Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Test-driving Apple's online music store. Media Log is taking the day off as the deadline for another project looms. However, I did want to report the results of my test-drive of Apple's iTunes Music Store. (It's not a website; rather, it's accessed through Apple's iTunes software. But you can learn all about it, and get started, by clicking here.)

Overall, I find it cool enough that I feel compelled to say that I don't own any Apple stock. I suspect it's a place I'll be returning to again and again. But you want to know the particulars, right?

First, the bad news. Apple's Macintosh computers already comprise less than three percent of the personal-computer market. To take advantage of the music store, though, you have to have not just any Mac, but one of quite recent vintage, running OS X (preferably the latest, OS X 10.2, a/k/a Jaguar), with a fast G3 or G4 processor, oodles of hard-drive space, and a broadband connection to the Internet.

One correspondent suggested to me yesterday that these stiff requirements might be Apple's way of forcing Mac-owning music-lovers to upgrade. No doubt that's part of it -- OS X is Apple's bet-the-company effort to keep Macs relevant, so it makes little sense for Steve Jobs to keep catering to those who own increasingly outmoded machines. But it's at least equally true that the music store is a huge, complex operation that requires a lot of horsepower. Designing a version for older Macs might have been pretty much impossible.

I am perversely fortunate in that my three-year-old PowerBook recently died, forcing me to buy a shiny new iBook that I couldn't really afford. So I was good to go.

Before I could even enter the store, I had to download two beefy pieces of software from Apple's website -- QuickTime 6.2 (18.4 MB) and iTunes 4 (8.3 MB). Like I said, you need a broadband connection.

The software installed quickly and easily, though, and in way less than half an hour I was perusing the store. It appears to be loaded with good stuff, including some online exclusives designed to entice you to buy.

I settled on an alternate take of Bob Dylan's "Everything Is Broken," from his Oh Mercy album of 1989. I entered some credit-card information, hit the "buy song" button, and boom -- there it was, a few minutes later. (By clicking on song titles, you can also get free 30-second samples.) A 99-cent charge will show up on my credit-card bill at the end of the month.

"Everything Is Broken" sounded pretty much the same as the original, only Zimmy was slightly more energetic, and the lyrics were different in spots -- addressed specifically to a woman, unlike the version he finally settled on for the album. More important, the sound quality was excellent -- noticeably better than the MP3s I've downloaded from various free sources. (Strictly for research purposes, of course!) That's because Apple is using an enhanced version of MP3 known as AAC.

I can also burn the song onto a CD or, if I had one, copy it to an Apple iPod MP3 player. I imagine you could copy it to a non-Apple MP3 player as well, although it would have to be converted to the regular MP3 format.

Though 99 cents seems more than reasonable for a song, I question the $10 being charged for most albums. For a few dollars more, you could get better sound (AAC is still compressed, after all) and nicer packaging. And though I haven't actually bought an album online yet, I'm pretty sure that you're also not going to get all the liner notes.

Still, this is a deeply impressive effort. This is sure to become the wave of the future -- provided that the paranoid record companies don't lose their nerve.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The death of Jerry Williams. The last time I talked with Jerry Williams was in November 1999. The legislature had just tried to kill the voter-approved Clean Elections law, and no one seemed to care. Williams -- who in his heyday could get listeners to his talk-radio show to light up the State House switchboard like missiles over Baghdad -- seemed dispirited by the apathetic response.

"Nobody knows anything. Everybody's boring," Williams told me. "I imagine if the president of the Senate walked out in front of the State House, no one would know who he is."

If you're under 30, or if you moved to Boston within the past 10 years, you might not know who Williams was, either. But the veteran talk-show host, who died today at the age of 79, was a legend, a man who helped invent the talk-radio format in the 1950s and '60s, and who -- in a last, late flowering of his career in the 1980s -- was as powerful and controversial a figure as there was in Boston.

Following a stint in New York, Williams returned here in 1981, taking the afternoon drive-time shift at WRKO Radio (AM 680). A lifelong liberal who had interviewed such figures as Malcolm X, the 'RKO version of Williams was something of a reinvention: he became an anti-tax populist, though never, despite what his critics thought, a true conservative.

(WRKO has put up a Williams bio on its website, along with some sound clips.)

Williams also became the scourge of Governor Michael Dukakis, especially during and after Dukakis's unsuccessful presidential run in 1988. The state budget was imploding and Dukakis, naturally, wanted to keep the truth under wraps as long as possible. Williams -- joined by Citizens for Limited Taxation director Barbara Anderson and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr -- took to the airwaves as "The Governors," mocking Dukakis in particular, and liberals in general.

Williams may also have been just about single-handedly responsible for the victory of a voter referendum to overturn an early version of the state's mandatory seatbelt law -- a crusade that seemed as important as the hunt for Osama bin Laden at the time, but that is now almost entirely forgotten.

Williams occupied a special place in the talk-show fraternity. He was neither as cerebral as David Brudnoy and Gene Burns nor as knowledgeable about politics as Peter Meade and David Finnegan. Rather, he was an entertainer who really cared about issues, and who actually got his vast listenership to care about issues, too.

And yes, it's true that he could be irrational on the subject of Dukakis, one of the most ethical and decent men to have served as governor of this state. And yes, his anti-tax crusades were misguided at best. But he approached politics from the point of view that people really mattered, and that they could take charge of their own government. All that and his annual sex survey, too.

The '90s were not kind to Williams. At one point, the media conglomerate he was working for put him and his erstwhile co-governor, Carr, opposite each other on two different radio stations that it owned. Carr won the ratings bake-off, and Williams was consigned first to a late-morning show, and then to the audience graveyard of weekend afternoons.

Williams finally left 'RKO, but never really gave up trying to revive his career. At the time of his death he was doing a show for WROL (AM 950), a small station in Quincy, a short drive from his home on the South Shore.

I once had an opportunity to do a show with Williams under unusual circumstances. Lew Koch, then a producer for a nationally syndicated talk-show host named Bruce DuMont, called me looking for advice. DuMont, who was based in Chicago, was coming to Boston to broadcast from WRKO on a Sunday night. (DuMont's show, Beyond the Beltway, is apparently still broadcast on WRKO. Who knew?) DuMont was a conservative, but Koch was a liberal. Koch told me that 'RKO was pushing him to put Carr on the air that night to lend a little local flavor; I urged him to get Williams instead.

So there I was, sitting in a studio with DuMont; someone from then-governor Bill Weld's office; and Williams, who sat in a corner looking sour. Weld had recently signed a Draconian welfare-reform bill, and the governor's staffer and DuMont were smugly holding forth about those damn welfare cheats.

