Thursday, July 31, 2003

"We are all sinners." President Bush tried to walk a moderate path in his news conference yesterday when he was asked about same-sex marriage. "I am mindful that we're all sinners," he said, sending a clear message that he sees hatemongering toward gays and lesbians to be as "sinful" as having non-biblical sex.

Thanks a lot, Mr. President.

The big issue on the table right now, other than same-sex marriage, is sodomy, a concept that has become nebulous and slippery as cultural mores have changed.

Recently, of course, the US Supreme Court threw out Texas's anti-sodomy law, which some predict will pave the way, eventually, for legal recognition of gay marriage. Bush opposes such evolution, much as Darwin's version continues to be opposed by many of Bush's supporters. In the end, opposition to either type of evolution is likely to be equally futile.

What's interesting here, though, is that Bush appears to regard sodomy as a sin, yet he does not explicitly define sodomy. He appears to define it as sex between two men or two women. But is that right?

Sodomy laws traditionally banned anal or oral sex between men and women, even if they were married. Over time, anti-sodomy laws came to be used almost exclusively as a way to persecute -- and occasionally prosecute -- gay men and lesbians for what they do in private.

A far better definition of sodomy was offered in March by Andrew Sullivan (sub. req.). Writing in the New Republic, he asserted:

It's worth noting, then, that from the very beginning sodomy and homosexuality were two categorically separate things. The correct definition of sodomy -- then and now -- is simply non-procreative sex, whether practiced by heterosexuals or homosexuals. It includes oral sex, masturbation, mutual masturbation, contraceptive sex, coitus interruptus, and anal sex -- any sex in which semen does not find its way into a uterus.

I realize this reads like a Ken Starr legal brief; my apologies for such dirty talk this early in the day. But this is important stuff, because Sullivan is absolutely right. If George and Laura get it on in ways guaranteed not to produce any more little Bushes -- and, given the First Couple's ages, it's safe to assume that they do take some precautions, or perhaps no longer need to -- then they are committing sodomy just as surely as those two guys rousted by the Texas cops.

Yes, indeed. We are all sinners. So, Mr. President, why won't you allow homosexual sinners the same rights that heterosexual sinners such as you and the First Lady presumably enjoy?

Note to the irony-impaired: Media Log does not actually consider any consensual, nonadulterous sex between two adults to be a sin.

No whining, please. I love the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. No, really. I mean, I don't know much about what it does, but I'm glad it's out there theoretically fighting for the First Amendment.

But this is kind of weird. According to a dispatch recently posted on the organization's website, we are supposed to be up in arms that the Eagle County Sheriff's Department posted a mug shot of Kobe Bryant online that is not "suitable for print publication."

Well, here's the photo. It doesn't look too bad to me. Some jaggies around the edges, but I've seen newspapers print a lot worse.

Don't take this as Media Log's commentary on any of the free-speech/fair-trial arguments going on right now regarding Bryant and the woman he is charged with sexually assaulting. This is just one small part of it.

But the Reporters Committee, frankly, is being ridiculous.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Harvard's secret police. The Globe's Jenna Russell reports today that the Harvard Crimson is suing the university to gain access to the campus police log -- a public record under Massachusetts law, but Harvard is claiming an exemption on the grounds that it is a private institution.

The students argue, logically enough, that since Harvard police officers have the power of arrest, they should be held to the same standard as police officers everywhere.

Here's some background. On July 11, the Crimson reported that the Harvard police were cutting back on the amount of information they would release to the public -- and thus, by extension, to the paper.

Then, on July 18, the Crimson reported that the police had decided to loosen up a bit, although they were still refusing to release as much information as they had before. Among the forbidden news: reports of attempted suicide and sexual assault.

Suppressing such news would appear to be more about protecting Harvard's image than about any legitimate police function.

As civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate told the Crimson, "You would think that if they're really professional they would act like real police officers."

Free and news-free. You'll find more news about the Boston Metro this week than you'll find in the Metro.

In the new issue of CommonWealth magazine, Jeffrey Klineman (free reg. req.) offers a smart take on the thin freebie tab, which has been a hit on subways since its debut two years ago.

Globe columnist Steve Bailey writes today that the Globe is thinking about starting its own competitor to the Metro.

And when I asked Herald publisher Pat Purcell last month about rumors that he was thinking of launching a Metro-like publication, he told me, "We're taking a look at doing something there. It has been an annoyance and has probably impacted circulation a little bit."

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

In Lowell, college radio goes corporate. Students, faculty members, and community activists will meet with UMass Lowell chancellor William Hogan and other administrators on Wednesday to protest a contract to turn over 25 weekly hours of programming on the student-run radio station to the Lowell Sun.

Patrick Murphy, music director for WJUL Radio (91.5 FM), estimates that as many as 100 to 200 people may turn out for the meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the North Campus Library.

"This station has been student-run for 50 years, and they came in behind our backs and set all this up without even coming to us first," says Murphy. "This could affect every college station everywhere."

