friend Brad and I set out on what we hoped would be a three-day trip. It soon started snowing, and we ended up camping right in the middle of the trail, with the snow piling up and the temperature dropping into single digits. We couldn't get our backpacking stove to light, so we ended up eating granola bars and huddling in our sleeping bags. We clambered up the summit of Owl's Head the next morning and then bugged out.

Eleven years later we were back, hiking in a steady, at times heavy, rain over Columbus Day Weekend. We camped out the first night. The second night, after making our way over the summits of Bondcliff, Bond, West Bond, and Zealand, we talked our way into Zealand Falls Hut, which had been booked to capacity but had some vacancies because of the weather. Zealand is open year-round. If Holmes had made it there, Harrington notes, it might have saved his life.

In August 2001 I took my son, Tim, and his friend Troy, then both 10, up to Galehead Hut for their first extended hiking experience. Accompanying Harrington's article is a photo of Holmes's backpack in front of Galehead. I've got a picture of Tim, Troy, and me taken in more or less that very spot.

For those of us who love the White Mountains, Harrington's story was both a thriller and a cautionary tale.

HOW DID KELLEY DO IT? "It's like medical malpractice - doctors don't turn one another in." Howard Kurtz offers some insights in this morning's Washington Post into how former USA Today reporter Jack Kelley got away with it for so long.

Friday, March 26, 2004

BARNICLE APOLOGIZES. Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle today apologized on his WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) program for using the word "Mandingo" on Tuesday in referring to the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white, and former Boston television news personality Janet Langhart, who's black.

I didn't hear the original reference on Tuesday. This morning, though, Barnicle said he was referring to an old movie of that name about the marriage of a white man and a black woman, that he's friends with Langhart and knows Cohen slightly, and that he meant no offense.

The only film I could find at the Internet Movie Database called Mandingo was this one, made in 1975. According to the description, "A slave owner in the 1840s trains one of his slaves to be a bare-knuckle fighter, unaware that his wife is demanding from his champion services of a different kind." Not quite the same thing. And check out this user comment:

Like titillating porn, Mandingo is the kind of film you rent and hope no one you know is looking. Then you hurry home, lower the blinds, make sure the kids are in bed, then turn on the VCR in anticipation. This film is so politically incorrect it's worth it on that merit alone! Black and white stereotypes are played up to the hilt and everybody is running around "pleasuring" any thing that moves.

Nice! Well, maybe Barnicle was thinking of another movie called Mandingo. Is there one?

Anyway, Media Log's instant analysis is that Barnicle was an idiot to toss off a racially charged term like "Mandingo" (which he essentially acknowledged); that he's a recidivist (he recently referred to an Iranian actress and an African-born actor as "terrorists"); but that his apology at least puts him ahead of his 'TKK colleague Jay Severin, who uses terms like "wetback" and "towelhead" without consequence.

We'll be kicking this around later today on Greater Boston, on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) at 7 p.m.

CLOSED QUARTERS. Jack Wilson might prove that he's a terrific choice as the new president of UMass, but the process, or lack thereof, reeked. Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh explains why.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

THE COMEBACK KID. Mark Shanahan has a good piece on David Brudnoy in today's Globe. Brudnoy, who's recovering from cancer, returned to his talk-show perch at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) this week. The Boston Herald's Marie Szaniszlo wrote about Brudnoy's first night back on Tuesday, as did Herald columnist Mike Barnicle (sub. req.).

Here's an interview I did with Brudnoy last month.

Welcome back, David.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. An anti-war documentary is coming soon to a retail outlet near you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

REPORTER CONTRACTS TB. Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden writes today that among the things he brought home from Iraq was an asymptomatic case of tuberculosis. He writes:

My biggest concern is getting the word out to professionals now traveling to the region, thanks to our ongoing wars and occupation of highly infected areas. You need to be tested. The colleagues I've spoken to were unaware of the risk.

Sounds like something every newsroom ought to be thinking about.

REMOVAL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Let's see if I've got this straight. NPR's Morning Edition has some 13 million weekly listeners, putting it in the same ballpark as Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. Its audience is up 41 percent in the past five years, according to NPR's own numbers. And the host since 1979, Bob Edwards, has been pushed out, with no replacement having yet been named.

Edwards tells the Washington Post that he blames Jay Kernis, NPR's senior vice-president for programming, saying, "I think it's a style thing. I think he's tired of listening to me." Well, that makes about as much sense as anything else, unless there was something going on behind the scenes that we don't know about.

Here is NPR's own announcement of the change.

Nothing lasts forever, of course. But Edwards is still only 56. NPR's drive-time newscasts, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, though not perfect, are by far the best broadcast news programs on the air - far better than PBS's wretched NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The only good news to offset this announcement is that William Marimow, a former editor of the Baltimore Sun, has been named to a top position at NPR. Marimow is a Pulitzer winner and a respected journalist, so Edwards's removal shouldn't be seen as a sign that NPR is lowering its standards.

What it is a sign of remains, at this point, impossible to say.

SMEARING CLARKE. Josh Marshall is keeping track of the Republican smear campaign against former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

FOX AND CNN: WHO'S WATCHING? According to a new report by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the notion that the Fox News Channel is trouncing CNN in the ratings is one of those received pieces of conventional wisdom that doesn't hold up when you look at the facts.

The report, by FAIR's Steve Rendall, finds that Fox's lead is in the "share" - that is, how many viewers are watching at any given time. By contrast, CNN holds a wide lead in the "cume," which measures how many viewers tune in for at least six minutes a day. Because CNN emphasizes news and Fox's programming consists mainly of opinion-driven talk shows, viewers tend to stick with CNN for a shorter period than Fox watchers - but there are many more of them.

How dramatic is the difference between the two measurements? Rendall writes:

CNN regularly claims a cume about 20 percent higher than Fox's (Deseret Morning News, 1/12/04). For instance, in April 2003, during the height of the fighting in Iraq, CNN's cume was significantly higher than Fox's: 105 million viewers tuned into CNN compared to 86 million for Fox (Cablefax, 4/30/03). But in the same period, the ratings reported by most media outlets had Fox in the lead, with an average of 3.5 million viewers to CNN's 2.2 million.