Now, if Carr had been there, he would have been sure to chime in about the "gimme girls," his charming term for poor single mothers. But as I said, even though Williams had turned into an anti-taxer in his latter years, he never turned into a conservative.

All of a sudden, he roused himself and started barking. "What are these women supposed to do?" he demanded, leaning into the microphone. No one said a word. Williams continued -- unfortunately, I have no record of exactly what he said, but as I recall, he excoriated Weld for throwing poor women off welfare without making any provisions for child care or health care.

It was a great moment, and I beamed at my little subterfuge.

Perhaps the best-known episode from earlier in Williams's career took place in 1972, when Williams -- then at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) -- took a long, anguished call from a man who identified himself as a Vietnam veteran. Williams had a tape of the call, and he played it occasionally over the years. It never ceased to be moving.

In 1998 came a startling piece of news: a Boston Globe piece by liberal activist Jim Braude, now the cohost of NECN's NewsNight, claiming that the call was actually a hoax perpetrated by longtime union activist Domenic Bozzotto, who'd never served. Bozzotto denied it, but Braude appeared to have the goods. When I asked Williams about it, he told me, "I have never known who it was. What he said was more important than whether he was Joe from Framingham or Domenic from East Boston."

Williams leaves a much-diminished talk-radio scene. David Brudnoy, fortunately, is still going strong on WBZ. These days, though, hosts are either nationally syndicated right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, or local trash-talkers like Carr and his drivetime competitor, Jay Severin, who holds forth on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), or sports talkers Gerry Callahan and John Dennis on WEEI Radio (AM 850).

Six years ago I wrote a piece for the Phoenix called "The Death of Talk Radio." Sadly, it's deader now than it was then. When you hear the homophobic, race-baiting rants and foul language that pass for talk radio today, it's hard to believe that Jerry Williams was ever controversial.

It's also hard to believe that he's really gone.

Banfield's too good for them. Let me see if I've got this straight. Right-wing homophobic talk-show host Michael Savage, in his "book," The Savage Nation, jokes that MSNBC stands for "More Snotty Nonsense By Creeps," and refers to MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield as "the mind-slut with a big pair of glasses that they sent to Afghanistan."

So how did MSNBC executives respond? Why, they hired him, of course. And when he called Banfield a "slut" on the air for daring to interview loyalists to Saddam Hussein, his bosses reacted with silence.

Now Banfield has chosen to speak out, criticizing the networks -- not just her own -- for portraying the war as a glorious romp for democracy rather than the more complex and bloody conflict that it was.

"You did not see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortars landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me," Banfield said at a speech at Kansas State University last week.

She also dared to take on Savage, saying:

He was so taken aback by my daring to speak to martyrs ... for being prepared to sacrifice themselves, he chose to label me a slut on the air, and that's not all, as a porn star and an accessory to the murder of Jewish children. These are the ramifications for simply bringing the message in the Arab world.

A rational response might be to cheer Banfield for stating some obvious truths that few mainstream-media people want to say. But, noooo. Instead, NBC News released a statement saying:

Ms. Banfield does not speak for NBC News. We are deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks, and will review her comments with her. In the meantime, we want to emphasize how proud we are of the journalism produced by NBC News and of the men and women who worked around the clock, even risking their lives, to bring this story to the American public.

Unfortunately, what's going on is very simple. Banfield is absolutely right about the war coverage, and besides, she's simply defending herself from someone who has attacked her twice in grotesquely sexist terms. But MSNBC's past attempts to turn her into its hot-babe marquee ratings star failed, so she's not allowed to speak out.

She'll be gone -- soon. So will Savage, after it becomes clear that his hate-filled, lower-than-public-access-quality talk show is a ratings loser. And MSNBC will continue its long, unwatched march into oblivion.

Green days. Today's Boston Herald has some very, very hot news. Remember all those stories about how rich Governor Mitt Romney, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, and some of their top appointees are? Well, guess what? They're still rich.

Admiring, but not biting, the Apple. So how come none of the reporters writing about Apple's new online music store -- at least not those for the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times, or Wired News -- actually seem to have tried it out?

Salon's Farhad Manjoo doesn't explicitly say that he test-drove it, but he drools over it so unquestioningly -- "Forgive me if the above sounds like a paid-for marketing pitch for Apple" -- that he damn well better have.

As of late yesterday afternoon, the service appeared to be up and running. Media Log didn't have a chance to test it, but was it unreasonable to assume that someone actually assigned to cover the story would give it a shot?

Okay, Slate's Paul Boutin tried it. He likes it.

Monday, April 28, 2003

A Napster that you pay for. A year or two ago I was reading an article about the sorry state of the online music business, with its high monthly fees, its patchwork line-up of artists, and its odious restrictions on copying the music you'd just paid for onto a CD or an MP3 player.

The smartest observation was from an analyst who said that everyone already knew what customers wanted: a Napster that you pay for. In other words, a wide selection, reasonable prices for the music you want, no monthly fees, and few or no restrictions on what you could do with your MP3s once you'd downloaded them to your hard drive.

Today Apple will announce a new music service that pretty much adds up to -- yes -- a Napster that you pay for. The announcement will take place at 1 p.m. The early word, according to this Boston Globe story by Chris Gaither, is that Apple will charge 99 cents per song (or $10 for an album), and that you'll be able to burn it onto a CD or copy it to an MP3 player without any hassle, although there is supposed to be some sort of restriction on how many times you can copy it.

Today's Financial Times has a good summary of Apple's music service as well.

Last Friday the Wall Street Journal's Matthew Rose had a terrific profile of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and of how he came to see that the Next Big Thing was not digital video -- as he had believed a couple of years ago -- but online music.

I suspect that Apple's announcement marks the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. That is, the entire music-industry infrastructure has been rotting from within for years now, as its younger customers have taken to downloading all the music they want for free -- illegally -- via such Napster successors as KaZaA and LimeWire. Apple's move is spectacular on the surface, but it's really just the last, inevitable step in a long process.

Most people are fundamentally honest, or will be if they don't feel like they're getting ripped off. Until now, though, the music industry has refused to reconfigure its business to adjust to how its best customers now choose to obtain their music.

Instead, the industry has filed outrageous lawsuits against a handful of college students who have acted not just as downloaders, but as enablers. As Harry Shearer sneered in the New York Times on Sunday: "Here's a business model with a future: sue your customers."

By charging only for the music that a customer buys, and by going easy on the copying restrictions, Apple is the first legitimate business to try an approach that might actually work. Of course, even though Steve Jobs deserves credit in pushing this, it's clear that the music industry would never have gone along if its executives weren't desperate.