In an age of increasing corporate media concentration, Murphy fears that the relationship with the Sun -- owned by Dean Singleton's Denver-based MediaNews Group -- will lead to the "homogenization" of a station that bills itself as "Real Underground Radio." Murphy also warns that the Sun's involvement may eventually lead to the demise of programs that serve Lowell's ethnic communities, such as Café Latino and Voice of Cambodian Children.

"Is a Cambodian show profitable? Absolutely not. But is it essential and important? Absolutely," says Murphy.

Expressing similar concerns is Victoria Fahlberg, director of One Lowell, a coalition of a dozen immigrant and social-services organizations. She plans to attend the Wednesday meeting to press for assurances that immigrant programming will remain intact, and that the Sun will not be given even more hours as time goes on.

"People thought that before any contract was signed that they would talk to them about it. And that's where people are feeling really uncomfortable -- it's that they feel that their voice wasn't heard, Fahlberg says. "There's a trust issue, I guess, at this point."

But Christine Dunlap, the university's executive director of communications and marketing, who will oversee the relationship with the Sun, says such fears are groundless -- although she concedes that, "in retrospect, I think we should have been talking to the students more than we did."

According to Dunlap and Kendall Wallace, the Sun's president and publisher, the Sun will produce a weekday news show from 5 to 10 a.m. Dunlap calls it "very much like WBZ, but with a Merrimack Valley focus," a reference to Boston's top-rated all-news station. Wallace says it will be a cross between WBZ and public radio, with news, sports, weather, and traffic. There will be no advertising, although Wallace says commercial underwriters will be sought -- an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who listens to Boston's two big public stations, WBUR and WGBH.

With a range of about 15 to 20 miles, WJUL, with 1400 watts of power, reaches just about all of the Merrimack Valley, Dunlap says.

As for what the relationship will mean for the future of the station, Wallace and Dunlap paint a positive picture: a full-time staff person, whose $40,000-a-year salary will be picked up by the Sun; a new studio, also to be paid for by the Sun, which will most likely be located in Fox Hall, a residence and student-activities center (the Tsongas Arena, an early contender, has been ruled out); and opportunities for internships.

Dunlap insists that the arrangement does not signal any reduction in the university's commitment to community programming on 'JUL, and that the 25 hours a week being turned over to the Sun will not be increased. She does note that a yet-to-be named editorial board of students, faculty, and community representatives may decide to make further changes in programming, but says of the students, "If they're willing to work with us, I honestly believe it will be a better experience for everybody."

The partnership with the Sun, she adds, grew out of talks that began about a year ago, and that coincided with a mandate from the UMass board of trustees to maximize the use of its radio stations at all of its campuses.

Wallace says the Sun has wanted to get into the radio business for some time, and that it may buy a commercial station if the opportunity presents itself. The Sun has set up a nonprofit entity to manage the WJUL show, which will be hosted by a Sun staff member, John Collins, and which could debut in as soon as two weeks.

As for whether the move had its origins in Lowell or Denver, Wallace says, "MediaNews is one of the leading forces in the country for cross-ownership, but they haven't driven this, no. They're aware of the idea, they like it, they think it's a step in the right direction."

It may turn out that what the relationship represents is worse than the reality. As Dunlap notes, the show will be broadcast at a time when most students are "either sleeping or in class." And -- let's be honest -- it could be a boon to Merrimack Valley residents looking for local news and traffic reports at the beginning of the day.

At the same time, though, the Sun program constitutes a serious commercial encroachment by a media conglomerate into college radio -- the closest thing there is to independent radio in the age of deregulation.

Murphy says that WJUL and similar small college stations are about the only place where noncommercial punk, hip-hop, and the like can be heard these days. The Sun agreement would not appear to threaten that, but who's to say what another financially strapped public university might do in league with a media conglomerate?

Murphy rightly observes that this is about a lot more than one show on one station. Indeed, he says, it's about "music and ideas that would otherwise go unheard and that aren't heard anywhere else on the dial."

Lies, damn lies, and polls. No sooner did I post an item about the latest USA Today poll regarding attitudes toward homosexuality than TB and JVC pointed me to another, later, story that appears to place a completely different interpretation on the same numbers.

In today's USAT, Susan Page reports:

Americans have become significantly less accepting of homosexuality since a Supreme Court decision that was hailed as clearing the way for new gay civil rights, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll has found. After several years of growing tolerance, the survey shows a return to a level of more traditional attitudes last seen in the mid-1990s.

The headline: an unequivocal "Poll Shows Backlash on Gay Issues."

Yet I wasn't hallucinating when I posted this link to Page's Monday story, headlined "Gay Rights Tough to Sharpen into Political 'Wedge Issue.'" Here's the money graf:

Strategists in both parties caution that the public's views are changing too rapidly to provide an easy answer. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll indicates that public attitudes toward homosexuals are in the midst of a transformation, though the issues involved remain controversial. Analysts say the shift is fueled by a self-perpetuating cycle: More gay men and lesbians are open about their sexual orientation, prompting some of their family members and co-workers to revise their views. That in turn makes it easier for others to come out of the closet.