As it turns out, these "lighter" viewers are more valuable to advertisers than the folks who sit inertly through The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren for hour after hour. That's because showing viewers the same commercials over and over is less cost-effective than hitting channel-surfers once or twice. Thus CNN is able to charge higher advertising rates than Fox even though its audience share is smaller. Then there's this:

Interviewed in MediaWeek last year (2/10/04), media business analyst Larry Blasius suggested that snob appeal was part of the reason that he didn't think Fox would soon catch CNN in the race for ad dollars (MediaWeek, 2/10/04): "There are two kinds of news advertisers. If you're talking cold remedies, you're buying eyeballs. Others are looking for an environment, an image. They're looking to reach decision-makers and influencers who watch news. If you're an image-oriented product - a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus - it's not even a question, you go with CNN. There's no comparison in the quality of the journalism - CNN is light years ahead in objectivity and reporting - and I don't think Fox's 'New York Post on TV' approach appeals to the most desirable consumers."

Why is this important? There have been times over the past few years when CNN executives have sought to emulate Fox - not nearly to the degree as the desperadoes at MSNBC, but certainly there is more talk and less news at CNN than there was, say, 10 years ago. FAIR's report shows that aping Fox is not just bad journalism, it's bad business as well.

Monday, March 22, 2004

HERALD EXODUS CONTINUES. Two more familiar bylines will soon be disappearing. Investigative reporter Jonathan Wells, a veteran of CBS's 60 Minutes, gave his notice at the Boston Herald today. He's leaving to become executive producer of the investigative unit at WFXT-TV (Channel 25), known as "Fox 25 Undercover." The unit comprises an on-air reporter, Mike Beaudet; the executive producer's slot that Wells just took; and a producer's position that Wells will be filling. You can bet the résumés are flying between Wingo Square and Channel 25's Dedham headquarters.

Media Log has also learned that City Hall reporter Ellen Silberman will be leaving to take a job with state inspector general Gregory Sullivan. Silberman was unable to talk when I reached her, but she did confirm the pending move.

"It's a combination of things," Wells told me when I asked him why he was leaving the Herald. "The most important reason is that I had planned at some point in the near future to try to go back into television, and this was a good opportunity to do it, and to do it in Boston."

Wells declined to discuss the ongoing turmoil at the Herald, but there has been plenty. In recent weeks editor Andy Costello was removed, managing editor Andrew Gully announced he would be leaving no later than June, and Mike Barnicle - who lost his column at the Boston Globe in 1998 in part because the Herald revealed he'd lifted one-liners from a George Carlin book - was hired, to considerable newsroom consternation.

Wells worked at the Herald for six years before moving to 60 Minutes in 1993. He returned to Boston in 1999, and ended up back at the Herald after the Globe proved to be reluctant to bring him aboard.

The two Herald stories Wells says he's proudest of are the paper's post-9/11 coverage of ties between Saudi Arabia and both the Clinton and Bush White Houses, and a series from last year (with recent follow-ups) of possible ties between the Islamic Society of Boston and several people who may had dealings with terrorists.

Update: Ellen Silberman checks in to say that she's leaving for reasons other than the turmoil that's hit the Herald newsroom. "I've been at the Herald for six years," she says. "I don't want to go the Globe. And I would like to make decent money at some point in my life. So this seemed like a good opportunity. The timing is largely coincidental. It happens to be a moment of uncertainty at the Herald." She adds: "It's not like I'm a rat leaving a sinking ship. That's not where I'm at. It's more money, it's better hours, and it's a new challenge."

Silberman will leave the Herald in early April and begin working at the IG's office at the end of the month. She adds that she'll be helping with investigations, not press.

BRUDNOY'S BACK TONIGHT. The talk-radio legend will be behind the mike from 7 to 10 p.m. on WBZ Radio (AM 1030).

TRASHING CLARKE. The reductive bullet point that's been attached to former White House anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke's critique of the Bush White House is that he's blaming George W. Bush for 9/11. The conservatives particularly like this ("Behind the Effort to Blame Bush for September 11," reads the subhead of a Wall Street Journal editorial today) because the notion is ridiculous, and thus easily swatted aside.

The truth is that even though the terrorist attacks could have been anticipated as one of many possible scenarios involving Al Qaeda, the chances of stopping those particular attacks on that particular day were minimal.

Thus, what's really disturbing about Clarke's brief - laid out in an interview with 60 Minutes last night - is not that Bush could have stopped it. Rather, it is that Bush and his administration dropped the intense focus that the Clinton White House had given Al Qaeda, and that, as soon as the attacks occurred, the Bushies immediately pressed for evidence of a non-existent link with Iraq.

Here is a particularly revealing passage from 60 Minutes:

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't - wouldn't like the answer."

The right, of course, is already trying to discredit Clarke as a partisan warrior - never mind the fact that he worked not just for Clinton but also for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, until recently, George W. Then, too, Clarke is out pushing a new book, which I guess we're supposed to take as some sign of moral turpitude.

But as Josh Marshall notes today, what's really interesting about this is how at odds Clarke's account is with that of national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Given Rice's dubious reputation for veracity, I'd say Clarke ought to be taken very seriously.

A NEW BOSTON BLOG. The Boston Herald has started something called the "Road to Boston Blog." Written (so far) by political reporter David Guarino, the blog began with a "soft launch" Friday. This is the first official Herald blog - business reporter Jay Fitzgerald and columnist Cosmo Macero have been blogging for a while, but they do it on their own websites.

The Boston Globe is taking a different approach, with op-ed columnists writing Web-only pieces once a month.

Friday, March 19, 2004

EYE WITNESS NEWS. So I'm reading bits and pieces of USA Today's account of former reporter Jack Kelley's literally incredible fabrications. It took me a while, but finally I got it: what the paper describes as "[p]erhaps the most riveting story Jack Kelley wrote" was also something that his editors had doubts about all along.

The story involved a suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001. The deconstruction that USA Today publishes today is worth reading in full. But check out this paragraph:

Kelley could not have seen three men decapitated. He wrote in his story: "Three men, who had been eating pizza inside, were catapulted out of the chairs they had been sitting on. When they hit the ground, their heads separated from their bodies and rolled down the street." In a first draft that Kelley submitted for publication, he wrote that some of the heads rolled "with their eyes still blinking."