Weirdly, the Times' Matt Richtel writes today, "Unless Apple unveils something radically unexpected, its service will not represent a marked difference from some of the Internet services already in existence."

Matt, cruise on over to Rhapsody, at, the largest online music company. Yes, it does sound like you can do pretty much what you want with songs after you've downloaded them for 99 cents apiece. But you have to pay $9.95 a month whether you download anything or not. That's the barrier that Apple is now trying to topple.

No doubt you'll be able to get all the details on Apple's website later today, after the announcement.

If history is any guide, Apple will succeed, but most of the economic benefits will accrue to those who rush in afterwards. At least at first, Apple's service will supposedly be limited to Mac users, but that will change. Apple's Macintosh computers now only control less than three percent of the market, and four of those computers are in Media Log's house. As a technological innovator, though, Apple is without peer.

This will work.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The truth about the state budget crisis. Every member of Governor Mitt Romney's staff, every legislator, and every no-new-taxes automaton should be required to sit down and read this article in today's Boston Globe, by Peter Orszag, of the Brookings Institution, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

The executive summary:

  • Raising taxes is often the least damaging way out of a fiscal crisis in terms of harming the economy.
  • Compared to other states, taxes in Massachusetts are relatively low, both in relative and absolute terms.
  • The tax cuts of the 1990s primarily benefited the wealthy -- those who can most easily afford an increase now.
  • Nearly all of the spending increases of the '90s went to vital areas such as public education, health care, and prisons.

Sadly, elected leaders are giving into populist demogoguery of the anti-tax forces, as Boston Herald columnist Wayne Woodlief notes today. Mind you, Wayne thinks that's good. (You'll have to pay to read Woodlief's column. Is that a tax or a fee?)

The Herald website also points to a column by Tom Moroney, who works for the MetroWest Daily News, a sister paper. Moroney asks a lot of questions of folks he doesn't like, such as the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the AIDS Action Committee.

Read it for yourself, but in the meantime, I have a challenge for Moroney: explain precisely what is wrong with Orszag and Stiglitz's analysis. If you can't, are you willing to change your mind about the need for new taxes? And can you think about this in structural terms, rather than nitpicking it to death with little things that most of us already agree on, such as the need to reform the Quinn law?

Saturday, April 26, 2003

The varieties of stealing. Reader JP points out a logical inconsistency in yesterday's New York Times story on the IRS crackdown aimed at poor and working-class families who benefit from the earned-income tax credit. It is an inconsistency that Media Log blushingly confesses to having missed entirely.

The Times story noted that tax-credit fraud costs the government less than $10 billion a year, whereas corporate tax shelters cost more than $50 billion. But as JP notes, those who are wrongly collecting the earned-income tax credit are engaged in criminal activity, whereas corporate tax shelters are perfectly legal.

Of course, if poor people had the lobbying muscle of corporations, cheating on the earned-income tax credit would be enshrined in the tax code as a positive good. Like the old Bob Dylan line says, "Steal a little and they throw you in jail, steal a lot and they make you king."

Friday, April 25, 2003

Then again, they probably didn't vote for Bush. Mary Williams Walsh has a truly sickening story on the front page of today's New York Times. George W. Bush's IRS is cracking down on the earned-income tax credit, or EITC, the principal means by which the Clinton administration helped low-income working families.

It seems that there may be some fraud going on, and no, fraud isn't good. But Walsh shows that the IRS is demanding a level of proof that almost no one will be able to comply with.

Meanwhile, the most mind-blowing detail comes near the end of her story:

An I.R.S. briefing paper ... states that in 1999 the Treasury lost $8.5 billion to $9.9 billion by paying earned-income tax credits to filers who should not have received them. A separate analysis, by two Treasury Department specialists, says subsequent measures may have reduced these erroneous payments by $2 billion.

By comparison, corporations managed to sidestep as much as $54 billion in 1998, by hiding about $155 billion in profits in tax shelters, according to a study by a Harvard economist, Mihir A. Desai.

Guess which type of fraud the Bushies are more pissed off about? As my father used to say, it is enough to gag a maggot.

Hard drives and hard times. Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey offers "a little perspective" on the state budget crisis this morning, noting:

[O]ne of the safest jobs to have through this recession has been a government job. Just 0.7 percent of federal, state, and local jobs in Massachusetts -- 3,000 people in all -- have been cut in the same period, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Massachusetts technology giant EMC Corp. alone has cut more than twice that many jobs worldwide over the last two years.

That's fine, but Bailey omits the difference between EMC's getting rid of workers (fewer hard drives for customers who don't want them anyway) and cities and towns getting rid of teachers (do I have to point out the obvious?).

Jill Stein, the Green Party for governor last year, released a statement yesterday saying that a good chunk of the deficit could be closed by "raising over $2 billion in additional state revenues by closing loopholes and making the current tax system fairer."

Stein isn't specific, but what she's saying is actually pretty well known. The '90s were a time of huge tax giveaways in Massachusetts, mainly to the affluent and to the business community.

In fact, the website of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities, the organization that Stein now heads, is loaded with ideas to bring in more money and to make the tax system fairer.

I don't know how many of these are good ideas, but it looks like a worthwhile place to start.

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Berlin to Media Log: Bush still stinks! Boston University journalism professor Michael Berlin is unhappy with Media Log's ever-so-slight deviation from its usual anti-Bushism:

Dan --

Of course you are right that it does matter if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq.

I am troubled, however, by your "however."

I do not think that President Bush should get any credit whatever for ending human-rights violations, since that was not at all his purpose; it was a "collateral" dividend.

The reason he should not get credit is that he lied to the world and, more importantly to us, the American people, in offering justification for an invasion that killed 130-plus Americans and far more innocent Iraqis and (given the American track record in nation-building in Afghanistan, Haiti, and beyond) offers no certainty that the people of Iraq would be better off 10 years down the road, if factional fighting or a rigid Islamic autocracy were to emerge from the present vacuum.

I needn't even reach for my previous argument against invasion -- that even if Iraq had WMD, there was no indication that it would use them against us or give them to terror groups to use against us, and that human-rights violations, in themselves, cannot legitimize the unilateral exercise of military power against a regime unless they are of the scale that prompted President Bartlett to act to stop a Rwanda-style massacre, on West Wing. (Would Bush have intervened? We know that Clinton didn't.)

Retrospectively, I will say that if human-rights violations alone could justify such an invasion, there would be half a dozen candidates for invasion with a claim equal to that of Saddam Hussein, including "friendly" nations such as Indonesia and possibly Pakistan. I too believe that people can live best under a democracy, but a government that unilaterally decides which autocracies must be overthrown by force is not one I would take pride in; there is too much danger of arrogance and misuse of power.