Regarding the sliding numbers, Page wrote in her earlier story, "Analysts at Gallup said the question would be asked again to test whether the finding reflected a change in attitudes or a temporary blip." Her follow-up suggests no such doubt about the veracity of the results.

A careful read of both stories suggests that Page was being cautiously optimistic about the poll's implications for gays and lesbians on Monday, and cautiously pessimistic today. I find it interesting that Monday's story ran on page 10A, whereas today's is on the front.

So what is going on here?

Bush and gays. Q: Why is Senate Republican leader Bill Frist, generally regarded as a moderate, pushing for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, while George W. Bush, a conservative's conservative, is waffling? A: Because Karl Rove is smarter than Frist.

A new USA Today poll shows that Americans are far more accepting of gay and lesbian relationships than they were just a few years ago -- and that, as more people come out, the acceptance continues to grow. Susan Page writes:

More than half of those surveyed said a friend, relative or co-worker had personally told them that he or she was gay; that's more than double the percentage in 1985. Nearly one-third said they had become more accepting of gay people in recent years. Just 8 percent said they had become less accepting.

That's why Bush is ignoring Pat Robertson. Unfortunately, it also explains why he's playing the good cop to Frist's bad. To win election in 2004, Bush needs to mobilize his fundamentalist base while not scaring away moderates.

The solution: use surrogates to appease the wingnuts while staying above the fray. Progressives need to call Bush on this as loudly and as frequently as they can, and make sure he doesn't get away with it.

Crittenden's souvenirs. The Herald's gung-ho embedded reporter, Jules Crittenden, has not only been cleared in the matter of those souvenirs he grabbed in Iraq, but the US Customs Service has actually returned most of them to him.

At least that's what this account in today's Herald says.

Here's an April 25 Globe story by Geoff Edgers and Mark Jurkowitz on the initial inquiry. And here is a commentary by the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele that was posted to on April 23.

Crittenden shouldn't have done it; Steele went so far as to call what Crittenden and other reporters did an example of "terrible ethical judgment." Plenty of other reporters came back empty-handed.

But apparently Crittenden has been proved right about this: it wasn't a criminal matter.

Monday, July 28, 2003

Conventional chaos. With the Democratic Convention scheduled to begin in exactly one year, the Globe and the Herald today both take a look at how Boston is going to handle thousands of delegates, media, and hangers-on. And it ain't pretty.

On page one of the Globe, Yvonne Abraham and Corey Dade report that "getting through the next 12 months requires $50 million, and logistical nightmares for officials and ordinary residents that are becoming clearer, and more daunting, by the day." How's this for starters: the likelihood that North Station will be closed for the week.

The editorial page tries to be optimistic, but betrays some jitters: "Labor agreements are still unsigned, and the Boston police could create difficulties if they attempt to use public safety at the convention as leverage with Mayor Menino. Their long-term interests would be better served by showing a positive side of Boston to the nation." Yeah, no kidding.

Herald columnist Joe Sciacca (sub. req.) begins somewhat more directly: "Starting today, you have one year to plot your escape."

I hate to be a pessimist (actually, that's not true), but does anyone think this is going to work?

Arithmetical abnormalities. The Globe "Ideas" section yesterday ran a piece by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman arguing that the Bush deficit will bring economic growth to a halt. Certainly Friedman appears to be well within the economic mainstream in that regard.

But Friedman's third paragraph begins, "One war, two terrorist attacks, and three tax cuts later ..." Hmm. Isn't that one terrorist attack and two wars? Or am I missing something?

New in this week's Phoenix. Well, it's been out since last Thursday, but I'm just back from vacation. I've got a piece on the Bush administration's prevarications on why it wanted to go to war with Iraq -- a record of deception that goes right back to 9/11, and of which the Nigerien uranium is just a small part.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Summer vacation. Media Log will go into suspended animation this week. There will be no posts until July 28 or thereabouts.

It's winter down there! Greg Tingle, the proprietor of a website called Media Man Australia, has published a long Q&A with me. He was kind enough to let me flog my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes. Please have a look -- and check out his site.

No blood for oil redux. Media Log has always found ridiculous the notion that the war in Iraq was all about oil. No doubt oil had something to do with moving Iraq higher up the priority list than, say, North Korea or Congo. But if the Bushies really wanted Iraq's oil that bad, then how come they didn't grab it 12 years ago?

But now I'm beginning to think the "no blood for oil" crowd might have been right all along. ER passes on this link to Larry Klayman's Judicial Watch website, which reports that documents turned over under court order by Dick Cheney's secret energy task force include a map of Iraq's oilfields and pipelines, as well as similar maps of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The documents are dated March 2001, according to Judicial Watch. Hmm. Do you suppose Cheney might have believed the US would have access to Iraqi oil at some point in the future? Where would he have gotten that idea?

Obligatory weasel words: by itself, this proves nothing. But there are some pretty serious questions that need answering.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Drip, drip, drip. No matter how much cover Tony Blair tries to give George W. Bush, the news for the White House keeps getting worse.