This is an astounding detail. No editor in his or her right mind would take it out. Except, possibly, for one reason: a suspicion that it wasn't true, that Kelley hadn't actually witnessed such a horrifying event. So what did the editors do? They removed the most compelling - and most obviously fabricated - detail, and left the rest of the story pretty much alone.

USA Today deserves credit for coming clean about Kelley. But there remains much that hasn't yet been reported about the culture that allowed him to thrive.

THE "H" WORD. Cynthia Cotts's new Village Voice column has some good dirt on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. (Motto: Speaking Pablum to Power!) Apparently Lehrer got very upset when a guest said something naughty about Halliburton. Read Cotts's column here.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has some choice words for Lehrer's suck-up performance as well.

And here's some unsolicited advice for John Kerry: do not, under any circumstances, let Lehrer moderate this year's presidential debates. As Jack Beatty explains, Lehrer's unthinking even-handedness helped put George W. Bush in the White House four years ago.

UNFREE PRESS. A major press-freedom case is under way in Providence, where Jim Taricani, an investigative reporter for Channel 10, has been ordered to pay a $1000-a-day fine for refusing to say who gave him an undercover videotape from the investigation of former mayor Buddy Cianci, who's now serving time.

According to today's Providence Journal (reg. req.), the feds are seeking to have the fines kick in immediately, before Taricani has even exhausted all of his appeals.

This isn't exactly a First Amendment case; reporters have no more right to protect the identities of those they do business with than an ordinary citizen does. Nevertheless, this amounts to federal harassment of a reporter who was doing his job.

FLEET OF MOUTH. Look, I don't want the Democratic National Convention to be held at the FleetCenter. Neither do you. The South Boston convention center makes all kind of sense. But it's March, and it's not going to happen. Which is why this item on the Romney Is a Fraud weblog is so dead-on.

The convention has been in the works for years now. It is cynical and ridiculous for Governor Mitt Romney to jump on the South Boston bandwagon now.

The Boston Herald's Cosmo Macero (sub. req.), who first floated this idea in December, hasn't quite given up on it yet - although even he admits, "It may in fact be too late, and too costly, to do anything now but hope for the best at the Fleet."

For Romney, though, it's not too late to score some cheap points by getting behind a plan that doesn't exist.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

ODDS AND ENDS. I've fixed the link to the ad of Donald Rumsfeld getting an education about his past statements courtesy of Tom Friedman and Bob Schieffer. Also, tonight at 7 I'll be talking with Barry Nolan of CN8's Nitebeat on so-called liberal bias.

MARRIED WITH CONFLICTS. Should a newspaper allow a married same-sex couple to keep covering the gay-marriage debate? It's a hard question, but Media Log's view is that it depends on the circumstances of the couple's marriage.

The San Francisco Chronicle decided earlier this week that reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf could no longer cover the issue after they got married at City Hall. Here is editor Phil Bronstein's memo to the staff (via Romenesko).

This is a very, very tough call, but I think Bronstein was right. The San Francisco marriages weren't just marriages (though they were surely that); they were also acts of civil disobedience by the mayor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom did a fine thing by challenging state officials to recognize gay and lesbian couples as being equal in the eyes of the law and the state constitution. But for journalists to get married under such circumstances and then continue to cover the story would be the equivalent of carrying signs and shouting slogans at a demonstration that they had been assigned to report on.

Here's the difference. If Gordon and Mangelsdorf had waited and flown to Boston on May 18 to get married, then no one would have had a right to complain. They would have been legally married in accordance with the state Supreme Judicial Court's Goodridge decision, and there would have been no political overtones to their exchanging vows.

But that's not what they did. They took part in a political act, and now they should sit it out, at least in terms of offering straight news coverage. (No harm in offering something more personal, with the appropriate disclosure.) covers the story here.

DONALD RUMSFELD, LYING LIAR. And in this ad by, his pants are on fire. (Thanks to Michael Goldman.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY. "It is absolutely ridiculous and unfair and a stretch. Tell them to come to me and ask me about it and look me in the eye. I'll straighten them out in good force - the yellow, rotten, dirty [expletives] that they are. I commend Tim Cahill for looking beyond the political and not falling for the [expletive] disgrace of caving in and punishing a kid who deserves something." - State Auditor Joe DeNucci, in today's Boston Herald, which reports that State Treasurer Tim Cahill has promoted his son-in-law.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum comes thisclose to saying that John Kerry is Osama bin Laden's candidate for president.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

DEMS STAY PUT. With the logistical nightmare posed by holding the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter becoming more and more apparent, Governor Mitt Romney has lent his voice to those saying that the gathering should be moving to the new convention center in South Boston. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

Given that it's almost certainly too late to make such a dramatic shift, it's worth reminding everyone that the idea was publicly floated for the first time last December 19, in Cosmo Macero's Herald column.

Macero's money graf:

"If we got the call from the mayor or the committee ... I believe we could do it," says Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Menino's one-time chief of staff. "It would look different. But it could and would be made to look like a good media event, which is by and large what conventions are."

The traffic and security concerns would be so much more easily solved at the desolate South Boston location than at the FleetCenter, which is the hub of the Greater Boston's public-transportation network as well as the nexus of the city's highway system.

But, of course, the move isn't going to happen. All we can do is hope for the best.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

WHAT KERRY SAID. You've got to feel sorry this morning for Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy. It was his transcription of a March 8 speech by John Kerry at a fundraising event that led to a week of controversy over the senator's alleged assertion that "foreign leaders" had told him they hoped he would beat George W. Bush. Healy was the pool reporter, which means that the entire media relied on his transcript. And now it turns out that mistakes were made.

It was an easy mistake to make, and I'm sure Healy is unhappy about it - make that very unhappy. The larger question is whether the corrected transcript changes the meaning of what Kerry said. I don't think it does. But unfortunately, and characteristically, the Kerry campaign is using the error to back away from this mini-controversy.