If no WMD are found, Bush's claims (and Colin Powell's too) to the contrary will surely cost them dearly in the world. I only hope that it costs them dearly with the American people and, in itself, without other considerations being necessary, makes it impossible for them to win a second term in office.


Berlin makes some splendid points, but I guess my view of Bush just isn't quite as cynical as his. I think Samantha Power got Bush exactly right when she told me -- in part of an interview for this week's Phoenix that, unfortunately, didn't make the cut -- that she believes the president is committed to liberalization and reform in places like Iraq, but lacks consistency. Said Power:

The cynical way of viewing Goerge Bush's behavior is that he doesn't have any commitment to [those principles], and he's just invoking them. I don't think that's true. I think he is committed to these principles, but he just doesn't want to apply them very many places. You may say that's the same as not having the principles in the first place, but you know, whatever. That's the way it is.

This doesn't absolve Bush, of course, but I think it does explain him. I have no doubt that he's thrilled at the scenes of liberation playing out in Iraq, and has probably by now convinced himself that that's why we went in in the first place.

However, he lacks the imagination, on the one hand, to understand how much damage we caused to Iraq and to ourselves in the process and, on the other hand, how many other terrible places are crying out for liberation as well -- not just his pet bugaboos, Syria and Iraq, but, as Berlin notes, "friendly" regimes as well.

Stay tuned. I'll be on The David Brudnoy Show tonight from 8 to 9 p.m. on WBZ Radio (AM 1030). The topics will be this week's cover story in the Phoenix ("Waging Post-Warfare"), media coverage of the war in Iraq, and whatever else is on David's mind.

Local zero. Rick Santorum's hometown papers don't appear too worked up about his grotesque homophobic remarks to the Associated Press.

The dominant Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, having run a story and excerpts from the interview yesterday, is silent today, save for a critical letter to the editor. The rival Tribune-Review, despite being owned by right-wing financier Richard Mellon Scaife, has a mild but anti-Santorum column today by Dimitri Vassilaros.

Neither paper has run an editorial on the matter yet.

Couldn't check the statewide Philadelphia Inquirer or the tabloid Philadelphia Daily News, as their websites appeared to be down this morning.

But you can't help but get the feeling that this is going to fizzle pretty quickly. This culture simply doesn't put gay-bashing on the same plane as racism. Too bad.

More on the horrors of Iraq. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby doesn't seem to think it matters whether we find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. I disagree -- after all, that was our most prominently stated purpose for going to war.

However, there's no question that we put a halt to one of the most gut-wrenching humanitarian crises in the world: the torture and murder performed routinely by the regime of Saddam Hussein and his sons, especially Uday.

Three more horrifying reports on the particulars, in the current Newsweek, and in today's New York Times and Boston Globe.

Even if George W. Bush's adventure comes to a bad end; even if his intentions were less than pure going in; he has to get at least some credit for putting an end to such evil.

Surreality show. If O.J. feels like killing someone, does the camera crew have to stop rolling?

New in this week's Phoenix. I interview eight foreign-policy experts on what will and should happen next in Iraq and with the US position in the world. Offering their thoughts are Samantha Power, Fareed Zakaria, Paul Berman, Khaled Abou El Fadl, Lawrence Kaplan, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Joseph Nye, and Katrina vanden Heuvel.

Also, I take a look at the annual Jefferson Muzzle Awards, in which Attorney General John Ashcroft leads the pack in suppressing the First Amendment and expanding government secrecy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Bestiality, homophobia, and Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's disgracefully homophobic junior senator, lives in the Pittsburgh suburb of Penn Hills, according to his Senate biography.

The local weekly, the Penn Hills Star, has not yet had a chance to react to his outburst comparing and contrasting homosexuality to pedophilia, bigamy, polygamy, and bestiality. (Why is it that the right-wing Republican gay-bashers always turn out to be lugging around a mind full of depravity?)

But the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is certainly a worthwhile read this morning. It includes long excerpts of Santorum's so-called thoughts, expressed in an interview with the Associated Press. ("That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." Woof!) The Post-Gazette also publishes a story by politics editor James O'Toole on the angry reaction that Santorum's hate speech generated.

The rival Pittsburgh Tribune-Review runs just a wire story that gets little play on the paper's home page. Apparently nothing on the editorial pages or from the columnists, either. Is the Trib really that slow off the mark, or is this a reflection of the sensibilities of its zillionaire right-wing owner, Richard Mellon Scaife?

The pillars of more or less respectable conservative opinion, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard, and National Review, appear to be silent this morning; their pundits are no doubt trying to figure out how to defend the indefensible.

No such problem at the right-wing site, which shortly after midnight today posted a hysterical rant under the headline "KKK-FJB Democrats Attack Santorum for Gay Comment." The "KKK" is a reference to Senator Robert Byrd's former membership in the Ku Klux Klan; "FJB" is an acronym for something that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton supposedly once said, and I'm sorry, you're just going to have to read the damn thing to find out what it means.

Tellingly, NewsMax quotes Santorum's milder comment about "bigamy," "polygamy," "incest," and "adultery," but leaves out what he said about kids and dogs. Even the wing-nuts understand how toxic this is.

Forbidden souvenirs. You may have already seen this -- Romenesko has it up -- but if you haven't, check it out. Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden just can't keep his name out of the paper.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Amphibious landing. If it weren't for that weenie Colin Powell, we could have already taken over the rest of the world by now. And Newt Gingrich is ready to do something about it.

Huh? At this late date, the very phrase "Newt Gingrich" might suggest that this is a joke. But the Newtster has managed to embed himself within a Pentagon advisory committee, and -- according to this truly scary Washington Post story by Glenn Kessler -- he's taken up the cudgel on behalf of those who think Powell is too influential and Donald Rumsfeld just isn't powerful enough.

In the event that George W. Bush sides with Gingrich, hit "Eject."

Quote of the day. Media Log thought about nominating the Reverend James Allen, an African-American minister who told the Boston Globe's Andrea Estes that the loss of free golf privileges at Franklin Park for a group of black ministers was, well, you know, "a racial thing," maybe.

But then I read down and found this gem from another minister who's suddenly facing the anguish of pay-to-play, the Reverend Brian Gearin:

It would have been nice. But I believe God is in control. If it was meant to be, it would have happened. If you believe God is in control of everything, you're able to take the good with the bad.

Yes, indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

Anatomy of a non-scoop. Slate's Jack Shafer has a smart take on Judith Miller's non-news in yesterday's New York Times that an Iraqi scientist she couldn't interview had told American officials about weapons of mass destruction that she couldn't identify.