Today the Washington Post's Walter Pincus and Dana Priest report that the State Department received those forged Niger uranium documents three months before the State of the Union address -- and four months before the documents were finally turned over to UN weapons inspectors. Write Pincus and Priest:

State Department officials could not say yesterday why they did not turn over the documents when the inspectors asked for them in December.

Both the Post and the New York Times' James Risen and David Sanger offer details on how National Security Council staffer Robert Joseph pushed to include the phony Niger connection in the State of the Union even though CIA director George Tenet had personally acted to keep it out of Bush's October 7 speech.

Meanwhile, former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger comes riding to Bush's defense with a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece (free registration required) that attempts to resurrect the Niger story. Earth to Cap: perhaps there is something to it, as Blair insists. The issue is the White House's cavalier treatment of a forgery. But, then, lest we forget, Weinberger received a presidential pardon from Bush's father.

Loyalty counts.

The sneering subhead on Weinberger's piece: "How many electoral votes does Niger have, anyway?" Well, gosh, I guess that would be zero. Can't argue with that.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Despite everything, goodwill in Baghdad. Late blogging this morning -- my home Internet connection was down. I heard the results of a fascinating poll (PDF file) on the BBC while driving to work. Despite everything, a survey of adults in Baghdad shows that precisely half supports the US-British invasion and most definitely does not want Saddam Hussein back in power.

According to the poll, by the British polling company YouGov, 50 percent "think that America and Britain's war against Saddam's regime was right" and 27 percent think it was "wrong." Those expressing no opinion totaled 23 percent -- which seems weird until you remember that they were probably terrified to answer.

The support comes even though large pluralities believe the primary reasons for the war were oil and Israel.

By a margin of 29 percent to nine percent, respondents say they would rather live under US rule than under Saddam -- even though they also say that their lives were better a year ago than they are today (47 percent to 32 percent). Optimism prevails: by 52 percent to 11 percent, they believe their lives will be better five years from now than they were under Saddam.

And by 75 percent to 14 percent, Baghdad residents say that Iraq is a more dangerous place today than it was before the invasion.

What this shows is that even if you believe we blundered into Iraq under false pretenses (and if you believe that, you would be correct), there is still more than a decent chance of salvaging this -- if we get about the business of restoring the country's shattered infrastructure and continue to turn power over to Iraqis.

Sometimes it's difficult to take the Fitzgeraldian view and hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. But we need to find a way to investigate the prevarications of the Bush administration while at the same time realizing that a significant number of Iraqis do see us as liberators, and are depending on our willingness to follow through.

New in this week's Phoenix. The surprise issue of the 2004 presidential campaign may turn out to be same-sex marriage.

Plus, newly anointed New York Times executive editor Bill Keller turned down another career path several years ago: the chance to edit the Boston Globe.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A bulletin from Planet W. Salon blogger Joe Conason has picked up on a truly weird statement that Our Only President made in a story reported by Dana Milbank and Dana Priest of the Washington Post.

George W. Bush said that he decided to go to war with Iraq after having given Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

Do I need to point out that Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBareidi, and company were in Iraq, diligently looking for weapons, and left only when the threat of a US invasion came imminent?

Asks Conason: "What possessed the president to make an assertion that everyone on the planet knows to be untrue? And who is going to take the responsibility for this one?"

Searching for those WMDs. The New Republic is back with another vital contribution to the debate over the so-called imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Last month, the magazine ran a report by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman demonstrating how the White House and the Defense Department leaned on the intelligence community to cook the books in favor of a US-led invasion.

This week, it carries a dispatch by Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin (subscription required) that asks: what ever happened to those WMDs? Drogin's well-researched guess is that Saddam's weapons program ceased in the mid 1990s under pressure from UN inspectors and economic sanctions.

Now, this gets a little complicated. There's no question that Saddam lied repeatedly when inspections started up again late last year. Even Hans Blix said it appeared Saddam was holding out. Why didn't Saddam just come clean and save himself?

The most likely explanation, according to Drogin, is that even though Saddam was telling the truth when he asserted that Iraq didn't have WMDs, he wanted to make it look like he was lying in order not to appear weak.

Certainly US officials could have been fooled by this stance. But combined with the earlier story, showing that the administration was more concerned with building a case than with finding the truth, Drogin's article is damning indeed.

And remember, the New Republic was prowar, vigorously so.

On bended knee. I've got one bone to pick with Robert Kuttner's column in today's Boston Globe: he can't be sure that George W. Bush knew the Niger-uranium evidence was fake.

Other than that, Kuttner offers a first-rate indictment of the White House's lying ways, and of the supine media that let the Bushies get away with it.

Not the corrections column. Check out what InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds does when he's caught making a mistake. I'm surprised.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Not on Keller's agenda. You wouldn't expect a blogger as savvy as InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds to make a rookie mistake, but he does today. After blasting a column by the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, he asks, "I wonder if Bill Keller will exercise some adult supervision."

I wonder how Reynolds made it this far without knowing that the editorial and op-ed pages are under the control of editorial-page editor Gail Collins -- who, in turn, reports directly to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

After all, the opinion pages' isolation from the news operation is one of the reasons that Howell Raines was treated with such suspicion when he was promoted from editorial-page editor to executive editor.