Here's an excerpt from a Glen Johnson piece in today's Globe:

A Globe reporter was present for the fund-raiser as a representative of the newspapers covering the campaign. The reporter initially sent out a report to his colleagues saying that Kerry had told the crowd, "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Yesterday the reporter listened again to the tape, previously transcribed on a bus and campaign airplane, and said Kerry actually said: "I've been hearing it, I'll tell ya. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Kerry never used the term "foreign" or, as some accounts have reported, said he had "met with" foreign leaders. His comments were preceded by a statement from Milton Ferrell, Kerry's Florida fund-raising chairman, voicing foreign displeasure with the current president. Ferrell said, "Europeans and elsewhere, they're counting on the American people. They hate Bush, but they know we're going to get rid of him."

Based on that context, I'd say that Healy got Kerry's meaning right, even if he didn't capture his exact words. But the Los Angeles Times reports today that the Kerry campaign is now trying to back away from the controversy. Matea Gold writes:

[T]he campaign said Monday that the Globe's clarification demonstrates some ambiguity about what Kerry meant. His reference to "more leaders," said Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, "could mean anybody." The media's repeated references to "foreign leaders" allowed critics to suggest he was talking about heads of state. "He was misquoted," said Cutter. "Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn't be a story."

Really? Kerry has been pounded at over this miniature issue. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who doesn't normally get involved in partisan politics, challenged Kerry to name the foreign leaders he'd supposedly met with who support his candidacy. Yet Kerry did not really contest the accuracy of Healy's transcript, at least not until Sunday - and then, according to this account in the New York Times, he challenged something that Healy actually got right:

Mr. Kerry said on Sunday that he had used the word "heard," not "met," prompting Mr. Healy to revisit the recording. On Monday, he sent out a corrected transcript, clarifying that the quotation actually began, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly."

Here's what White House spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis told the LA Times:

The White House, when asked about the Globe reporter's clarification of the original remarks, said Kerry should have denounced the reported comments earlier if he had been misquoted.

"It seems to us that Sen. Kerry has affirmed the quote by his own reaction to it," said Suzy DeFrancis, a White House spokeswoman." He's had plenty of time to disavow it if he didn't agree with it … so I think he was clearly probably describing foreign leaders."

I can't disagree.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. "Al Sharpton yesterday conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kerry ... He now says he is close to signing a contract to host a radio or cable television talk show." - Boston Globe, 3/16/04

Monday, March 15, 2004

MIKE BARNICLE, MEDIA CRITIC. In the New York Daily News, Barnicle weighs in on the New York Post front-page photo of a young woman leaping to her death. (Via Romenesko.) Here is Post chief copy editor Barry Gross's defense. So help me, I agree with Barnicle. This was a suicide, with no larger implications that would warrant running the picture. But what's Barnicle going to say the first time the Boston Herald runs a photo like that?

SPAIN SAYS NO. The terrorist attack in Spain, and the subsequent victory of the opposition Socialist Party, defy easy analysis. My thoughts are completely conflicted. (Which is why I recommend this New York Times Magazine essay by the Kennedy School's Michael Ignatieff, a liberal supporter of the war in Iraq.)

On the one hand, I believe George W. Bush's decision to go to war on Iraq was ill-considered. There were no weapons of mass destruction and no evidence that Saddam Hussein's government was tied to Al Qaeda. In light of that, Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's decision to support Bush's war against the wishes of 90 percent of his own people amounted to courage uninformed by judgment.

On the other hand, the Spanish public, by flipping from Aznar's Popular Party to the Socialists almost overnight, may very well have sent a signal to Al Qaeda about how easily they can be swayed by a terrorist attack. Incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says he'll pull Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and who can blame him? They shouldn't have been there in the first place. But I'm afraid that he - and the voters who just put him in office - are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

At such a time of uncertainty, it can at least be helpful to find someone with whom to disagree. Andrew Sullivan today offers the insulting headline "Bin Laden's Victory in Spain." What follows is only slightly more nuanced.

What Sullivan and his ilk don't seem to get is that the way Saddam was removed was every bit as important as the fact that he was removed. Saddam was one of the most evil dictators of our time (though a piker compared to the guy with the hair in North Korea), and the people of Iraq are far, far better off without him.

But by arrogantly swaggering in without the support of the United Nations and with phonied-up evidence of Iraq's weapons capabilities, Bush and his handful of friends have created a mess that may take a generation to clean up.

Sullivan's right about one thing: Britain is the next logical target.

THE GOD OF REAL ESTATE. If you didn't read Kevin Cullen's page-one story in yesterday's Boston Globe about ex-gangster Eddie MacKenzie's virtual takeover of a small Beacon Hill church, click here.

It is, as they say in the business, a "holy shit" story.

PUBLIC RELIGIOSITY. I'll be moderating a Ford Hall Forum discussion on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on "Prayer in Public." The panelists will be Ellen Band, an artist and the creator of Portal of Prayer, a sound-based work of public art; Wendy Kaminer, a prominent civil libertarian and writer; and Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., dean of religious and spiritual life at Wellesley College.

The discussion will take place at the Old South Meeting House.

Friday, March 12, 2004

DELAY, DECEIVE - AND SELF-DESTRUCT? Salon today leads with a long piece by veteran Texas journalist Lou Dubose on an investigation into House majority leader Tom DeLay's vaunted fundraising machine. This is potentially devastating stuff - though Dubose thinks DeLay himself is unlikely to be the target of any criminal probe, this could be embarrassing enough that it makes him a serious liability to the national Republican Party.

As Dubose observes, campaign-finance laws in Texas are so loose that you really have to work hard to run afoul of them. What Travis County district attorney Ronnie Earle is investigating is whether the DeLay machine - which funds Republican candidates all over Texas - violated a law against spending corporate money directly on election campaigns.

Naturally, the Republicans are responding by trying to pass a state law prohibiting Earle from investigating political corruption.

MUSH FROM THE WIMPS. National Journal media critic William Powers pokes fun at Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund for agonizing over a recent Pat Oliphant cartoon that struck some readers as anti-Catholic. (Via Romenesko.)

And now some mush from this wimp: I think I'm more with Chinlund and editorial-page editor Renée Loth than I am with Powers on this. Cruelty in cartooning can be great, but Oliphant's was gratuitous. Yes, I laughed, but I'm not a Catholic.