No follow-up in today's Times, either.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Face to face (sort of) with Eason Jordan. CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan and I appeared on CNN's Reliable Sources yesterday. We didn't debate each other directly -- rather, host Howard Kurtz interviewed Jordan in studio, and then asked me to comment from my perch in Boston. You can read the transcript here.

I thought Jordan's most interesting comments involved what he called the "hypocrisy" of other media in condemning CNN's dealings with the regime of Saddam Hussein while keeping quiet about their own dealings. At one point Jordan said:

There were many journalists who knew stories like this. I encourage you and everyone to read the New York Times today. John Burns has a diary, a Baghdad diary in the New York Times that is fascinating, it's very compelling, and it's all true about what compromises journalists had to make in Baghdad in order to stay there and not to put innocent lives at risk.

Burns's front-page "Baghdad Diary" in Sunday's Times, headlined "Last Days of a Brutal Regime," is indeed "fascinating" and "compelling," the sort of gripping account that he (and the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid) have justly become known for during the war in Iraq.

Among other things, Burns reveals that he spent the final days of the regime skulking around stairwells and staying in other reporters' hotel rooms to prevent the authorities from following through on a threat to haul him away, never to be seen again.

Here's the section of Burns's piece that Jordan was talking about:

A tacit understanding, accepted by many visiting journalists, was that there were aspects of Mr. Hussein's Iraq that could be mentioned only obliquely. First among these was the personality of Mr. Hussein himself, and the fact that he was widely despised and feared by Iraqis, something that was obvious to any visitor ready to listen to the furtive whispers in which this hatred was commonly expressed.

The terror that was the most pervasive aspect of society under Mr. Hussein was another topic that was largely taboo. Every interview conducted by television reporters, and most print journalists, was monitored; any Iraqi voicing an opinion other than those approved by the state would be vulnerable to arrest, torture and execution. But these were facts rarely mentioned by many reporters.

Some reporters bought expensive gifts for senior ministry officials, submitted copies of their stories to show they were friendly to Iraq, or invited key officials like Uday al-Ta'ee, director general of information, for dinners at the expensive restaurants favored by Mr. Hussein's elite.

On the editorial page of today's Times, Ethan Bronner writes with considerable sophistication and nuance about the terrible conflicts that journalists face in covering a regime such as Saddam's. Bronner writes of the Jordan affair:

The controversy has highlighted an uncomfortable reality. Covering totalitarian states forces a journalist to act in compromising ways. Anyone who has reported from such countries knows that it is one of the most challenging tasks a journalist faces, involving daily calculations over access, honesty, freedom of movement and fear of reprisal. Some governments assume a foreign journalist is a spy. The way they treat you forces you to act like one.

Bronner seemingly defends Jordan in writing: "It's easy to say Mr. Jordan and CNN made the wrong choice. It certainly allows for a comforting moral clarity." Yet he also follows that by saying, "And it may be that they stepped over a line in pandering to Iraqi officials." Earlier in the piece Bronner asserts: "Mr. Jordan's confession did not inspire confidence."

Bronner, I think, gets at the heart of the problem. Yes, media insiders understand that compromises must be made in order to cover the news in a horrible place such as Iraq. (Something they could and should do a much better job of explaining to the public they are supposedly serving.)

But Eason Jordan, in his 13 trips to Iraq, did far more than decide what to cover and what to set aside for another day. By his own account, he was dragged against his will into life-and-death decision-making. I'm glad he's decided to come clean, but he still hasn't convinced me that he did the right thing in not ordering CNN to pull out of Iraq.

More smoke; gun TK? The Times' Judith Miller today reports what may be the existence of the smoking gun. Her lead:

A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.

Further down, though, Miller writes:

Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.

Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist's safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked.

The facts that Miller reports may turn out to be true. But based on the sketchy, censored details that she has to offer today, why was this story published on the front page? For that matter, why was it published at all?

From Boston to Baghdad. Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker and Boston Herald columnist Cosmo Macero (fee required) both love the irony of Big Dig overlord Bechtel's decamping for Iraq. Walker's conclusion: "The accounting on the Big Dig is a costly public disgrace. But that's already history. For Bechtel, it's on to Baghdad."

Friday, April 18, 2003

Liberation abroad, repression at home. Even as the liberation of Iraq continues, we're a long way from liberation in this country when it comes to gay men and lesbians.

Two pieces in today's New York Times illustrate that the silliness -- actually, it's quite a bit worse than silliness -- continues. Christopher Marquis reports on the secrecy that lesbian and gay couples in the military must engage in so that they can stay clear of the ridiculous "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

And Erica Goode finds that the government is making it increasingly difficult for scientists who study AIDS to win grants if their applications use "provocative" phrases such as "anal sex" and "sex workers." You really can't make this stuff up.

By the way, this week's Phoenix features an article by Kristen Lombardi on the legal struggle for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts -- a case before the Supreme Judicial Court that could be decided within the next few months.

Big Dig II. So, is there any truth to the rumor that the White House has hired former Big Dig chief Jim Kerasiotes to make sure that Bechtel stays on time and on budget in Iraq?

A loan for lean times. It looks like at least some state officials are finally coming to their senses. The Boston Globe's Rick Klein reports that legislators are thinking about borrowing money in order to get through a temporary fiscal crisis rather than to continue to inflict pain on those who depend on government services.

There's a lot of blather right now about the legislature's refusal to go along with Governor Mitt Romney's reforms. No doubt some of the reforms that Romney has proposed are worthy. So are the ones being pushed by a few reformist Democrats (getting rid of the Governor's Council and the Quinn bill for starters), described in a column today by the Globe's Scot Lehigh.

No one, though, thinks these reforms will add up to more than a pittance. Yes, the ones that make sense should be enacted. But real human needs should not be held hostage to them, either.

You don't say? "Madonna's Real Art: Getting Attention." From today's New York Times. (With apologies to James Taranto.)

The absolute last way you would ever want to blow a perfectly good day. Spend an afternoon with Jose Canseco. And pay for the privilege.

Media Log on CNN. As of right now, I'm scheduled to appear on CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. to discuss the Eason Jordan situation with host Howard Kurtz. I'm told Jordan will be there, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Unfair to CNN's Jordan. Reader KH writes that the Washington Post editorial page -- and, thus, Media Log -- was unfair to CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan on Tuesday.

KH asks me to look again at this section of the Post editorial:

If the network had also told its viewers that Mr. Jordan dealt with an Iraqi official whose teeth had been pried out for upsetting his boss, Uday Hussein, then those watching the electoral story might have felt differently about that report, about the election result and about a regime that terrified its citizens into proclaiming their unanimous support.