Baron's stock soars. Boston Globe editor Marty Baron is staying put, he tells his own paper's Mark Jurkowitz and the Boston Herald's Greg Gatlin. Baron's statement should put an end to speculation that he'll be brought to New York to serve as managing editor under newly named executive editor Bill Keller.

But Baron's stock is clearly at an all-time high. He and Los Angeles Times managing editor Dean Baquet were the only two outsiders who were seriously mentioned as possible successors to Howell Raines, who resigned in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal. (Not that they were true outsiders, having both worked as editors at the NY Times.)

Both Jurkowitz and Gatlin quote Baron as saying all the right things about Keller. But the reverse is also true. In 2001, shortly after Baron had been named editor of the Globe, Keller told me that he had become a Baron fan during Baron's stint in New York.

Saying he had recommended Baron "enthusiastically" both to Globe publisher Richard Gilman and Times Company chairman Arthur Sulizberger Jr., Keller commented: "He's an editor of terrific judgment and integrity. I'm partial to editors who tell you what they think without nursing some political agenda, and Marty did that while he was here."

Yesterday's announcement marks quite a reversal of fortune for Keller, who was passed over in favor of Raines two years ago. To be sure, Keller had carved out a great job for himself, writing both a column for the op-ed page and long pieces for the Times Magazine. But there's no doubt he wanted the top job.

He could have dealt himself out of the running several years ago when, during his stint as Times managing editor under Joseph Lelyveld, he was asked whether he would ever consider taking the editor's position at the Globe. He said no. Months later, when Globe editor Matt Storin retired, the spot went to Baron instead.

Now, not only is Keller right where he wants to be, but Baron is in an ideal position: editing the Globe, publicly identified as a hot property, and with someone with whom he has a good relationship running the Times.

Those WMDs, discovered at last. This may not last long, so hurry up and do it now. Thanks to JM.

  1. Go to Google.
  2. Enter the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" (use quotation marks).
  3. Click on "I'm Feeling Lucky."

You'll get what looks like an error page. Read carefully.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Dylan's Japanese connection. News that Bob Dylan had lifted extensively from a Japanese book on his 2001 "Love and Theft" CD sent me running for Bob Spitzer's Dylan: A Biography (1989). Sure enough, just as I had remembered, I found Spitzer's account of an interview with Rob Stoner, who played bass on Dylan's 1975 Desire album and in the Rolling Thunder Revue. Stoner's recollection of a conversation he once had with Dylan in New York City is worth quoting at some length:

At three o'clock in the morning, in a city once referred to as "the most dangerous place on earth," Bob Dylan and Rob Stoner went on a walking tour that lasted until the sun came up. "We just wandered around until dawn," Stoner recalls. "Bob staring off into space with his hands in his pockets, walking with a bounce in his step. Taking it all in. Later I learned that this was something he did in every major city in the country. No one recognizes him and it allows him to feel completely free and relaxed."

As usual, Bob was preoccupied with plans for the tour, but mostly they talked about obscure rock 'n roll songs. Stoner was a connoisseur of old rockabilly standards. He owns a priceless collection of R&B 78s, including the entire Sun Records catalogue and hundreds of southern "race" records, and as the two men walked they tried to stump each other with a list of their favorite titles and corresponding singles. Bob was no slouch when it came to rockabilly. "He knew almost everything I threw at him," Stoner remembers. "Not just the titles but the entire lyric, too. He'd go into a verse like he was singing it only a couple hours before. The extent of his knowledge was mind-boggling."

Very cautiously, Stoner broached a subject that had been nagging him for some time. "Ever hear a tune called 'Bertha Lou'?" he asked Bob.

Bob nodded confidently. "Sure. Johnny Burnette and his trio. 19 ... 57."

"Fifty-six," Stoner corrected him, "but that's pretty good, man." They walked another hundred feet or so in silence. "The reason I asked is that it's really similar to one of your songs." In fact, it was almost a note-for-note duplication of "Rita Mae," from the Desire sessions. The melodies were exactly the same, and Bob's scansion followed Burnette's pattern to a rhyme.

"Oh, yeah?" Bob remarked, but it was a closing statement if Stoner had ever heard one.

"He never even asked which song of his I was referring to," Stoner says nonplussed. "He didn't care, and at that moment I realized that the line between plagiarism and adaption was so blurred that it wasn't even an issue for him."

A quick search of turns up a song from 1975 called "Rita May," written by Dylan and Jacques Levy, that has apparently never been released. But Stoner's recollection neatly ties in with a piece in Saturday's New York Times by Jon Pareles on the Japanese connection, who notes that Dylan has always operated as someone who blends together lyrics and music from a variety of sources. Writes Pereles:

The absolutely original artist is an extremely rare and possibly imaginary creature, living in some isolated habitat where no previous works or traditions have left any impression. Like virtually every artist, Mr. Dylan carries on a continuing conversation with the past. He's reacting to all that culture and history offer, not pretending they don't exist. Admiration and iconoclasm, argument and extension, emulation and mockery -- that's how individual artists and the arts themselves evolve. It's a process that is neatly summed up in Mr. Dylan's album title "Love and Theft," which itself is a quotation from a book on minstrelsy by Eric Lott.