THE STATE OF GAY MARRIAGE. The Phoenix's Kristen Lombardi argues that yesterday's action by the constitutional convention - pushing forward an amendment to ban gay marriage but to create civil unions - is actually a huge step forward for the gay-and-lesbian civil-rights movement.

Read it, especially if you're feeling depressed.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

"MUHAMMAD HORTON." As Media Log is wont to say, you can't make this stuff up. One of the new Bush-Cheney ads, titled "100 Days," accuses John Kerry of being soft on terrorism - and it uses the image of a shifty, swarthy-looking man, obviously meant to evoke an Arab, to drive the fear home. Watch it here.

Via Josh Marshall, who in turn links to Ryan Lizza's post on the subject.

CON-CON COVERAGE ON BOSTONPHOENIX.COM. If you're following the constitutional-convention debate over gay marriage in Massachusetts, have a look at the Phoenix's running coverage.

We've got pictures, too. Go to and scroll down a bit.

NEW YORK OBSERVER NAMES MEDIA CRITIC. Washington City Paper senior editor Tom Scocca has been picked by the New York Observer to replace media critic Sridhar Pappu, who recently left to become a staff writer at Sports Illustrated. Scocca, who was a feature writer at the Boston Phoenix in the mid 1990s, is the co-creator of "Funny Paper," an arch take on the world of comics.

Scocca e-mails Media Log: "I'd better start writing the column before I start talking about it." He plans to move to New York at some point after he wraps up his duties at the City Paper. He can be reached at

Oddly enough, Pappu is a former City Paper intern. For that matter, Slate media critic Jack Shafer and New York Times media reporter David Carr are City Paper alumni; City Paper founder Russ Smith writes media criticism for the New York Press (which he founded and has since sold) and, occasionally, the Wall Street Journal. Another former City Paper intern, Josh Levin, writes the magazines column for Slate.

SALON UPS THE ANTE. One of the more heartening media developments of the past year is the revival of Salon, the pioneering webzine that downsized and struggled through the dot-com bust. With new funding in place, Salon is now opening a revived Washington bureau, to be headed by none other than Sidney Blumenthal, ex of the Phoenix, the New Yorker, and the Clinton White House.

Salon is also publishing excerpts from a new book by former Boston magazine editor Craig Unger called House of Bush, House of Saud, and is partnering with, the London Guardian, and the new liberal radio network, Air America.

Timothy Karr reported the details earlier this week at And here is Salon editor/founder David Talbot's letter to readers.

Salon and Slate are the two big survivors of the mid-'90s new-media boom. With Slate occupying much the same neolib-cum-neocon ground as the New Republic, Salon's renewed relevance is welcome news to everyone on the left side of the political spectrum.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. The battle against broadcast indecency has media moguls running scared, as they are all too willing to sacrifice free speech on the altar of corporate empire-building.

Also, for the past six years, one of the Boston Herald's favorite targets was Mike Barnicle. Until now, that is.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

BLOGGING AT THE GLOBE. Well, not quite. But the paper is cautiously starting to offer Web-exclusive content from some of its marquee names. Here is an online column by Scot Lehigh, posted yesterday, on the vice-presidential sweepstakes. Here is one from Tom Oliphant, posted last Thursday, on how John Edwards made John Kerry a better candidate.

This is definitely a step forward, but I'd say the Globe has a way to go. The Lehigh and Oliphant dispatches read exactly like their print columns. Maybe there's a case to be made for that, but, in general, Internet content works best when its shorter, faster, and looser (in tone, not with the facts) than what's available in print.

It would also help if this stuff were easier to find. As best as I can tell, the only way to look up Web-only political commentary is to follow this link, and then scan down for the magic words "Web Exclusive."

A LESS-THAN-EARTH-SHATTERING CHANGE. A few people have asked me why I haven't written yet about the redesigned Boston Globe Magazine. Partly it's because I want to see a few issues before I try to make an assessment. Partly it's because the redesign wasn't quite as dramatic as it could have been.

It looks nice, and there's a lot of new, short, consumer-and-advertiser-friendly stuff at the front of the book, which was predictable. Dave Barry is still there, so I'm happy. It's bigger, and bigger is better, especially in an era when other major metros have canceled their Sunday magazines. That's all to the good. But it will never be as influential (or controversial) as the New York Times Magazine. And I have no doubt that the Globe's best journalism will continue to be reserved for the paper, not the magazine.

Click here for the Web version.

THE FAT OF THE LAND. Imagine if a Democrat said what the Globe's Mary Leonard reports about Health and Human Services secretary Tommy Thompson and his new anti-fat campaign:

Thompson said Congress should consider giving tax credits to Americans who lose weight, and he proposed that health insurance companies reduce premiums for people who keep the pounds off.

Rush, Hannity, O'Reilly, et al. would be ridiculing the hapless secretary without mercy. And they'd be right.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

THE AGELESS DANIEL DAMON. Last October 31, Boston Herald reporter Tom Farmer wrote about Peter Damon, an Army sergeant from Brockton who lost both hands in Iraq when a helicopter tire he was working on accidentally blew up. Farmer reported that Damon and his then-girlfriend (now wife), Jennifer Maunus, had two children - "Allura, 6, and Daniel, 18 months."

On November 27, the Herald's Jessica Heslam did a follow-up, reporting again that the couple's children were "Allura, 6, and Daniel, 18 months." Scientists are not sure why Daniel Damon did not get a month older in a month's time.

Then, today, on the front page of the Herald, brand-spankin'-new columnist Mike Barnicle wrote (sub. req.) in his debut that the now-married Damons are the parents of "a daughter 6 and a boy, 19 months."

Obviously someone is wrong, and it's not necessarily Barnicle - although, for obvious reasons, he is the one who's being watched the most carefully. The Herald needs to run a correction. And I'm curious, to say the least, as to whose reporting gets corrected.

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY. To read the coverage of Barnicle's return to the Boston newspaper wars, you'd think the only things he'd ever done wrong were to rip off a few lines from George Carlin and to write a column about kids with cancer without checking his sources all that carefully.