Next, KH quotes this passage from Jordan's memo to the CNN staff, a copy of which Jordan had sent to Media Log and which I ran in full in the very item that KH takes issue with:

When an Iraqi official, Abbas al-Janabi, defected after his teeth were yanked out with pliers by Uday Saddam Hussein's henchmen, I worked to ensure the defector gave his first TV interview to CNN. He did.

KH asks: "[D]o you see the contradiction here?" Well, yes. Media Log is glad to set the record straight, and awaits word on when the Post will do the same.

Meanwhile, Boston Globe columnists Ellen Goodman and Jeff Jacoby let Jordan have it today.

Partisan Review and the varieties of Trotskyism. Media Log is way too unlettered to have anything intelligent to say about the demise of the legendary Partisan Review, which has been defunded by Boston University chancellor John Silber. (When you're ripe, it's time to go, eh, Dr. Silber?)

But this assessment in Slate, by Sam Tanenhaus, is smart and entertaining. I'll leave it to others to judge whether he also happens to be right.

New in this week's Phoenix. This week I take a look at whether the media's renewed commitment to foreign-news coverage will survive the transition from the shooting war in Iraq to the much more difficult effort to rebuild the country.

Also, I write about Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden's astounding account about helping to kill Iraqi soldiers who were trying to kill him and the American troops with whom he was embedded.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

More questions for CNN's Jordan. Not all the news coming out of CNN is bad these days. The wretched Crossfire is getting bumped to the dead zone to make way for Paula Zahn, and Aaron Brown is still employed, buzz to the contrary notwithstanding. (The headline on Media Whores Online: "Rumors Swirl that Brown too Competent for CNN.")

But the controversy that has engulfed chief news executive Eason Jordan hasn't died down quite yet. Nor should it.

If you haven't read Peter Collins's commentary in yesterday's Washington Times yet, well, hop to it. I'm a day late to this particular car crash, but Collins is devastating. He describes working at CNN in 1993 and being upbraided for showing insufficient on-air enthusiasm regarding some lie-filled blather from Saddam Hussein at a time when Jordan and CNN's then-president, Tom Johnson, were trying to line up an interview with Saddam.

I suspect this would have gotten more attention if it were not for the fact that Collins's account is essentially uncorroborated, and that it was published in the lightly regarded WashTimes. But what motives would Collins have to make this stuff up?

Also, Hub Blogger Jay Fitzgerald has absolutely nailed Jordan on a detail that appears to have eluded everyone else, including Media Log. Jordan, in his op-ed in the New York Times last Friday, wrote about a Kuwaiti woman who was tortured and murdered for the crime of giving an interview to CNN -- one of several horrific stories Jordan sat on until now, citing the need to protect CNN's people in Iraq.

But wait. As Fitzgerald notes, Kuwait was liberated 12 years ago. Why did Jordan believe he needed to remain silent all these years? Fitzgerald's conclusion: "They sold their souls for access."

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Eason Jordan defends his choice. CNN's Eason Jordan has written to Media Log to offer his side in the controversy over the op-ed piece that he wrote for the New York Times last Friday. Jordan writes:


While we probably will agree to disagree on some things about CNN's history in Iraq, I wanted you to know my side of the story. I shared this note with my CNN colleagues yesterday:

Since my op-ed piece in the New York Times Friday stirred a controversy, I want to share my thoughts with you about it. In the op-ed, I described how the Iraqi regime intimidated, tortured, and killed people who helped CNN over the years. It was a tough piece to write. But I felt strongly the stories needed to be told as soon as telling them would not automatically result in the killing of innocent colleagues, friends, and acquaintances -- most of them Iraqis.

Some critics complain that the op-ed piece proves CNN withheld vital information from the public and kowtowed to the Saddam Hussein regime to maintain a CNN reporting presence in Iraq. That is nonsense. No news organization in the world had a more contentious relationship with the Iraqi regime than CNN. The Iraqi leadership was so displeased with CNN's Iraq reporting, CNN was expelled from Iraq six times -- five times in previous years and one more time on day three of this Iraq war. Those expulsions lasted as long as six months at a time. CNN's Baghdad bureau chief, Jane Arraf, was banned from the country in response to her reporting on an unprecedented public protest demanding to know what happened to Iraqis who vanished years earlier after being abducted by Iraqi secret police. Christiane Amanpour, Wolf Blitzer, Aaron Brown, Brent Sadler, Nic Robertson, Rym Brahimi, Sheila MacVicar, Ben Wedeman, and Richard Roth were among the other CNN correspondents and anchors banned from Iraq. If CNN were trying to kowtow and maintain its Baghdad presence at any cost, would CNN's reporting have produced a contentious relationship, expulsions, and bannings? No. CNN kept pushing for access in Iraq, while never compromising its journalistic standards in doing so. Withholding information that would get innocent people killed was the right thing to do, not a journalistic sin.

Did CNN report on the brutality of the regime? Yes, as best we could, mostly from outside Iraq, where people in the know could speak more freely than people inside Iraq. In Saddam's Iraq, no one was foolish enough to speak on camera or on the record about the brutality of the regime because anyone doing so would be effectively signing his or her death warrant. So we reported on Iraq's human rights record from outside Iraq and featured many interviews with Iraqi defectors who described the regime's brutality in graphic detail. When an Iraqi official, Abbas al-Janabi, defected after his teeth were yanked out with pliers by Uday Saddam Hussein's henchmen, I worked to ensure the defector gave his first TV interview to CNN. He did. I also personally asked Tariq Aziz in a live TV interview during one of our World Report Conferences to defend his country's dreadful human rights record. Other CNNers over the years also put tough questions to Iraqi officials.

Some critics say if I had told my Iraq horror stories sooner, I would have saved thousands of lives. How they come to that conclusion, I don't know. Iraq's human rights record and the brutality of the Saddam Hussein regime were well known before I wrote my op-ed piece. The only sure thing that would have happened if I told those stories sooner is the regime would have tracked down and killed the innocent people who told me those stories. Critics say I could have told the stories without identifying Iraqis by name. But the Iraqi secret police surely knew everyone I met in Iraq and would have had no trouble identifying who told me the stories. No doubt those people would be dead today if I spoke sooner.

A number of people have told me CNN should have closed its Baghdad bureau, helped everyone who told me the horror stories flee Iraq, with me thereafter telling those stories publicly long before now. While that is a noble thought, doing so was not a viable option. Iraqis (and their families) who told me those stories in some cases could not, and in other cases would not, leave their country simply for the sake of CNN being able to share their stories with the world. Incidentally, there are countless such horror stories in Iraq. I knew just a few of them. We will hear many more of them in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Knowing the personal stories I knew about the brutality of the regime, I had three options:

1. Never repeat such horror stories.

2. Tell the stories sooner and, as a result, see innocent people killed.

3. Tell the stories after the downfall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

I chose option three and could never imagine doing anything else.