The extent to which Dylan, er, lovingly stole lines from a little-known Japanese book, Junichi Saga's Confessions of a Yakuza, is nevertheless a surprise. The details were reported last Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal by Jonathan Eig and Sebastian Moffett. Even Dylanologist Christopher Ricks of Boston University, who never has a bad word to say about Zimmy, comes off in the Journal piece as a tad disappointed.

A big deal? Not really. Dylan has always been pretty transparent about the way he works, even if -- on this particular occasion -- he borrowed from a source so obscure that it's a wonder it was ever discovered. Still, Dylan plays it both ways to an uncomfortable extent: he pieces together bits of found culture, sticks his copyright on it, and collects the royalties.

At the very least, as Pareles notes in the Times, Dylan should be generous the next time a rap musician asks permission to sample one of his songs.

Uh, sorry about that. On the second thought, the New York Times tell us, TVT Records' Steven Gottlieb is not litigious and has not lost control of his company. And thus we have another day, another "Editor's Note," and another massive corrective story.

Dept. of shameless self-promotion. I have reconfigured to promote my book on the culture of dwarfism, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes, which will be published by Rodale in October. Please have a look.

Friday, July 11, 2003

"Give Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz the boot." H.D.S. Greenway explains why this morning in a column in the Boston Globe:

The Pentagon seems to have believed that Iraqi army units and policemen would come over to the American side with their forces intact and begin working for the Americans. It seems not to have occurred to them that another scenario might unfold, that the soldiers and police would simply melt away and that chaos would take over. The great failure of Pentagon planning was that there was no Plan B if Plan A failed. After trying to run Iraq on the cheap, Rumsfeld this week doubled his estimates for the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz aren't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean Greenway is wrong.

A near-death experience. Would same-sex marriage have helped Lisa Craig, Debbie Riley, and their kids? In this morning's Boston Herald, reporter Jessica Heslam describes a horrifying Fourth of July attack in East Boston that nearly cost Craig her life.

You could plausibly argue that marriage would not impress the boneheads who preyed on this family. Still, by normalizing gay and lesbian relationships, society can send subtle messages about the way such relationships are perceived.

It's rare, after all, to hear of racist goons setting upon mixed-race couples anymore. So too could it be with gay and lesbian couples.

Media Log on the air. I'll be Pat Whitley's guest at 9 a.m. today on WRKO Radio (AM 680). The subject will be 'RKO's decision to return homophobic talk-show host to the airwaves after just a one-day suspension.

If I survive, I'll also be on Greater Boston's Friday "Beat the Press" roundup tonight on WGBH-TV (7 p.m. on Channel 2, midnight on Channel 44).

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Shannon O'Brien, on the other side. Would somebody please tell me why this is a good idea?

WLVI-TV (Channel 56) has announced that former state treasurer Shannon O'Brien is joining the station as a "special assignment reporter," and "will focus on helping Massachusetts' residents navigate consumer or governmental concerns. The content will be driven by O'Brien's political savvy, insider experience and law background."

Ethical concerns about the revolving door aside, I just can't imagine how this is going to help Channel 56 in terms of ratings (O'Brien didn't exactly connect with voters in her 2002 gubernatorial campaign), credibility, genuine usefulness, or anything else.

Is Baron back in the game? New York Post media reporter Keith Kelly says that Boston Globe editor Marty Baron was spied in the New York Times newsroom yesterday, fueling speculation that he's in line to become the Times managing editor -- most likely under Bill Keller, widely identified as the leading candidate to replace Howell Raines as executive editor. (Via Romenesko.)

Even before Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd resigned over the Jayson Blair scandal and its attendant fallout, Baron was identified as a leading contender for one of the top two jobs. The fact is that there just aren't all that many big-time editors anymore, especially ones who -- like Baron -- have some Times experience under their belt.

Baron, a former Editor & Publisher "Editor of the Year," won Pulitzers at both the Miami Herald and the Globe, the latter for the paper's monumental efforts in covering the pedophile-priest crisis in the Catholic Church.

In the past few weeks, though, Baron's chances had seemed to fade. As it has become increasingly likely that Keller -- passed over in favor of Raines two years ago -- would get the top job, Baron's being a white male appeared to be working against him. In the fevered game of media speculation, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was said to want a woman and/or an African-American in one of the two top spots. In some circles, Washington-bureau chief Jill Abramson was all but anointed as managing editor.

Now, though, things may be moving back Baron's way.

From the beginning, the managing editor's job has seemed like a natural fit for Baron if Sulzberger were inclined to go that way. Baron is only 48, and, given the problems experienced under the Raines-Boyd regime, one would think Sulzberger would be inclined to play it safe -- despite his reputation as a risk-taker. Baron would be a gamble as number one; but as number two, with a clear shot at the top job in, say, five to eight years, he'd be a natural.