Barnicle has been writing a column for the New York Daily News for five years now with no apparent incident, and it's unfair to bear the guy ceaselessly back into the past (that's, ahem, a semi-literate reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald). But let's not gloss over the past. Barnicle had been credibly accused of plagiarism on several occasions during his quarter-century career at the Boston Globe - including by the late, great Mike Royko. Barnicle attributed a racial slur to Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz (no witnesses, naturally) after Dershowitz dared to criticize Barnicle's buddy Bill Bulger. (The Globe ended up paying a settlement.) And, in the early 1990s, Boston magazine turned up a number of columns that appeared to be partly or wholly fabricated. You can read all about it here.

After Globe columnist Patricia Smith was forced out for fabricating characters and quotes in June 1998, the end came quickly for Barnicle. In July, my friend Bill Kirtz, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, reported in the Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists, that Barnicle had once plagiarized from A.J. Liebling. Then the Herald reported the Carlin incident, which led to a suspension and a nationwide campaign among Barnicle's media buddies to save his job.

Finally, I reported on Kirtz's allegations, digging up evidence showing that, in a 1986 column, Barnicle had apparently lifted direct quotes, complete with idiosyncratic spelling, from Liebling's 1961 biography of Louisiana politico Earl Long, The Earl of Louisiana. An advance copy of that story was released to the local and national media early in the afternoon on August 19. Within a few hours, Barnicle was gone, with the Globe announcing that it had uncovered yet another instance of journalistic malfeasance: a column about kids with cancer that appeared to be partly or wholly fabricated.

Barnicle deserves to be judged on his current work, not what he did six or 18 years ago. But let's get the record straight, shall we?

By the way, here is a worthwhile piece by Kirtz on his own 15 minutes of fame as the man who discovered the Barnicle-Liebling connection.

Monday, March 08, 2004

HERALD UNION CRITICIZES BARNICLE HIRING. This just in (1:13 P.M. UPDATE - This is a slightly revised version of the Guild's earlier statement):

This announcement comes as an obvious shock and disappointment to Guild-represented Herald staffers dedicated to upholding the highest possible journalism standards while competing to keep the Herald a viable daily in a tough two-newspaper town. It wasn't long ago that the Herald took an aggressive role in helping expose the numerous transgressions - among them plagiarism and fabrication - that led to Mike Barnicle's rightful banishment from the Globe. We have great respect for Publisher Pat Purcell and Editorial Director Ken Chandler, but as hard-working Guild staffers we cannot remain silent in the face of such a troubling decision.

Tom Mashberg, reporter
Newsroom Steward
Boston Herald

Lesley Phillips, editorial artist
President, Local 31032
Boston Herald

On behalf of more than 120 members of Local 31032
Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston

Looks like the Herald's staff is the last bastion of standards at Wingo Square.

BUSH'S 9/11 COMMERCIAL. Uncharacteristically, Media Log has been unable to muster any outrage over George W. Bush's use of 9/11 imagery in his first round of TV commercials. I'll read something from someone who thinks it's no big deal - like John Ellis - and find myself agreeing with him. Then I'll read something on the other side, and end up agreeing with that, too.

The ad is titled "Safer, Stronger," and you can watch it at the Bush-Cheney '04 website. As far as I can tell, the only objectionable part is a very short scene - so short you'll miss it if you blink - of a flag-draped stretcher being carried out of the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Watch it and decide for yourself.

From my perspective, Bush's one shining moment lasted from his megaphone-wielding appearance at Ground Zero through the first rumblings of the war-to-come in Iraq. During that period, he provided strong leadership and did a good job of prosecuting the war in Afghanistan. He's got every right to talk about his performance during those critical days. Indeed, when you look at the rest of his sorry record, it's the only thing he's got to talk about.

Since I don't find the ad morally repulsive, I guess what I'm left with is the tactical stupidity of including that one image. Check this out, from Friday's Boston Globe:

In deciding to include the Sept. 11 images, Bush advisers said they made a calculated risk and expected some family members and Democrats to complain regardless of how sensitively they handled the subject. The only other alternative, they argued, would have been to ignore the terrorist attacks altogether - an unacceptable option eight months before the election.

Sorry, but that's ridiculous. I think if the campaign had made one change - substituting that image of Bush at Ground Zero for the flag-draped stretcher - then there would have been little or no complaining. The bottom line is that Bush doesn't want the 9/11 families out there denouncing him. By pushing the imagery just a bit too far, he turned what should have been a positive for him into a negative.

PULITZER TIME. The Boston Globe is up for two Pulitzer Prizes, according to a list that leaked to Editor & Publisher (via Romenesko). Ellen Barry, now covering the South for the Los Angeles Times, is a finalist in beat reporting for her coverage of mental-health issues.

Patricia Wen is up for the feature-writing award for "Barbara's Story," the tale of a dysfunctional single mother who is persuaded to place her two sons in foster care. (And by the way, I know the Pulitzers don't work this way, but Suzanne Kreiter's photos are just as important to the story as Wen's writing.)

CORRECTION OF THE WEEK. And it's only Monday! This appeared in Sunday's New York Times:

An article in Arts & Leisure on May 4, 1997, about Pat Boone's venture into heavy-metal music omitted attribution for a critic who said Mr. Boone's album "Pat Boone in a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy" was "an affront to everybody who would consider heavy metal a serious musical form." The comment, from Andy Secher, editor of Hit Parader magazine, appeared in the March 31, 1997, issue of Insight magazine. A request for an acknowledgment went astray at The Times and was renewed last week by the writer of the Insight article, John Berlau.

Not quite seven years, but better late than never.

IT'S OFFICIAL: BARNICLE'S BACK. The Boston Herald today announces that Mike Barnicle will write a twice-weekly column beginning tomorrow. Publisher Pat Purcell says, "It's not every day that you have an opportunity to hire a newspaper legend."

Actually, the Herald could have hired Barnicle any time during the past five-plus years. It's just that, until now, the paper's standards were too high.

The move was first reported by Media Log on Friday.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Barnicle to write for Herald. It was nearly six years ago that the Boston Herald reported that then-Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle had lifted one-liners from a George Carlin book. Within weeks, Barnicle was gone amid accusations of fabrication and plagiarism - charges that he denied, but that he never adequately explained.