I chose to write the NY Times op-ed to provide a record of one person's experiences with the brutality of the Iraqi regime and to ensure we maintain CNN's long record of reporting on atrocities around the world, even if in these cases we could do so only years later to protect the lives of innocent people.


Jordan has obviously been anguished over this for some time. But I think a serious issue remains: by Jordan's own admission, CNN's reporting was compromised over the past decade because its top news executive knew terrible things about the regime of Saddam Hussein that he could not say.

What should he have done differently? Here's one possibility: he simply should have pulled CNN out of Iraq and explained that the regime was not allowing the network to report on the country fully and honestly.

At a time when Fox News and MSNBC have been all but marching into battle on behalf of the White House, CNN has been a sober and serious alternative. Unfortunately, we now know that CNN's reporting on Iraq has been compromised all along. Yes, CNN and the Iraqi government had contentious relations, and I don't doubt that CNN was as tough on the regime as Jordan dared. But at a certain point, ethics dictate that you seriously consider walking away.

The Washington Post today has a tough editorial on the choice Jordan made. Its conclusion is worth pondering:

It is difficult to make judgments in retrospect, but some CNN reporting did seem deliberately unprovocative, given the true nature of the regime. An election last autumn, which Saddam Hussein won with 100 percent of the votes, was interpreted as a "message of defiance to U.S. President George Bush," for example. If the network had also told its viewers that Mr. Jordan dealt with an Iraqi official whose teeth had been pried out for upsetting his boss, Uday Hussein, then those watching the electoral story might have felt differently about that report, about the election result and about a regime that terrified its citizens into proclaiming their unanimous support.

Justified or not, that is the perception that CNN is now going to have to overcome.

Another view on CNN's Jordan. Alex Jones, director of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, at Harvard's Kennedy School, makes a case for going slow on the matter of CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan, who confessed in last Friday's New York Times to covering up shocking acts by the Iraqi government in order to protect his own people.

"I think he stays. I think he made choices that every news organization has to make in a tough situation," Jones tells Media Log. And though he adds, "What I question is whether the access that he was essentially making that bargain for was at too dear a price," he also says: "I certainly wouldn't fire him for this. This is an anguishing situation."

Perhaps Jones's most salient point is that though Jordan is the first news executive to speak out about the unholy alliances that were made in order to keep reporters in Iraq, he may by no means be the last.

"We're going to have to hear from other news organizations, it seems to me," says Jones. "I would be very reluctant to cast the first stone." Noting that news organizations will bend to maintain access, Jones says, "It may be that he bent too far, but I've got a feeling that everybody is bent. That goes with being in a terrible place."

I'm too appalled by Jordan's actions to agree with Jones, but I certainly agree with him on this: let's have full disclosure from every major news executive who had to negotiate issues of access with the regime of Saddam Hussein, especially in the years following the Gulf War.

It might very well make for a fascinating and disturbing story.

Where is Salam? "Salam Pax," the Baghdad resident whose blog, "Where Is Raed?", made for some of the most gripping reading of the war, has not been heard from since March 24. Here's hoping he'll surface soon.

The war must really be winding down. The Boston Herald is bringing Jules Crittenden home and expanding the "Inside Track" to two pages, complete with new headshots of Tracksters Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa. You don't really get the effect from the online version, but here it is anyway.

They're laughing at you. Your stock portfolio is down 90 percent, but be of good cheer: the CEOs of the companies you've invested in are still living the good life. They're giving you the finger, and the Boston Globe's Beth Healy has the details.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Foer's revenge. Franklin Foer, who was attacked by CNN last fall after writing a piece for the New Republic on how the network toadied to Saddam Hussein, responds today on to CNN news chief Eason Jordan's shocking admissions in last Friday's New York Times.

Jordan described covering up his knowledge of terrible human-rights abuses in order to protect his own people in Iraq and to guarantee continued access.

As Foer observes, "Leaving ... might have been preferable to staying under these conditions." Those are words worth contemplating as Jordan and his superiors contemplate his future at CNN as well.

Life, death, and objectivity. Here are a few of Roget's synonyms for objectivity: "detachment," "disinterest," "dispassion," "fairness," and "impartiality." In journalism, fairness and impartiality are good; but detachment and dispassion are more suitable for a certified public accountant than for someone who's trying to bring a story home in all of its vivid truth.

The Boston Herald's embedded reporter, Jules Crittenden, described the limits of objectivity in an astounding account for the Sunday paper, recounting how he called out Iraqi positions as his unit rolled through Baghdad, thus helping to kill three Iraqi soldiers. He writes:

Some in our profession might think as a reporter and non-combatant, I was there only to observe. Now that I have assisted in the deaths of three human beings in the war I was sent to cover, I'm sure there are some people who will question my ethics, my objectivity, etc. I'll keep the argument short. Screw them, they weren't there. But they are welcome to join me next time if they care to test their professionalism.

Crittenden's account comes closer than anything I've read in this three-week war to making me feel as though I were there, and experiencing for myself the abject fear and its close cousin, exhiliration, that define combat.

But of course, this isn't objectivity -- a bogus concept in any case -- or, for that matter, a fair, comprehensive view of what's going on in Iraq. The reality is that Crittenden's account illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of the embed program.

The strength, of course, is that it gives us a close-up look and otherwise-unattainable insight into what it's like for American soldiers to fight this war. The weakness is that the embeds' accounts necessarily become the story of the war as seen through the eyes of American soldiers.

No reporter is going to be "objective" about those who are protecting his or her life. And Crittenden's assistance in killing Iraqi troops who were trying to kill him is perfectly understandable. Who among us wouldn't do exactly the same thing? But it also -- as Crittenden acknowledges -- calls into serious question the role of journalists as non-combatants, thus turning reporters into legitimate targets for those against whom we are fighting.

Overall, the embed program has a been a real plus. But as Crittenden shows, there are hazards to it as well. He deserves credit for describing those hazards so honestly.

A broken people. One of the reasons I opposed this war was the certainty of massive civilian casualties, something that has indeed come to pass despite what were apparently our best efforts to keep such tragedies to a minimum.

This story by Ian Fisher in today's New York Times about a mother who couldn't bring herself to tell her husband about the death of their three daughters is heart-wrenching. Even if we succeed in helping the Iraqis build a better society, this family will never have a chance to enjoy it.

Yet I am struck, too, by how psychologically damaged Iraq has been left by 30 years of Baath Party rule. In yesterday's Boston Globe, reporter Thanassis Cambanis quoted a mother as saying:

It's true Saddam used to take our sons and torture them. But how can I say whether this is worth our liberation? I still don't know what's going to happen.