Of course, this is all incredibly speculative. As Baron told me last month, "I don't think there's any purpose served in speculating on that prospect at all. Right now I'm here, I'm happy, I'm focused on what I'm doing here, and I don't want to speculate on what might happen."

The best quote on the subject comes from Times metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman, who recently told the New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu: "I truly know nothing. It's all a lot of people making stuff up. I don't know; you don't know. Everybody's making stuff up."

In other words: take all of this with a grain of salt.

Well, that was quick. The Boston Herald's Dean Johnson and the Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz today report what was obvious last night: WRKO Radio (AM 680) has decided to put syndicated right-wing garbage-mouth Michael Savage back on the air after a one-day suspension.

In yesterday's Globe, 'RKO program director Mike Elder came across as someone who was at least going to give it some thought before deciding whether to keep doing business with the homophobic Savage. So in today's Phoenix, I've got an open letter to Elder, documenting his long record of homophobic outbursts on radio and in print, long before the rant that got him fired from his MSNBC show last Saturday.

Well, Mike, read it anyway. Maybe you'll learn something.

New in this week's Phoenix. In addition to my letter to Mike Elder, I offer some thoughts regarding animal magnetism on the homophobic right.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

The dog that didn't bark. I'd missed this until I saw Robert Samuelson's column in today's Washington Post. But the US Supreme Court declined to rule on a free-speech case involving Nike and an anti-corporate activist from San Francisco named Marc Kasky.

Kasky had sued Nike, charging that the company lied in press releases, letters to the editor, and on its website about the working conditions of Nike employees in the Third World. More to the point, Kasky asserted that Nike's statements constituted commercial speech under California law, as subject to regulation for truthfulness as ads about the performance of its running shoes. While not conceding having made any false statements, Nike tried to get the case thrown out on First Amendment grounds.

I wrote about the case recently ("Don't Quote Me," May 2), mainly because I was intrigued by the involvement of the Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, which took the position that the First Amendment should protect individuals, not corporations. It's an interesting argument, though I think speech restrictions are never worth whatever gain its proponents believe there is to be had in terms of leveling the playing field.

One tidbit I picked up that I didn't use now looks prescient. Stephen Barnett, a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law, at the University of California at Berkeley, told me that though he was hoping the Court would rule decisively in Nike's favor, his expectation was that it would punt because the case had not yet gone to trial.

"My sense is that in the end it will not be a great case, and the Court will decide very little," Barnett told me. "The way things work now, the Court has this rule requiring final decisions, meaning that the case only comes up after a final judgment, rather than an interlocutory decision like this one."

Barnett called it exactly right.

More trouble for a guy who deserves it. Gay-bashing hatemonger Michael Savage's well-publicized firing from MSNBC isn't his only problem: his talk-radio empire may be crumbling as well.

Ira Simmons reports on ChronWatch that, because of a contract dispute in Savage's home base of San Francisco, The Savage Nation has been yanked off the air in New York City.

His show has also been (temporarily?) suspended in Boston at WRKO Radio (AM 680), the Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz reports today. Program director Mike Elder tells Jurkowitz that he personally believes Savage is "probably a homophobe," and that he will not tolerate an outburst like Saturday's MSNBC incident on WRKO's airwaves.

This is all moving in the right direction, yet the underlying hypocrisy continues to astound. Doesn't Elder listen to his own radio station? Before MSNBC ever gave Savage a show, he was already infamous for his references to "homosexual perversion" and "Turd World nations" -- references that were broadcast repeatedly to WRKO listeners since his being added to the line-up last year.

Savage's ridiculous sucking-up to a lesbian cop in the debut of his TV show demonstrated that both he and MSNBC knew they had to do something about his well-earned reputation as a homophobe.

Hey, Mike (Elder, that is): take a look at this compilation by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. As far back as 1999, the San Jose Mercury News reported, "Savage has apologized to gay activists after saying he wished they would get AIDS."

Savage has reportedly also joked about "the Million Dyke March," and has spoken out about "the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race."

On its website, WRKO has posted a statement about Savage that concludes:

It is our hope that Michael Savage will return to WRKO in the next few days. It is clear that these comments were not made on his radio show, but this is the same way we'd handle a similar situation with our local talent. This is not a free speech issue, but rather an issue of appropriateness and good corporate citizenship.

WRKO is certainly right about one thing: this is not a free-speech issue. The station is part of Entercom, a corporate media conglomerate with stations across the country -- four in Boston alone. Its profits derive from the deregulatory environment of recent years, in which the FCC has allowed a handful of giant operators to gobble up all but a hardy few stations.

Elder needs to understand this: Michael Savage is a homophobe, and his homophobic remarks on television were an extension of the homophobic remarks he's made on radio. Does Elder care? He certainly will if carrying The Savage Nation turns into a business liability.

Do advertisers really want to be associated with such garbage? We'll soon find out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Savage cynicism. MSNBC is getting praise in some circles today for firing talk-show host Michael Savage after a homophobic outburst on Saturday. But why? He was given a Saturday-afternoon gig this spring because his syndicated radio show draws millions of listeners, featuring exactly the kind of homophobia that lost him his MSNBC show.