Well, what goes around comes around. Because now comes word that new editorial director Ken Chandler is on the verge of announcing that Barnicle will be brought in as a Herald columnist. The announcement is said to be scheduled for Monday, although that could be moved up since it's apparent that the entire Boston media world already knows about it.

Barnicle's first column is supposedly scheduled for Tuesday. No word on whether he'll be a staff member or a freelancer, or if he'll write once, twice, or more a week. The guess here is that he'll freelance so that he can keep doing his show on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). Perhaps he can be persuaded at least to give up his low-energy Sunday column in the New York Daily News.

No doubt Andy Costello did much during the past year to keep Chandler from bringing in Barnicle, a move that had been rumored since last summer. Last week, of course, Costello was moved out of the editor's job. This week, here's Mike!

The staff began finding out about the impending move on Thursday. Media Log's sources suggest there is considerable unhappiness about bringing in an aging hack at a time when the mantra is supposedly all about attracting younger readers.

As for whether that discontent will extend to anything more than grumbling, Monday should be a good indication.

Did too! Here's the lead of an Associated Press dispatch that moved yesterday: "Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole said Thursday he did not intend to equate a vote against President Bush to a vote for Adolf Hitler, but stuck by recent comments that a Bush loss would be a win for Osama bin Laden."

Here is what Cole actually said, according to his own spokeswoman: "What do you think Hitler would have thought if Roosevelt would've lost the election in 1944? He would have thought American resolve was [weakening]."

Here is what Cole says he really meant: "What I am saying is that in a time of war, if our commander in chief is defeated in an election, our adversary will regard that as a triumph."

By Cole's own admission, he said that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for bin Laden. (The actual quote: "[I]f George Bush loses the election, Osama bin Laden wins the election.") And by any reasonable person's interpretation, Cole also said that a vote for Kerry is a vote for Hitler.

You may recall that Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie recently went bananas when mistakenly posted a video contest entry that compared Bush to Hitler, even though website co-founder Wes Boyd took it down and apologized almost immediately.

Now some Democrats are calling on Cole to apologize. Please. His constituents ought to demand that he resign.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

The (ahem) inside track on the Herald. Not much good news coming out of Wingo Square these days. Click here for my update on the Boston Herald in the post-Andy Costello era.

One good move, though: the paper has shifted columnist Howard Manly to the op-ed page. Manly's stuff tends to get lost inside the Herald's hyperkinetic news hole. This should give him some new readers.

New in this week's Phoenix. In addition to my Herald update, I've got a piece on how John Kerry can survive the Republicans' flying monkeys in the run-up to the Democratic National Convention.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Selling out his own daughter. Business is business, but even Vito Corleone was good to his kids. Which is why I'm so appalled, if not surprised, that Dick Cheney would sell out his own daughter on gay marriage. Says the vice-president: "The president's taken the clear position that he supports a constitutional amendment. I support him."

Now, I suppose it's possible that you could have a child who's gay or lesbian, that you could oppose marriage rights on religious or philosophical grounds or whatever, and you could still love that child. But Cheney, as we know, has actually changed his position in order to get on the right side of George W. Bush's panderfest. Have he and his daughter, Mary Cheney, talked about this? For that matter, do they still talk?

Here's what Cheney said in his debate with Joe Lieberman in 2000:

The fact of the matter is we live in a free society, and freedom means freedom for everybody. We don't get to choose, and shouldn't be able to choose and say, "You get to live free, but you don't." And I think that means that people should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into. It's really no one else's business in terms of trying to regulate or prohibit behavior in that regard.

The next step, then, of course, is the question you ask of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction, if you will, of the relationship, or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is. That's a tougher problem. That's not a slam dunk.

I think the fact of the matter, of course, is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions, and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.

I try to be open-minded about it as much as I can, and tolerant of those relationships. And like Joe, I also wrestle with the extent to which there ought to be legal sanction of those relationships. I think we ought to do everything we can to tolerate and accommodate whatever kind of relationships people want to enter into.

From let-the-states-decide (which implies federal recognition) to a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. What a long, strange, ugly trip it's been.

Andrew Sullivan, for some reason, tries to throw Cheney a lifeline, arguing that Cheney said he supports the president, not the amendment. To which I say, if Cheney is parsing his words as carefully as Sullivan thinks he is, then his performance is all the more shameful.

And do check out

A Corleone line that Cheney won't be using: "Why do you come to me on the day of my daughter's wedding?"

Quote of the day. "Just last week he [George W. Bush] proposed to amend the Constitution of the United States for political purposes. He has no right to misuse the most precious document in our history in an effort to divide this nation and to distract us from our goals." - John Kerry during his victory speech last night.

Strong stuff. Too bad Kerry fails to show the same reverence for the Massachusetts Constitution, which he favors amending for the sole purpose of getting an election-year monkey off his back.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

A bad night for gay marriage. Democrat Angus McQuilken, to everyone's surprise, appears likely to lose to Republican Scott Brown in the special Massachusetts Senate election to replace McQuilken's former boss, Cheryl Jacques.

Jacques left to become head of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-and-lesbian-rights organization. McQuilken strongly supports same-sex marriage; Brown is an opponent, and has gotten a lot of help from Governor Mitt Romney.

Rightly or wrongly (and, sadly, I suspect rightly) this race is going to be looked at as a referendum on gay marriage. This wasn't even supposed to have been close. Legislators are going to pay a lot of attention to this on March 11, when they resume the constitutional convention to consider an amendment banning gay marriage.

This isn't good.

Maggots of the media. A wonderful phrase for you old-time Boston political junkies. And it fits!

I'm not sure whether this is good or bad, but Wonkette has the same take on Elisabeth Bumiller as Media Log. She writes: "She just turned in what may be the worst debate performance since Nixon sweated through his makeup." There's something about a kitten being strangled, too.

On Slate, William Saletan blasts all three inquisitors - Bumiller, Dan Rather, and WCBS-TV reporter Andrew Kirtzman - writing, "And we wonder why people hate the press."

Actually, no, we don't. The reasons are many, and have been on display for quite some time now.

The giving of the green. No doubt Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran hates the press today. The Boston Globe's Raphael Lewis reports on some mighty strange donations.