Think about the complete loss of dignity that would lead someone to say so humiliating, so degrading. These are people who have been completely stripped of their humanity. Such are the effects of totalitarianism.

Saturday, April 12, 2003

A different take on the plutonium story. Several Media Log readers have called my attention to a piece that casts the "weapons-grade plutonium" story in a different light.

Mansoor Ijaz has written a lengthy post for National Review Online suggesting that several facts about the facility south of Baghdad really do point to the possibility of some extremely scary activities on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Here is a bio of Ijaz. Clearly he is a serious and knowledgeable person.

Not that this makes Fox News's original report any less speculative or irresponsible, by the way. Ijaz himself is engaging in speculation; but it appears to be informed speculation that a discerning reader can take for what it is. Fox was simply engaging in sensationalism.

Thanks to HM and DH for leading me to Ijaz's post.

Friday, April 11, 2003

Back on top. Now that Saddam Hussein has been toppled, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's credibility is looking a lot better -- and that of his generals a lot worse -- than it did a week or two ago.

So now, of course, is the perfect time for "Sex Tips from Donald Rumsfeld," on, called to my attention by the estimable Yee Haw.

Talk dirty to me, Rummy!

CNN's dubious Iraq connections. Last October the New Republic's Franklin Foer wrote a piece condemning CNN for toadying to the Iraqi government in order to keep its reporters from getting kicked out of the country. (The story is online here, and it appears to be freely available.)

Among the amusing details Foer offered was the fact that Saddam's henchmen would apparently go absolutely bonkers if reporters referred to the Great Leader as anything other than "President Saddam Hussein." In fact, that's what got Al Jazeera into trouble last week. And I recalled that detail watching CNN last night when Nic Robertson, back in Baghdad, referred repeatedly to "President Saddam Hussein" in his standup for NewsNight with Aaron Brown -- three times in just a couple of minutes, according to this transcript.

Robertson is nobody's toady, and I imagine his repetitious invocation of Saddam's preferred mode of reference was more habit than anything else. But this morning, in two pieces in the New York Times, a far more serious matter regarding CNN came to light.

The first -- and by far the more disturbing -- was an op-ed column by Eason Jordan, who is described as CNN's "chief news executive." By his own description, "CNN's ambassador to Iraq" would be more accurate. And it appears that he was an ambassador of the most odious kind, keeping silent about terrible human-rights abuses.

Jordan portrays himself as a humanitarian, and surely he wouldn't want to complain or exclaim in such a way that people would be tortured or killed -- beyond the fact that some were being tortured or killed anyway. But, as you will read, Jordan's silence may have cost the lives of Saddam's sons-in-law, who defected in 1995 and who were lured back by promises of forgiveness. Jordan does credit himself with saving the life of King Hussein. Well, at least he draws the line somewhere.

More to the point: at what moment does Jordan's concerns about access and safety morph into a slimy collaboration with Saddam's evil regime? Given the horrors that he describes, shouldn't there have come a day when he finally said, "No more"? Wasn't everything that CNN was reporting out of Iraq inherently dishonest, given that its chief news executive knew many, many things that he dared not say? "I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside of me," Jordan writes. Well, I would hope so. He should feel worse that he did nothing about it.

This other story, which describes CNN as the only major US news network to refuse to participate in a government-sponsored media campaign in Iraq, wouldn't stand out so much if it weren't for Jordan's column. CNN released a statement saying, "We didn't think that as an independent, global news organization it was appropriate to participate in a United States government video transmission."

Read Jordan's op-ed and then try to wrap your mind around the idea of CNN taking a principled stand on anything to do with Iraq. It is literally enough to induce nausea.

D'oh! Well, so much for the weapons-grade plutonium. The Fox News Channel -- which yesterday was breathlessly hyping a report that US Marines may have found "weapons-grade plutonium" in a facility south of Baghdad -- is now running an AP report on its website that puts the matter in a very different light.

It appears that the Americans, with Homer Simpson-like regard for the hazards of nuclear material, may have broken the seal on a cache of low-grade uranium that was already known to the UN weapons inspectors.

Fox News's source yesterday was Carl Prine, an embedded reporter for Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here's his story today, which seems to be a measured and responsible account of the situation.

As far as I've been able to tell, Fox News is the only major news outlet to hype this inflammatory piece of non-news. Is this fair and balanced reporting?

Globe's Farrell joins Moore at Denver Post. The Boston Globe's number-two person in Washington, John Aloysius Farrell, is leaving to become Washington-bureau chief of the Denver Post -- the paper he worked at before coming to the Globe in 1987. He was recruited by Post editor Greg Moore, who was, until last year, the managing editor of the Globe.

Farrell is best known for his book, Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century (see "Don't Quote Me," News and Features, February 9, 2001), a massive, authoritative biography of the late House Speaker. He worked as Washington editor -- second-in-command to the bureau chief -- under David Shribman, who left the Globe recently to become executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. More recently, Farrell has been the Globe's senior Washington correspondent.

Here is Moore's memo to the Post staff announcing Farrell's hiring:

John Aloysius Farrell is rejoining The Denver Post as our new bureau chief in Washington. He replaces Bill McAllister, who resigned effective April 1st.

I have said that for The Post to be considered an important regional newspaper, we must do a better job of covering the issues out of Washington that affect our region -- public land management, forestry issues, the environment, military affairs and politics.

Jack returns to The Post after a 16-year absence. He left The Post in 1987 to join The Boston Globe as a national political reporter. He also worked as an investigative reporter on the Globe's prize winning Spotlight Team, a Congressional reporter, and White House Correspondent. Most recently, Jack served as The Globe's Washington editor, supervising a 10-person staff and assigning and crafting coverage of the 2000 election recount, post-September 11th coverage and many other challenging news stories. He is the author of the celebrated biography of the late House speaker, "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century."

While at The Post, Jack provided distinguished work as a magazine writer and investigative reporter. He wrote an eight-part series entitled "Utah: The Church State," and another eight-part series, The New Indian Wars, that took him and photographer Jim Richardson more than 35,000 miles to visit 21 tribes in 14 states. His work at The Post has won the Roy Howard Public Service Citation, the National Press Club Prize and the George Polk Award.

Before joining The Denver Post in 1982, Jack worked at The Baltimore News American, the Annapolis Evening Capital, and the Montgomery County Sentinel.

He is a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Jack's knowledge, experience and leadership will boost our report out of Washington. It is a bonus that he is familiar with Denver, Colorado and the West, in general.

Please welcome Jack back to The Denver Post on May 12.

Greg Moore