The question isn't whether MSNBC executives actually believed Savage could contain himself when the TV cameras were rolling. It's quite a bit more basic than that. Did they really think they could avoid the sting of homophobia by hiring a homophobic host and then telling him not to act like a homophobe when the TV cameras were rolling?

Even if Savage had managed to behave himself on Saturday, he was still playing the hatemonger every Monday through Friday. And, until this week, he had the imprimatur of NBC News, which I guess used to mean something.

Washington Post television columnist Lisa de Moraes's acid lead this morning gets right to it:

MSNBC was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- to learn that its well-known homophobe host Michael Savage is actually -- gasp! -- homophobic, and the network has sacked him, effective immediately.

By the way, here is the worst of Saturday's outbursts, as reported by de Moraes:

Savage: "So you're one of those sodomists -- are you a sodomite?"

Caller: "Yes, I am."

Savage: "Oh, you're one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today -- go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis."

Savage, on his website, claims that he didn't know he was on the air. You can't make this stuff up. He writes:

[T]his was an interchange between me personally and a mean spirited vicious setup caller which I thought was taking place off the air. It was not meant to reflect my views of the terrible tragedy and suffering associated with AIDS. I especially appeal to my many listeners in the gay community to accept my apologies for any inadvertent insults which may have occurred.

Now, even if Savage is telling the truth, which I suppose is a possibility, he still wants you to believe that he's not homophobic because he only makes grotesque jokes about AIDS and oral sex in private. Oh, okay.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation takes the high road today, issuing a statement saying that it "applauded" MSNBC's decision. That may make good tactical sense. Why not be gracious when your enemy finally does the right thing?

But the real story is told in GLAAD's overview of Savage's history of gay-bashing, "MSNBC & the Anti-Gay Savage." carries only an Associated Press story about the firing.

The website Michael Savage Sucks appears to be on vacation today, which is too bad. But it will certainly be worth checking out when it's updated.

MSNBC deserves no kudos for finally realizing that Savage was harming the reputation of the News Channel That Nobody Watches. The operation's behavior has been so unrelievedly cynical that you can only wonder why Savage was really canned.

Was the MSNBC brass really "shocked -- shocked"?

Or, given that Savage's ratings sucked, did they just decide that now was as good a time as any to pull the plug?

Monday, July 07, 2003

Dwarfism and the new eugenics. What were you doing on the Fourth of July? Probably not reading the New York Times. That's all right. I was, and this morning I want to call your attention to this splendid column by Nicholas Kristof about the ways in which genetic advances may eliminate various types of disability -- including achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.

It turns out that Kristof has family members in Britain who are dwarfs. He introduces us to one of them, Tom Shakespeare, a scholar of genetics. I'd heard of Shakespeare, but didn't know much about him. He seems like a pretty interesting guy. Shakespeare has a website, which you can get to by clicking here.

The point of Kristof's column is that what might seem at first glance to be an unalloyed good thing -- genetically engineered "cures" for dwarfism and other types of disability -- could have disastrous consequences down the road. It also happens to be a major theme of my forthcoming book on the culture of dwarfism, Little People.

More on the dwarfism conference. I've posted a page full of links to coverage of last week's Little People of America national conference in Danvers. If I learn of more pieces, I'll post those, too.

How the Supremes came to realize that gays and lesbians are people, too. So why did the US Supreme Court issue such a progressive opinion in the Texas sodomy case? The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse explains:

The Supreme Court has become a gay-friendly workplace where employees feel sufficiently comfortable in their open identity to bring their partners to court functions. Justice Powell's comment to one of his law clerks while Bowers v. Hardwick was pending in 1986 that "I don't believe I've ever met a homosexual" (untrue, considering that the clerk was, in fact, gay) could not be uttered in the court -- or the Washington or the legal profession -- of today.

If proximity leads to amity, then let's say we all chip in and get the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby a gay editorial assistant. Jacoby's two-parter against same-sex marriage (here's part one; here's part two) shows that he's out of ammunition. But he's still firing away.

More on the Republican Attack Machine. Media Log would never be any more self-referential than absolutely necessary. But Alan Wolfe's excellent piece in the Ideas section of yesterday's Globe reads like the flip side of my recent piece on the down-and-dirty tactics of the modern Republican Party and its allies in the media ("The GOP Attack Machine").

It's heartening that a mainstream, measured liberal such as Wolfe has concluded that the Republicans -- starting with George W. Bush -- have unilaterally shattered the governing consensus necessary to make politics work.

Wolfe seems to think that by sticking to their principles, the Democrats will ensure their own defeat in 2004 -- but that may enable them to build for the future. I'm not so sure that his short-term pessimism is warranted -- just check out the headlines from Iraq and from the economic front on any given day.

But he's right about this: politics is a nasty game, and the Republicans are playing it a lot nastier than the Democrats right now.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

LPA on 'GBH. Several members of Little People of America, joined by me, will appear tonight on Greater Boston with Emily Rooney. The show will be broadcast on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) at 7 p.m., and rebroadcast on WGBX-TV (Channel 44) at midnight.