In December, according to Lewis, Finneran donated $24,500 to the Massachusetts Democratic Party. The party then turned around and donated $26,000 to 10 House members who have been loyal to Mr. Speaker on some contentious issues.

What may have been going on was that Finneran took advantage of a legal loophole to make campaign donations to his supporters far in excess of what he could give via the direct route.

As it stands, the story is incomplete, but Media Log looks forward to the follow-up.

The end of the beginning. John Kerry stands an excellent chance of carrying all 10 states today, according to the final tracking polls. Click here for the Real Clear Politics roundup; here for Zogby.

The Kerry campaign is known to be concerned about Georgia, where the lead over John Edwards is narrow, and the Minnesota caucuses. There's also a chanced that Vermont will reward its former governor, Howard Dean, with a symbolic victory. But Edwards now seems unlikely to carry Ohio, where his populist message has some appeal.

Will Edwards quit tonight?

As for what's next, Media Log does not often agree with Mickey Kaus. But if you look at his piece today as things to worry about rather than as a blanket indictment, I think you'll find that Kaus has pretty much nailed it.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Why stop at gay marriage? The godly folks at God Hates Shrimp remind us of some more important lessons from the Book of Leviticus.

"Are you a liberal?" Only if God's on our side! So what did we learn from the 1297th and possibly final debate of the Democratic presidential primary season? That journalist-questioners are endlessly rude, and hinder more than they help. That John Edwards is pretty effective when he goes on the attack. That Al Sharpton's and Dennis Kucinich's demands for equal treatment were a whole lot easier to listen to back before they'd been soundly rejected by primary voters and caucus-goers in every state in which they've run. (Okay, Kucinich did all right in Hawaii.) And that John Kerry isn't going to fill anyone with spasms of excitement, but that there's virtually no way he can blow the nomination at this point.

Yesterday's debate, sponsored by CBS News and the New York Times, was particularly frenetic because it only lasted for an hour. Dan Rather, at least, was polite in trying to move things along; and I wanted to cheer when he told Sharpton that "I think you will agree, the voters have spoken." But Andrew Kirtzman, of WCBS-TV, in New York, seemed clueless. And Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller was a constant distraction, interrupting before anyone could even get out a fragment of an answer, and continually trying to push her agenda.

Item: In discussing yesterday's departure of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically elected leader in that country's history, Bumiller at one point asked, "But no one says he's a good president, so why is it so terrible he's gone? You've all agreed on that." As her own paper's editorial page puts it this morning, Aristide left because of pressure "from a Bush administration too willing to ignore democratic legitimacy in order to allow the removal of a leader it disliked and distrusted."

You know, the Democrats all agree that George W. Bush isn't a good president, either, and he wasn't even democratically elected. What do you suppose Bumiller's response would be if one of the candidates called for Haitian troops to remove Bush from office?

Item: Bumiller's intellectually insulting interrogation of Kerry as to whether he is a "liberal." Roll the tape:

BUMILLER: The National Journal, a respected, nonideologic [sic] publication covering Congress, as you both know, has just rated you, Senator Kerry, number one, the most liberal senator in the Senate. You're [she gestures to Edwards] number four. How can you hope to win with this kind of characterization, in this climate?

KERRY: Because it's a laughable characterization. It's absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.

BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?

KERRY: Let me just ...

BUMILLER: Are you a liberal?

KERRY: ... to the characterization. I mean, look, labels are so silly in American politics. I was one of the first Democrats in the United States Senate in 1985 to join with Fritz Hollings in deficit reduction. Now, does that make me a conservative? I fought to put 100,000 police officers on the streets of America. Am I a conservative?

BUMILLER: But, Senator Kerry, the question is ...

KERRY: I know. You don't let us finish answering questions.

BUMILLER: You're in New York.

Are you a liberal? Are you a liberal? Are you a liberal? I would expect this from Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, not one of the lead reporters at the paper of record. Pathetic. (By the way: Kerry is a liberal!)

Item: Dan Rather began the proceedings by asking the candidates about their "spirituality" or "religiosity." It was a little weird - Rather, after all, is a little weird - but I thought it was within bounds, since all four of them have brought up the G-word at one time or another. And, actually, their answers were at least somewhat revealing.

But then, in the closing minutes, Bumiller came back to it - this time putting it in the context of President Bush, who, she claimed, "has made quite clear in his speeches that he feels God is on America's side." (A fair interpretation, perhaps, but has Bush ever said anything quite that crude? I don't think so.)

She then asked: "Really quick, is God on America's side?" Roll that around on your tongue, in your mind, for a moment. Really quick, is God on America's side? Is this what we need from the people who are supposed to be explaining the presidential campaign to us? A sneering jab at Bush, followed by an invitation to the Democrats to make horse's asses of themselves? Really quick?

Kerry, understandably, looked stricken at the vacuousness of Bumiller's question. He fumbled around for a moment and didn't say much of anything. Edwards had such a good answer that you couldn't help but wonder whether he knew it was coming, observing that Abraham Lincoln once refused to pray that God was on our side - but that "I'll join you in a prayer that we're on God's side."

Good recovery. But that doesn't excuse Bumiller's cheap stunt.

Kerry supports federal benefits for gay couples. On Friday, I asked whether Edwards had moved ahead of Kerry in promising to extend federal marriage rights - though not the word "marriage" - to gay and lesbian couples that marry in states that choose to allow same-sex marriage. Kerry answered that yesterday, saying at one point, "That's why I am for civil union. That's why I'm for partnership rights. That's why I'm for even the federal extension, with respect to tax code and other rights."

With that, I would argue that Kerry is superior to Edwards on gay and lesbian rights, since Kerry's support of civil unions is more definitive than Edwards's. Neither man supports same-sex marriage.

Rod Paige, meet Mike Barnicle. Tim Francis-Wright catches WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Mike Barnicle referring to two Academy Award nominees with foreign-sounding names - one of whom is (gasp!) Iranian - as "terrorists." One would expect outrage, but I suppose that would be too much coming from a station that lets Jay Severin refer to illegal immigrants as "wetbacks" and Arabs as "towelheads." UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: The original item appeared in Saturday's Globe. Francis-Wright gives proper attribution, but I misunderstood the sequence.